What’s He doing up there?

…the Rev. Kendall Harmon, theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, blames social mobility.

“Mobility means your ideas are more challenged and your family and childhood traditions have less influence, particularly if you are not strongly rooted in them. I see kids today who have no vocabulary of faith, and neither do many of their parents.”

Harmon recalls, “A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son’s questions. One of them was: ‘What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?’ “

This quote was taken from a disturbing article.

Before anyone is inclined to criticize the language as blasphemous, let’s consider how such a question could be asked. We too often come from our own little window on the world, and have little idea what is going on outside our purview.

I was with a group of local pastors last week, and one said he had read an article that claimed that evangelicalism as we know it will soon be gone. He gave the link to the article to which he referred, and I have followed it to the link given above.

“Mobility” is the sociologist’s catch-all factor for most of the ills of modern society. While it is certainly a factor contributing to the decline of traditional faith in our country, it is by no means the prime factor.

The middle paragraph from the quote above is most telling. Yes, our ideas get challenged as we become more mobile, more global; but that does not mean that our ideas or the basis of our ideas must change.

Christians have been slow to confront the reality of what is happening in the world around them. Just 30 years ago older adults were still saying that we should not send our children off to college, because “They will lose their faith.” They blamed the liberal influence of the agnostic or atheistic instructors. However, those instructors were not, and are not to blame.

I’ll say it again: liberal instructors and colleges are not at fault for the loss of faith of those who attend their institutions.

That is about like blaming the Chinese when someone loses a finger playing with a firecracker.

Consider and apply these verses of Scripture to the situation:

{Proverbs 24:10 ESV} – If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.
{Jeremiah 12:5 ESV} – “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Notice in the opening quote above that the parents came to see the pastor with their son’s question. Apparently, they were not able to answer the question themselves. That says they had not been taught, and it is therefore obvious that their teenage son has not been taught.

This is not an isolated instance. Jay Leno takes pleasure in going onto the street and asking simple Bible questions to which most do not know the answer: What is the first book of the Bible? Who is the main character in the New Testament?

So, what is the problem? Where do we fix the blame?

I am probably myopic or biased or both, but I always end up placing the blame for such things squarely in the pulpit.

The blame is not with the family, for the family was at one time coming to our churches.

The blame is not with the schools, for the schools were at one time influenced by the families that sent their children to them.

The blame is not with society, for society was at one time comprised of the individuals who attended our churches.

No. The blame is in the pulpit, because we tried to be relevant. We watered down the gospel in an attempt to attract those who were not coming. We watered down the requirements of discipleship in an attempt to keep those whom we were losing.

I too often attend services where a Bible text is given and something is talked about that may or may not illustrate something in the verse.

Seldom do I hear preaching that expounds the Bible as the Word of God that is “alive and powerful and sharper than a sword…” I have to go online or to the radio to find that kind of preaching.

 I will pick on a modern mega-church leader as a prime example. Joel Osteen preaches to tens of thousands every time he stands on the platform. I’ve listened to parts of his speeches at various times. I have yet to catch him quoting a Bible verse any sooner than 12 minutes into his talk. The verse quoted is always a feel-good text to support his feel-good message to a group of people who need their collective ego massaged.

And I’ve heard the same drivel from preachers who regularly preach to less than a hundred souls.

Someone will say, “That’s what we have Sunday School for–to teach the Bible.” Again, we are not paying attention to what is going on. Historically, Sunday School has been attended by 50% of those who make up the church rosters.

Our look-good, feel-good-about-ourselves method of only proclaiming how many were baptized, or how many were saved, or how many were added to the church membership without addressing how many we have lost has come back to haunt us.

The world sees the situation. When will we also wake up?

For an article from a confessing Christian who believes we won’t wake up, click here. The writer has some very interesting observations.

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Church Repair

I have just completed reading Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola & George Barna, and have begun Frank’s sequel book, Reimagining Church.

Without specifically stating it, I believe their basic premise is that the church as we know it today is fundamentally flawed and therefore beyond repair.

In my 40+ years of being involved with the Church, I have seen, participated in, and even attempted to resurrect that which was dead. A particular problem of the existing church would be addressed and efforts made to repair the problem.

I have seen pews replaced with chairs (and vice versa). I have seen the seating arrangement changed from rows to circles. I have witnessed a multitude of change in singing–hymn books, mimeographed chrous printouts, overhead projector, PowerPoint, and Bible only. Preaching by a one-man show change to an open pulpit. Open pulpit change to just a few. And the list goes on ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Why? Why do we continue to tamper with the existing format and structure? Why not leave well enough alone? Thankfully, Martin Luther did not have that attitude.

We continue to tamper with it for the same reason a new church is formed almost every week in our country–because someone, somewhere, believes that somehow things can be better.

Better than what? Better than what is, because what is does not satisfy. And so we continue to fidget, manipulate, organize and disorganize in an attempt to get it right.

And, that, my friend, is at the basis of most of the changes–we want to get it right. Therefore, the attempts themselves are not wrong. They usually originate with good motives, noble intentions. But, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

According to how I understand Viola/Barna, the foundation of the Church has been destroyed–at least by the modern expression of the church. I am coming to grips with this, and am beginning to agree with their premise.

Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Church, and while He certainly cannot be destroyed, the foundation of the modern church is destroyed, because it is not founded on Christ and Him alone. It is founded on such things as doctrinal purity, or worship style, or preacher personality, or denominational dignity. None of these has much to do with Jesus.

And so, I have about finished with the critique of the modern church and am about to launch into their understanding of what the church should look like.

So far, I am enjoying the ride.

Philippians 1:9-12

Php 1:9-12
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;
10 That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;
11 Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.
12 But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;    KJV

We have been studying these four verses this week, and giving our insights, thoughts, and applications at Philter48, a forum set up by a couple of brothers in the Lord for this purpose. Everyone is welcome to participate in this ongoing study as we seek to live out what it means to have “every joint supply” (Ephesians 4:16) that which is necessary for the Body.

It is a verse-by-verse study, which can sometimes become tedious, and sometimes bring up things that are not necessarily the main intent of the passage, but always enhances our understanding and experience in the Lord. So, join us, please.

Paul is stuck in prison as he writes this letter. Rather than asking for prayer for his release or safety or any other personal thing at this time, he prays for the saints at Philippi. (For those who do not know how to pronounce that word, I’ll steal a line from Swanny who wrote Fill-A-Pie).

When he prays for the saints at Philippi, I take that as a prayer for me also, and a lesson is contained within the prayer itself.

Paul indicates that the Philippian saints were a manifestation of love when he prays that their love may abound even more.

But, this is not some sort of a fuzzy, touchy-feely kind of love, as we shall see further into the letter. It is a love that is manifested in action. Here, though, the apostle wants their love to abound by increasing in knowledge and judgment.

We can see from this that true agape love does not just accept and tolerate anything and everything that comes along, but is most truly shown by its exercise of discernment. It is a love that knows how to distinguish between good and evil, and between the good and the not-so-good. And that discernment has a purpose: to keep one pure and blameless until the day of Christ.

In other words, it is not enough to just love. It is not enough to just know. It is not enough to distinguish. One must act on love’s discerning knowledge.

That action, that doing what is called for in the moment by reason of a loving awareness, will produce the fruits of righteousness in the believer.

Lest they forget and think that it is by their good efforts, Paul reminds them that it ALL is by Jesus Christ. The love, the knowledge, the discernment, the sincerity, and the blamelessness are all of Him. He provides, leads, and guides; and it is up to me to do. But even the doing is of Him.

When will I ever get to the place where I realize on a moment-by-moment basis that I am nothing without Him? When will I get to the place that I do not secretly long for some sort of recognition?

 

NOTE: For a good read about one who is learning to trust the Lord on a moment-by-moment basis, read This is The Day.

The Christian’s Priority

As I turned on the radio in the car the other day, I was greeted with, “The Christian’s ultimate priority is the Great Commission.”

That statement hit me hard. I immediately turned the radio off.

I’ve been hearing similar statements for more than 40 years now. Almost every evangelical, Bible-believing Christian knows what the Great Commission is, and most subscribe to the sentiments expressed by whoever it was I heard on the radio.

I say ‘most’ because I am one who does not. I am evangelical. I share my faith with both saints and sinners. I believe the Bible. I’ve taken the Bible at face value and applied it to my life for almost 40 years.

The so-called Great Commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20 where Jesus told the apostles to go into all the world with the gospel. I believe that passage is for all believers, not just for those apostles. We each have that call on our lives in some form or fashion.

What is it, then, that I do not believe? I do not believe that is the ultimate priority of every Christian.

First of all, that was the very last command the Lord gave His disciples. Therefore, in order of priority, something came before that.

If Jesus spent three years with the disciples before giving them this directive, shouldn’t we consider asking why?

Why, then, do we instruct the brand-new believer who comes to the altar Sunday morning to be a witness before this same time next week?

Yes, there were those who were instructed to go show themselves to the priest as to what God had done for them.  Just as many were told to tell no one.

In order to avoid a lengthy diatribe about the futility of the Great Commission being our First Priority, suffice it to say that there is some training involved first.

We must first become more like the Master. We must first be free from our sin patterns. We must first answer His call to follow Him. We must first spend time with the Lord.

Jesus did not put any more emphasis on this command then He did on Love One Another.

Which do you find more deficient in the church and the world today? Love, or Preaching?

All of One

1 Co 12:13
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.       KJV

The Lord is saying something significant to us in this passage that I find to be usually glossed over in many circles.

This is something that we all certainly give lip service to, but the experiential outworking is quite different.

We all admit that we are a part of the Body, and that anyone can be a part of that same Body. But, when it comes to accepting someone from the ‘outside’ into our own local fellowship, that is a different story.

There are many within the church who want that new person who was saved Saturday night to get cleaned up, get rid of their body piercings and their cigarettes and their sleeping partner before they can come to church on Sunday.

Or, there are those who look askance at someone from a different culture who dresses differently from the accepted norm.

We are all of One. We are each a part of that One.

Regardless of what we look like, or what we wear, or how we talk, each one who comes to the Lord is a part of the Body.

Nothing must change but their inward devotion to sin and their outward practice of the same.

But, many of the saints among us, especially those of a more staid bent, tend to keep their distance from the new ones coming into their midst.

Most of the changes that people look for are merely cultural and have little to do with the reality of being a Christian. For too long now, we have used our culture to inform our religion, rather than our religion informing our culture.

Will the Lord find this acceptable when we stand before Him?

His Word is My Word

2 Sa 23:2  “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.”    NKJV

This is the beginning of the last recorded words of King David as found in the second book of Samuel. We all know that David was used of the Lord to speak His word to his generation and recorded so that all generations to follow would have that word.

How is this great king, from whom the promised messiah would come different from the rest of us?

His acts and his words are recorded in the Bible, and I doubt that any of my words or acts will ever be found there. In every other way, we are the same. Our level of passion may differ, but David was truly human.

His acts–the good, the bad, and the ugly are recorded. His words–of praise, of provocation, of depression, of exultation are recorded.

These are recorded for our learning and admonition (warning), and we are to learn how we are to walk with God by the example of others who have gone before us.

There is something powerful to consider in the verse before us.

Without adding to or taking away from the Word, and without claiming any special extra-biblical revelation, can we not say the same as David? Should we not be able to?

We have each been given the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Each of us is in a different place in our walk with the Lord. Each of us requires different truth at different times for different reasons.

Sometimes, that word of direction comes from a different member of the Body.

Here is where it gets sticky and dangerous. (Some of you reading this are probably already forming your words of warning and correction. Put your sword away. I’m not going there. 🙂 )

It is not necessary, nor advisable to say, “The Lord told me to tell you…” It is equally unnecessary to say, “Thus saith the Lord…”

Those phrases have been used to misguide and entrap saints by well-intentioned believers and by deceitful false shepherds.

No. We should simply deliver that which the Spirit of God places upon our heart and let it go at that. If it is the word for that person in that hour, their spirit will witness to it as being of the Lord. That is all that is necessary.

But, we should be able to know–and at least say within ourselves–The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.

Jesus said that we are to do the works that He did and even greater. (Jn. 14:12)

He also said that His words were spirit and life, and that He only spoke what the Father gave Him (John 6:63; 14:10)

Part of becoming conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29) is being able to hear and speak what the Father says; to do only what we see the Father do.

And in that place, we, like David, will say, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue.”

What is The Bible For?

NOTE: This testimony was sent to me by this person’s mother. The young man is 23 years old, and is growing in the Lord, which is making his mom and dad ecstatic. Rejoice with them (Rom. 12:15).
 
Austin Chapman’s Notes
What is the Bible for?
10-22-08     2:48a.m.
 
What is our Bible for? It is for instruction and guidance, yes?  If this is true, then the next question is how does it instruct?  How does it guide?  It’s methods are many, but it’s foundation is not.
 
I used to believe that the crux of Christianity was to love, to love unconditionally.  All of the teachings I found surrounded around love and I was under the assumption that’s what it all boiled down to.  Love God, love others and love oursleves in the ways that Christ teaches us.  However, I recently have changed this thinking.  I still believe that love is important and a very large part in what Christians are and should be.  Although, I do think that the larger purpose that Christ came for was to explain who he is; who God is.
 
We needed God to be explained to us because since the beginning of time, God has been giving us the chance to be like him or to be like the world.  He has tried to get us to be like him as much as he can while still giving us free choice.  He made us in his image and we blew it in the garden of Eden.  The next think he did was give us the ten commandments.
 
There are laws in the world because without them we have anarchy.  Without government or law, who does one answer to?  There is no authority higher than yourself if there is no law.  It is in this light that God gave Moses the ten commandments so that we would have laws, order.  These laws may seem obvious at times, a nuisance at others, but all in all, I believe that most, even non-Christians can agree that these laws build the framework of a good person and good society.  But the commandments aren’t right based on practicality, they are right because they are God.  God’s goal was not to create good people.  His goal was to create God people.  He wants us to be like him in everything.  He has beckoned us to be so close to Him that others can feel him through us.  That’s what those laws are for.  They are to guide our spirituality, so that we don’t have spiritual anarchy inside of us.  They are to make us more like God.
 
However, once again, we didn’t listen.  So, he gave us his son, Jesus.  He told us once, we were dumb.  He wrote it down for us, so we wouldn’t forget, we were dumb.  Finally, he came to earth himself to show us what to live like.  Christ came, according to John 18, to testify to the truth.  This truth was God, it was to reveal God’s nature and his personality and his thoughts and wisdom and love to us.
 
So, as my view of the path of Christianity has changed, I have realized that what the real essence of being a Christian is found within the Word itself: Christ, Christian means little messiah or little christ.  That is what we are to be.  We have been called to be living, breathing, incarnations of God himself.  This was God’s goal from the very beginning.  He created us in his image.  He created us to be God people.  He created us to be little christs.  So, what is the Bible for?  It is our handbook on how to transform ourselves into Christ’s image.
 
Father, please help me to be you,  Show me and reveal to me more and more who and what you are, so that I can take on your nature and imitate you.  You are such a powerful and mighty God.  I thank you for being patient with me and with all humans as we have struggled from the very beginning to get it right.  I want to get rid of the sinful desires inside of me.  Please make your will my will, your good, pleasing, and perfect will.  I trust you with everything and in everything let your will be done. Amen.