Thursday, March 30, 2017

CONFORMING VS TRANSFORMING - BEING WHO YOU ARE IN CHRIST

 
   How does a ministry balance "come as you are" invitations to Christ with the Biblical call for transformation?  In our multicultural, all inclusive, tolerance based society, this can be a difficult road to navigate.  Do we insist upon immediate repentance of blatant sin or do we recognize a process of sanctification?  Can a guy with a purple mohawk or a gal with multiple face piercings grow in Christ inwardly and still look the same on the outside.  Where do we draw the line on "acceptable sin"?  What is acceptable sin and is there even such a thing?  

      As society becomes more and more "tolerant" of, well, basically everything, how does the church, especially in the context of evangelism, respond to today's culture with a message of God's holiness and remain relevant?  A big trap to avoid is, when we call others to holiness, we do not consider ourselves the model for holiness!  Jesus Christ is the model of holiness.  When a guy who grew up in an upper middle class home, in an upper middle class neighborhood goes to a seminary after college and then falls into a pastorate in an upper middle class church he has a much different life experience than most people to whom he will minister.  This upper middle class pastor, who probably spends most of his adult life in a coat and tie, may believe the appearance of an average upper middle class person is the appearance that best represents holiness. The only problem is, Jesus never addressed hair style and clothes.  

    The Bible clearly tells us men should not wear women's clothes and women should not wear men's clothes. Where the Bible speaks on tattoos and piercings, it also prohibits the eating of bacon, shrimp and lobster...  Unless you are practicing Judaism and relying on the Law of Moses for salvation (which cannot be done) these prohibitions do not apply, anyway.  

     So purple mohawk guy, pierced face gal,  sleeved young man, Jesus loves you, hair dye, hardware, tattoos and all. God's purpose for you may very well include your less than traditional appearance.  

    Blatant sin, which we could categorize as sin that leads to death, should be addressed and dealt with as soon  as possible in the life of a new believer.  If a person is truly surrendering his life to Christ and not merely looking for "fire insurance" against hell, there should be some immediate repentance of blatant sin.  If someone is coming to Christ for salvation, chances are he is well aware of the fact there is blatant sin needing to be dealt with and are seeking God because of that sin in the first place.  

     The early church fathers instructed the non-Jewish believers to abstain from sexual immorality, eating of blood, eating strangled food and food sacrificed to idols.  We see a Biblical precedent in the book of Acts where people involved in witchcraft and sorcery immediately gave up their evil practices and burned their books and other associated items.  So, yes, there are behaviors and lifestyle choices that are absolutely incompatible with the Christian life, and no, this is not an exhaustive list of what we can and cannot do.  

     Discipleship is the key to all of this, teaching the new believer about the role of the Holy Spirit in convicting conscience about sin and the role of the Holy Spirit in helping us overcome the desire to sin.  This helps us avoid, all together, the question of "acceptable sin".  In truth, there is no such thing as acceptable sin, however, there are certain things that are sin in the life of one and not the other.  To a drunk, having a beer is sin, to a person who has no compulsion or desire to be drunk, relaxing with a beer probably is not a sin.  Where the Bible speaks clearly, we should obey and where the Bible is silent, we ought to pray and seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit before we attempt to remove every perceived speck from our neighbor's eyes. (for more on the topic of specks and beams, CLICK HERE) 

     Come as you are evangelism is absolutely legitimate, but, a remain as you are message is just as wrong as saying "change so you look like me".   God will change the new believer from the inside out, dealing with bad and dangerous behavior, not necessarily general appearance.  So, the message should be, "come as you are, expect God to transform you and your life, but, be the person God has allowed you to become, because He has use of you whether you are more comfortable in a sweater vest or a leather vest". Matthew 6:33  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SERVING WITH JOY AND NOT COMPULSION

   
  Why is the Western church in such disarray?  Spiritually speaking, one of the most deadly practices we find in the church is compulsory service and observances.  Compulsory service has an appearance of godliness, but in reality is worthless and hollow. How many come to church begrudgingly, slogging through the worship songs with no thought given to words sung nor to the One sung to?  How many paltry dollars are dropped in the offering plate out of a sense of obligation or coercion?  How many zoned out heart and minds sit through  a carefully prepared message from the Word?  How many think they have done their duty for God by suffering through yet another church service or performing some religious task?  This is why the church is dying in America, too many people are pretending and not enough are truly committed to what they claim to believe.

     In 2 Chronicles 30-31, we find the Hebrews celebrating Passover, properly, for what may be the first time in 250 years.  Though they celebrated it a month late and not all the people were ceremonially clean, the hearts of the people were wholly dedicated to God and His glory.  So joyful an event was the 7 day festival, the people decided to celebrate for another 7 days.  After they celebrated, they willfully and joyfully went through the land and destroyed all that brought dishonor to God.  The Hebrews did not begrudgingly quit doing things they enjoyed for fear of retribution or punishment, they genuinely desired to honor and please God with their daily lives. God's wrath on the nation was temporarily averted because the people served Him with their heart, rather than out of obligation.

     Coming to that place, where we are desiring to please God, not just trying to avoid punishment, is part of maturing in Christ.  When we repent from bad habits and attitudes because our hearts are truly convicted by our love for God, this is real Christianity.  When we simply attempt to live by a set of rules because the rules seem to be what Christians are supposed to do, we are deceiving ourselves and opening the door for self righteousness.  True obedience and discipleship start with a change within.  Inward change does not begin with outward subjugation to a given set of dos and don'ts. There is no joy found in compulsion, only a sense of duty and obligation that can bring stress or pride, both destructive.  

     Authentic change can only come by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  Attempting to live a holy life without the supernatural empowerment of the Holy Spirit is frustrating at best and self destructive at worst.  It simply cannot be done.  Religion is a system of order and compulsory behaviors designed to bring us closer to God.  Religion is empty and without power.  Relationship draws us closer to God through knowledge and understanding of His word and desire to please Him.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

LOVING THE DEAD - BECAUSE CHRIST LOVED US WHEN WE WERE STILL DEAD

  
  What can the dead do?  If a person died in front of you, would you attempt CPR or take some other action in order to help revive them, would you shout at them to wake up before it is too late, or would you just ignore them and walk on by?  Spiritually speaking, Christians come in contact with the dead every day.  What is our response? I hope we remember that we were once spiritually dead and now have the responsibility to share life.  

Ephesians 2:1&4-5  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

In the Christian community, we know we are to love one another, and how we do that varies more or less.  Sadly, it is often more less, but we know better.  How the Christian community relates to those outside the church is a different matter.  Perception is king and pop culture portrays the church as narrow minded and bigoted, perceiving the average Christian as a hatemonger.  One of the biggest obstacles we face is our own rhetoric and behavior.  Legalistic congregations and even some parachurch organizations have been known for some outrageous behavior.  So called Pastor, Fred Phelps, and the antics of the his Westboro Baptist Church comes to mind, when we speak of "hate filled" Christians. 

     While clowns like Phelps (oh, was that less than loving? Jesus called the religious hypocrites worse) give a black eye to the Christian community, there are myriads of believers quietly working in outreach ministries demonstrating the love of Jesus.  This is who we need to be.  This is how we overcome the stereotype of bigot and hater.  This is the Great Commission.  


     Pastor Bob Beeman is an example of a guy who gets it right: 




     
    Loving one another is behavior oriented, not words or platitudes.  The guy who tells his wife "I love you" and then smacks her around does not love his wife, he loves himself.  True love may never say the words "I love you" but is demonstrated in actions of good. Those who are lost in sin need to know God loves them. We must endeavor to love by considering others better than ourselves. Our behavior toward those dead in sin may be the difference between them finding salvation or remaining alienated from God. Find someone to bless today and tell them you love them by your actions not your words! 
      

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

POWER TO OVERCOME- WE ARE MORE THAN CONQUERORS!

 
  Struggling through life is not what God intends for His children.  No, this is not a "God makes everything great" post, this is a God makes everything bearable post.  Just like everyone who breaths air, you and I will go through tough times.  Walking with Jesus gives us the power to overcome in adversity.  Notice we do not overcome adversity, we overcome in adversity.  Overcoming does not necessarily mean our problems go away, it means we are not destroyed and it means we can flourish while in the midst of adversity.

     The Bible tells us: 1 Corinthians 10:13  No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. God gives us the ability to endure.  Jesus withstood the face to face temptation of Satan in the wilderness.  Jesus endured because He focused on the Word of God. Though Jesus is God, He chose to limit Himself to manhood in order to save man.  As a man, Jesus learned scripture the same way we do, He studied it and memorized it.  Jesus is an example to us, in His humanity.

     The same power Jesus had to endure hardship is available to us, as believers in Christ.  1 John 4:17  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 
 Some wallow in self pity rather than seeing adversity as an opportunity for God to manifest His power.  God has imprinted us with His very image.  This sets us apart from the rest of creation. Even the angels are charged with serving mankind:  Hebrews 1:13-14  And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"?  Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation? 

     Know God loves you and know He promises to never leave you nor forsake you.  All the power of God and is available for sustaining us when life gets difficult.  When tough times come, pray and seek His comfort and strength.  God my not change your circumstances but He will change your perspective.  God uses adversity in our lives to empower us for His service and to prepare us for His blessings. God also promises us peace and joy regardless of circumstances.  Romans 8:37  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  God's design is for us to flourish and grow, even in the midst of hardship and difficulty.  Give Him the opportunity to demonstrate, not only His power, but His great love for you.  


Friday, March 3, 2017

REDISCOVERING WORTH - A TALE OF 3 MOTORCYCLES


    I remember a time when I was given 3 motorcycles that had been left in an abandoned storage facility.  None of them ran, nor were they titled.  At one time, these bikes came off an assembly line with hope and promise.  Each bike was crafted with a specific purpose in mind.  All three bikes were good for transportation and fun.  Each bike went from the factory to a person entrusted with it's care, maintenance and proper use, ensuring each bike fulfilled it's destiny.  Somewhere along the line, these bikes each became neglected and mistreated by the person entrusted with their care.  Each bike apparently malfunctioned because of improper care.  These bikes had no power of their own to maintain themselves properly, yet when they no longer worked as designed, they were declared worthless by their caretakers.  Mishandled, these bikes became erratic in their behavior.  The owners were either abusive, negligent, or simply not equipped to own and maintain a motorcycle.  As each motorcycle began to "misbehave", none of the owners seemed willing to take responsibility, all three owners told these bikes, once their pride and joy, they were worthless.  All three owners cast these bikes out and abandoned them because they did not meet expectations.  Possibly having a bike was not exactly as they had envisioned.  


     As outcasts, these bikes sat in an abandoned storage pod with other cast offs and broken items deemed worthless by those entrusted with their care.  As so often is the case, these broken cast offs found their way to each other. Now, obviously, these bikes are inanimate objects without thought of feeling, but for the sake of analogy, imagine these were sentient creatures with the power of thought and emotion.  Imagine what the neglect, misuse and dissatisfaction of the owners would do to these bikes.  Imagine what "life" was like for these three as they are declared worthless by those who should have loved and cared for them. Imagine the hurt and bewilderment as they are abandoned and left as if they never existed.  Imagine how that would sit together, yet alone, year after year believing they somehow failed or stewing in anger and feeding off of each other's misery.  

    Sadly, and devastatingly so, there are many people who have this same story.  Babies born with God given purpose and design, often  to parents who are excited and hopeful, yet ill equipped and selfish.  Some are born into hostile environments where they are unwanted from the beginning.  After a life of neglect, abuse and improper parenting, many of these babies grow up resentful, rebellious and worst of all, hurt... deeply hurt.  Broken by the ones entrusted with care and nurturing, these broken children grow into broken adults.  Because of behavioral issues or attitudes born of bad parenting, these broken children are declared worthless or "troubled".  Cast aside by society, many of these naturally gravitate to others who have been similarly treated and worse behaviors and attitudes manifest. When a person believes he is worthless, he is without hope and behaves worthlessly.  

      Mainstream society and church shuns those with tattoos, piercings and multicolored hair.  It becomes easier for people to ignore those who are different and pretend no problem exists. The broken and distrustful often gravitate to the fringes of society and the mainstream church seems content to leave them there.  What mainstream society and churches do not realize is that those with the hardest shells often built those shells in response to deep harm caused by those who were entrusted with love and care.  A hard shell ensures no one else gets in to cause harm.  Jesus came to seek that which was lost, is that not what the church is to be doing also?  We cannot just build a building and start preaching and expect people to show up, we have to go to where the people are.  What we have is a message of hope, the message is worthless if it is not shared.  

     Thankfully, the story of the motorcycles does not end with abandonment in a warehouse.  Two of those bikes were actually able to fulfill their original purpose and intent.  One was worked on and able to run and given to a family member, another was given to an immigrant who needed transportation.  These bikes were not able to rebuild themselves or suddenly start up and ride off into the sunset, they needed help and care.  Once they received the help and care necessary, they were able to fulfill the role for which they were designed.  So many people are just like these bikes, not ever realizing that they have potential or that anyone even cares about them.
  
     If the church is not willing to go to the fringes of society to rescue the lost, there will be no rescue of the lost.  And  by the church, I am not talking about the First Baptist Church of Whatever, I am talking about you and me, the Body of Christ, fulfilling our calling and purpose.  No one is worthless, no one is forsaken of God, so why is the church content with allowing whole segments of society believe they are worthless and forsaken?  Part of the reason is this kind of ministry is messy.  Our cookie cutter ideas of what faith and sanctification should look like does not match this kind of ministry.  We too often think salvation should come with a suit, tie and a haircut when sometimes salvation means new tattoos and different t-shirt.  

       Like many people, these bikes were made with care and specific purpose, but, due to the negligence and mistreatment of others, sat in obscurity.  There are many people who, though fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving creator, were mistreated and neglected, cast aside and forgotten, or simply ignored. This mistreatment often leads to poor choices which only serve to magnify feelings of alienation.  The church cannot... must not, ignore those who are hurting or deemed worthless by holier than thou hypocrites. The church, which is you and me, must step up and step out and seek what was lost and what was cast aside and what was deemed worthless by corrupt and sin addled society.