Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

On Being Silenced


Speak no evil monkeyThere’s apparently a brouhaha among certain elements of those professing Christianity that started on Twitter as a result of a conference with an overwhelming number of male speakers. One person evidently pointed this out, and an exchange of Tweets ensued. Next came blog posts.

I’m uninformed about the particulars. However, a familiar claim jumped out at me–one that surfaced in the discussion I found myself in a month or so ago. The common thread is that people who take a different approach, who counsel unity, who disagree are trying to silence criticism.

Here are the lines that jumped out at me:

I don’t like being divisive. Believe me.

But I don’t like being silenced either. (Emphasis in the original)

So “don’t try to silence me” appears to be the current trump card in disagreements. The troubling thing to me is that those calling for unity are being lumped in with those “trying to silence people.”

The implication is that a call for unity requires the person raising a criticism to back down, and therefore to be quiet.

There is the possibility that this is precisely what the critics need to do. I’m astounded when I read about organizational infighting as if it is a power struggle. Here’s an example:

The reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. (Excerpt from “On being ‘divisive’. . .”)

Status quo. Challenge. Threat. Inequity. Powerful. Are we talking about a government, a business? Since when is the Church all about getting into have and have-not camps? Since when are we looking at the Body of Christ as specialty groups, one in a “position of privilege” and another “speaking from the margins”?

Let’s say for the sake of argument that these groups exist. What does God’s Word say about quarrels and conflicts that might arise? James takes the hardest line:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. (4:1-2)

There are all kinds of other passages in the New Testament that address the issue of Christians and how we are to treat one another (with love), how we are to view one another (as one body–not as Jews versus Greeks, circumcised versus uncircumcised, male versus female, rich versus poor), and what it takes to accomplish this goal (the humility of Christ).

I want to stress what James said, though: You do not have because you do not ask.

Would our good God not care about inequity within the body of believers? We know He does because Acts records an inequity in the church with certain widows (the most marginalized members of that society) being forgotten. The Church leadership dealt with the problem, so we know this was not an insignificant matter. God cared for those widows and He cared for us in the 21st century to have the example of how the 1st century church handled the situation.

So why, I wonder, are those who are concerned about the number of women speakers at a host of Christian conferences not content to ask? Primarily I believe we should be asking God to change any problems in the Church. He cares for His temple of living stones being built up, founded on the choice and precious cornerstone of His Son.

Will God ignore us if we ask?

James again:

You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. (4:3)

So yes, it’s possible prayer for women to be put in higher profile positions within the Church might not be answered. I have no way of knowing what motive women have who think it is better to hear a woman speaker than it is to hear a man. I have no way of knowing if they have brought their concerns before God in prayer.

I do know that we are to speak the truth in love, not in snarky tweets. And it is the way we speak to each other, not our agreement on every point, that is to set us apart from the rest of the world.

Published in: on November 14, 2013 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , , ,

Whose Job Is It Now?


DentistryTwo or three years ago I learned about an inner city ministry called World Impact. I was impressed with the well-rounded approach the organization is taking to reach the unchurched poor living in the cities of America.

Besides church planting, evangelism, and Bible studies, they develop leaders from their converts and train them to shepherd others in their community. They also have schools, sports teams, emergency food and shelter, camps and conferences, job training, and dental and medical care.

At least they used to.

Hold that thought.

A week ago I stumbled upon a PBS program called The Paradise. After two weeks I’m ready to say this is the next best thing to Downton Abbey (season four begins Jan. 5, by the way ;-) ). A particular exchange caught my attention in the second episode.

First, The Paradise is the name of a store. I missed the very beginning, but it appears to be a clothing store attempting to cater to the wealthier citizens in England during the 1800s. The owner has faced some opposition to the idea of “ready made” clothes which are considered inferior products.

But for the sake of this post here’s the pertinent event in the story. Someone abandoned a newborn baby boy–a foundling–at the doorstep of the store. The owner is discussing with one of his workers what to do with the infant, and she remarks that people used to leave foundlings at the doorstep of the church. The owner pauses, then says, The Paradise has become the new church.

Sadly, too true, I thought. A commercial venture, a corporation, doing what churches once did.

But as I think about “what churches do,” a couple thoughts run through my mind. For far too long it seems to me churches have let others care for the foundlings and the poor.

There are any number of reasons for this, but at least here in Southern California, there has been an awakening–a realization that “the mission field” with its ripe harvest is downtown as well as across the border or on the other side of an ocean.

World Impact is one parachurch organization that is seizing the opportunity to do in the inner city what missionaries do overseas: provide for the physical and spiritual needs of the people.

But now I wonder. Will World Impact continue to provide dental and medical service for the poor? Will doctors and dental technicians and nurses and dentists still give of their time and ability to help the needy? Or has the government taken over that job?

Clearly, there’s still much Christians can do to help the inner city poor besides dental and medical care, but I can’t help wondering if churches won’t be more and more marginalized as government grows. But maybe if we had paid attention to our inner cities sooner, government wouldn’t have taken health care over.

I suppose the real question is, what else should we be doing to help the people our society is trampling?

Who are those people? I think most of us would say abuse victims or the disabled. Some would add women who are single and have decided against abortion. Still others would include prisoners and their families.

Yes, yes, and yes.

But who is falling through the cracks? Someone with vision needs to look at what the church is doing to reach gangs and the porn addicted and college fraternities and any number of others. Because if we don’t reach them, The Paradise or the government will come along and offer to be the new church.

Published in: on October 17, 2013 at 6:59 pm  Comments Off  
Tags: , , , , ,

Going Along To Get Along


bird ruffling feathersDon’t make waves. Don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Don’t rock the boat. Those were phrases I grew up hearing that basically said, don’t say what you want to say because you’ll upset someone.

Underneath the admonition is the kind intention to spare someone’s feelings. You don’t want someone to get upset or feel uncomfortable or confused or irate or off kilter. You want to keep people happy.

Sure, it’s a good sentiment if it isn’t taken too far. But the problem is, our western culture is, in fact, taking the concept too far. The result is, we no longer speak the truth.

Christians have fallen into this same pit. We sometimes don’t speak the truth because we don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and sometimes we hold our tongues because we don’t want to suffer the outrage from others if we say what we believe.

I understand this latter position. I had an encounter last week on another blog that put me under verbal attack. I was accused of being of questionable intelligence, falsely pious, cruel, dishonest, abusive, creating intentional harm, being snide, having an attitude that was “as Christ-like as a festering pile of donkey scat,” and more. Above all, some said people like me were the reason they didn’t want to be known as Christians.

So do I relish tangling with people who I know might well unleash such a diatribe again? Not so much. It’s easier to keep quiet, to say, I’ve been in the verbal battles in the past and I don’t need more.

I used to think such rancorous exchanges could be avoided by treating others with respect. Except, some people think you don’t respect them unless you agree with them. Some people read evil intent behind every word.

At other times I’ve had people assume they know my position on a matter simply because I’ve stated a view that’s similar to someone else on their blacklist. In this last foray, I was accused regarding my opening comment of trying to prevent others from speaking.

I did say there are voices intent to drown out the message of God’s hope and help with accusations against the true Church. This statement, I was told, constituted me telling those against abuse within the church to stop talking.

What we never got to was this: the true Church doesn’t condone abuse. Does abuse exist within the ranks of those involved in Bible-believing churches? Sadly, I’m certain it does. However, writing off all evangelical churches and all evangelicals as refusing to ask questions, to look at the truth, and to accept those who are digging behind the scenes is . . . myopic. Or filled with hubris.

How can someone extrapolate from their own experience and draw conclusions about all other evangelicals and evangelical churches of whatever denomination? As I see it, someone who reaches such a conclusion might have an unhealthy idea about himself.

So ought Christians to stand by and let people slandering the true Church and maligning God’s name do so in order to avoid confrontation?

I don’t think so.

I know people have said–I think quoting C. S. Lewis–you don’t have to defend the Bible. That’s like defending a caged lion. In reality, all you have to do is let him out and he’ll defend himself.

But when it comes to the Church–well, believers are the Church, so it seems we ought to defend Christ’s bride.

In the end, the best defense is a good offense (not a quote from Scripture, but I’m sure the principle is in there somewhere ;-) ). Peter says it’s our good deeds that will win over unbelievers, though some will only get it “in the day of visitation,” which I think means Christ’s return, or the day of judgment–in other words, not necessarily in the immediate future.

I have no doubt that good deeds speak volumes. I also know Paul said we are to speak the truth in love. It’s not loving to let someone live believing a lie. It’s also not loving to call people vile names.

So Christians, I believe, need to have a determination to speak the truth and not go along to get along, and yet to do so in a way that is different from the way non-believers engage those with whom they disagree.

Speaking the truth articulately without name calling, insinuations, snark, dismissive or condescending comments ought to mark Christians. And in the internet age, speaking clearly without rancor might be the greatest witness we can offer.

Leaving Church Is Not OK


short term mission groupThere’s been some buzz on the Internet this past week because of an article at CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why millennials are leaving the church.”

The idea is, church is this way and it really should be that way, but pastors aren’t getting it, so millennials are leaving. There have been articles rebuffing the conclusions, notable from
Trevin Wax
via the Gospel Coalition and posted at ChurchLeaders and Brett McCracken at the Washington Post.

Last I checked Scripture, though, severing an arm from the body would only make things worse, not better. So why are millennials leaving the body to which they belong? Are they so selfish that they have no interest in fitting their gifts into the whole or have they been so poorly taught that they don’t realize their withdrawal is harmful to others and to the whole? Or are they not actually part of the body to begin with?

I suspect it has more to do with teaching than anything else. I suspect there’s a certain portion of the millennial exodus that is nothing more than fad chasing. At one point the author of the original article said “church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular,” then she explained that liturgical services are more authentic.

Excuse me? How does that make sense? What is more performance oriented than a scripted service with everyone playing his part? But if the conclusion is true–millennials are choosing liturgical worship over evangelicalism and calling it more authentic–then I suspect it is little more than following a fad.

According to the author, millennials want an end to culture wars, but she also says they feel their church makes them choose between compassion and holiness and that church should be a place where their gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender friends feel welcome. In other words, millennials don’t mind choosing between compassion and holiness if they get to choose their version of compassion.

What millennials need to hear is that it is not compassionate to allow people to live according to the dictates of their own heart rather than according to the standards of our sovereign God. What millennials need to hear is that God has answers to their questions and that they need to search the Scriptures to see what things are true. What millennials need to hear is that believers form a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that we may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

The Church is not a club you can quit. It’s a family, a body, a temple, a bride. We have a head and we have a a role we are to fulfill. We have gifts we’re to use as good stewards to build each other up.

Quitting? Do Marines quit because they don’t like military food? Or the Sargent in command over them? Or the soldier lining up next to them? Or the early hours they must keep?

Millennials are not children. They can decide, just like any generation, whether or not they will take up their cross and follow Jesus. If they don’t see other people in their local church following Jesus, perhaps they can be the trail blazers. But leave the Church?

That’s simply a way of saying God has messed up. His plan to put together a people to represent Him on earth isn’t a good one, and we are going to go it alone instead.

Does Church have to follow a certain Western model? Of course not. The Church existed in the East before it existed in the West. And it exists in the Far East today where there is no freedom to worship as we can in the West. What does the Church look like there? Not much like gatherings of believers in the US, I’ll bet.

Is one right and the other wrong? Not at all. Church really is about substance, not style. That’s something the author of the article got right. The substance, however, includes Christ living a sinless life, leaving us an example to follow in His steps. So the Church is tasked to be both compassionate and holy. It’s not an either/or proposition because Jesus wasn’t compassionate and not holy. His example was both/and.

In the end, millennials need to be told the truth. If they have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, if they believe with their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He died once for all, the just for the unjust, that God raised Him from the dead, and as a result that Jesus nailed their certificate of debt to the cross, then they are living stones being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, well-pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.

In other words, they’re in.

If people are leaving, they need to be evangelized, not accommodated.

Published in: on August 5, 2013 at 7:06 pm  Comments (16)  
Tags: , , ,

The Tragedy Of Trayvon Martin And George Zimmerman


May_Day_Immigration_March_LA68There are so many things wrong with the scenario that led to demonstrators in the streets yesterday. First I find it sad that a neighborhood could be targeted for break-ins and petty theft–repeatedly–without some kind of intervention by law enforcement. (In little over a year, police were called over 400 times; there were dozens of attempted break-ins, eight burglaries, nine thefts, and a shooting).

I also find it unsurprising that in a state that has a stand-your-ground law like Florida’s, there was a tragic shooting. Yes, tragic. No matter who thinks which party or what government agency or media handling or lawyer errors were at fault, the fact is that a seventeen-year-old young man died. That’s the worst part of all these events.

Yet I’m also disturbed by the way the media tried and convicted George Zimmerman before he’d been arrested–before anyone knew that his head had been bloodied; in other words, before all the facts came out. People had already taken sides, drawn their lines in the sand, and had made this a case of race.

That’s another thing that is sad about the events surrounding Trayvon’s death–race has once again been trumpeted as an endemic disease in America. This, after we elected an African-American, twice, to the office of President. Fact: not every confrontation between people of different races has something to do with race.

Add to all the sad events, the fact that most people apparently don’t understand how the legal system works in the US–that it has less to do with uncovering truth than it does with winning by playing according to a specified set of rules.

Another sad part of this saga is that people disregarded Trayvon’s parents’ wishes in the name of defending Trayvon. They ignored President Obama, too. But in the end, a number of them seized the opportunity to get their faces on TV and to have a good time parading in front of the media. I can’t help wondering how many demonstrators would have showed up if the cameras hadn’t been rolling. Be that as it may, the actions of a part of the demonstrators was nothing short of self-serving and criminal.

Yet a media person who had just reported about a group of people wandering onto a California freeway and stopping traffic, had the gall to say that the demonstration was law abiding. Behind her were approximately fifty to a hundred people walking down the middle of a downtown street.

This is how our media sees law abiding.

The media also reported “dozens of cities” where people were demonstrating, and “all across the country” people were protesting. Interestingly, the “dozens” was changed in the next news hour to “half a dozen,” with no admission of the incorrect number reported earlier.

In all, I never saw on the news shots, a group larger than a hundred to two hundred in any one place. I also never heard of a place where demonstrations were being held other than New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and … I’m leaving one out, I’m sure.

Somehow small groups can capture the attention of the media, which then blows up the event out of proportion by interviewing person after person who is part of the demonstration. Who was interviewing the people that thought George Zimmerman got a fair trial, that he had acted in self defense? Who was rallying Hispanic-Americans to defend the rights of one of their minority? Who was crying “racism” on his behalf?

Yes, Trayvon’s death was terrible. No one can deny that–even if he turned and attacked George Zimmerman. I can see that happening. In this same troubled neighborhood, why wouldn’t Trayvon think that he was being stalked by someone, perhaps with the intent to rob him? Why wouldn’t he take the initiative to protect himself? In a troubled area, it’s hard to imagine he’d do otherwise.

Is there a solution to this mess?

We need an overhaul of police procedures in high crime areas. We need a criminal justice system that is bent on getting to the truth (so no lingering suspicions and allegations can continue to haunt an innocent man). We need a media that is interested in truth more than in hype or in their own skewed way of looking at the world. We need people who are willing to forgive rather than seek revenge.

In short, we need changes in people’s hearts–from the criminal element that started the snowball rolling, right on down to the demonstrators who, in their efforts to get noticed, jeopardized the safety of countless people. No institutional fix is going to bring about the radical changes that need to take place. PEOPLE need to change, but sociology will tell you the odds are long for that happening.

Ah, but there is good news! There is a God in Heaven who longs to make a difference in people’s lives, who heals the brokenhearted, who sets the captive free, who saves and forgives and restores. Perhaps His Church needs to be about the Father’s business in a more pro-active way.

Where Does Criticism End And Bashing Begin?


569937_hammerinIn Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil and “A Tool Of The Devil: Christian Fiction Or Christian Fiction Bashing?” I question the approach of some toward the Church and toward Christian fiction. Could it be that tearing down the Church, that bashing Christian fiction plays into Satan’s hand?

Is that idea the same as saying no one inside or out of the Church should criticize it, that readers ought not critique Christian fiction?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “bash” figuratively to mean “criticize severely.” The question, then, seems to be, what qualifies as “severe”? OED thesaurus gives some great synonym suggestions, but instead of simply listing them, I want to give my thoughts on what qualifies as bashing. Others may have a different take on the term, and that’s fine. For me someone is bashing when the criticism

    * becomes personal (e.g. the author is shallow; the pastor of that church is hateful)
    * generalizes (e.g. Christian fiction is shallow; Christians are hateful)
    * exists for itself, either to make the writer look clever or to curry favor with potential readers. The opposite would be to give constructive evaluation that could help the writer/church or that is intended to warn away potential readers/church-goers from something harmful. (e.g. “Christian fiction is nothing but Amish romance”; Why Men Hate Going to Church or 52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday)
    * is based on rumors and not facts (e.g. Christian fiction doesn’t engage the culture; Christians are hypocritical)
    * jumps on bandwagons (e.g. “I don’t read Christian fiction because it’s so poorly written”; “I don’t need to go to church when I can worship God just as well at the beach”)
    * becomes angry or insulting (e.g. nobody in his right mind reads that stuff; nobody in his right mind would go to that church)
    * questions the integrity of others without foundation (e.g. they’re just doing it for the money [applied equally to the writing industry and churches])
    * parrots others (e.g. Christian fiction is preachy; Christians must like fantasy because their bible is full of it)
    * doesn’t let up. OED calls this “railing against” something or “complain or protest strongly and persistently about” something. (e.g. Christian fiction isn’t realistic because it doesn’t allow curse words; Christians are homophobic)

The bottom line is, criticism is not wrong. Constructive criticism can be helpful. Authors join critique groups or employ beta readers on purpose to receive feedback that tells them what’s wrong with their manuscript. Churches have any number of ways of receiving feedback too–all designed to help the group improve and flourish.

I wouldn’t write reviews if I didn’t have the freedom to point out weaknesses or to narrow my recommendation to the group of readers I think would enjoy a book. If I had to lavish praise all the time and make recommendations to everyone, then why bother? Reviews are designed to help, but they often contain criticism.

So criticism isn’t the problem. Criticism is different from severe criticism. And my guess is, most of us know bashing when we hear it or read it, but for some reason, we let it slide, maybe even join in (yep, I hate to admit it, but I’ve been there, done that).

I’ve singled out tearing down the Church and bashing Christian fiction, but I suspect this whole bashing thing might be a problem, containing the seeds of bullying. But perhaps that’s a post for another day.

What are your thoughts on the difference between bashing and criticizing? What did I leave out?

Tearing Down The Church: A Tool Of The Devil


1420878_church_in_the_woodI know some people will be thrown off by the idea that the devil has an active strategy to pull down the Church, but I think it’s a reasonable conclusion.

First, the Bible teaches that we have an adversary—not a flesh-and-blood opponent and not an advocacy group for some political ideology. Our adversary is spiritual. Paul says

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Peter identifies our adversary as the devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8b).

We’re also told that we are not to be ignorant of his schemes. On the contrary, we are to be alert. Consequently, we should pay attention to what the devil is doing. Many Christians know he’s not running around in red tights or holding a pitchfork. But what precisely is he doing?

Some may think he stands on our shoulder opposite our guardian angel whispering temptations into our ears. No. For one thing, Satan is not omnipresent. It’s highly unlikely, then, that he’s picked out an average Christian to lure into an illicit affair. (Our own sinful nature actually does an adequate job of presenting us with those kinds of temptations, so Satan doesn’t need to make that one of his schemes).

Still others think we need to go toe to toe with Satan in the same way Jesus did. There might be an instance when this is true, but I don’t think it’s the common scheme Satan uses. Even if he confronted men like Francis Chan or Tim Tebow, luring them with pleasure and power, it seems like a small reward for the investment of his time.

So what’s his great strategy?

Jesus told us one part of it. He identified Satan as a liar and the Father of lies. His grand plan, then, is to attack that which points people to the truth.

Following the Great American Awakening, then, rationalism opposed belief in the work of the Holy Spirit. It was all emotionalism and imagination and superstition.

“Higher criticism” came along to undermine the Bible, to question its authority, its inerrancy, its inspiration.

So now we have no Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, and we have no sure Word of God to exhort and testify of the grace of God.

But Postmodernism still values community, and Jesus Himself said that the watching world would know we are Christians by how we love one another. A worshiping, caring community of believers in Jesus Christ serves as a testimony, a witness, to this culture that God transforms lives. So Satan’s next scheme, it seems, is to go after the Church.

Here are some of the ways I see this attack taking place.

1. False teachers – people who preach as true something that contradicts the Bible directly or something that magnifies one segment of the Bible to the exclusion of other parts.

2. Those who do immoral things in the name of Christ or in spite of the fact that they are known by His name.

3. Collaboration with the culture–a type of “bend, don’t break” attitude toward morality which, in the end, makes us look eerily similar to the unsaved we’re supposed to be winning for Christ.

4. Honoring tradition more than we honor God’s Word. For example, I had a pastor I respected greatly preach against syncopated music. Another one I know preaches that there were twelve apostles and no more, though Scripture clearly identifies more than twelve.

More than that, there are segments of the church that by doctrine choose tradition over Scripture. Hence, the Pope can declare that believers are not to eat meat on Friday . . . until a new Pope says they can.

The emergent church, of course, attacked the “traditional” evangelical church for honoring tradition more than it should be honored. Although I’m not sure what the offensive things the traditional church was supposed to be doing that was so egregious, I suspect one aspect was the spit-and-polish show that has become the Sunday morning worship service.

Other complaints seem to center on the fact that there are sinners in those pews! Well, that’s hardly something that will change whether the church is traditional or a small house assembly or one that meets out in a park. Hypocrisy, pride, greed, gossip, lust, it all follows us wherever we go–which is why Paul admonished believers to lay aside the old self with its evil practices, why James said to put aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness.

All these attacks against the Church should renew our efforts as part of the Body of Christ to create the community God intended. We are to represent Him to the world–not by haranguing the world to act more like Christ when clearly no one without Christ could possibly live a holy life, when we ourselves are works in progress. Rather, we should go back to basics.

First we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. I think it’s important not to rush past that most important command to get to the love-your-neighbor second command which people apparently want to emphasize these days.

Mind you, I don’t see how we can create loving communities without loving our neighbors. But I don’t think we can manufacture this love from our own nature. This extraordinary bond between rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, men and women, corporate execs and day laborers, comes because we first love God with all of who we are.

We don’t see ourselves as special or deserving or important. No matter who we are or where we fall in the pecking order of society, we can never be more special, deserving, or important than God. He is the one we are to magnify. And He’s asked us to do that by serving each other.

This is the clear teaching we need to focus on. This is the best way to counter Satan’s lie which would have us believe the Church is finished, washed up, on its way out.

God’s bride? We may appear a little tattered around the edges, but our Bridegroom has not forsaken us. He will bring His Church through, and as we submit to His plan for us, we will be the testimony of His amazing love and transforming power to the world, He intended from the beginning.

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 7:03 pm  Comments (5)  
Tags: , , ,

Missio Minded


Cades_Cove_Missionary_Baptist_Church_(2672713466)Don’t ask me why, but Latin is in for some reason–hence we’re talking about “missio” instead of mission at my church. But we’re just following a trend. There are a number of “missio” web sites, all focusing on what God has called the Church to do.

In many ways, I’m happy about that, but recently World Magazine raised the question whether or not this emphasis on “being the hands and feet of Jesus” might not be the new legalism (see “The New Legalism” by Anthony Bradley). That thought crossed my mind again this past Sunday.

Part of it has to do with the fact that some people link the Church to Pharisees, in essence saying their problems are the same ones we in the Church now have.

What were their problems? They were trying to deal with the “secularizing” of their religious society. They believed (at last) that they were to obey God’s Law, but in the process, they added their own interpretations. Those became traditional practices, enumerated and revered much the same as if they were God-given law.

In the end, the Pharisees clung to what they believed about the Law and they rejected the Messiah to which the Law pointed.

Is that like the Church? Uh, no. The Church is the gathering of people who accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

True, we do believe we are to obey God’s Word, but not as a means to reach God but as a result of His having reached us.

It is also true that we may misinterpret what God requires of us. We are still sinful people with hearts bent toward pleasing ourselves. We still are susceptible to false teaching that tickles our ears.

As a result, we do constantly need to be called back to listen to the authoritative Word of God and to the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth.

But that’s the point. This new missio emphasis seems to miss the fundamental upon which our doing must be based. We must first hear the Word.

Jesus made this point several times. For example when He was told his family was outside, not being able to get past the crowd, He responded, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Notice, first we who are in His family must hear the Word.

The fact is, anyone who hears God’s Word will encounter what He says in the book of James:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (Jam 1:22-25)

Of course, this passage makes it clear that hearers are only fooling themselves if they don’t put legs to the Word.

James was not initiating some kind of new teaching. Rather, he was picking up on the theme Jesus had proclaimed:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matt. 7:24-27 – emphasis mine)

My point is this, the only way we know we are to act on God’s Word is by first hearing God’s Word. The measure, then, of those who actually are hearing God’s Word is the acting out of what they hear.

So maligning the Church for not being missio oriented is misplaced criticism. Those who are part of the Church that is truly hearing God’s word will already be doing. Those not hearing the Word, don’t need to be told to do–they need to be told to hear.

Those deluding themselves? No amount of prodding toward doing will make a difference. Those folks need to keep looking in the mirror of God’s Word and stop walking away.

I think that’s what’s happening to a lot of people who fill the pews on Sunday. They hear the Word proclaimed, then they go off and live Monday through Saturday without listening to so much as one word from God’s authoritative Scriptures. An hour on Sunday is not going to get the foundation of the house built.

So here’s the point. Anyone truly missio minded will first be Biblically minded. Doing starts with hearing.

Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 6:35 pm  Comments Off  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Upside Down Commands


Like other elements of society, the Church follows trends, even fads. They might show themselves in worship styles or catch phrases (how many times have I heard a preacher “unpack” a passage of Scripture? :roll: ) Those are certainly harmless. Less so, however, are the shifting points of emphasis which seem to change with the winds of preference.

One such shift has been toward creating “seeker friendly” (also a catch phrase) churches, which, in my opinion, seem to miss the point of believers assembling themselves together weekly. Then too, of late there’s been a noticeable increase in the attention churches are giving to service. No longer do we want to sit on the sidelines, but we are admonished to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” in our community.

And we don’t stop with admonishing individuals. We are organizing programs and partnering with para-church organizations to feed children, care for orphans, tutor those struggling with literacy, provide clothes for the needy, beds for the homeless, medical and dental care for the poor.

In short, we’ve left the comfortable pews behind and have made a determined effort to charge out into the highways and byways to reach the unreached through our good deeds.

“About time,” some say. The church in America has been trying for far too long to create a safe, wholesome place where our needs are met and our sensibilities aren’t offended. We’re overdue for a little boat rocking. In fact, the whole thing needs to be turned upside down.

There’s a lot of truth in that position, which, I’m discovering, is the place where a lot of error starts. Just as in every other area, we must look at Scripture and take our lead from God, not from what sounds good, and certainly not from what is currently trendy in the church.

So what does God think about caring for the poor and orphaned and widows? He’s all for it!

Problem solved? Not so fast.

There’s something He’s even more all for. He’s all for us loving Him. That’s the first commandment, the greatest one, according to Jesus. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Then and only then are we to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me we are in the process of flipping the order of the two commands, as if doing for others is more important than loving God.

Over and over the people of Israel were admonished to love God or fear Him, then to obey and serve.

Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut. 10:12).

So here’s the critical point. It is in loving God that we will genuinely be concerned for serving others. It won’t be a passing fancy or a program that we’ll swap out for another one later on down the road.

No, if we love God with our whole being, we will want what He wants, go where He sends, do what He says. Loving Him seems like the only sure way we will end up loving our neighbor self-sacrificially. After all, these are the people the One we love passionately came to save. Why wouldn’t we in turn love them too? Isn’t that the way it works when two people love each other—they take on each other’s interests and passions. They pay attention to what they had never cared about before.

So, sure, it’s time the church in America became less self-satisfied and self-centered. It’s time we stopped loving ourselves more than we love God. But the answer isn’t to try to make ourselves love other people more than we love ourselves. That might be an admirable goal, but it has the commands Jesus enumerated upside down. Unless we do the first, we won’t be doing the second either—not the way we could or should. We’ll simply be trending.

Reposted from Nov. 2011

Published in: on May 20, 2013 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off  
Tags: , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,588 other followers

%d bloggers like this: