Monday, May 21, 2007

The Perfect Church - The Real Plan

The stats come out every day, who goes to church, who believes in God, who believes they are saved... we have stats, loads of them. What I find amazing living here in New England, is that I don't hear anyone talk about God outside of church at all. I have had one conversation with American strangers about God in the past 6 months. Sure, maybe it is up to me to bring it up, but for a country where 70% of the people say they are Christian and believe in God, I don't hear to much about it. I have done much better with the Hispanic community, probably because I can speak a bit of Portuguese. Research by George Barna says Biblical views are waning. DETAILS Wow, what a surprise. NOT!

There are lots of reasons people don't know about the Bible. Partly because we now have the largest generation of Americans ever; one that was completely raised without prayer or Bible reading in school, amongst us. But I think the other part, which is worse, is that Christians don't even have time to read the Bible and pass it along to their kids; that is the few that still go to church. It isn't all their fault. Church attendance is declining because the church is not relevant for so many. The numbers prove that something is wrong, very wrong. If church was touching lives in the scale that Americans purport to be Christians, then we would be in revival!

So what is wrong with the church? I am glad that you asked. The church has always had its issues from the crusades, the selling of indulgences, the PTL club scandal of the 80's, the clergy sex-abuse scandal of the 90's to Ted Haggerty just few months ago. It seems that poor character and sin find there way into the very place that God has chosen to send the message of love and forgiveness. Why? Sin is always going to be sin and brokenness is always going to be brokenness and 2 + 2 will always be 4. When sinful people come to faith, the process of regeneration starts. Like the car being towed through the car wash, it takes some time. If the faith is just religion, the process won't happen at all. The people in the process, they are likely to make mistakes. Remember King David was not removed from his office, nor put in jail for murder and adultery.

The Christian population, in some cases, is dead in religious acts. They do their music, their teaching and people hit the door. I have been to them all, from Catholic and Anglican to Baptist and Charismatic and Pentecostal; each one has a place in the Kingdom and a place of religiousness that is dead. With people looking for life, how is it that we get caught up in acting? It is just easier, safer and more logical. The problem is a that a supernatural God does not function entirely in our wordily realm. Somehow, miraculously he connects heaven and earth through His word, worship, giving, praying and other acts of faith. The caveat is this, these acts must be done in faith, but more importantly as an instruction from Him. Obedience is better then sacrifice.

The inner workings of faith are to be done by the Spirit and in the Spirit. Not by man in his own wisdom. There is no one way, no one liturgy or denomination that has it all. I think teaching is awesome, but not if it insulates us from God and his people! I think prophecy is essential, but not in lieu of character. Yes, we need to evangelize, but not fill our church, but to extend the kingdom of God. Communion is a wonderful sacrament, but not if there are poor sitting on the sidewalk in front of our new building!

Acts 2:42 And they [the group of believers gathered together in communal living] continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

What is church supposed to look like? Read 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14. When you get to the "orderly" verse remember that it needs to read in the context of tongues and prophecy, not in in the measurement of centimeters between the pews!

Teaching or preaching is supposed to demonstrate the nature of Christ (His work on the cross and divinity) and the reality of the supernatural realm and the faith it takes to see it. The Word of God IS power when mingled with our faith and His will.

There is another dimension of church which I have never seen in its fullness.

Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers...

It is the interplay (body) of these offices and gifting that build and edify the church while equipping the saints (all believers) for the work that church is mandated by God to do. Is anyone listening?

OK, if I am so smart, then what is the answer to having a church that reaches the lost in every splinter-group, and loves those in the church in such a way that they understand it is different from what they'll get in the world? Well, I have a theory and here are the bullet points.

-1 We preach a pure Gospel, one of love, one of power, one of compassion, one of accountability and truth of Salvation through Jesus.

-2 We don't haggle over theology, God said we should speak in tongues and prophesy, that we should treat others with love, then we should do it. Period. It is our job, not someone else's!

-3 We share our faith by the way we live our life always looking for opportunities to expand His kingdom, not close a deal.

-4 We discover our spiritual calling and do it. Skip doing that which we are good at.

-5 We become doers of the Word. If we simply did what we already know and have been taught, the church would be in revival. I don't think we have a lack of teaching; or even good teaching, we have a lack of doing. We have a lack of Godly motivation.

-6 Be open to something new the revels the true nature of God. How about not having a new program. How about asking God where the apostles are that are mentioned above?

-7 Take care of the poor, the sick, the widows and those in prison. I don't think we need a theological interpretation here.

-8 Work hard at relationship, that is why we're here!

-9 Worship as much as we can, for in it is the power to become intimate with God and know Him.

-10 Keep trying, keep showing up, quit complaining and do something.... and yes, make a mistake trying to do something for God, you'll be in good company when you get to Heaven.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Vapor of Life

As I descended the three flights of stairs in my office building to the ATM, I had a deja vu moment. In a thought, I was taken back to high school some 30+ years ago. I was then on my way do something during class. For a moment today I was really "there." During my jaunt around the building I began to think of an eclectic array of moments in my life: my wife's shaking hands while we stood at the altar preparing to say our vows, the faint moment I had at 4:39 am the day our daughter was born, the memories of my mother's last moments here on earth; and my dad too. The vapor of this life over for them... the grief, the joy over loved-ones trapped by cancer for months of suffering... over forever.

I also thought about my missed opportunities, the fact that my mother never my met my wife of youngest daughter... the day I quit a job I wish I had now... the regret of selling my vintage guitar collection for thousands when it is now worth hundreds of thousands... there are a lot things that I wish I had done already. And a boat-load of things I wish I had skipped, like calling a neighbor kid some foul name right before he punched me in the mouth, one too many drinks at the school dance... the vapor of life.

When I think about time, I think how much has passed; the fact that some memories are a little faded and others perhaps gone. I hesitate to say forever because there is going to be some sort of judgement, or a least a review. That means it will all be there in black and white and God isn't going to miss anything. The Good News is that by faith, He will forgive them all and remember them no more... however that works. The other Good news is this. Most of us still have some time left. We can squander it and have more regrets a year from now, or we can change our life and thinking and create something new. We could commit to doing something for God, something of value, something of eternal value.

1 Corinthians 3:11-15 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

We could, if there was time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Farewell to Falwell

Whatever you think of Jerry, he has left his mark on American society. Some will remember him as one that proclaimed that the AIDs epidemic and 9/11 are judgement from God. Others will remember him as a political influence that got Reagan elected in the 80's. Here is what I think. (That is why you are reading this blog, right?) Whatever gains we have made politically, are cancelled by proclaiming judgment on the nation which is the job of Jesus. Don't get me wrong, I believe that sin has consequences and when an alcoholic dies from cirrhosis, or a smoker from lung cancer, I think, well you got what you paid for. I know there is grace and mercy, but that wages of sin is still death. It was God's plan for us to live forever, that is why we need Jesus. The point is to leave the judgement up to Jesus.

History bears out the sins of a a nation bringing judgment on themselves. It happened to Israel a number of times. It also happened to the Roman Empire and the early Greek states. Where a nation runs wild with sin, there will eventually be judgement. The inverse is also true, when a nation humbles itself, there will be revival and blessing. Revival starts with one person humble before God. It is about individual hearts changing, not nations. I think we'll see where things really are in the '08 elections. There you will see the heart of the nation. It will not be about the right-wing nuts and the left-wing loonies. It will be about the heart of the nation as it expresses where we stand on the issues.

Is it important for a Christian to speak out against that which is wrong? YES! But please do it with love and kindness. If you are a sign carrying protester for Jesus, I really want to know how is that working for bringing the lost into the kingdom? Are people being offended or evangelised? How is the evangelism business in your church? Are people coming to get saved? Leaving healed? Has God made an indelible impression of His love on them? Or have they left saying, "religious nuts"?

In the final analysis, I am sick of loud mouth politicians on both sides of the fence playing the schmooze game. Some of the evangelical leaders are judging others while they refuse to see themselves. If there is going to be a judgement, then it should start in the house of God.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Germs, Jesus and Santa Claus

With Mitt Romney and Al Sharpton facing off over religion, I have to say, I don't get it. As a Christian I was taught that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Light and that there is no other way to heaven. He said, and I read it, therefore; I am just repeating it.

The apostle Paul said this, if you confess salvation with your mouth and believe it in your heart, then you have it. (Romans 10:9-10) So where is the argument? The Christian; Sharpton, claims to know, but acts like he doesn't know better. Romney, a very nice guy, thinks that we need to be tolerant of all religious practices not just his. Sharpton may know the answer, but it was not presented with love. *Gong* both sides in error. Why? Defending the truth without love is being a clanging gong... see 1 Corinthians 13 to see what I am talking about. Not believing in Jesus as a savior is an eternal error. But who can prove it?

So, what is it that made Jesus say what He said? How could he say, I am the only way to heaven? Arrogance, culture, delusions, the "Messiah Complex", what? Let's just think for a minute... most things that we believe in, or want to believe in require proof or at least a very compelling theory. Here are a couple of examples. Evolution, Global Warming, Santa Claus, germs and Jesus. To believe in them requires a high degree of scientific logic or solid proof. I personally think evolution is a farce. Why? Not because I am uneducated. I studied it in high school and three times in college, where I got some pretty good grades in the biological, sociological and and anthropological views. Why doesn't this theory work for me? There are no "transitional" creatures, you know, half fish and half cow or whatever has the most "like" appendages that link them are. The evidence is not there. Period! And What amazes me is the scientific sounding inkhorn terminology that is somehow meant to impress us as being knowledge.

There too, was a time when germs were unknown and unseen. Today, we can see them under a microscope and so much research has been done that there would be few skeptics. Conversely, if we believe in Santa Clause, we are likely to wake up some night and catch mom and dad signing his name to a few gifts.

The world often sees Christianity in a negative light. Some because of theory, and other times because of the unloving and stupid acts of Christians. We have preached the gospel without power, without passion, without evidence, and worst of all, without love. Click HERE to read more. It's be said that we are better known for what we oppose, than what we stand for.

The big question, how does one know that God exists? I am going to answer that question. If no one sees God do anything, if no one feels His presence, then no one is likely to believe in a real God. They will be inclined to believe a philosophy, to worship the Bible or the church and not God; to see Jesus as a good man, a prophet, but not as a loving and powerful God that provides forgiveness for sin and an eternal destiny. They key? I think that it is signs and wonders. Sure we need character, but anyone can be good for a reason (I have a 3-year-old that can do that). Yes, we need faith in that which is not seen, but if God can't touch a life, or do something supernatural then our faith is simply beliefs, and there are lots of those. That is how we get other religions. People want to believe in something; something supernatural. Disney would be out of business if this wasn't true. Psychics and palm readers too!

The other important fact is how God presents Himself to us. He has chosen certain types of expression over the centuries, but signs and wonders are a huge part of His repertoire. From the Red Sea to those being raised from the dead in 3rd world countries, God is at work showing His handy work in supernatural ways. Just the way it used to be...

Acts 2:43 - Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
Acts 4:30 - Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."
Acts 5:12 - The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.
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