FREE Aint Cheap!!

American society in general and Christians in particular have destroyed themselves. And we have done it under the guise of “Good Stewardship.”

Stewardship, as believed and practiced by the majority, has as its priority the preservation and conservation of resources. For some reason, ‘wise use’ hardly enters the picture.

In the movie “Pretty Woman,” with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, she would ask, “Why do you …?” His reply was always, “Because it’s the best.” It didn’t matter whether it was a seat at the opera, or a meal, or a hotel room, or a shirt. The best.

For reasons I won’t delineate here, we have left off having the best.

Notice how your mind immediately went to “I can’t afford the best!” Probably not.

But do you buy the best you can afford?

I remember growing up that many times my dad would complain about something. He would finish by saying, “I wish I could learn to buy quality.” He eventually did, but it was long process. Many children of the Depression Era had the same difficulty.

Do you consistently shop for the “best price?” Is that before, or after you have determined what is the best brand or quality?

However, this is all a side note to the real intent of this post.

Galatians 6:6-8~One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Many years ago there was a preacher who put out books, booklets, articles, and recordings. They were all listed as “Free as the Lord provides.” His ministry never lacked for funds. And people understood that they were a means of the Lord’s provision. When books were ordered, an offering was usually included. Those who had much gave much; those who had little gave little. The materials were sent whether an offering was included or not.

Over the years, that concept was lost. The preacher died, and his daughter has tried to keep the printed ministry going. However, few requests come with an offering attached.

The situation was summed up in one dear sister’s response. “When I read ‘Free as the Lord provides,’ I thought it meant it was free!” And those books are still ‘free.’ There is no charge. Ever. But they are not printed as often, because the funds simply are not there.

I saw in her statement how far we have regressed over the years; how much we have bought into the Babylonian ways of finance.

Look closely at the verses again from Galatians. They have been used in numerous ways, usually separate from each other.

If we take them together with the idea of sharing financially with those who teach us, we may gain some insight into the weakness that exists within the Body of Christ today.

Stated simply by the common cliche–“You get what you pay for.”

Using this passage with that understanding shows that what we reap is directly proportional to what we sow. Therefore, if a ministry puts its materials out on a free-will-offering basis, then we will only get from their work what we put into it.

Selah.

It may be a powerfully anointed ministry, but we gain little from it.

I contend the reason is that we put little into it.

The ministry may not be hurt, but what we receive is. We put in little, we take out little.

Our bookshelves may be lined; our CD rack may be full; but our minds and hearts are not satisfied.

We have taken our ‘stewardship’ of God’s provision to mean that we should access all the ‘free’ stuff that we can, and then spend the money we have on ourselves. That is not stewardship. It is stupidity in the form of greed.

Proverbs 23:23~Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

APPLICATION: There are many “free’ sites on the web that help us with our Bible study. If you use any of them, have you sent them a donation?

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.

A Critique of Critics

Difficult times in the natural usually precede a spiritual awakening. We are in difficult times now, and the signs of an awakening are visible.

Recent reports show that church attendance is up across all age, gender, and socio-economic groups.

There is also turmoil within the ranks of the Church itself. There is controversy (as there has always been) about new methods and terminologies and experiences.

I have watched with interest the various changes over the past 50 years. I was a part of the change within the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council. I witnessed the awakening now called the Charismatic Renewal. I’ve listened to the fights among evangelicals that renewal engendered. I’ve watched the various ‘revivals’ since then that have proven less than real and brought reproach upon the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve seen the New Age Spirituality make its inroads into the pulpits of Christian Churches.

The Emerging Church Movement has been characterized as buying into all that is New Age.

I have read the critiques of the leaders and the works of some  of the leaders.

The Prosperity Gospel and the Word of Faith people have been criticized and challenged by Congress.

I have read the critiques of the leaders and the works of some  of the leaders.

Why the controversy? Why the heat? Why are there some who seem to have nothing better to do than to “warn us of the dangers?”

Yes, as one who is called to leadership in the Body I understand the necessity of understanding the perilous times in which we live. I understand the mandate to take heed to myself and to the flock of God. I understand that there will be false prophets and teachers who will secretly slip in and deceive the flock. I truly know and understand these things.

I also know that there are few (if any) who are called as a leader of the entire Body of Christ. (The Pope doesn’t even claim that privilege!)

Is that what we should be doing? It is, if it is your calling.

But, what is lacking, what is causing so much falsity to arise is more to be addressed than the falseness itself.

Jesus said that if we would continue in His word then we would know the truth and the truth would make us free.

Why is there not more of the Word being proclaimed? Why are new believers not being encouraged to get into the Word? Why do people find the modern church irrelevant?

Because the Church leaders continue to look to the world for the solution as to why the world is not enamored with the Church. We ask them why they are not coming, and then we try to do something based on those findings. That is about like asking a four-year-old why they won’t eat their peas and they say they want candy; so we give them candy. They still won’t eat their peas, and the cycle continues. Ridiculous!!

Until we return to the two basic fundamentals of church growth, we will never see another revival as great as those before 1950.

The two fundamentals are mentioned in the Acts and are the two things that got the most votes on my Opinion survey on this blog: prayer and preaching. (Acts 2:42) Notice that fellowship and communion are also mentioned. (More on that at a later time.)

There are many among the critics of the various movements who are strong to call for a strict adherence to the Word. They pick on every little word that people write on the various blogs and challenge their overall orthodoxy. This is not the kind of preaching that I am talking about. The letter kills, but the spirit gives life.

There must be life behind the words that are spoken or written.

Truth is not imparted mind to mind. Truth is imparted life to life.

And it is the truth, the presence of truth, the reality of truth being lived out that will once again draw people into the Church.

Jesus said He is the truth. He said that if He is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself.

Oh!! There is so much here I want to write more and more! There is such a dearth of hearing the word of God. (Amos 8:11) There are many who are highly skilled at finding three points for every one of their three points in their three-pointed sermon. It makes for a great outline, and leaves the hearer filled with admiration at such oratorical skill. Yet few come to Jesus.

No, dear reader. Skilled sermonizing, music services, outreach programs, light shows, nor any other thing will ever replace the simplicity of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Let those who preach begin with that magnificent centerpiece and expound and explain in simple terms what it means to follow Jesus.

That kind of preaching will not fill our churches with the multitudes; but it will fill our churches with those who are looking for what it means to follow the Master.