A Relevant Church!

-The Times We Live In!

I find the times we live in, right now, to be incredibly curious times for the church. The numbers are staggering! Between 6,000 and 10,000 churches, in the United States, are closing every year. That means that between 100-200 churches will close this week alone! So, who’s to blame? Many church leaders are trying to convince us that the secular culture & the liberal politics are to blame. But, I don’t believe that! Not for 1 minute do I believe that; and I base that belief on what we see in the book of Acts.

-Outside Forces & Culture!

If outside forces & culture are to blame for the church’s decline, there would be no churches anywhere! The church would have died in the Book of Acts! Yet, the greatest period of church growth began 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection on the Day of Pentecost & it’s recorded, in detail, in the Book of Acts for us! If you read through the Book of Acts, you can’t help but notice how adversarial the culture & the government were toward the church; and, yet, it prospered! Despite persecution that scattered the church; and even the killing of its leaders, the church just blew up with growth!

-New Believers “Multiplied”!

At first, adding new believers to the church by the thousands, but then the number of new followers of Jesus “multiplied” the book of Acts records! Isn’t the contrast interesting? That at a time when the government & culture were antagonistic toward the church, the church just went about her commission to make disciples & grew in unprecedented fashion; but today, many in the evangelical church have become hostile toward politics & the culture, and, we’re shrinking in size and relevance. Just an observation! Not a statement! I’ve mentioned in the past that the only good thing about growing older is the perspective it gives me. I mean no disrespect toward those of you that might be half my age, but I’ve simply had more time to observe how our country & the church have trended!

-The Days Of The “Moral Majority”!

You can read the history, but I lived it! I clearly remember the rise of Jerry Falwell & the Moral Majority in the 1970s. I was a card-carrying member; and I firmly believed that we— the church & the Moral Majority— could change the spiritual trajectory of our nation by voting the right people into office & changing legislation. Like many of my fellow believers, I became politically active. More than once, someone asked me if I would consider running for political office; and I almost did. I watched the church impact the political landscape during the 1980s and much of the 1990,; and we rode that wave into the early 2000s. But if you haven’t noticed, the last 20+ years have not been kind. All that momentum from the 1970s is gone & as the dust continues to settle, here’s what we see— a church that has mostly become irrelevant & a nation that’s become increasingly secular!

-We Quit Making Disciples!

The church in America has mostly become irrelevant because it quit doing what Jesus created it to do! Our sole purpose; our only reason for existence, is for the making of disciples. That’s what we were commissioned to do! If Jesus was about political clout, He had every opportunity to act on it! Israel was ready to make Him king IF He would only throw off the restraints of Rome & lead a rebellion against their occupation. But, that was not the way of His Kingdom! He told His disciples to “…render to Caesar the things that were Caesar’s & to God the things that were God’s…” So, when the church quit making disciples her mission in the 1970s & made politics her Savior, she began to shrink in size & lost whatever “Moral Majority” she might have had. Simply put, we’re in a bad place! There’s only one thing to do! It’s what we always must do when we’re guilty of disobedience! Repent! Judgment must begin at the house of God!

Let’s Be Thankful!

-Thankful Or Critical?

Most of us are pretty consistent in the way that we look at life. Generally speaking, we are either a thankful person; or, a critical person. We’re either positive or negative. We tend to see the glass as either “half-full”; or, “half-empty” as the saying goes. Either way, we’re what we are because we’ve practiced it. We are creatures of habit. If you’re critical it’s because you’ve practiced being critical. If you’re thankful it’s because you’ve developed a habit of being thankful. You are NOT the way you are because of your circumstances! You ARE the way you are because of your reaction to your circumstances.

-Do Your Circumstances Rule You?

We’ve all known people who whine about everything; and others, with far worse life circumstances, who are thankful & a blessing to be around. If you’re a critical person it’s because you’ve permitted the circumstances to rule over you; you’ve narrowed your focus so that all you see is the negative & the painful in life. It’s kind of like getting too zoomed in on Google maps! Have you ever done that? You’re looking at the map, but you can’t get your bearings because you’ve over-focused or you’ve over-analyzed it. If you’ll just zoom out a little bit, and, get a bigger picture, then you can see! You just needed a broader perspective.

-A Broader Perspective Of Life!

If you tend to be overly critical, you need to zoom out & get a broader perspective of life by intentionally paying attention to God’s provisions, even in the tough circumstances. Thank Him for His faithfulness! Look at your circumstances in the big picture context of all His blessings. But, it has to be intentional! Forming that habit of thankfulness may require that you pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help you; to remind you to see the big picture in life; to zoom out from all the annoyances in life. Thankful people pay attention to God’s blessings; and, they pay attention because they are thankful people!

-Viewing Our Life Through The Cross!

Our greatest need, as people, is forgiveness for our sin against a Holy God! The Apostle John describes the way that Jesus provided forgiveness through His substitutionary atonement for sin on the cross: “Therefore they took Jesus away. Carrying His own cross, He went out to what is called Skull Place, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified Him and two others with Him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle” (John 19:16-18). When we view our lives through the cross, we can’t help but become more thankful! Jesus’ disciples were repulsed when He first began talking with His disciples about His impending death on a cross! The cross was perhaps the cruelest instrument of torture and death that the world has ever known. And, that was their focus! They were too zoomed in on the pain and the suffering of the cross!

-Seeing The Cross Differently!

They needed to zoom out & get a broader focus of the cross. Jesus lived a sinless life and willingly gave up His life to give new meaning to the cross. The cross became the place where God’s love intersected with His justice. It symbolizes the atonement that Jesus Christ made on our behalf. He became God’s substitutionary atonement for us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Corinth, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus, who had no sin, became sin! He was the substitute for us, so that we could become righteous before God. Oh, let us learn to always be thankful for Christ’s atonement! The atonement is the reason we can be thankful for the cross. To atone means to appease. Jesus endured the full wrath of God, against sin, to appease God’s righteousness; so that God could be just & righteous to save us! The sin debt has been paid!

Praise God!

-Your Deepest, Darkest Secret!

Do you realize that you really can be honest with God about everything! Even the deepest, darkest secrets— that you’re reluctant to share with anyone— you can share with God! You can tell Him everything! He already knows how you feel; so, just be honest with Him! Be transparent with Him— “Lord, I know I shouldn’t feel like this; but, I do! Help me!” And, when He answers your prayer, offer Him praise! That’s the pattern we see in Scripture! For example, the writer of Psalm 30 says:  “LORD my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me” (v.2).  King David wrote that Psalm. He cried to God for help & God answered!

-Don’t Put Limitations On God!

And, don’t limit your understanding of God’s healing to the physical. There is a spiritual & emotional part of you also! And, there are times when life is so painful that we need God’s healing in all three—physically, spiritually & emotionally! Perhaps David is alluding to some pain that was self-induced by his sin because he speaks of God’s anger a couple of verses later:  “Sing to Yahweh, you, His faithful ones, and praise His holy name. For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning” (30:4).  And, he concludes this Psalm with this praise to God:  “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You forever” (30:11-12). 

-Don’t Depend On Improved Circumstances!

What began as a Psalm of lament, David says, God has turned into dancing! And, for that He praises God! We need God’s help to speak the gospel into every negative situation of our life! God will redeem it all! Just remember that our worst day in heaven, with Him, will still be better than our best day in this life! Keep things in perspective! Don’t depend on your circumstances to improve! They may! But, they may not! But, God is faithful even when the circumstances are not! Depend on Him regardless of your circumstances.

-Brokenness Into Dancing!

By Jesus’ work on the cross, God removes the great canyon between Himself & us— that our sin created— and, He turns our brokenness into dancing! Offer Him praise! So, be honest with him about your suffering! But, don’t stop there! Be honest with Him about your sin; because He forgives! And, then, praise Him for that! Praise Him for forgiveness! There is no bigger burden you can carry through life than your sin! Again, it’s David who writes the 32nd Psalm out of deep shame & guilt over his sin! But, he no longer lives under the weight of his sin!

-Experience Forgiveness!

He’s experienced forgiveness! Look at the start of his psalm:  “How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How joyful is the man the Lord does not charge with sin and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). Do you lack joy in your life? Is it because you’re haunted by your past sins? They can be forgiven! God gladly forgives sin & covers it by the shed blood of His Son, Jesus, on the cross! But, forgiveness comes when we get honest with God! No more deceit, David says here! We have to own our sins! Own our misdeeds! Then, we have to humble ourselves before God & agree with Him that we’re guilty of sin. That’s what David says next:  “When I kept silent, my bones became brittle from my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy on me; my strength was drained as in the summer’s heat” (v.3). Our unconfessed sin even harms our health! So, ask God to forgive! He will!

The Moral Relativism Problem!

Doing What’s Best In Your Own Eyes!

The deadliest accident in aviation history occurred on March 27, 1977, when 2 Boeing 747 passenger jets collided on the runway of Tenerife North Airport on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. There were 583 total fatalities. The crash left behind many unanswered questions. It was a foggy day; and, the pilots, of the 2 planes, could not see each other. But, for some inexplicable reason, one of the pilots began his takeoff without clearance from the control tower. The other plane was in the way & he was unable to avoid it; so, 583 people died! Every pilot is taught one very basic lesson at the beginning of their training— in an air traffic control zone, you NEVER do what seems best in your own eyes! You always do what the control tower tells you to do.

-Acting On Your Own Can Be Disastrous!

The reason is simple & obvious— the controller knows things you can’t possible know or see. They have more accurate information & a better perspective to guide the plane safely to its destination. Acting on your own can be disastrous! While that seems like an obvious principle for aviation, it ought to be an equally obvious principle for living out your life. Our Creator God ought to be our control tower! Unfortunately, we live in dark times. Our country & the world appear to be stuck in a dark moral vacuum where no one seems to believe that there are moral absolutes of right and wrong anymore. People are committed to a philosophy of “moral relativism”; which, simply means everyone does that which is right in their own eyes. 

-Losing Your Spiritual Compass!

The Old Testament book of Judges offers us a vivid picture of what happens when a society does what’s right in their own eyes & it reads like the daily paper or nightly news in our own country.  Judges unpacks the story of a spiritually deteriorating nation; and, provides us an example of what our own lives will become if we fall away from God’s Word & lose our spiritual compass. Look at how the book begins:  “The people worshiped the Lord throughout Joshua’s lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua… after them another generation rose up who did not know the Lord or the works He had done for Israel. The Israelites did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. They worshiped the Baals and abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers… they went after other gods from the surrounding peoples and bowed down to them. They infuriated the Lord” Judges 2:7-14.

-The Beginnings Of Apostasy!

For Israel, the apostasy began slowly as it always does! Sin always seems harmless when we’re just looking at something that’s enticing; but, the look leads to partaking; and, then a commitment to hiding the sin! To wearing a mask & pretending we’re not guilty! Sin’s most effective strategy against us is to gradually introduce small compromises, sinking us into moral collapse. I had a Bible College professor who used to say, “You don’t just wake up one day & say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna kill somebody today!’ You don’t just wake up one day & say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna sleep with someone I’m not married to.’” Sin takes over gradually. A small compromise here & a bit more there! Before Achan coveted & stole he began to calculate the possibility of how he could get away with it (Joshua 7). The compromise began in his heart; and, it was gradual. He failed to take those 1st thoughts captive & denounce them; and, because he didn’t control them, they eventually controlled him! Let the sin take control & then you begin to justify it! That’s the sin talking!

Designed To Complement!

-Is Gender Inequality Real?

Gender inequality is receiving a lot of attention these days. I’m referring to the claim that there is unequal treatment of individuals based on their gender. Some of this mistreatment is “perceived”; but, much of it is very real! Some claim there is a gender pay gap; and, in many cases the facts support that claim! There’s also a resulting link to career advancement— that one’s gender impedes their advancement up the company ladder!

-There’s Perspective With Age!

I’ve mentioned before— about growing older— that one of the few advantages I have, over those younger than me, is that I have a “PERSPECTIVE” they can’t possibly have! I have a kind of panoramic view of time since growing up in the 1960’s. More than just a historical perspective, I lived it! I remember when Bobby Riggs challenged Billie Jean King to a tennis match that became known as the “Battle of the Sexes.” It received international attention; and, when King won, it became a kind of “rally cry” to what has been the women’s movement!

-Gender Resentment’s Not Cool!

Now, let me be clear about something! I admit that from the beginning of time, men, in general, have been guilty of inflicting much harm & gender inequality against women; and, I applaud many of the changes that have been made to correct that! At the same time—here is my “old man” perspective— I have noted, in my lifetime, a deep pervasive gender resentment has bubbled up & boiled over in our day. We’re at this “zero-sum competition”! As a society we’re not looking for the WIN-WIN. There’s this lack of togetherness & teamwork between the sexes! It’s become “US against THEM”; and, the only way one gender wins is if the opposite gender loses! It’s “EITHER-OR” when it ought to be “BOTH-AND.” Either men rule the world; or, women do! The sexes are more divided than ever; and, the sexual orientation & “sexual identity” issues are the natural fallout of this fighting between the genders! The world is lost & confused & needs to be rescued & the Church can help bring sanity to the struggle by embracing the counsel of God’s word & living it out in our homes & in the public square & let me add that we bring that discussion with LOVE, PATIENCE & GENTLENESS!

-The Way God Designed Us!

God’s design for the man & the woman promotes beauty & harmony in the relationship between the sexes! God’s design for men & women is absolute equality in status; but, a difference in the roles! All the cultural debate over homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography, public policy concerning women being drafted for combat, church debates over women pastors, and, marital conflicts over “who’s in charge” in the home— ALL of it is addressed directly or by implication in God’s Word. When determining our roles, as men and women, God & His Word must shape our opinions, not the culture! To do otherwise is deadly! The culture is broken & doesn’t have the answers! It all begins with Genesis in my next post!

Church Community Encourages Growth!

-Celebrate The Differences!

During our nearly 35 years of marriage & ministry together, my wife and I have had several opportunities to minister to some married couples who were struggling with their relationship.  And, more often than not, they were fighting over the very things they originally found attractive about each other—their differences! Oh yes, indeed, opposites do attract! And, if you don’t celebrate the differences from the start of the marriage, you’ll begin to see them as irritants after while.

-Diversity Is God’s Blessing!

Those differences were obvious early on; and, they were seen as complimentary because each one filled in some deficiency in the other person. That’s also true in the faith community that makes up every local church.  Have you noticed how different each individual member is in your church? We all have different backgrounds & upbringings; and, that diversity adds strength to the faith community! But—like marriage—those differences can become problematic to our fellowship if we’re not careful. We can look at how different we are & conclude that we just can’t fellowship with those people! When we “go there” we make the same mistake as the troubled married couple!

-Differences Give Us Perspective!

The differences that my wife & I brought into the marriage gave us perspective; and, stretched us because they exposed our individual weaknesses & our need to make some changes in our lives. I believe we are each a better person because we’ve grown, in those areas, to actually be more like the other person. God uses His church to accomplish the same thing in our lives—our differences make us stronger! God often exposes our weaknesses & our sinful tendencies through the strengths of others.

-No Traction Without Friction!

In fact, our interaction, within the faith community, is one of the MOST significant ways that God grows us spiritually! It’s the friction that we encounter, in our church family, that gives the Holy Spirit the necessary traction to grow us! So, don’t ever look condescendingly at anyone! In Romans 15:1-6 the Apostle Paul points out the fact that there are individuals—within the church—who are strong spiritually; and, others who are weak! And, that can be said of every local church!

-Spiritual Infants Need Your Help!

In every faith community there are some who are spiritually weak in their faith. Perhaps they’re a spiritual “infant” because they’ve never been discipled. Their greatest need is for someone spiritually mature, in the faith, to come alongside them & show them how to grow.  There are others who are weak because they’ve been wounded or hurt—could be spiritual, emotional, or physical pain that they’re dealing with! Again, they just need someone to love them enough to come alongside them & take the time to listen; and, to help! God intends for the Church of Christ to do the work of Christ! That’s why He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell every believer so that we could reconcile people to God!

 

Politics Is Like A Skunk

Touch It & People Will Notice

That’s what a pastor friend of mine told me once: “Politics is like a skunk: Touch it and that’s all anyone will notice about you for a long while.” When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I was very much involved in the political scene. I was part of the “Moral Majority” back in the 70’s and listened religiously to the political talk shows during the 80’s and 90’s.

Perspective Is A Great Thing

But, “perspective” is a great thing! It’s about the only great thing about growing older! Perspective is “the ability to see all the relevant data in a meaningful relationship to one another.” Over the last 20 years I’ve gained a different perspective for the Church’s level of involvement in politics during the “Moral Majority” years. From my perspective, the Church exchanged Christ’s commission to “make disciples” for the hope that their political clout (because of their “majority” status) could change our country, for the better, by electing the right individuals to office & through legislation.

We’ve Reaped What We Sowed

Almost 5 decades later, we’ve “reaped what we sowed.” Because we backed away from our calling to “make disciples” the Church has severely shrunk in size. Some of the most recent statistics I’ve seen reveal that 9 out of every 10 churches in America are in decline.  And, only 1 new church is starting for every 2-3 that are closing! We’re no longer a “moral majority”! So, we’ve—for the most part—failed to elect God-Honoring public servants; and, we’ve failed in the battle to pass God-Honoring legislation. We’ve lost the “Culture Wars”!

God Is Still Sovereign

We’ve paid a great price for our disobedience, Church! And, I’m pointing fingers at this guy at the same time I’m calling out the rest of the Church! I’ve been disobedient to my calling! There, I said it! Will you admit it? But, wait! This is not a message of hopelessness! All is not lost! God is still Sovereign! He’s still on the throne! He still listens & is moved by the repentant prayers of His Children! He continues to raise up “modern day prophets” who call the Church back to God; to brokenness & humility; to return to our calling; to fulfill our Lord’s Great Commission to “make disciples” as we “go” about doing life!

Another Election Is Only Months Away

Like most of you, I’m already sick to death of all the negative campaign advertising! It would be real easy, for me, to just walk away from the political process altogether! I’d have no problem finding something else to do on election day & I’m sure many of you feel the same way. But, we can’t! On the basis of Scriptural principle, there is simply no way that I can—in good conscience—recommend that you stay away from the polls on November 8th. Just because politics is less important doesn’t mean that it’s not important! There’s a tension there! It’s all about being a good & faithful steward!

(Part II Next Week)