Friday, April 27, 2007

How They See Us - From the Inside

Last night I was impressed with the topic at our Thursday night group. "What is church?" Wow, you get all kinds of answers. It is a place of redemption, love, hope, "not a building", people, institution.. and the list goes on. I guess I would ask the inverse, what is the church expected to be that it is not? Well, it is not a building, not a social club, not a political machine... I am sure you can think of some others.

If we look at church history, and we should. We'll see that the 1st century church was comprised of communal living and small home churches with occasional services held in synagogues. In truth the persecution of the early church caused it to be primarily underground in many respects.... or the parishioners would be stoned to death, fed to the lions, forced to burn to death on an iron chair over hot coals... it was ugly, very ugly. So, why did the early Christians claim faith in the face of torture and death? I would say because church was not a building, not a social club or a political vehicle. It must have been something of great value, or no one would have given their life for it. Actually I have read accounts where the joy of those facing the lions was so great that the onlookers would actually give the lives up to have what they saw in the faces of those facing death. You can read more about it here.

To get right to the point. The "true" church is a living, breathing, spiritual organism that most often manifests itself through human vessels, while being an eternal entity in its own right; an extension of God the creator Himself... it is a the Kingdom of all kingdoms. Most Christians are aware of the kingdom that will come, but there is also the kingdom that is at hand. So it has been taught, it is now and not yet. Salvation has come in the death of Jesus, one gets saved by faith and will be saved on the last day. To use a simple analogy, it is like a trust fund where we get a check, and we get subsequent checks, but we are entitled to it all at age 18. In this case we get it all at death, or so it seems that way. I can't imagine that a day in eternity will be all that boring.

If the point is that the church is for real, now and not yet, then what value does it have to the average guy or gal on the street? I think that is a tough question. Are we to be seeker-friendly or militant; humble and quiet or bold and relentless for the things of the Kingdom? Another tough question. Here is what I think we need to do. I think that we need to be so in love with Jesus that we only do what we see Him doing wherever we are. What does that look like? It looks like we are acting on faith and showing love. Then there will be times when others want what we have, even in the face of torture and death.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

How They See Us - Politcal Analyst

This morning I heard a local political analyst talking about his perception of government and the church. I guess it's true, talking about politics and religion are fodder for heated debate. In the argot of political correctness, it seems that there have misperceptions regarding the church. It doesn't surprise me that people don't trust the government... just the thought of what is "spun" our way can make you sick. It seems that most of it is a position that benefits a certain group whether it makes sense or not. What puzzled me was the stone cold analysis of the church according to this man. He said, and I quote, "Those in the church are loving until it comes to homosexuals and the sexually abused (referring the the clergy sexual abuse scandal here in Massachusetts.)." Wow! Do we have a long way to go or what? How are we going to fix that?

I have to say that I am so stunned that I don't really have much of an answer. I do think that this man, A) only knows about church from the news media, B) has a family member that fits into one or both categories and is over sensitized to it, C) has never been with a loving Christian. Wow times two! Here is a very intelligent man, obviously well educated, one who is outspoken against the crazies on both sides of the spectrum... there are certainly plenty of religious nuts to go around, and doesn't know about real love. I find that amazing.

The church needs to do something here. We are past the point of damage control, it appears that we have lost a lot of credibility. And now we are in a place where our rights, which are the same as everyone Else's, are in jeopardy. Why? Because we are lumped in with the worst. Some of this is our fault. I think it is time that individuals, churches, states and nations humble themselves in service to others. To make public displays of love, not protest. I am happy for those that want to fight the good fight at the State House and Nations Capital; we can't let every right that we have be trampled. However; we also have a great cloud of witnesses and they are watch and reporting. No, it is time that those who have been hurt by the church were sought out and real amends made. Are we so militant that certain types of people are not welcome in our church? That's ridiculous! Are we so unprincipled that we don't speak against that which is sin (with love and not condemnation)? That's ridiculous!

I have been watching the potential candidates for president. A guy like Barak Obama, he just presents his views the way he sees it. He admits his mistakes (cocaine use) and moves forward with his agenda. A lot of people are finding that attractive. Don't get me wrong, I am not supporting him as a candidate, I am just watching what he does, how he does it, and the results that he is getting. At some point the church has stop covering up our sins, pretending we are something that we are not, and say it the way we see it without being jerks. We need to admit that we are human; redeemed but human, and move ahead. It seems for a long time we have had the extremes, we were militant or permissive neither of which Jesus was. Becuase of this we have been perceived as hypocritical and unloving. In the process we have not given the world the very salt and light that it is looking for. Isn't that our business?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How They See Us - Another View

Wow, I was watching Dr. Phil and he did a segment on "What are you thinking!" He had two Christian guests on. The first was a famous evangelical Christian talking about deliverance. I was a little concerned; casting out demons can be pretty scary to the average onlooker. Generally Christians get a bad rap in the media, sometimes for good reason, but most times not. I don't personally think that Phil McGraw is all that spiritual. For him to have a Charismatic/Pentecostal minister on for some good reason was a stretch for me. He can be very condescending at times. I was interested to see if he was actually going to listen. My other concern was the Christian-ese culture that looks pretty stupid to the outsider. Dr. Phil didn't seem that "impressed" that with Bob Larson... he didn't' say there was going to be a link on his web site like he does for other promoted guests. I do believe people think that Larson looks for demons under every rock. I think that it is his ministry, just like others peach and and some feed the poor. I say thank God that someone is doing it!

The second guest was a father and his daughters. They seemed pretty normal to me, but I am a Christian. The father and his daughters had made a covenant for him to help them reach marriage without having sex. His church had a purity ball where the girls dressed in white and the fathers took responsibility for their purity. There they did symbolic acts signifying the covenant. I think most of it was a healthy Christian dad wanting the best for his daughter. After all he did have one daughter that was married and made the goal of purity; her first kiss on the altar of marriage. I have to say for a guy that for the most part has a no-nonsense approach to the human condition, ole' Phil seemed dumbfounded. The things the he suggests a lot of the time are actually Biblical. Being honest, being grown up, stopping bad behavior, taking the rightful place in families (where kids don't run the house) and things like that I applaud. This time, he certainly had an opposing view but didn't really voice it. The witness of the married daughter, and the unmarried daughter were really wonderful. To Phil's surprise a number of people clapped when she talked about how wonderful marriage was because of the commitment to purity she had made. Both girls seemed happy about their decision to remain pure. They also had a guest that had given up on the commitment as if practice was required for marriage. I was not impressed. She seemed a little rebellious in tone and began to justify her decision. I just didn't see any peace about it.

I'll be interested to see what the rest of the world thinks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Knowing Stuff - How the Body Works

This week I was reminded of how the prophetic gift works (the working of the Holy Spirit). I have a friend that I talk to a least a few times a month, and have from quite a few years. We don't see each other often, but God seems to have a purpose in this relationship. And God seems to give me knowledge of certain situations in his life. I find it enriching and fascinating what God has done over the years as we have talked, prayed and thought of each other.

I know there are some readers that don't believe people actually hear directly from God; I have gotten a few e-mails. What I find interesting is this: I am very certain one of the skeptics has been to a psychic. They told me they were dually impressed that the medium knew exactly how many children they had given birth to. The truth is this, even this person believes in supernatural "hearing". However; what I find funny is that once you wrap the word Jesus, or church around that type of hearing, then people want to call it something else. It also falls under a different standard so-to-speak. The psychic can be anyone; even someone in jail, but the church person has to have been perfect their entire life (see the story of Joseph, you can prophesy from jail! See the story of King David, you can do it and be a murderer.).

There are some very good Bible passages that talk about the prophetic gift and the use of diviners, oracles and psychics. Look at the story of King Saul. He relied on the prophets of his day and when they didn't come through, he went to the oracles (which was sin). I honestly think that they in their functioning, they are all the same. The spirit perceives that voice of a supernatural being, it could be God or the Devil, but the same "internal speaker." I also think that people in church should be of good character, but I am certain they are not always. The Bible speaks of the New Testament gifts, and prophecy is just one of them. The fact that people get fairly clear messages from God doesn't surprise me all that much, there is a lot of information in the Bible about it. That is enough rationalization for the reality of prophecy, now on to the story.

I called my friend one day while he lived in Texas and simply asked, "what do you know about Jacksonville?" He replied, "well the company I work for has a office there." I think we were both wondering why I asked the question. Then I felt impressed to say "I think you might be transferred there." He replied, "oh I don't know about that." A few weeks later a position opened up there and he had a couple of interviews, neither of which he felt confidant in, but he got the position anyway. I don't remember all that details, but he was there for a few years before God brought him back to TX. We laugh about it from time to time because it was a tough time for him there in FL.

I have another friend that this happens with too. It was a similar situation. He was working with a small company and had been for some years. I called one Sunday and said "I don't know how much longer the job is going to last." That Friday they called him into the office and basically said there wasn't enough work to keep him on. We talked about the end of the job on the phone that Saturday. As we spoke on the phone I saw a picture of a building in my spirit that was orange and black and white. I decided that it was a big chain building supply company. My friend seemed interested figuring that if God knew that his job was ending that he would at least go and fill out an application. We had previously worked in carpentry together so this was not really a stretch for him; he knew the building materials industry well. He stopped in and filled out the application but didn't' hear anything from them. We decided that maybe I had missed it, so he applied at, and took a job at, another big chain building supply store. It didn't go well, I think he was there a week and just didn't fit in. We spoke again and felt impressed that the first one, was that place. I saw that picture of a man in my spirit and described him in detail. When my friend finally interviewed with the manager, it was the man that i had described. Needless to say, he got the job and has been there a almost 10 years. Once in a while we talk about those days when God amazed us both.

The prophetic gift should be available for those that need to hear from God. It is not the only way that it happens, but it is certainly one that will usually encourage you. The Body of Christ works with all of the gifts complimenting each other. There are 15 or 20 gifts to the Body described in the Bible (1 Cor 12, Romans 12 Eph 4). They are not parlor tricks, they are not for us... no they are a gift to the church. Used with discernment, love and humility, they are of great value to all.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

How They See Us - Rock & Roll and Christianity

Dancing, jumping, shouting, slamming and moshing, that's what you do at a rock concert. From Aerosmith to 50 Cent, music is as popular now as it ever was. And with personal musical devices, it isn't slowing down anytime soon. Music, it seems to define generation after generation. I remember in Kindergarten listening to the Beatles new 45, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". Then there was Woodstock, Southern Rock... then I lost track for a few years. Thanks be to God for Classic Rock radio!

So how is it that rock and roll has gained a place with Christians? After all the term "rock and roll" originally was a slang term for sex, not something you hear a lot about in church. Can God use rock for the Rock? Before I answer let me say this, you can find hundreds of web sites that proclaim rock and roll is the "Devil's Music." You'll also find a generation of young people that grew up in the church that listen to "Christian Rock", along with those that feel that the genre is simply the world coming in like a flood. So, which is it? Wimpy hymns and campfire songs in church or Hell? Why not Ozzy in church? I think the Bible is pretty clear on this... Why not Ozzy? Well I would have to say the content of the lyrics for anything song that I can think of would disqualify his music under the clause of "what is holy." The amazing thing is that Paul debated the issue and said "hey, don't do anything to causes you to sin.. or anyone else." He went on to say, "everything that is not sin is permissible, unless it causes you to sin." Thinking on things that are pure and holy is another good verse. Here is a good test. Listen to the Eagles "Witchy Woman" and then Listen to your favorite hymn or worship tune. If you are really honest with yourself, I think you'll see a difference. That's why Ozzy isn't a good idea for most Christians.

I have been a musician about the same amount of time that I have been a born again Christian; about 30 years. In that time I have studied the Bible and music, both of which I have some sort of degree in. In neither music theory or my biblical studies have I found anything the proclaims that the beat, or volume of a song is demonic. Neither have I found a scale, mode or chord progression that is either. What I have found is lyrics and songs inspired by the devil and others by God. I have also found a lot in between that isn't sin and isn't God. Here is an example of how I see it. Let's say what you listen to is what you eat. The demonic music (lyrics) are poison. Some of it will kill you fast and some will kill you slowly. Then there is godly music, whether it is worship tunes, hymns or Christian rock that makes you think about God, or want to know Him more; that's the health food. Then in between there is potato chips and pizza and Coca-Cola... all good in moderation, but potentially dangerous for some people. That's how I see music.

So, then how is it that we merge popular culture with Biblical principals? The church needs to be relevant. Because music has been a popular part of church services for eons, I think people expect it. If someone shows up at church and listens to Brittany Spears all week, chances are that a tearful rendition of "Nothing but the Blood" is not going to capture their heart. It might, but I doubt it. The church can't be like the world either, conversely it can't be so different that no one will show up. Have you noticed, church attendance is on the decline? Are we going to abdicate and blame that on the devil too? I am not a proponent of "seeker friendly" churches but I am not for any church that is not relevant. The church's job is to meet the spiritual needs of those that come (not to mention feeding the poor, caring for widows, visiting those in prison and preaching the Good News). Churches can't meet every need. If they could, we wouldn't need Jesus. People need relationship, council, and things that connect them to God. Music can do that. A good sermon can do that, but so can hanging out at the coffee pot. What music does is minister after the service. Did you ever get a song stuck in your head? What if it was one that reminded you that God loved you, died for your sins or something like that?

On the other side, the Bible says that that there is a great cloud of witnesses. Therefore we need to be careful how we present ourselves. People notice how we dress, how we speak and how we treat others. The Bible says that all men will see our good works and praise God. How is that possible if we act like jerks? How is that possible if we offend others? It is not likely. I am not suggesting that we be politically correct either. Just remember that tolerance is not in the Bible, but love and kindness are. Here is what the secular press thinks of CHRISTIAN ROCK, what do you think?

And the beat goes on.

Blacksburg II

Well, as I predicted yesterday the initial reports about he the shooter were incorrect. It appears that he was living in the US for about 15 years. He was from South Korea, not China! As with every horrific incident, the media finds some know-it-all that can find a reason to pound a drum for some reason or other. Meanwhile, the Blacksburg community and the entire US stand by trying to make sense of the senseless. If you watched the scenes from the service that took place last night; the familiar melody of "Amazing Grace" was hauntingly appropriate... you probably shed a tear. Maybe you heard one student say, "There is nothing to say, to do so would be dishonest." Profound... and hopefully the media will heed his advice.

At this point, I don't think there is a lot to to say. There are families and friends of the victims, as well as those who were witness to the incident, that are shattered emotionally by this atrocity. They need prayers, comfort, council, peace and Amazing Grace.

Who is at fault? It is always the same answer, the sin nature within all men. It is not pure evil, or simply mental illness. No, is what is in the heart spills forth, sometimes in thoughts and words, and other times as violent crime. The laws dictate what a crime is, but Jesus said if you even thought it, you are in sin. There is just no way out. Everyone has done it. The "good" or "better then" want to send the bad to Hell. Here where they are wrong. It is not about good and bad, or good and evil. We all have the same spiritual fate; death due to sin. You can change all the laws in the land, all the safety policies and procedures for every organization, but it will not eradicate the sin nature. Mankind will continue to sin until the end of the age. Period.

The good news, is the Good News, Jesus Christ died for all sinners, receiving the gift is all that is required. You can't earn it, you can't be good enough to achieve it. No, it is by faith regardless of what we have done. Thief or income tax cheater, one prone to fits of rage, or the blood of murder, you are the one that Jesus died for. Amazing Grace? I believe so.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blacksburg - Why?

As the news spread about the horrific tragedy at Virginia Tech. I am always amazed at the commentators. I don't know if they make this up, or some fool writes it for them. This morning I heard one commenting on why this happened. Before I tell you what he said, I want to qualify my comments.

First of all it is honorific, sad and tragic when lives are lost for no reason. There was no cause, no reason for such a violent act. Provoked or not, I can't imagine what this young man was thinking.

Second, don't compare it to war, where acts of aggression and viable threats perpetrate a forceful response from a country, not an individual.

Third, I don't know why God allows these types of tragic events to happen, but I have a couple of clues. A - He is looking at all of eternity, not just this day, this week-- or even this life time. He is aware of the value of earthly human life I am sure. B - God is sovereign and our ways are not His ways. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will understand it all in one bite. C - God loves, but He also allows us to do as we please, good or bad, right or wrong. If you read the Bible, God is not specifically going to stop the impending end of the age. Many Biblical authors tell us that there will be this type of violence and worse. Why? That is the real question. The answer, because He wants us to live and reign with Him for eternity. God gave us a choice to sin or not. He gave us the choice to follow other gods and ideologies with consequences. He was well aware of our inability to be "good", that is why He sent Jesus.

With all that said, here is what the commentator said this morning. Early reports (guesses and false conclusions often times) said that the shooter was a first year student from Shanghai, China. The comment that really made me think was this, "How do you think that he learned the violent side of American culture so quickly when guns are outlawed in China?" Are you kidding me?!?!? Murder has been around since Cain and Able. The Bible says that murder is in our hearts; a building block of our spiritual DNA. You don't need a 9mm semiautomatic pistol to commit murder! Did the use of a a gun make the body count higher? I think so. And yes, we should probably do a better job of enforcing the gun control laws that we have. I just don't think it is possible that this kid watched to many R movies. Besides, China, as a country, has a murderous track record. Tiananmen Square is only one of many examples of public execution that were televised world wide. There were also places missionaries referred to as killing fields, ones where thousands and thousands were put to death for their religious beliefs.

What can be done in the wake of this terrible crime? First of all let us pray and support the grief stricken families and friends with the love of Jesus. Send them cards, prepare them meals, listen to their pain, open our homes and hearts. Grief is one of the doors that God often uses to capture the hearts of His beloved, for He uses all things for the good, if we'll love Him.

In conclusion, maybe it is possible that this kid learned "American Style" violence from a video game or a movie in the year that he has been here. Possibly he did a copy cat crime based on the same incident at a Canadian University last Fall. Whatever the reason, let us not overlook the sin nature that is in all of us. We don't need to judge, but we need to acknowledge our need for a savior and the need for others too. If being good, moral and ethical was working, things would be getting better, don't you think? I think it is a good time to review the hypocrisy that lives in our laws, the lack of enforcement that takes place by a system burdened by millions of criminal acts each year and get ready to vote this Fall and next. And finally maybe it is time to admit to our part in the fact that God has been kicked out of schools and out of government. Somebody voted for that. Is it any wonder the way in which we have allowed behavior that was considered immoral and illegal 20 years ago to become common place in the US and abroad. We have voted for that too.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Who's Right and Who Will Be Left?

Today I heard two stories that blow my little mind. First there was the artist that created "My Sweet Lord", an anatomically correct version of Jesus... just in time for Easter. The other was the man that sits quarantined in jail with a nearly untreatable strain of tuberculosis because he refused to wear a "germ" mask. Both stories cited free speech and personal civil rights as reasons for being in the controversial positions they find themselves in.

Let's take a look at each incident separately. The man that created the alleged "offensive sculpture" has a right to create anything that he wants to. This America not Iraq. So why are people freaking out over this so called sacrilege? If we view it morally, then there are lots of immoral statues and paintings on display in public places. How many high school students have not seen Michelangelo's David in class? If we view it as anti-Christian then we need to see where this artist is in terms of salvation. If he is a Christian, then the church needs to deal with him. If not, then we need to deal with it. Honestly, what makes a naked Jesus statue any different then any other naked statue? Nudity is nudity in my book. Why is it that the church takes public offense to a statue and there is little or no outcry over a million other things that really hurt people? I don't think this man is right, nor do I want this statue in public for personal reasons. However; we are not the judge or the jury.

What's the point? We have guns in our schools, we have a high rates of teenage suicide and pregnancies, drug and alcohol problems and myriad of of other sins right in the church. Where is the outcry over that? Where is the leadership on those issues? Are we condemning others while we stand by and watch people go to Hell for every other reason? Honestly!

Now, that case of this man who is supposedly "wrongly" quarantined. I don't get how his civil liberties should allow him to hurt other people. Ludicrous! My civil rights allow me to drive a car, but not on the sidewalk! Wear the mask, get some treatment and shut up... or sit in jail.

I think the deeper issue here is not really civil rights. No, it is a twisted version of freedom. Free speech gives us the right to say what we please, no matter how outlandish it may be. It doesn't even have to be true all the time. Civil rights afford us equal treatment under lawful circumstances. For example we have the right to come and go as we please as long as we are not infringing on the property of another. We should be able to be on equal footing when it comes to being served by government or business in the private sector. So how is it, that we have become so selfish as a society that a man with a deadly disease, one that refuses treatment gets to infect everyone else? That is ridiculous. And how selfish is it that we allow naked statues, when public nudity is illegal almost everywhere? The answer is this, we don't have a standard or code of ethics. If the Bible were a standard, there would be few debates over what is illegal and immoral. As a society we have adopted the attitude of I can do what feels good, right and moral to me. Morals like that change with the wind. Without a benchmark, we could easily make murder legal. Then who will be left?

Pig Fish - The New Red Meat

My wife and I were joking recently about bending the rules. She had inadvertently made herself a ham sandwich for lunch on Friday during lent. For her, being raised in the Catholic church, she enjoys participating in Lenten fasting in which everything but fish is not permissible for consumption on Fridays. I quickly Googled "pig fish" and found the following link. PIG FISH As if some how ham could ever be legal on a Lenten Friday!

Most churches have lots of rules. Actually every religion seems to have a set of rules. Rules are not bad or good in themselves. Biblically rules were described in two ways, those mandated by God; laws, and those mandated by men; customs. Godly laws were created to show what is right and what is wrong. More so, they highlight our inability to do them perfectly. There is no one that has ever obeyed God's laws perfectly except Jesus. Thus the whole reason for grace and salvation through Jesus.

That part that makes me chuckle is the customs. Customs tend to identify the way a certain group of Christians worship. It allows their expression to be the same in many places. It is sometimes called a liturgy. Having grown up in the Episcopal church as a believer, we had lots of customs. I actually liked some of them. They made me feel closer to God. There were others though, that honestly seemed kind of funny to me.

I remember the first time I took my decidedly protestant kids to a Catholic wedding. One pulled out the missal and proclaimed, "there is no book of John in here." The other one cackled on about what the kneelers were for as it unfolded onto the Spanish tile with a crash. They were defiantly outside their realm in terms of customs. Even those sitting closest to us giggled when the little one asked why the pastor was wearing a dress and carrying smoke?

The important thing to see here is that customs and laws apart from the Spirit of God are really killers. If your customs don't bring you closer to God and the laws never cause you to repent, then something is really really wrong. Being good isn't what God is after. He is after a relationship with you and me. I hear the phrase so-and-so is a "good person." What the hell does that mean, they haven't killed anyone? How good is good? At what point are you bad? What is the criteria for being bad anyway? I know some Christians that think you can lose your salvation? How? The eternal God gives us eternal life. So at what point are we kicked out of eternity? Which sin is it that blows it for us? How much is Murder 1 worth in comparison to say, shoplifting? Do we get good and bad points for sinning and not sinning? I think not.

There is a story in the Bible about some pig herders. When Jesus casts the demons out of a man, they went into the pigs which drowned themselves in the lake. The Jews had a law about even touching pigs. What were they doing breaking the law herding pigs? I believe that they were trying to make a living as farmers. Eating is not a bad thing. However; this was illegal for a Jew at that time. There was not way around it. I think the illustration of how the demons chose the pigs was a great way to say that this wasn't God's way for these folks to provide for them and their families.

The moral of the story is that is this, laws are hard to keep and that's why we need Jesus to forgives us. And no, this is not how Pig Fish evolved!
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