Sunday, June 30, 2013

THE TRAYVON MARTIN CASE AND THE SEGREGATED CHURCH

Whenever a person dies in America due to violence it is a tragedy.  Whether or not Trayvon Martin was attacking George Zimmerman or George Zimmerman was overzealous in his neighborhood watch duties, the fact that we have a culture in America that needs neighborhood watches and pits one group of people against the other is a a condemnation of the church and it's self imposed segregation.  I am not going to weigh in on the merits of this particular case, I do however have strong views when it comes to personal ownership of guns and the right to protect person and property.  What I would like to demonstrate is that we who call ourselves believers in Christ are the only ones who could have overcome the racial divide in this country that causes a case like this to become a national sensation, one that demonstrates and adds to the polarization of America

This tragic event has highlighted the division in America. Most of the news reports and commentaries concerning this event and the subsequent trial focus on the so called racial aspects rather than trying to find common ground.  The media has been fueling the fires of prejudice in order to sell the news. The fundamental flaw in "racial" thinking is that there are separate races in the first place.  According to the Genesis account, there is one race, the human race, descended from Adam and Eve.  Unfortunately, there are some religious leaders who seem to encourage this ethnic and cultural divide.

The Bible is very clear that at the cross, all are equal.  The churches in America has made it very clear that  it believes, "you worship with your people and we will worship with our people." This  should be considered blasphemy as it directly violates the Biblical principal that all are one in Christ.  Nowhere in scripture do we see the apostles establishing churches that separate along ethnic or national lines.  Here in Knoxville the blacks, for the most part worship with the blacks and the whites, for the most part, worship with the whites.  We even have churches that are for specific ethnic groups, right down the street from where I live is the Slavic Gospel Church.  I often have the urge, as I drive by, to go inside and see if a non Slavic person would be welcome. 

The church lost it's greatest opportunity to be at the forefront of the civil rights issue way before civil rights ever became a national issue. Had churches in America realized a couple of hundred years ago that there is no division in the Body of Christ, I believe we would have a very different culture than we have today.  Imagine if the churches across America had integrated back in the 1800's even prior to the civil war.  Who could honestly sit in a church and worship with a man on Sunday and then call that man the property of another man on Monday?  I believe that slavery would have died a natural and much deserved death as people began to look at each other as brothers and sisters.  Paul demonstrates this in the book of Philemon.  Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who fled.  Onesimus met Paul and accepted the Gospel.  Paul wrote on Onesimus' behalf to Philemon that Philemon would no longer consider Onesimus as property but as a brother in the Lord.  Yes I digress, as what the church should have done or could have done is water under the bridge.  What truly matters is what can and should the church do NOW!

I am sure that it would take a miracle to undo this divided culture in the church, but God is in the miracle business. As the church goes, so goes the country.  Many  churches have embraced the concept to relativism so we live in a relativistic society. Many churches have chosen to overlook sexual sin in it's midst so we now live in a sexually promiscuous society where dating has become synonymous with sexually active.  Many churches have divided over racial and ethnic lines so we have a divided America.  The church has lost the culture war because it failed to police it's own camp.  

What can be done?  Just as in anything we do as believers, we have to be intentional about our behavior.  Doing anything God's way normally violates our natural tendencies.   Our hearts are naturally wicked above all things.  We are naturally distrustful of anything different and we tend to want to avoid awkward situations.  The secular world attempted to bridge this divide with multiculturalism.  As far as I can tell, this has been an abysmal failure as it tries to force people to accept all aspects of all cultures.  This model fails primarily because it focuses on what makes us different rather than helping us find common ground.  In the case of the church, what more common ground can we have but that of faith on Christ?  If we can start there, we can build on a solid foundation.  Multiculturalism does not completely dismiss Christ but throws Him into the mix as just another viable faith figure or god.  Once you relegate Christ to a pathway among many, you lose the central tenants of the Gospel and you build on sand.

I do not know how to even begin to bring the church in America together as a unified body that ignores cultural and ethnic lines, nor would I have the power or resources.  God knows how, God has the power and resources, it may be that He is waiting on us to care.  I have no ability to serve God outside that which He has enabled me, nor does anyone else, but I have the power to pray for  reconciliation, to pray for unity in the Body of Christ, and to pray that men and women from all backgrounds and heritages can be united under the banner of Christ.  I would like to invite you to pray along with me that God would heal the church of this terrible division and in so doing the country would heal as well.

Blessings!


Saturday, June 29, 2013

TO HUNGER AND THIRST FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS

One of my favorite worship songs is "Take Me In" (here is a link to a Kutless' version

One of the lines of this song is taken from Matthew 5:6 (which we happen to be studying in our Thursday night group) where Jesus is preaching the sermon on the mount. Jesus tells the crowd, "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied."  In the song, it says, "I hunger and thirst for righteousness and that can be found in one place."  Hungering and thirsting for righteousness seems like a nice platitude but in reality it is a very deep and difficult thing to do.  In our flesh, as normal people living normal lives, we hunger for pleasure and comfort.  We want ease, we want to be entertained, we want to be happy.

As I look at the above passage of scripture, I am challenged, and shamed.  I think of what we, the church accepts as entertainment and it is anything but righteousness.  One of the greatest tools of the enemy to neutralize the church is entertainment and media.  As believers we are called to "be in the world, not of the world."  This means that our lives should look different.  We should behave different.  How can we legitimately offer anything to the lost if our lives and activities mirror theirs.

One of the most asked questions I get, especially when ministering to teens, is, "Is it ok to ...." and it will usually be about a show or movie or about certain music.  Our flesh wants to be entertained so we want to justify the fact that much of our entertainment is anything but righteous.  We want permission to pollute our minds and feed our flesh rather than hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of God.

As we understand that God desires us to have lasting joy rather than temporary happiness we can move into a place where we begin the journey of hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Notice that Jesus says that we will be satisfied if we hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Do you really feel satisfied with life, with who you are, with your relationship with God?  Could it be because we are settling for influences in our life that makes light of or celebrates sinful behavior?  Could it be because we watch sit-coms that normalize  and humorize sexual immorality?  Sin can be portrayed in a funny way but humor does not give something value.

Speaking for myself, my desire is that I come to the point where I am not asking, "is this ok to read, is this ok to watch, is this ok to listen to?"  but instead, "does this bring glory to God, is this beneficial to my spiritual life, does this promote righteousness in my life?"  When we look at our entertainment choices in light of the second set of questions, the first set of questions seem shallow and weak.  As we truly grasp what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness it will change our whole world view and we will be able to view the world the way God does and respond accordingly.

Be satisfied in the Lord!




Tuesday, June 25, 2013

ON THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Our Thursday night group will begin looking at the Sermon on the Mount this week as we continue our study through the Gospel of Matthew.  There is much debate on who the Sermon on the Mount is for and how we as believers are to respond to it.  Many would like to exchange living by this teaching of Jesus rather than accepting His sacrifice.  As I study to teach, and take a good look at what Jesus taught, I am reminded of the Israelites when they received the law.  The Law was the rules of the Old Covenant and the Sermon on the Mount could be seen as the rules for the New Covenant.  The outcome is the same, no one could live by all the teachings of Jesus, just as no one could keep all of the Law.

I present to you that the Sermon on the Mount is what is required for kingdom life.  Jesus taught these things in order to show that no one could possibly live up to His standards.  Once again, this was designed to demonstrate that we need a redeemer, a savior, a sacrifice to cover our sins and shortcomings.  I am looking forward to studying the Sermon on the Mount with our group and demonstrating our need for the blood of Christ.

As I studied for this weeks lesson, I came across a surprising article which demonstrates the hostility the world has towards the message of Christ.

  http://andynaselli.com/why-people-hate-the-sermon-on-the-mount

This is a sad commentary on the state of affairs that our country is in.
Join me as I attempt to live up to the teachings of Christ, not to be good with God, but because I am good with God by the virtue of my faith in Christ.

Blessings!

Monday, June 24, 2013

RUN, FIGHT OR HIDE, THE FED STATES THE OBVIOUS AND CALLS IT A GUIDELINE

 I am very excited that the Federal Government took the time to instruct churches on how to respond to a church shooting.  The instructions are profound and very important as most church going people would never have been able to figure out what to do in the case of a gunman running amok in a church.  Here is the new Federal guideline, be prepared to be astounded: RUN, FIGHT OR HIDE! thankfully we have these geniuses in Washington to save the rest of us.

Please excuse my sarcasm, but it seems absolutely ridiculous that the Fed would announce "Federal Guidelines" and give us the obvious response to any attack.  It would appear that the Fed believes church people are less than intelligent.   It seems condescending that these guidelines are specifically for churches rather than just how to respond to a shooting in general.

I would like to get on the committee that creates government guidelines.  I have some very good ideas, for instance a guideline for a ringing cell phone: you can answer it, ignore it  or have someone else answer it for you.  How about a Federal guideline on ordering a pizza: call ahead for pickup, call in for delivery or walk into a pizza parlor and place your order.

Today, most churchgoing people are conservative and many have carry permits, I would think that the most dangerous place to attempt to shoot up would be a church.  I remember one Sunday at a church we used to attend, a congregant was concerned that a domestic issue would lead to a potential kidnapping, no less than 8 men of the church waited outside with concealed weapons.  Those of us who love freedom do not need the Federal government to tell us what to do in a church shooting.  We already know.  Perhaps the government should focus on fixing the economy or investigating the numerous scandals surrounding the president.

I would like to suggest a new Federal guideline for politicians: serve the people or get out of office.
Now that could revolutionize America!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

OF POWERS AND PRINCIPALITIES



Ephesians 6:12  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

The above passage has many layers of truth.  The first thing that sticks out is that our battles, as believers, is not with man or organizations of man, or even movements of man, but of the spiritual element behind the man and his organizations and movements.  For instance, the abortion issue, in the past, misguided people have taken it upon themselves to target women's clinics or even murder doctors who perform abortions.  This cannot be right on any level, I do not believe that any thinking person could conceive of Jesus standing in front of an abortion clinic screaming "murderer" in someone's face.  

My intention is not to discuss the very important issue of the unborn's right to life, but to make the point that our enemy does not wear skin.  Our enemy is the hater of our souls who devised the wickedness of abortion in order to destroy innocents, Satan.  Our true battle position is what the world would call a position of weakness, on our knees.  Spiritual battle is a healthy, balanced prayer life.  

What most people do not realize is that when Adam fell in the Garden of Eden the authority that God gave man over the earth transferred to Satan and his angels.  When Christ was tempted in the wilderness, remember, Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the earth.  How could he offer that if he was not in control of them and how could that have been a real temptation if the offer was not valid, surely, the creator of heaven and earth, Jesus, would know whether or not Satan had the authority to make that offer.  Satan was offering Jesus a shortcut to what the Father already promised, a shortcut that avoided the pain and humiliation of the cross.  

The other thing that strikes me in this passage is that it emphatically states "rulers, authorities and cosmic powers."  This world, and all of it's nations, are ruled by  cosmic powers, also known as demonic spirits.  Consider the passage in Daniel 10:13 where the angel Gabriel tells Daniel that he was detained due to a battle with the Prince of Persia and it was only after the angel Michael came to assist in battle that he was able to get free and come to Daniel with a message from God.  It is obvious that the Prince of Persia spoken of here is of the cosmic realm, what man could detain an angel in battle for 21 days?  Also, in Ezekiel  28 we see a prophecy against the king of Tyre.  Even a cursory reading of that passage reveals that it is not a man that is being spoken of but a cosmic being.  

This all sounds like bad news for mankind and in this present age, it is, but for followers of Christ, this is a temporary problem.  In fact, the good news is that the positions of authority that are occupied by these evil spirits will one day be occupied by the children of God, the church!
Remember the story that Jesus told about the man who went away and entrusted his servants with a certain amount of talents.  Upon the man's return, he rewarded his servants with rulership of cities determined by the profitable use of the talents entrusted.  One day, those of us who serve diligently will be set as co-rulers with Christ as He reigns over the nations.  The power of the cosmic forces that now rule over the nations will be broken and that authority will be granted to Christ by His heavenly Father and we will also be set as rulers, according to our stewardship now.  

The message in this is that though we live in a broken world, one day, our Savior will return and destroy the enemy's strongholds once and for all and He will rule the nations and His followers will also be given authority over His domain.  Our battle is temporary, our victory is assured and our enemy is not the sinners around us, in fact they are our mission.  Remember, believer, we wrestle not against flesh and blood and our battle belongs to the LORD.  Pray pray pray and wait for our glorious redemption.  

Join me in the plea of John the Revelator, "Amen, Come Lord Jesus!"


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

BELIEF IN GOD VS. BELIEVING THE WORD OF GOD

As I was studying the Genesis account of the fall of man recently, I was struck by the fact that clearly Adam believed in God but chose not to believe in His word.  Adam knew God, walked with God in the cool of the day and yet, Adam did not believe the Word of God.  God specifically told Adam "if you eat the fruit, you will die."  If Adam believed the Word of God, he absolutely would not have eaten he fruit.

Many people today claim to believe in God but refuse believe in the Word. Believing in the Word brings life.  The Apostle John makes it clear in the opening of his Gospel account that Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh.  "The Word was with God and the Word was God... and the Word became flesh..."

 I had attended a meeting with our former Boy Scout troop as we discussed the decision by Boy Scouts of America to lift the ban on openly gay scouts.   Everyone in the room agreed that the BSA made a bad decision except one very vocal and very adamant parent.  As we discussed the morality of the decision (or lack thereof) she made the claim that many churches accept gays and many ministers are gay and that it all depends on one's interpretation of the Bible.  This is a perfect example of a person who claims to believe in God, as she clearly stated her denominational affiliation, yet denied the Word.  The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin, as is any sexual activity outside of marriage.

The real issue is what do we do with the Word made flesh?  Churches that endorse sinful activity tend to have a different version of the Gospel than that which Jesus taught us.  These churches teach and believe that the ultimate expression of faith is loving and accepting others no matter what their lifestyle of belief system.  This has led to our post modern society embracing everything except Biblical Christianity.

As believers, we need to stand up for the truth, in love and hold fast to the Word.  Join me as I proclaim the Word and embrace the Word made flesh for the forgiveness of sin.

Blessings!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

HOW WE DO CHURCH

As I continue to consider the methodology of doing church in the Western world, I have come to realize that, for many ministers, the Sunday morning service is the goal. (or Sunday school attendance in the Southern Baptist churches)  All the work that is done throughout the week is geared to bringing people to the building in order to present the message and hopefully an invitation to salvation in an altar call.  I remember when I pastored in Florida, I suffered from that same mentality.  Sunday attendance was the ultimate test of the success and health of the church.

What I am beginning to realize that Sunday attendance is not the end game but a small part of our measure of success.  The real success of those of us who consider ourselves ministers is the impact we are having in the lives of real people on a personal level.  Today, pastors hold their congregants at arms length and see their job as primarily filling a pulpit.  Speaking for my self I remember that preaching was the main focus of my Florida ministry.  I missed the big picture and the church failed.

I am embarking on a new exciting journey with God realizing that the end result is impacting people's lives by investing time in them and then getting the privilege of teaching them the Word.  We,the believers in Chirst, are the church, not the building or a specific congregation.  The church we see in the New Testament met together, ate together and worshiped together throughout the week, not making the "church service" the end all get all of it's existence.

We are not reinventing how we do church but rediscovering God's design for how church is done.   Our commitment to serving and gathering was never meant to be a Sunday event, but a lifestyle of fellowship, sharing and worship each and every day.  I notice as I embrace this concept, I am more open to sharing my faith in the workplace and not being "sensitive" to those who may not believe, in the sense of remaining quiet so as not to offend or be controversial, but instead having a new, truer sensitivity to the true needs of those around me, namely, salvation through Christ.  Understanding this new concept has helped free me to fulfill the great commission in a new and exciting way.

As I write this, our family is attending a fellowship in South Knoxville, but as we continue to seek the Lord, we are praying for a worship leader that we might plant a congregation in North Knoxville and parlay our Thursday night Bible study into a Wednesday night worship gathering.  An added benefit to this new adventure is the enthusiasm my family has shown in being involved in church again.  God is truly good and we have been praying for this for a long time!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

SPIRITUAL VALUE STARTS WITH JESUS

After listening to an excellent sermon in church this week,   http://overflowcollective.org/media.php?pageID=5   God gave me some great insight into His word.  The passage we studied was John 5 about the crippled man who was at the pool of Bethesda waiting to be healed.  The scripture states in the ESV  version that the man was an invalid.  I started thinking about the word invalid and it's different meanings and I thought of an alternate pronunciation that changes the meaning: invalid, accent on val meaning without value.  In the context of the scripture, this man had spent "a long time" attempting to do something that was physically impossible for him to do.  "A long time", trying the same thing and failing, over and over again.  This man had no plan, he never attempted anything different, he never enlisted any help, he simply laid down and waited for something to happen.  The scenario is that at this particular pool, disabled people would gather and wait for an angel to stir up the water and the first one into the pool got healed.  Now remember, this man spent "a long time" lying crippled, waiting for someone to pick him up and put him on the pool.  When Jesus came up to him, the man did not call out to Jesus or ask for help, Jesus initiated contact.

     Obviously, this man wanted his life to change but he did absolutely nothing constructive to help his case.  It can be argued that waiting for the waters to stir and going in the pool was a tradition, this man was simply following a tradition, with no hope of actually accomplishing his goal, expecting something to happen.  Where the  application for me comes in is I see this man as representing spiritually disabled people who follow the religious traditions of men or just lay around feeling sorry for themselves rather than actually meeting Christ.  The ESV version of the Bible calls this man an invalid and that means to me that his life was invalid (accent on the val).  This man offered nothing to society, he simply lay by the pool, uselessly, never utilizing the gifts or talents that God gave him. When we follow blind tradition or sit around waiting for something to happen without seeking after God, we are invalid, in other words, we have no spiritual value.

It is only when we recognize Christ and His desire to change us and guide us through His Spirit and His Word that we can see our lives garner spiritual value.  This also ties into something we discussed on Thursday night during Bible study.  Looking at Matthew 3 we saw the incident where Jesus comes to John the Baptist for baptism.  John hesitated in baptizing Christ as he recognized that Christ was greater  than he.  That is the beginning of spiritual growth, recognizing who God is and allowing Him to have an impact in our lives.  Our view of who God is cannot be shaped by our worldview, our worldview must  be dictated by who God is as He has revealed Himself to us in His word.

Horror author Stephen King, in an interview with NPR recently stated a belief in "a higher power" and he indicated that the design of the universe caused him to understand that there is a supreme being involved in that design.  If you have ever read a Stephen King novel, there is very little in it that would bring glory to God.  Stephen King acknowledges God but based on his writing, does not  allow his worldview to be influenced by God as revealed in scripture.  King, who claims faith in God claims Christianity, and raised Methodist, does not espouse evangelical concepts.  Instead, we see King using Biblical themes minus the redemptive work of Christ.   Much of Kings work celebrates good conquering evil by the power of good people.  While this is a nice thought, it does not match up to Biblical truth.  Man has no power over evil as demonstrated by our need for the cross.  So in a sense, the writing of Stephen King demonstrates an example of a world view shaping a belief in God and His dealings with man.  The sad part is, that the christian community is so starved for anything that entertains us and has even a modicum of faith value that we see the writings of Stephen King lauded in christian circles.  At one time, King was my favorite author but many years ago, I became convicted by his overt worldly and often sexual content,  I gave up reading any of his books once and for all.

The bottom line is that in order to have any spiritual value, we must allow our lives to be shaped by the truth of God the creator of heaven and earth, the redeemer of man and the lover of our souls.  A true encounter with God, a God influenced worldview, and the desire for and the allowing of Christ to come into our lives to change it and shape it is required if we want our lives to have any spiritual value.