Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Do Teenagers and the Church Have In Common?

Urban Dictionary defines "teenager" - 1. Someone who has everything but appreciates nothing. 2. People who get no respect and are looked down upon because some of them are idiots. 3. Social animals that rebel and dress exactly like their peers. 4. Children between the ages of 13 and 19 who's brains are not fully developed, and who are prone to hormonal mood swings and disrespectful behavior. 5. Kids that speak something as foreign as Chinese which can only be translated by other kids.

I think about the church a lot while I am wasting an hour of my life each day to eat a lunch that I can gulp down in 45 seconds - leaving me 59:15 seconds left to blog if I don't wash my hands. (I have hand sanitizer and the bathroom is 3 city blocks away.)

Urban Dictionary defines "church" - 1. A place that brainwashes people. 2. A cure for insomnia. 3. A group of people that gossip about each other behind their backs. 4. That thing with the stuff where they tell all those lies. 5. Somewhere you are forced to go on Sunday mornings. See also torture and suicide. 6. A place people go up to several times a week so they can feel good about themselves for being brainwashed into giving a percentage of their hard-earned paycheck to an invisible man that pays no taxes, yet never has enough money. 7. A building people gather in once a week to compare clothes.

I suppose that most of the definitions are not true everywhere - but for sure, they are true some where. Isn't that what makes stereotypes funny (and damaging); people being grouped together by a common feature, action or characteristic?

Church is, of course, the body of believers. Wherever two or three come together, Jesus said, that's church. I also think that because the church is Spirit, that you are the church. When you go out today to do whatever you do, you are an ambassador for Christ - that is the church.

We need to get past the concept of going to church and start being the church.

I recently read an excerpt from a book by a Chinese believer. He spoke of missionaries that came to preach the gospel in China, some giving their lives for the sake of Christ. After he left China, he first went to Germany and then the US, expecting western churches to have the same passion as those that came to minister in his homeland. He was shocked that "free" nations did not enjoy the deep presence of God as he had experienced back home.

He made a few observations - see if it fits.

SLEEPING CHURCH, AWAKE!
by Brother Yun

"From the start I understood that part of the reason God had allowed me to leave China was to help the sleeping Western church wake up!

Excerpts from chapter 17 of "Living Water."

Sleeping Church, Awake!

Before I left China in 1997, I had a very positive impression of Western Christianity. The missionaries who had come to China were very godly men and women. They put up with much opposition, and hundreds spilled their blood on Chinese soil for the sake of the gospel.

After I arrived in Germany, I was placed in a refuge facility while the government processed my application to stay. Every Sunday during those months, I walked to a Lutheran church in the neighborhood. I couldn't understand a word of German, and nobody in the church knew who I was, but I faithfully sat there each Sunday and observed the strange goings-on.

The pastor climbed up into his elevated pulpit, while the congregation of four or five old women watched. He seemed to be carrying heavy burdens, and there was no joy or life in his face. He would read a prayer from a book and then preach for a while. I took the opportunity to try to mimic his words so that I might get used to this strange new language.

As soon as the service ended, the pastor rushed to the door so that he could shake the hands of the five or six of us who attended. I was very grieved by this whole strange process. It was clear that the pastor and his small flock all came to the meetings carrying the burdens of the world on their backs, and they all went home in exactly the same condition. I had grown up in the midst of revival in China, so it was a severe shock to me.

Later I realized that not all churches in Germany or the West were quite as bad as this initial experience, but the true presence of Jesus is missing in most of them. Some churches might play louder music or appear energetic and joyful on the outside, but this does not necessarily mean they have the presence of Jesus in their hearts any more than the old Lutheran church. Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you" (Luke 17:20-21).

After being granted refuge status by the German authorities in 1998, the Lord started to open doors for me to minister around Europe and then in different parts of the world. From the start I understood that part of the reason God had allowed me to leave China was to help the sleeping Western church wake up! The message the Christians need to hear is the same that Jesus told the church in Sardis: "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent" (Rev. 3:1-3).

A sleeping church can never reach a lost world ... The time is short, and it will not do for Christians to continue to play games while millions of people around us are perishing and going to hell. ... A spiritually dull church or believer is a poor witness for the living, resurrected Jesus. A church is meant to be a training center and command hub for war, not a social club for pleasantries and hypocrisy, where people give lip service to Christ, while refusing to obey His commands. Not only does God want you to wake up, but He has work for you to do.

It's time to wake up! "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Eph. 5:14).

There are more than 2,000,000,000 professing Christians in the world today. Think about that: two thousand million people who say they follow Jesus Christ! That is a staggering number.

So why then are there still so many needy countries and areas of spiritual darkness in the world today?The problem lies in the kind of Christianity practiced by the majority of believers today. For countless millions of people, following Jesus is little more than a cultural experience. Joining a church means little more than joining a social club where they can meet new people and exchange pleasantries about inconsequential matters. If the Bible is read at all, it is from a sense of duty rather than as a part of relationship with its real, vibrant and life-changing Author.

Jesus is often portrayed as a historical figure who died on the cross and as a future figure who will one day come again, but few Christians really, genuinely walk with Jesus today, sharing their dreams, fears and concerns with Him as a lover and friend. Millions of believers around the world are bound by legalism. Obeying man-made rules has become more important than taking the hand of God and walking with Him in the cool of the evening. The Christian life has become an endurance test, and all traces of life and joy have long since evaporated!

Brothers and sisters, don't be deceived; such a bound church will never be able to save any souls for the kingdom of God. They will only respond when they are confronted with the truth and grace of God's Word as revealed in the lives of true disciples of Jesus who have given up all they have to follow Him.

There are more than enough "believers" in the world today. God wants more disciples! Only disciples of Jesus can ever hope to impact the nations for God.

Prior to the 1950's, most Christians in China were also mere "believers" in Christ, and when the heat of affliction came on, many fell away from the faith. Others, however, became serious about God and decided to follow Him regardless of the cost. They were gradually transformed into disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today most Christians in China's house churches are disciples.

True disciples are often misunderstood. They are viewed as unstable fanatics. Often the same governments that tolerate the existence of mere believers will stop at no end to completely eradicate any disciples from within their borders.

"Believers" try to follow God, but their prayers and commitment are clouded with indecisiveness. ... "Believers" always seek assurance that nothing will go wrong if they step out for Jesus. Only when they are convinced that the coast is clear and no harm will befall them are they willing to take their first step! If they ever hear the King's call to go somewhere and do something for the sake of the kingdom, they feel they need extra encouragement before they can safely step out: "First let me check with my wife, my pastor, my boss and my mother-in-law to see if it's all right with them."

Disciples have a different attitude. They beg God to give them just a little of His dynamite power. They pray, "Oh God, if you will lend me just a little spiritual dynamite, I promise I will take it to the darkest area I can find, place it there and pray You will send Your fire from heaven to explode it." God always does. This is why the gospel is spreading so quickly in China and in other parts of the world.

Since coming to the West, I have found it doesn't really matter how much you preach in most churches, because the majority of believers have become "sermon proof". They have listened to thousands of sermons and have become experts at tuning out. Their bodies are physically in front of you, but their minds and hearts are far away. They have been conditioned to listen to speeches rather than to respond to the power of the gospel and be changed. Often there is a huge difference between appearance believers put on every Sunday at church and the reality of their lives at home and work during the week. It is unhealthy to smile and act holy on Sunday when your family is falling apart, your marriage is breaking down and your life is swamped with sin and temptations. This is not real.

Many churches in the West have been reduced to mere performances where the pastor puts on a show every week and the believers sit there as non-participating spectators. Now wonder so many are struggling and falling away from the faith. The Lord is roused to anger when the precious bride of Christ falls into such a lamentable condition. Jesus is passionate for His bride.

My precious friend, God loves you. He wants you to become a wholehearted disciple of Jesus, not merely a believer. Every Christian on earth has this choice to make every morning of their life. Whether we are a disciple or a believer depends on the choices we make. The temptation is for us to ease back into our comfortable chair and continue to live a halfhearted Christian life, giving lip-service to God but being unwilling to count the cost and take up our cross and follow Him."

2 comments:

photogr said...

Interesting observations. So I am not the only one finding problems in the organized churches today. It has been this way for decades. One of the reasons I quit going a few years back.

The only way to get recognized in a church today is to wear a "mad hatter" (Alice in Wonderland) top hat and refuse to take it off during the service. I bought one the other day at a novelty shop. Will let you know how it works out. I had thought of renting a gorilla suit too but that might be too obvious.

I have had it with organized churches. I feel closer to God worshiping in my own house among close friends than having to deal with hypocrites I see in churches.

Tracy said...

Interesting post and I appreciate you writing it.

I have many thoughts and feelings concerning this topic. I can see the truth in the failings of the church. But I can not criticize the church without pointing at myself; I am not some outsider, I too, am part of the church. So I never want to just point at the organized church and say how bad it is unless I'm doing something to make it better (from other things I've read that you've written, I can see that you are doing what you believe God is telling you to do; so I don't mean to be criticizing you by saying this). Sometimes I have a difficult time knowing how to do that. Sometimes I'm not as fervent in my longing after God as I should be and I'm ever grateful for His grace and mercy.

Recently I was reading about David and Bathsheba and hit anew with how outrageously, terrible David's sin was; and with how incredible and transcendent God's grace and mercy was when David repented. Yesterday I was reading the second chapter in James and was captivated by the way the way the 13th verse reads in the Message paraphrase: "kind mercy wins over harsh judgment every time". May I extend mercy to both sinners and saints while I remain passionate and true to God's calling.

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