Wednesday, October 06, 2021

All Things To All People

 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. [1Co 9:19-23 ESV] 


Is a life preserver that is not made available to a person that is struggling to stay afloat still a life preserver? If the Gospel is not delivered to people that need to hear it in time for them to make a decision in this life, is it still Good News to them?  

Paul's statement concerning being a learner can be confusing to some that can't separate personal preferences from biblical convictions, traditions from truth or feelings from facts. We must be learners continually. “Learners are prepared for the future, the learned are prepared for a world that doesn’t exist any longer,” says Hans Finzel. In 1980, 66% of teenagers indicated that church would play a large part of their lives. In 2010, 33% of teenagers indicate that church will play any part in their lives.  In spite of all the so-called “mega-churches” in America, there is not one county in all of the United States that has a greater churched population than it did 10 years ago. In 1991, the number of evangelicals in Asia surpassed the number of evangelicals in the whole of the western world and the gap is increasing exponentially. In 1920, there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. Today there are fewer than 10 churches per 10,000 Americans. The institutional Christian church is dying.  It has become disconnected and irrelevant to a generation of 35 yr. olds and younger.  This generation has grown up, informed and educated, in a technologically-defined world. It is possible to watch an event around the world, as it is happening, talk or text immediately to anyone around the world and overthrow governments through social media.  The arts are important to this generation. They are enamored with creativity and diversity.  As a matter of fact, literature abounds, theatre is strong and their music is diverse, complex and seriously misunderstood by some of us old folks.  Jesus stepped out of heaven into our situation. He made the incredible effort to get to us where we are, identify with our struggles, pains and confusion. He appealed to us at a very real and understanding level.  Making Himself of no reputation, coming in the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (Phil. 2:7) Though He was willing and obedient, His “body” (the church) is not so willing to lay aside self-interest, preferences and traditions while the last two generations are becoming so disconnected from Church they do not know Noah or Daniel. They cannot find Genesis in a borrowed Bible and seriously misunderstand a misrepresented Jesus and His love for them.  I have little patience for undue criticism that blasts their music, dress, body piercings, tattoos or lack of interest in politics and the things of God or education, especially from anyone that makes no effort to understand. This generation is defined by broken homes and a morally destitute culture delivered to them by our generation. They have been taught that truth is relative, abortion is ok, marriage is optional and God is out there somewhere if he even exists.  Evolution is science, science is inerrant and any other position is non-sense, making the Bible irrelevant, if not a joke. Societal and religious leaders have proven to be people with no integrity who are not willing to work hard for a cause bigger than self. This generation has few examples of those who are willing to press through all the “stuff” to help with the problem.  All too often, our efforts to worship and reach the disaffected are answering questions that no one is asking and fixing problems that few are experiencing. We cannot throw the Gospel into the world. We should lovingly carry it to them. Kinda like Jesus did. Our labor of love to flesh out the Gospel will help to dispel cynicism and confusion. The average age of many churches around us is creeping up year upon year.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to retain a younger generation. They recognize their needs are not being addressed or even acknowledged. Our church leaders and an older generation must become informed, concerned and creative in reaching an inquisitive generation.  Our attitudes and practices concerning race, ethnicity, economics, gender roles, and past failures must be guided by biblical truth rather than our opinion.  Christ has promised they will be reached. My desire and my prayer is that He would do it through His disciples and the ministry of the local church. Let’s be learners (disciples), sacrificially and lovingly learning the nuances of the lies so many have believed so that our voice has credibility and represents our Redeemer well as ambassadors for His cause......  in order that we become all things to all people so that some might be saved.  He>us>me

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Church Still Matters

 

Updated from Nov. 2015

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
                                                                                                                Hebrews 10:25
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—
                                                                                                                   Acts 2:44-46


2 Questions:

Is it wrong, oppressive or inconvenient to expect believers to be at church worship, events and/or programming?  What is the real cost of low expectations of faith community members?
3 Points to Consider

    1-The early church naturally began to meet together, daily. Why? They wanted to. That's it. They enjoyed it that much. It was a source of encouragement and a socio-spiritual community that gave the participants a flesh and blood advocate in a sin-sick and troubled world. All believers are part of the church universal—but the Church universal isn’t going to walk with you through your chemo-treatments, divorce, job loss, surgery or emotional melt down when you feel the weight of parenting. The local church is God’s instrument for Gospel advancement and equipping for ministry. Our adults, students and children should see the church as the core of their socio-spiritual life…families fade, break up and hide sick secrets--- the Church universal and the church particular are God’s family and the gates of hell shall not prevail against either. Worship assembly, conferences, events, retreats, prayer breakfasts, small groups and programming all work together to connect a believer to the local church body in sustaining and vibrant ways so that when doubts, discouragement and rebellion press against us we have a real and relational advocate to lean upon who is accountable for our souls. Youth are missing out when they are not plugged-in faithfully with a student ministry that integrates them into the body-life of the local church. Parents would do well to make some effort to nudge, push or entice them to be a part of something bigger. It is not legalism to expect your child to be at church or to make them come. It’s parental laziness, unconcern or misconception that must be overcome and a correct view of biblical authority and parental stewardship must be embraced. 
    2- The real cost of low expectations concerning church body life is a low-view of the church in the current generation and even lower in the generation to come. Students will be more connected to their secular peer groups, classmates, sports team or Instagram friends than to the body of Christ (local, organized, baptized group of believers that meet for the purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, and mission) Make no mistake--- Jesus died for the Church and He will present her without blemish at the throne of the Father one day--- this is not true for your family, not for America, not for the Moose Lodge, not for the KC Royals or any other organization. As much as I a love my family, sports, my “free-time” or school--- these are not the primary purveyors of God-ordained truth concerning redemption, sovereign authority, spiritual discipline, morality, authentic faith or Gospel-mission. There is a reason that public education demands the full attention of the early years of the child’s life. God has postured a child’s heart and mind to accept and assimilate the data (taught and caught) from these early years in life. This data will ultimately shape their values, morals, disciplines, beliefs and purpose APART from the Gospel if there has been no ever-abiding place of central Gospel purpose where they are reconciling the shortsighted, self-centered notions of the world against the glory of God. Thus we have students (who have made professions of faith) that emerge as adults who have greater concern for animals, the environment, gender-rights, sports, video games, careers, happiness or whatever... than the souls of men and women because they never learned to reconcile the self-serving and short-sighted data with the life-giving message of the Gospel and God’s purpose for their life. Ultimately, they embrace a very low view of the church and thus arrive at a place where they have no redemption-oriented, flesh and blood advocate in this world, untethered and left adrift. 
    3- I have had too many conversations through the years with people that apparently think the early church must have been ridiculous for meeting everyday, house-to-house, eating and sitting under biblical teaching. But alas, the biblical text makes it clear that they met, with joy, for discipleship and growth purposes. It was the by-product of the gospel-oriented heart and a desire for those they love to embrace this same truth as well. We would be naïve to think that they didn’t have an internal struggle occasionally about going to another meeting. They had to overcome the same internal and external obstacles that we do but overwhelming joy caused them to push through it…because they knew they needed it and they remembered the joy from the days before. Why didn’t they just stay at home and teach their children? It would have been easier than arguing with them about it. And besides they could have gotten some much-needed rest (Sabbath) instead of going to another meeting. But The New Testament has more to say about the assembly and discipleship practices of the church than the family. The church existed for the family not the family for the church. Let me say without any equivocation--- In our Gospel-rich, church-saturated culture, with access to so many good resources (people, materials, mediums and space); it is a sin to not lead your family to be faithfully integrated into a local body of believers and expect the same of them. In North Carolina, God has richly blessed us with churches… marred, messed-up and disheartening as it is at times, it is still the bride of Christ, purveyor of God-ordained truth and the appointed socio-spiritual center of a believer’s community. “To whom much is given, much is required. “ Luke 12:48 

    Avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing, misson-driven local church that helps you and your spouse make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your marriage. Parents, avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing local church that helps your children make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose the influence of your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your child’s soul. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Diminishing View of the Church and an Untethered Generation


And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
                                                                                                                Hebrews 10:25
And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—
                                                                                                                   Acts 2:44-46


2 Questions:

Is it wrong, oppressive or inconvenient to expect believers to be at church worship, events and/or programming?  What is the real cost of low expectations of faith community members?




3 Points to Consider

    1-The early church naturally began to meet together, daily. Why? They wanted to, Surprise!! It was a source of encouragement and a socio-spiritual community that gave the participants a flesh and blood advocate in a sin-sick and troubled world. All believers are part of the church universal—but the Church universal isn’t going to walk with you through your chemo-treatments, divorce, job loss, surgery or emotional melt down when you feel the weight of parenting. The local church is God’s instrument for Gospel advancement and equipping for ministry. Our adults, students and children should see the church as the core of their socio-spiritual life…families fade, break up and hide sick secrets--- the Church universal and the church particular are God’s family and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Worship, conferences, events, retreats, breakfasts, small groups and programming all work together to connect a believer to the local church body in sustaining and vibrant ways so that when doubts, discouragement and rebellion press against us we have a real and relational advocate to lean upon who is accountable for our souls. Youth are missing out when they are not plugged-in faithfully with a student ministry that integrates them into the body-life of the local church. Parents would do well to make some effort to nudge, push or entice themselves to be a part of something bigger. It is not legalism to expect your child to be at church or to make them come. It’s parental laziness, unconcern or misconception that must be overcome and a correct view of biblical authority and stewardship must be embraced. 
    2- The real cost of low expectations concerning church body life is a low-view of the church in the current generation and even lower in the generation to come. Students will be more connected to their secular peer groups, classmates, sports team or Instagram friends than to the body of Christ (local, organized, baptized group of believers that meet for the purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, and mission) Make no mistake--- Jesus died for the Church and He will present her without blemish at the throne of the Father one day--- this is not true for your family, not for America, not for the Moose Lodge, not for the KC Royals or any other organization. As much as I a love my family, sports, my “free-time” or school--- these are not the primary purveyors of God-ordained truth concerning redemption, authority, spiritual discipline, morality, authentic faith or Gospel-mission. There is a reason that even the misguided, man-centered philosophy of public education demands the full attention of the early years of the child’s life. God has postured a child’s heart and mind to accept and assimilate the data (taught and caught) from these early years in life. This data will ultimately shape their values, morals, disciplines, beliefs and purpose apart from the Gospel if there has been no ever-abiding place of central Gospel purpose where they are reconciling the shortsighted, self-centered notions of the world against the glory of God. Thus we have students (who have made professions of faith) that emerge as adults who have greater concern for the environment, gender-rights, sports, self, careers, happiness or whatever than the souls of men and women because they never learned to reconcile the self-serving and short-sighted data with the life-giving message of the Gospel and God’s purpose for their life. Ultimately, they embrace a very low view of the church and thus arrive at a place where they have no redemption-oriented, flesh and blood advocate in this world, untethered and left adrift. 
    3- I have had too many conversations lately with people that apparently think the early church must have been ridiculous. They believe that these early believers were trying to curry the favor of God by attending church or were compelled to assemble daily for fellowship and worship in order to stay saved or get someone saved. But alas, the biblical text makes it clear that they met, with joy, for discipleship and growth purposes. It was the by-product of the gospel-changed heart and a desire for those they love to embrace this same truth as well. We would be naïve to think that they didn’t have an internal struggle occasionally about going to another meeting. They had to overcome the same internal and external obstacles that we do but overwhelming joy caused them to push through it…because they needed it and they remembered the joy from the day before. Why didn’t they just stay at home and teach their children? It would have been easier than arguing with them about it. And besides they could have gotten some much-needed rest (Sabbath) instead of going to another meeting. But The New Testament has more to say about the assembly and discipleship practices of the church than the family. The church existed for the family not the family for the church. I’ve been a part of and witnessed enough misguided families that claim Gospel-centeredness but avoid the blessing and authority of the church that I could scream. Let me say without any equivocation--- In our Gospel-rich, church-saturated culture, with access to so many good resources (people, materials, mediums and space); it is a sin to not lead your family to be faithfully integrated into a local body of believers and expect the same of them. In North Carolina, God has richly blessed us with churches… marred, messed-up and disheartening as it is at times, it is still the bride of Christ, purveyor of God-ordained truth and the appointed socio-spiritual center of a believer’s community. “To whom much is given, much is required. “ Luke 12:48 

    Avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing local church that helps you and your spouse make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your marriage. Parents, avail yourself of a highly active, gospel-advancing local church that helps your children make sense of the lies they are told hundreds of times a day or lose the influence of your greatest flesh and blood advocate in the battle for your child’s soul. 

  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Where Have All The Front Porches Gone?


Cana N.C., circa 1968—My grandmother and I would sit on her front porch and play the guessing game. We would hear a car coming up the road quite a ways off. When we heard it we had about twenty seconds to guess the color of the car before it came barreling by within thirty feet of the front porch on her old farmhouse. All the houses in Cana had large front porches. I have sat with a dozen or more while listening to bluegrass jam sessions on those front porches. Visited with Ruby, Mossa, Ray, Pee Wee, Boyce and Lucy for hours while perched in a swing on that front porch. I ate my mayonnaise sandwiches or toast with Karo syrup and honey for lunch on that front porch. I sat and watched Ab Hutchins mow the yard, plow the garden under, stack the firewood and bushhog the fields from that front porch. Grandma and I used to set up a community lemonade stand for the neighbors on hot days on the front porch. 

Where are the front porches? I live in a house with a large back porch and absolutely no front porch. Sociologists have noted the shift in our relational means and manners. The front porch was toward the street, interacting with the community-an invitation to stop by, catch-up and have a glass of lemonade. The architectural shift to a large, secluded back porch and a tiny front stoop says something about our collective and individual communal state of mind. The front porch not only welcomed people into our lives, it invited people into our lives.  The apostle Paul had a “front porch” quality to his discipleship. He welcomed people and invited people. This means that his sense of mission compelled him to welcome the curious and needy (Timothy) and invite (Silas, Barnabas) some others.

Our effort to make disciples begins with guessing the color of the next car alongside a friend, fresh-made lemonade, mayonnaise sandwiches and watching Ab Hutchings mow. No bible studies necessarily, no discipleship programming and no revival services just a welcoming swing on a visible and inviting front porch where good conversation takes place, relationships are forged and the Gospel is observed.   

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Gospel Distortion Stirred Paul's Ire and Angst


“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.”                                                         Gal. 2:11-13 ESV
                                                                                                                                                              

            Paul’s gospel-ness moved him to challenge, push and confront his peers for disciplemaking purposes.  In Galatia, Peter’s behavior had brought reproach upon the gospel message and, perhaps worse, buttressed the legalism of the Judaizers. Paul could not and would not sit in silence as a brother engaged in hypocrisy that crippled the advancement of the gospel and damaged disciples. In Peter’s case, he had shunned the Gentiles that he once fellowshipped with, in order to preserve his standing among Jewish peers. We naturally gravitate to ethnic, racial and socio-economic peer groups. A gospel-informed identity transcends such temporal matters.Peter may or may not have been purposeful in his hypocrisy but that did not dismiss him from a guilty standing by his behavior. Paul knew Peter well. He had every reason to expect more from Peter as a leader. Peter’s miscue had led other Jews astray, misrepresented the gospel and had caused Paul’s protégé Barnabas to stumble. Paul was jealous for disciples that had been entrusted to his care.  Any hint of a gospel distortion stirred Paul’s ire and angst, to the point of correction and confronting others that could be held accountable. But all of it is to be carried for the purpose of reconciliation not rejection. Thus Paul would write in Gal. 6:1, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” None are exempt from temptation and failure, therefore none are exempt from being opposed by a brother, but let it be done in humility worthy of the gospel and motivated by a passion for gospel clarity and advancement. 
         From the moment I was born-again, I was taken under wing by a a few 'Paul's." They made themselves available and vulnerable which set for me an example of how the gospel should work in our lives as spouses, parents, children, co-workers and the larger community. In a seemingly trivial incident one of these men resolutely opposed me to my face. In an attempt to be humorous I had referenced an ethnic stereotype in his presence. He waited until the next time we would see each other then he lovingly but firmly corrected me. He asserted that the gospel message sets us free from the need to feel superior and engaging in humor at the expense of another's dignity. It distorts the gospel, don't do it-- and don't let me do it without correction. What about Barnabas? Why didn't Paul confront him?  What do you think?


Monday, March 24, 2014

Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?


For years I used a discipleship curriculum that was process oriented. It was a series of little books that moved the student from basic matters to weightier subjects. I have had a few students that stayed the course and worked their way through every book. And it served them well as they moved forward in their faith. However, to a person, every person that completed the series of books worked alongside me in some capacity.  They ate at my table, spent Saturday evenings with me, went visiting with me, assisted me in working for others, went to meetings with me, watched me parent my children and relate to my wife. They could do this because I  (and my family)  invited them in my life. I am hesitant to let everyone into my life this close. Hesitant because I do not trust everyone to the same degree. Some people are teachable, like-minded and eager to learn. Others are obstinate and spiritually fragile. This determines the degree to which one would benefit from such close proximity with me. 

My willingness to allow them in is essential to my growth as a follower of Christ. It keeps me accountable by reminding me to be intentional about advancing the Gospel. To make disciples is to be a disciple--- Scripture affirms how critical Paul’s disciples were to his joy, refreshment and encouragement as he traveled an otherwise difficult path in life. Paul allowed them inside—they had full access to Paul’s mission, method, circumstances and attitudes. He could not have been more “laid bare.” Some of these even forsook or betrayed Paul such as Demas and others who drifted away when Paul became a liability to a favorable future for them. This is the course that Jesus established for us as well. Vulnerability to the point of being defrauded, misunderstood or betrayed. Let the sin be placed to another man’s charge but not ours as we walk according to good doctrine or rather the doctrine of a good God who has a favorable future in mind for His people. Others will know we believe in the goodness of God when they see us transcend maddening injustices and chaotic disappointments with joy, compassion and an aggressive missional mind concerning advancing the Gospel. Do we believe God is good and He has a good plan for His people? The disciplemaking question is: Do others believe that we believe God has a good plan for His people?

 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.[Heb 11:14-16 ESV]

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Paul Says Don't Become a Better You, Become More Like Jesus

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Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us with a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began. 

                                                                                                                        2 Timothy 1:8-9



            Paul knew what Timothy would face in the future. He had no misgivings about leading Timothy to be a devout man who followed hard after Christ. Paul also knew that this was no primrose path to walk in this world. There would be a cost- a price paid at the expense of comfort, safety, relationships and dreams for the future. Timothy would be better equipped for the struggle ahead if Paul warned and instructed him.  Paul instructed through word and deed. Paul’s life-on-life experience with Timothy modeled for Timothy a striving against the flesh, an uncomfortable subjection to the world and a wonderful transcendent victory that would be replicated in Timothy’s own life. On the surface it doesn’t make much sense- but there is a paradoxical nature to truth in God’s economy.

            Happy are the sad.  Rich are the poor. Last are first. Wise are the foolish.  Loved are the hated.  Established are the pilgrims. Weak are the strong.  Paul stated in 2 Cor. 12:10, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak then I am strong.”

            Thank you Paul!  Thank you for reminding us of Christ’s strengthening power.  The humility and brokenness the comes from stressful and emotional taxing situations are not for naught, but rather work to serve a higher purpose.  Have you exhausted yourself financially, He is strong.  Your teenager keeps you on pins and needles, He is strong.  Your parents expect much from you, He is strong.  The very person you respect and love most hurts you horribly, He is strong.  My friends seem to ignore me, He is strong.  My rights have been violated, He is strong.  My good intentions have not been well received, He is strong.  “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness.”2( Cor. 11:30)

            Who are we seeking to glorify and satisfy?  Too much of the time, upon careful examination, we will find that we only work from our strengths (comfort), operate in our strengths (comfort) and make decisions based on our strengths (comfort) that we may be glorified and our egos satisfied. When we do, the world, our co-workers, other disciples have no reason to boast in Christ. We, through our own wisdom and strength, could produce the same results.  Walk in your weakness (what is uncomfortable) that Christ may be exalted.  Dare to walk in an area of discomfort or expose an area of weakness, failure, or distress in your life that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.  My grace is sufficient for thee:  for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  (2 Cor. 12:9) Paul is simply agreeing with Peter who prevailed upon Christ, “I believe but help my unbelief.”

The cycle of discipleship is facilitated by trying and uncomfortable circumstances. Believers grow in grace as a result of a pursuit of holiness, an ownership of failure and the humility of repentance but we also model the mission of making disciples in the midst of such circumstances. It’s paradoxical- and antithetical to most of the self-help strategies that we could embrace. But then again it’s not about becoming a better you. It’s about becoming more like Jesus.

“I walked a mile with pleasure
she chatted all the way;
And left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with sorrow
And not a word said she;
But, Oh, the things I learned
When sorrow walked with me.”

Robert Browning