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Archive for November, 2015

IS YOUR CHURCH FLYING BLIND?

brokencompass2

Some years back I was taking a flight out of O’Hare bound for Hartford. I was pleasantly surprised when we actually pulled away from the gate on time. However, after we rolled out toward the runway we moved off to the side where, oddly enough, we began watching plane after plane roll right past us on to the runway and then take off. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before people started getting irritated. After a while the captain informed us that even though we should be in the air we couldn’t take off because the plane’s compass had “gone dark.” He went on to explain that if we did take off it would mean that we would be flying “blind.” I quickly thought to myself, “I’d rather walk.”

Regrettably this is the condition of a lot of churches today; they have lost their direction and are flying blind. If you were to ask the average church member or lay leader what was their church’s purpose, you would probably get dozens of different and unrelated answers, and maybe a few glazed-over looks. Often when a church senses that maybe it’s off course or floundering the leaders call in church consultants. They see these hired guns as “experts” who will help get them on the “right track.” One could legitimately ask, however, that if these people are really experts then why aren’t they out in the trenches leading vibrant ministries—but I digress. Churches pay these groups a lot of money, and the routine is often the same. Generally speaking, they first requests that you gather up some data for them, which usually involves gathering up the demographics of your church and surrounding community, and also a list of your current programs, your leadership structure, and lastly your financial situation. After a while they will roll in and lead a seminar or two, make a few suggestions, help you launch a few new programs, then suggest a few aesthetic changes, and lastly they take your money. Usually it isn’t long before you gain some new people (usually refugees from other churches), and then you also lose a few others (these are usually the ones that don’t like the new changes or atmosphere). But when it is all said and done, after about 2 years no one can identify whether or not any really meaningful changes have occurred, and some still don’t know what your church is all about.

Well here’s a free “church consult”; however, it is not without cost—it will cost you both time and a great deal of risk. It starts by gathering your entire church leadership together for a mandatory meeting, maybe even a retreat. That means gathering all the elders, deacons and deaconesses, the pastoral and support staff, the Sunday school teachers, and the youth and children workers. Gather yourselves altogether in one room and ask yourselves three simply questions. First ask yourselves this question: do you love one another? I don’t mean do you “like” or tolerate each other, but do you sincerely love one another in the same manner as the Lord loves all those around you. Jesus said that if we truly love one another with the same affection that he loves us then the world would know that we are truly his followers (John 13.34-35). And make sure you don’t marginalized Jesus’ standard of love. Loving like Jesus means that you are willing to sacrifice for those that partner with you in ministry, that you are willing to forgive them when they offend you or let you down. It means being willing to invest in their success and openly encourage them. Just know that Jesus lavishly loves those all around you, and he is messy with his love, extending grace at every opportunity for those who will trust, believe, and risk in his name. If the answer is either no, you’re not sure, or that you don’t want to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to create in that kind of ministry culture, then stop reading right now, do a web search and call some group of “experts,” start gathering the necessary data, and lastly give them the Lord’s money. Then after 2 years let me know if anything they suggested has made any lasting and meaningful impact upon your fellowship and its extended ministries.

The next question is this: do you love God’s word? More specifically, do you trust and believe in it, both individually and as a group. The easiest way to test this is while you are all together simply examine your church or denomination’s statement of faith. Go over it line by line and discuss what is says, ask it means and doesn’t mean, and ask is there any biblical support for each tenant and sub-point. And lastly, ask whether it truly focuses on what Jesus and the apostles taught that the church should focus upon and what believers should regularly live out and proclaim. If you sincerely engage in this test then you will probably discover one of 3 things. First, you will find out who really believes and is passionate about the word of God, who is not sure about it, and doubts it altogether—but be forewarned, you may not like what you see. Or two: you will discover that it’s you who should be looking for a new church home. This is assuming that you discover that your current “fellowship” has no intention of conforming their practices to biblical standards. Or three: your church will discover anew what it supposed to be emphasizing and doing. In other words, maybe the Holy Spirit will light a fire within the leaders of your fellowship. It’s just that simple. Jesus stated that those who are truly his disciples “abide” in his word, and the result is that they would experientially know truth and freedom—freedom in their walk with him and freedom from the passions of this world (John 8.31-32). In a similar manner Paul exhorted Titus to teach that which was consistent with “sound doctrine” (Titus 2.1); and he told Timothy to remain faithful to the “sound teaching” that he had received from him (2 Tim 1.13). The point is that spiritually healthy pastors, elders, deacons, and lay leaders love God’s word, and are authentically interested in learning what it means, how to live it out, and how to share it with others. And lastly, they emphasize that which the word of God emphasizes rather than some obscure or strange pet theology.

Finally: do you regularly pray together for that which glorifies God and magnifies Jesus for who he is and what he’s done. Before you answer this question you should know that praying in “Jesus name” is not another way of saying “amen.” It means praying for that which is consistent with all that Jesus taught and modeled. Moreover, it means praying for that which Jesus prayed for with the same humility and dependence upon God. And lastly, it means praying for those things that honestly bring glory to God and his kingdom. In other words, would the answers to your prayers move others to authentically magnify the name of Christ and his gospel? Jesus said that the hallmark of true disciples is that they are continually abiding in Him and experiencing effective prayer that results is the constant production of fruit that glorifies God (John 15.7-9). That does not mean that they are regularly receiving material gain or experiencing their “best life now,” but that they are worshiping God through Jesus and advancing the cause of Christ, which is the gospel.

Now if you find the answers to these questions are “no” then you are simply presiding over an “organization” rather than an “organism.” A true Christian fellowship is a living entity, it is an organism. Paul refers to the church sometimes as a “body,” or at other times as the “bride of Christ.” I think one of his points is that a local church is a living thing, not a finely tuned organization absent of genuine love and spiritual life. But if you find that the answers to all three questions are “yes,” then you have a spiritual treasure; in other words, God has greatly blessed you and your fellowship. Moreover, if God is in your midst, then by all means call in some consultants and have them evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. Who knows, they may be able to help you strengthen some of your weaknesses and reveal some of your blind spots. Heaven knows I’m not against getting a fresh perspective or new ideas. They may actually help you identify some missed opportunities to reach others for Christ. But if you’re not willing to get together and sincerely raise and answer these 3 hard questions, then hiring some high priced experts isn’t going to substantially change anything, but it will lighten your church’s checkbook. And in the end, most of those who serve and attend your fellowship will continue to be directionless; they will be flying blind and simply going through the motions—and there’s nothing attractive or compelling about that.

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Or: When Is it too Late to Sound the Alarm?

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America recently changed their constitutional statement on marriage by replacing gender-specific vocabulary with gender-neutral language. The result is that the church now recognizes gay marriage as a moral equivalent to biblical marriage. The immediate question some might ask is “how could such a thing happen?” The short answer is that this adoption has been in the works in the PCUSA for sometime, and anyone watching their decisions over the last several decades knew that such decisions were only a matter of time. Some would think that such a decision by a “mainstream Christian” denomination would be a clarion signal for all “true believers” to abandon these churches. The reality is that if any church or denomination makes such a decision, then it necessarily means that alarms have been blaring for a very long time. Consequently, if there were any believers left, then they have become tone deaf and blind to all meaningful sirens warning them that their denomination has left the proverbial reservation. So what are some of these critical alarms that should alert us to the fact that our denomination has been deceived and is on the verge of embracing demonstrable sin?

  • The Bible is not “inerrant.” This means that some things in the Bible are either not true, or didn’t really happen, or are just plain wrong and should be rejected. Once this bell has been rung then you are on a slippery slope inside a bobsled and it’s just a matter of time before your denomination or church begins to take the disastrous steps listed below.
  • Jesus is not the only way to God; or, other faiths are moral equivalents to Christianity. Religions are all just different roads that arrive at the same ultimate destination. Consequently, we should view all other faiths as viable equals. The only way any “Christian” arrives at this conclusion is to take the step listed above.
  • Love is God’s highest value; therefore, love trumps all of his other attributes. Since God is love (1 John 4.8 & 16) he would do nothing that is unloving. His value for holiness and justice, consequently, are subservient to his loving nature. Again, this perspective is only possible if one takes the first step. The fact is that God’s qualities are always simultaneously harmonious; thus, any decision he makes never offends anything essential to his nature. The God who is “love” is the same God that is a “consuming fire” who judges sin (Heb 12.29). God’s judgment of sin does not offend his loving nature. God is loving, holy, and just, and these attributes are all operable at all times in all of his decisions—none of them are suppressed whenever he acts. This consistency within God is true with respect to every one of his immutable attributes.
  • Hell is not a real place or Hell is not an eternal place. Clearly if one believes that the only really important thing about God is that he is a loving being, then no one in their right mind thinks that such a God would create a place like “Hell.” Others might conceive that Hell is a real place, but it is only a temporal place where some are sent for a brief time; or that Hell is synonymous with becoming “extinguished” (i.e., ceasing to exist). In other words, Hell is the place where Satan, Hitler, and Charles Manson are sent, and once they arrive then they are extinguished like the flame on a match—thus, they literally cease to exist. The bottom line is this: there is no such thing as eternal damnation.
  • People are naturally well intending and are inherently good at heart. And let’s face it, good intentions and sincerity are all that really matters in this life, and no one should expect more than that since no one is perfect. This is pretty much a product of an atheistic/liberal western elitist mind. Most of the oppressed throughout the developing world know that it is not true. The ironic thing about this idea (i.e., that no one’s perfect) is that this theme is systemic throughout the scriptures, and it is precisely why Jesus came in the first place. The Lord Jesus Christ graciously became incarnate in order to pay for our moral failures and to clothe us with his righteous perfection. Enough said.
  • People should not be “shamed,” “ashamed,” or be made to “fear” because of their personal choices.” In other words we (i.e., the church) shouldn’t do anything that causes anyone to be afraid of a loving God. This is in spite of the fact that Scripture clearly emphasizes that God is a holy God and that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111.10; Prov. 1.17).
  • God’s creation is our most important responsibility and we are only a small part of it. Every great lie always possesses an element of truth. It is true that we were given the responsibility to correctly manage creation, but regrettably we blew it; consequently, Satan now rules over humanity and its cultures. Jesus himself referred to Satan as the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12.31, 14.30, 16.11). However, we are not just a small part of creation; instead we are its pinnacle because man (generically understood—i.e., both men and women) is the only part in all creation that was made in God’s image. Creation reflects God’s glory, but only man and woman were created in his image (Gen. 1.26-27). Moreover, Jesus did not hang on a cross to repurpose or preserve creation, he came to redeem sinners (1 Tim 5.17), and he did so at great personal cost (Mk 10.45).
  • Temporal cultural social “ills” are the foremost concern of the kingdom of God. Consequently, you shouldn’t try to tell people the gospel until you meet their felt needs. This particular step alone has caused millions to slip into a Christless eternity simply because it has caused countless churches to cease proclaiming the true gospel to the lost world. It has even caused entire denominations to be confused about what is actually the singular message of the gospel. Some denominations have wasted vast amounts of energy and resources seeking to cure the great unsolvable ills of the human race (i.e., poverty, addictions, oppression, wars, etc., etc.). Should the church be concerned about these terrible evils—of course! And many Christians have been instrumental in eradicating a few of them (e.g., Wilberforce and slavery). But if these social maladies become the focus of the church’s energies at the expense of proclaiming the real gospel, then the church will ceased to fulfill the very commission that Christ is most passionate about; which is saving sinners from eternal separation from him.
  • There should never be any inequities of outcomes. Just know that when you hear this alarm it signals that you’re nearing rock bottom. It is this mentality that has led to such things as “participation trophies.” Life is full of inequities. While all of us are equally valuable in God’s eyes, he did not create us all with equal abilities and opportunities. Moreover, equity of outcomes has never been achieved anywhere in human history; nevertheless, this idea is the “opiate” that communism and socialism has used to dope the masses into embracing their lies. And regrettably, even entire denominations have fallen prey to this seductive deception in one form or another.
  • And finally, while the church may encourage heterosexual marriage, it should also recognize and accept gay marriage as a legitimate alternative. Why not? God is loving, people are inherently good, the Bible is scientifically incorrect in many areas, everyone should have the same opportunities, there is no such thing as eternal condemnation, and we are all ultimately heading for the same place anyway. So what’s the problem?

There you have it, the steps necessary for your denomination or church to become the next PCUSA. Denominations don’t normally take all of these steps in a single year; instead it may take a decade or even a generation before a single step is taken. A church may take a baby step here, or an entire denomination may take a giant leap over there—sometimes they may even take a step backwards before skipping a few steps “forward.” Nevertheless, evil and liberalism are never idle since they are the instruments of Satan, and he has played them effectively to lull many a Christian to sleep. Just be aware of one very important warning signal, once your denomination has taken the first couple of steps, then forget about ringing alarm bells, you might as well go ahead and start playing TAPS.

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