Thursday, November 15, 2007

Paul the Non-baptist?

There is an interesting statement in 1 Corinthians 1:17:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel--not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

Paul had one task in mind when he ministered: Preach the gospel. Let's expand on this thought for a moment.

1. Paul didn't assume the Great Commission to be something he had to carry out by himself. He did the "Go into all the world" part, but not the "baptizing them" part. Why? Because it isn't the call on any one person's life to carry out all of the Great Commission alone. It is a call to the entire church body working in one accord. Paul preached the gospel, and other than a few people, let someone else do the baptizing and the "Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded" (discipling) parts.

2. Paul didn't try to impress the lost with his human insights - he simply spoke of the power of the cross. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. Without Him, we are all condemned. On the cross He took that condemnation on Himself; we are no longer condemned. If you believe in Jesus' sacrifice as the efficient full-payment for your sins, and choose to obey Him out of love and thanksgiving, you are no longer a sinner, but now are a saint.

3. Paul believed using human wisdom emptied the cross of its power. Some might say that Jesus used parables to help illustrate the message He has for the world. Since His stories helped people understand His gospel, we should use human wisdom and stories to help them understand, too. Actually, though, Jesus didn't use parables to help them understand. Mark 4:11-12 tells us why Jesus spoke in parables:

He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
" `they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!' "

The parables are clear to those who believe, but confound those who do not. Why? Because we depend on the Holy Spirit to make the word clear to us.

The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Cor. 2:14

So Paul was saying that trying to help people change because of human reasoning defies the message of the cross. If people could understand and change just because of human wisdom, Jesus would not have had to die. Therefore the cross was unnecessary and is "emptied of its power".

Therefore, we must pray for lost people, that God, by His Spirit, would give them understanding of the very basic truth we are teaching them. The gospel that saves stands on its own merit. You and I cannot make it better - more interesting, more effective or more acceptable.

For what part of the Great Commission do you believe you are especially gifted? To what calling is your life directed? Do you pray for your lost friends and family? Lost enemies? Do you speak the gospel truth when the opportunity arises?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Immitating God

Ephesians 5:1 tells us to imitate God, as dearly loved children. Have you ever really considered that possibility? Here are a few truths to think about when it comes to this teaching:

1. You can't imitate God. How often does God sin? How often does He do what is right?

You are flawed and human and it is impossible for you to reach that level of perfection that only God attains. So why did He say through Paul to imitate Him? Does God give us impossible standards to live up to? I would love to get your feedback on this question before I give my thoughts on it.

2. Churches aren't teaching us to do this. We are so concerned with trying to keep people from giving up in the "race" we are all running that we make everyone comfortable with their sins and failures. The "victorious church" has given up the pursuit of holiness and accepted the chalice of defeat. We drink from it together as we claim the grace of God to excuse our sinfulness, and claim Romans 7:19 as our life's verse:

"For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing."

3. We try to get people who are not children of God to act like children of God. We have become effective at getting people to look and act right on the outside without ever challenging them to believe in Jesus for their salvation and lay their lives down for Him. Only those who receive Jesus and believe in His Name are given the right to become children of God (John 1:12)! Not everyone is God's child. Therefore, teaching people how to behave like one is an exercise in futility. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit in us - that power that comes to live in us when we are crucified with Christ - can we imitate God as dearly loved children.

4. Daily consider how you can imitate God in your circumstances.
Are things going well at home? At work? At church? In your mind and heart? Are you giving God glory publicly, or do you save that "church stuff" for Sundays and keep it private? Are you praying as fervently as you would in hard times? Are you taking credit for God's blessings?

Are things going badly at home, work, church or inside of you? How do you treat people in this moment? How do you respond to God's allowing of these events on your life? Are you working hard at your job - as unto the Lord and not to men? Are you loving your family unconditionally? Are you loving your enemies and blessing those who persecute you?

There are many more truths here. The fact is that the definition of a Christian is a "Christ follower" or "Christ imitator". If you were trying to give a quick definition of what a Christian is, I am guessing you would say, "A believer in Jesus Christ." I believe it is more than that!

How's this for a quick definition of a Christian:

A believer in Jesus Christ who lays down His life and takes on the life of Christ.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Solid Foundation

Have you ever tried to describe something to someone who has never seen the item before? Once you have done your best to describe it, they have a picture in their minds of what that item looks like, whether it is a correct interpretation or not.

For instance, if I described a piano to you, I might do it like this:

A piano is a kind of wooden box with keys on it. When you push a key down, there is a hammer connected to it that strikes a wire string, causing the string to vibrate. This vibration makes a sound whether high or low, based on how tightly the string is wound. The harder you hit the key, the louder the sound will be, and the tighter the strings, the higher the sound. There are three pedals on the bottom of the piano, and when you push them, they can stop the vibrations instantly, or make them vibrate longer, depending on which pedal you push.

Now, if you have seen a piano before, you know that this description was an accurate overview of what a piano is and how it works. But in the listener's mind, they may have conjured up something like this:

The information is all included in this picture, but it obviously does not look like what you know a piano to be.

This happens when we share our faith with people who have never heard or understood it before. Their perception of Christianity gets a little jumbled and confused in the translation from our words to their hearts. Like the piano to someone who has never seen a piano, Christianity is not as basic as we think it is when heard through the ears of someone to whom the message is completely foreign.

I think many people who accept the message at first get this kind of distorted view of Christianity. If this is true, what can follow as they build on this faulty vision of God and spread the word as they have interpreted it could be a disastrous. The perpetuation of misinterpreted descriptions can create a false doctrine, or, ultimately, a completely vain faith is something that Christianity is not.

How do we battle this human weakness and dangerous challenge?

1. Lay a solid foundation. The description given of the piano is solid. It is right in every sense. But it is only the basic information of the looks and workings of a piano. It is impossible to describe a piano with words alone to effectively relate the image of what a piano is and the explanation of what it does; however we do need a foundational frame of reference from which to work. This description is a great starting point.

2. Answer the questions you can. After you have laid the foundation in their minds, they may start to ask you questions. In Christianity, we would call this exchange of questions and answers to learn the whole truth, "discipleship". 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that scripture is all from the breath of God, and is useful for teaching (getting the information out there), correcting (replacing wrong information with right information), rebuking (the "You know better than that," form of correction), and training in righteousness (teaching us a new way of life, not just informing us of information). The answers to almost every spiritual question can be found in this one standard: The Bible. Soon the piano starts to look more like a piano - Christianity starts to look more like Christianity.

3. Don't try to answer questions to which you don't know the answers. It seems to make sense...most of us wouldn't try to explain how a cell phone works, or how the internet works, but as Christians we feel we have to be able to explain how God works. Some things we can answer, because His word makes it clear, but in most things, God's ways are higher than ours and His thoughts are beyond our comprehension. Trying to explain God is a major temptation, but not ever completely possible. When the answer is "I don't know," use it.

If the person you described the piano to at the beginning of this post were to try to build his own piano, you would teach him, correct him, rebuke him and train him until his piano was an effective version of the "original". How can we do any less with the foundational truths of the bible when training people to live the Christian life?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Take it Personally!

The church needs to take care of this. The church needs to work on that. The church needs to...the church needs to...the church needs to...

I've found that when people say "The church needs to do something," they mean, "You need to do something, Pastor."

Did you know there is no magical organization out there called "The Church"? If the church needs to do something, it means you need to do something. It doesn't necessarily require a program to call on shut-in's or evangelize your neighborhood. If the church needs to do something, it means you need to do something; I need to do something; or we need to do something! You are "The Church".

We have separated ourselves from the persona of "The Church" as we have dropped denominational loyalties and consistency in attendance at our home churches. We start talking about the church as an "it" or a "them" rather than an "us" or "we", and suddenly, it is not a personal issue, it is a church issue for "The Church" to worry about.

This causes our conversations to turn toward complaining about "the Church". Why "they" aren't doing this or that; or how "The leadership" does something wrong; or that "No one from the church called me when I was absent," even though your best friends called, they attend your church (therefore they are the church), but that apparently doesn't count. That's when you know that "The Church" means "The Pastor," or "The Pastoral Staff".

Here is my plea to the people of "The Church": When someone says "The Church isn't doing this or that," take it personally! If you agree, then say, "You're right, I haven't been following up on people who miss services," or "You're right, we should be bringing food to that person who is unable to prepare their own meals right now."

You are the church! When someone says the church isn't doing what it should, they are saying you aren't doing what you should! Take it personally. Don't join in on the complaining, because it doesn't make any sense.

Think of it this way: Would you even consider complaining to your neighbor that you aren't keeping your house up well enough? Imagine the conversation:

You: "My house looks awful! I don't mow my lawn, the landscaping is all overgrown and run down, and the windows are all broken out. Somebody needs to do something about this!"
Your Neighbor: "I know! And I have three trashy cars parked in my yard up on blocks. Somebody should either fix them or get rid of them!"

That is exactly what you are doing when you and someone from your church complain about what "The Church" isn't getting done. It's always going to be a problem until "The Church" steps up and does something about it, and guess what?...YOU ARE THE CHURCH!

By the way, when I say "Take it personally," I don't mean, "Be offended." I mean:

* listen to what is being said
* consider the validity of their point
* ask them what they are doing to meet that need
* ask yourself what you are doing to meet this need
* If the need is bigger than you, go to the church leadership with ideas
* Be ready to help with the need you are raising

Philippians 2:14 says to do everything without complaining or arguing. It is time to stop complaining about "The Church", and start being "The Church".

Am I wrong?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Have You Been "Transformed"?

I found something interesting in studying the Greek word for "transformed" as found in Romans 12:2. We are called to be "transformed" by the renewing of our minds - a familiar passage to many of us church-going types. The Greek word used here has with it the idea of "metamorphosis" - Changing from one thing into something completely different. The old comparison of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly, or a tadpole becoming a frog comes to mind when I think of this term. This kind of transformation happens by the renewing of our minds: God changes us into something completely different! Terms like "born again", and "new creation", come to mind.

Now, if you're like me, you have heard this in some fashion or another before. BUT, I also found out some other interesting things in this study:

1. Did you know that the exact same Greek word is used to describe what happened to Jesus when He was "transfigured"? It is true! The "transformation" God accomplishes in us by His word has the impact of completely changing us as Jesus was changed at the "transfiguration"!

2. If that isn't interesting enough, the term "transformed" appears only one other time in the New Testament (KJV, since that is what the "Strong's Concordance" I used is translating). It is in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15. The NIV translates the term as "masquerades" instead of "transformed" when describing the devil and false apostles being "transformed" to appear as messengers of the truth. The Greek term there does mean "transform" as well, BUT it indicates "disguise" or "accomidating to expectations" instead of "changing into something completely different". For this reason, the NIV translation here is probably more accurate in saying the devil "masquerades" as an angel of light, as opposed to "transforms" into an angel of light.

HERE IS THE PART that has me thinking very carefully:

Are we as the church training people to "metamorphoo" (Be changed into something different) by renewing our minds, or are we training them to "metaschematzio" (accomidate to our expectations)?

If we have given them the description of a Christian - Do this, don't do this, wear this, don't wear that, pierce this, don't pierce that, haircuts, tattoos, suits coats, ect... - I belive we may have inadvertantly taught them how to be just like the devil instead of just like Christ. Masquerading as Christians; without a "Renewed Mind".

Can anything change them into something completely different other than the word of God? Could it be possible that the church isn't changing the world because the church isn't changing? Could this explain why most statistics show us that moral indicators in the church aren't much different then moral indicators of the rest of the world around us? Could this be why so many church people settle for being "sinners" when the Bible calls us to "be holy in all we do" (1 Peter 1:15)?

I believe that what is happening in our lifestyles reflect what is happening in our hearts. If there is no "transformation" inside, what we try to do for God on the outside will always fail...won't it?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Awesome God!

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1)
“The heavens declare the Glory of God – the skies proclaim the work of His Hands!”
– Psalm 19:1

The tallest mountain is 29, 035 feet.
Oceans cover over 360 million miles of the earth’s surface.

The sun is 93,000,000 miles away from the earth.
The next nearest star is 270,000 times further away than the sun.

1 Light Year = 5,800,000,000
The Milky Way is 100,000 light years across – that’s 588 quadrillion miles.
The next closest galaxy is Andromeda, at 2.2 million light years away…and it is twice the diameter of the Milky Way!

Isaiah 40:12 tells us that “With the breadth of His hand, God has marked off the heavens.

That means as far as it is from one end of the universe to the other is the closest comparison we have to the size of one hand of our God!

When we consider the heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place,…O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth!
- Psalm 8:3,9

Our God is truly an awesome God!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Effective Evangelism: Start Young

We hear it a lot in ministry...most people who are following Christ made the decision to do so before the age of...blank. The most recent numbers, I hear, came out to 75% before they are 13 years old, and close to 90% by the time they are 18. That says to me that children's ministry automatically steps to the front as the key evangelistic ministry in the church.

I wonder if a sweeping review of our church budgets would reflect this urgent truth? I wonder if a sweeping review of our church vision statements (goals, programs, strategies, or whatever catch phrase you may have glommed onto), would prove that we get the enormous impact of these statistics? In the priorities of your church, where does "Children's Ministry" fall?

It seems these questions should be paramount in our leadership planning and vision-casting:

How can we minister to the children of our community in the most effective way?
Are we opening the way to Jesus for the kids in our community, or are we hindering them from coming to him with our own rules and expectations?
Is our church kid-friendly?
Do our classrooms look sanitary or age-appropriate?
Are our teachers filling a spot for us, or do they love these kids?
How often are we calling the kids to follow Jesus?
How much money and time can we free up to reach more children with the love of Jesus?

I am not recommending avoiding or abolishing other ministries for the sake of children's ministry, but if your people are stretched beyond your church's resources and you have to cut something, DON'T CUT CHILDREN'S MINISTRY!

I know some of you think that a blog should be about societal trends and finding contemporary new ways to reach lost people. Let's address that way of thinking and the topic I have introduced, here.

Contemporary trends:

Single moms, child abuse, divorce in the church and outside the church at an even level, educational failings, teenage girls becoming moms, the church's anti-abortion stand, the unchurched nature of our current society, homosexual "marriages", two working parents, latchkey kids, child abuse, blended families, child pornography on the internet.

Are we addressing these societal trends from the child's view of things? We often try to deal with the adults in these issues, but what is the church doing to reach out to these kids who are suffering from their parents' bad choices, or the failure of government to educate them or keep them safe? Does the church have a role in this? Can we? Should we?

Most likely by the time a child is thirteen years old, she has had offers for some kind of drugs, some sort of sexual behavior and/or some form of minor crime. And most likely by this time, they have decided what they think of Jesus. What we used to think of as High School issues are now issues in the 5th grade or younger. We don't want it to happen or be this way, but it is, and turning a blind eye to this truth doesn't help those children.

If you don't have many children in your church, that doesn't mean that this isn't your issue. It means you need to give that much more to the cause of reaching children for Christ

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Batteries Not Included?

Maybe some of you have had the experience where you either give or receive a gift that requires batteries, but none were included in the package, and the giver failed to purchase any. The result is that you now have in your posession an item that looks great, is capable of great things and would really be nice to use right away, but it doesn't accomplish its purpose because the power source is missing.

In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul describes spiritual gifts. He specifically teaches these things because, according to 1 Corinthians 12:1, he does not want the church to be "ignorant" about spiritual gifts. The church at Corinth had apparently been bragging about how great they were because of the gift of speaking in tongues. They seem to have thought they were better or more spiritual than other churches because of their "gift". Because of their "ignorance", Paul makes great effort to correct this church's way of thinking and behaving.

Interestingly, while chapters 12 and 14 go into great detail about the gifts, chapter 13 cuts in with a very important qualifying factor: "Love".

In chapter 12, Paul introduces some of the power of the Holy Spirit that is manifest in us through the gifting He gives. He tells us why it is given, to whom it is given, and how it is divided among the entire body to connect us all, not to divide us. Then, after describing the amazing things God can do through us, Paul comes back in chapter 13 and starts to describe how completely ineffective these gifts - all of them - are without love abiding in us as the motivator...the batteries, if you will.

What gift do you think is the greatest? Speaking in tongues? Well, I could literally speak in heaven's own language (the tongues of angels), but if I do not love, it is just empty noise. A gong is sounded to announce that someone great is being introduced, or something great is about to happen. Imagine sounding that gong, calling everyone's attention to something great, then having nothing to offer them. That is the value of speaking in tongues without love. You might grab someone's attention, but then you have nothing to offer them. The gift you are giving is missing its power - its batteries.

Why are so many churches blowing up, today? Why is there more divorce going on inside the church than outside the church? Why are almost as many Christian teens sexually active as non-christian teens? Why are so many ministers on all levels morally failing?

Is it possible that we have forsaken our first love? We are addressing spiritual gifting to get people involved in ministry, but are we also addressing a love that puts others above ourselves? We are addressing compassion ministries to the poor and needy of our world, but what about the call to love the brotherhood of believers deeply, from the heart? We jokingly say we love some people in the church because, "We have to to get to heaven," but is that the love God has for us? We have trained leaders, organized volunteers, and made creative Sunday Morning meetings, but has the organization of the church crippled the organism that is the church; the body of Jesus Christ? Have we handicapped Jesus' actions in the world by doing so much in His Name without His Love?

You know how frustrating it is to receive a gift that doesn't have any power. I wonder how much we are frustrating God, right now? Love is a choice, not a feeling. Read 1 Corinthians 13. See if those terms describe you. Let God melt your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, once again.