Category: The Church

Why the church is doing just fine…

img_4099The crying out on the state of the church is huge, massive, and honestly misplaced. Much of it stems from the impression that we control the church instead of Jesus. In a conversation with a person decrying the status of the North American church, I stated: “You know you’re talking about Jesus’ bride, right?” There is a lack of humility in how many Christians treat the church. All of that to say, I think the church is in a much better position than we think. Even given the crazy election cycle.

Election’s call to wake up
Of all the elections I’ve been able to observe, the saints exercised the most discernment I’ve seen in a long time. Much of this has to deal with how to vote when the field is very bleak. This woke Christians up to a new reality of what voting really is and what it really isn’t. Better still, it is waking the church up to the realization that many have sold their soul to a political party rather than their boss, Jesus. Both left and right of center Christians are in a quandary. This seems scary, but it is a good thing for the church. The Bible places a high value on discernment.

This isn’t home
Another big win I am seeing in the church is the focus on being on mission. The elections gave more speed to this, but over all the church is refocusing on something critical: Heaven. Understanding than national politics is a wrong course to take, but local politics is a wide open door, there is a change in focus on how to make our communities better places to live. This focus on the betterment of our cities is welcomed, and it is where the rubber meets the road. The over-emphasis on the macro-good sacrificed too many day to day good things we can and should be doing.

We are growing
While the church growth rate of 1% for evangelical churches is not as fast as we’d like, it does mean we are doing more than just keeping up with population growth. While over all the church is in decline in America, the evangelical church, which is my primary concern, is become more nimble and healthy. A season of pruning for the North American Church is a very good thing. Pruning often leads to more growth.

Social Gospel is back in a good way
The norm of church history is to over compensate. The church being involved and concerned for social justice issues is a welcomed sight. The Bible is more than just Jesus loves me. It is also how to help out our neighbors. Some churches made the social gospel THE gospel. This was wrong, just as ignoring social justice issues wrong. We need to be at work to speak for the defenseless and to be a voice of reconciliation, which is a core concept of the Gospel. We are realizing we can be involved in social justice while not ignoring the source of true justice, Jesus.

Cr0ss-generational
Churches being stratified based on age seems to be eroding. This is a great thing given the call we see in Titus 2 for older saints to invest in younger saints. There is a shift happening where people realize that tradition was not the enemy, but apathy is. The move towards high church or liturgy comes as we realize it is training in righteousness instead of stale repetitiveness. In a culture of chaos and instability, the church is finding its bedrock the practices of saints of old. The move towards church as family is welcomed.

Work to be done
Make no mistake, there is much work to be done. Ethnic reconciliation needs to be more effective. The idolatry of consumerism is a battle. Biblical literacy needs to be greatly improved. Living holy lives while not being legalistic is still an issue we struggle with. But over all, I see more good than ill in Christ’s church. I’m frankly more excited for the church in the days ahead. Paradigm shifts are hard and messy, but the ones happening in the church are good and noble.

The bottom line:
The church is much better off than many give credit for because God is at work building His church. With all the talk of issues we are having, we have forgotten all the amazing things God is doing. Growing into a God glorifying, healthy church is hard work, and it is very messy. Honestly, we have too many critics of the church and not enough cheerleaders. We’re doing well, so let us excel still more.

The opposite of freedom is tyranny

IMG_2306I’ve had many conversations with believers who hold socialistic views from a seemingly biblical standpoint. While the marriage of church and state is disaster, it is essential for both to be in the public square. The marriage of church and state is disaster, yet too many vouch for that idea. Secularism/socialism is also disaster. What is a biblical solution to this seeming paradox? Freedom! Freedom is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Ultimately, tyranny is the absence of God whereby humanity rejects God and is unable to govern itself. Socialism has the appearance of justice, but in the end it is anything but just.

Socialism is government codified legalism
Are you for or against legalism? The answer is obvious, a whole book of the Bible decries the false gospel of legalism. Why then, if for freedom’s sake Christ set us free, would we yield to a governmental structure that is legalistic? The common thread I am hearing from “christian socialists” is not congruent with biblical thought. This is often couched in the “tax the rich” or “universal healthcare” discussions. For, those with more should help those with less. Such is a true biblical principle, but not when mandated. Forced outward conformity does not produce inward change. Besides, there are selfish socialists too. Further, people can covet power as much as money.

Socialism is stealing not generosity
“Tax the wealthy to lower interest rates for college students.” If one were to take money from a wealthy person to pay for a nobel thing such as education, one would be in jail for stealing. The money was not theirs. If one could get the government to tax that money away, which is still not theirs, such is considered ‘noble.’ This coercion may give the appearance of generosity, but lacks the heart change God is concerned with. It is forcibly taking one’s private property and giving it to another. The justice of this is questionable at best.

Self interest is not selfishness
The problem with “christian socialism” is the merging of self-interest with selfishness. The acquisition of wealth to leave an inheritance is wise. Being stingy and lacking generosity is unwise, especially concerning the poor, as one is to love their neighbor. If by coercion we take what is not ours via the government, how then does a person have the resources they desire to help their neighbor, friends, and family? When you or I are forced by coercion our compassion decreases, not increase.

Ponder this…
Write down a couple of people or families you wish you do more to help. With that in mind, about 40-50+% of our money earned goes to taxes. Moving more towards socialism means more will need to be taken from you. Pretend you’re rich, and in the name of justice the government takes more of your revenue, inhibiting your ability to help your neighbor. By having less of your money, you’re ability to build a business to employ others is diminished. Ask this question: How do African-American families, who have been gravely wronged from past sins of our country, build up generational wealth? It is in the self interest of our families to build wealth and security. It is also in our self-interest to be generous with our wealth to those in needs. Socialism inhibits both.

The Big 10
The Bible teaches private property. Do not steal, and do not covet make little sense without such. People have equal dignity or do not murder, the Sabbath, and not bearing false witness makes little sense. God will judge, or the first couple commandments make no sense. In his judgments both nations and people are included. The core is actions based on an inward belief system. If we become a “christian socialist” nation, does our outward performance match the nation’s heart or will our nation be judged for taking that which was not ours? Will we be judged for ruling as the gentles do?

Acts and all things in common…
Acts describes sacrificial generosity, not socialism. The church started with nothing and holding to “the way” was socially unacceptable. The radical sacrifice from a changed heart, not governance, allowed the church to be established. Because of this Gospel a greater concern- people’s salvation- was at heart. Now whether a prisoner, slave, workman, employer or rich, the issue was mutual respect under the equality of the Gospel AND to use one’s station in life as a platform to share the Gospel.

The Gospel is shrewd
In the Gospel and becoming more like Jesus, the issue of slaves submitting to their masters and teaching on contentment is not an endorsement on slavery to the neglect of freedom. It is a keen shrewdness centered on heart change. Submission to government is not a blind thing, but rather a shrewdness of “overcoming evil with good.” Why? Ultimately the Gospel is the truest source of freedom. And the promotion of that freedom doesn’t come from claiming rights, but rather in loving submission. Not blindly, but with wisdom and shrewd living. In the Gospel we have freedom. In that freedom we willingly set aside rights and property to spread the Gospel. Not by compulsion, but as free people.

The bottom line:
Freedom is an efficient mess and tyranny is inefficient graveyard. Only God can rule justly, and given our fallen state, only freedom can pragmatically counterbalance our propensity to tyranny. Socialism, as a Christian choice for governance, is essentially codified legalism. It may give the outward appearance of justice, but it fails the heart. The inefficient reality of socialism will ultimately lead grave injustice. In the name of justice, socialism will erode our ability to love our neighbor, and act in the self-interest of our family and friends. Let’s be a voice for freedom.

Who turned out the lights for a brighter future?

Stained Glass Window
by Hauki-

Every once in a while an article or articles you post online blows up your feed. Clearly, lighting in a worship center is a sensitive issue. In the ground swell of discussion there are a few concerns and patterns that need to be addressed. The lighting issue is a symptom of a greater issue within the North American Church, issues we do need to repent of.

One God, sneaky idols…
Churches worship methods as Christians worship preferences. While churches decry consumerism, Christians can point out the out of balance focus on methodology. Shedding light on modern idols is essential. We should operate from our theology and not our methodology. Methods change, who God is does not. On the individual side, church is not a commodity or business, it is a family. Being the church via one’s preferences misses a major point in the Bible: It’s not about you. Let us be frank: method worship and preference worship are major idols we the church need to remove.

One family, many discussions…
We are too quick to end discussions, as if the truth is already clearly known or understood. We are too quick to take offense. For example: The no light crowd pounces on the non-biblical issue with a side of evangelism. The all light all the time crowd brings out the design and Bible issue. Boom. Then there are people on the entire spectrum who say we shouldn’t discuss such things as there are more important issues. All three shutter discussion that is healthy and important. As Christians we stop discussion way too often and to our hurt. Cue the passages that talk about listening.

One creator, numerous stories…
Design communicates. Design matters. How we act as a church communicates our message as much or more so than what we say. For instance: Try communicating about Jesus’ birth in a brightly lit room, or discuss heaven in a dimly lit dark one. In both these scenarios the environment is antithetical to the story. Both these stories also need to be communicated with utmost clarity. We must stop treating the arts, such as design, as a non biblical, minor issue. Our mission to clearly communicate and proclaim who God is requires that such be brought under the light of our theology to reach a darkened world. After all, artists are a part of the body of Christ.

One church, open back doors…
In the last few decades there is a price the church paid: the de-churched. The idolatry, shuttering of discussion, and schizophrenic views on the arts cost the church too much. After all, we are family. Perhaps church growth would improve if our back doors were what we shuttered and not discussion, if we valued the glory of God more and our little kingdoms less. We can open our front doors more with artistic brilliance as more darken the seats of our worship centers. That is a worthy discussion, but there are sins we as a church family must repent of first. We’ve already paid too high a price.

The bottom line:
How we light our churches is not a big deal. How we discuss it shines a light on a dark stains the blood of Christ can easily wipe clean. While lighting may not be significant, there is too deep a price we paid. So, why not have the discussion and let the grace which God lavished on us and predestined before the foundations of the world conform us to the image of His son. Why not focus on the long-suffering and patience aspects of love found in 1 Corinthians 13. As a family we can and must do better.

Church would be better if people thought like and agreed with me!

Coffee-LoveI finally found the solution to ALL the church’s problems! For sure this will be a chapter in my up and coming book “Humility and how I achieved it.” Oh wait! I do have a chapter about that! Let me be frank, cause I love you. Church has a big y’all don’t agree with me issue. Here is what I mean:

Be a cheerleader
That’s right. Start off by trying to encourage people not be a critic. (Yeah, some of you preacher boys should just stop reading right now and focus on this part.) We all have too many critics but not enough cheerleaders. My critics practically killed me! Cheerleading is a choice.

Be loving
There is nothing more comfortable than being around a loving person. That person may even point out where you’re wrong, like a loving mommy saying “you’re not wearing that are you!?” while baking you epic chocolate chip cookies. Seriously, love comforts. Don’t pour gas on a bad situation. Bring about peace and comfort. That’s what I do.

Be a team
You live as a team or you die as a team. Period. Work together. I do believe the Spirit is readily available to help with this. After all, if we don’t row together alike a team… Work it out and be a team. Easy to do when the above is true! So, get in line and be like me!

Be Loyal
We have affection and and sympathy for people we are loyal to. An we even do that for friends of our friends. So, care about the people I care about.

Be one
Here is what it comes down to: You need to have the same mind and love as me. Really. Church would be so much better this way. Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that this whole thing is be in arrogant. “Oh course everything in church would be better if we thought like you, duh!” “You’re just thinking of yourself! What about diversity all?” My response? You’re just thinking about you. In fact, you think church would be better if people were one with you and not me.

Why I’m right and you should be like me
I could have had the good life, but I didn’t. I sacrificed and worked hard just like you do. But, I did it for you and not myself. I put up with a lot. And frankly, it killed me. You humiliated me and being in this job I got blamed for things I didn’t even do. But hear me out. There is a day coming when everyone will agree that I am right and people should be like me. Mark my words: everyone.

The bottom line:
This chapter is called Philippians Chapter Two. My brother Paul wrote it for me. (If y’all think like and agree with him you’ll be well on your way to being like me.) Humility is the KEY! So, what church to be better? Be humble like me. It’s the only thing that work.

Love you all!
~Jesus

End times: Why it matters & Why I’m a ‘dispensationalist

Our view of death determines our view of life. Biblical teachings on end times, known as eschatology, is essentially a Christian view of death. The recent trends to avoid or downplay this teaching is unhealthy. Over emphasizing the doctrine is also unhealthy. In the push away from end times I’m often asked why I am a Dispensationalist. My reply is I’m a little ‘d’ not a big ‘D’ because I don’t emphasize the doctrine or focus on the current possible details. The short answer: in studying scripture, it’s what I see it teaching. I submit we should not shy away from end times.

It’s taught in scripture
Avoiding the end times parts of the Bible is to miss significant teachings of Scripture. In Matthew 16, Jesus chides the religious leaders for being able to determine the weather but were clueless on “the signs of the times.” Paul taught on the rapture, whatever view you take on it, to a baby church plant. He then wrote twice to that baby church to clarify end times teaching. The book of a Revelation is all about end times. The Bible does give us a framework and does teach on the end times. It does not give us a specific time table and tells us to not worry about timing (Acts 1:7).

It’s a matter of encouragement and perspective
The rapture and Revelation give us both encouragement and perspective. These essentials are lost if we avoid the end times. The rapture is meant to encourage us when a saint dies. (A strong argument for pre-tribulational rapture.) We don’t mourn as others do because death is a temporary state. The end times give us the needed perspective so we can practice blessing people instead of returning evil for evil. A HUGE part of end times is God balancing the scales of justice of a world filled with injustice. How can I bless those who persecute me when a I’m faced with injustice? The end times gives us the perspective of why.

It’s a matter of God’s character
I’m a Dispensationalist because I think Israel means Israel in the Bible. As Hosea illustrates, God will go after and redeem national Israel as Hosea redeemed his wife from prostitution. I’d submit that spiritualizing Israel in the New Testament makes the Bible ludicrous. Why? What assurance of salvation do we have if God wrote off Israel? This is the issue Romans 9-11 addresses. Further, Paul makes a clear distinction between national Israel and Gentiles in Romans 11. God’s treatment of Israel gives confidence in His treatment of us and the church. God is the God of second chances, of grace, and He keeps His Word.

It’s a matter of our character
Paul’s states in Romans 11 that we should be careful as God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare us. Much rejection of Dispensationalsim is arrogance of the grafted in branches. End times keeps us humble before God. For sure humans tend toward arrogance. Churches often become arrogant as well. In Acts 1:7 Jesus didn’t say there is no kingdoms of Israel, he said the timeline was none of our business. In Revelation Israel is specifically mentioned as well as mentions of various nations. End times is a check on our character.

It’s a matter of faith
Hebrews 11 has an end times perspective. It is true that the big issue in theology is a matter of interpretation, but not all views are valid. I believe in the plain interpretation of the Bible, meaning what the author intends to communicate is the meaning. All other viewpoints have no true bearing in how to interpret Scripture. There is a pattern of literal fulfillment of prophecy throughout Scripture. Spiritualizing prophecy yet unfulfilled is to play hermeneutical voodoo. While God is mysterious and did not give us all the answers, He is predictable in that he keeps His word with an uncanny literalness.

The bottom line:
Avoiding the end times is to lose much needed perspective and clarity for godly living. While I do not major on a time line of future events, there is a framework given to us for the purpose of encouragement and perspective. Key to all this is that God is not done with national Israel, just like he’s not done with you or me. His grace, mercy and justice are evident in end times teachings of Scripture. Be carefully balanced, but do not avoid this essential doctrine of Scripture.

Side note:
Much of the antagonism towards dispensational thought started with Augustine who was anti-chiliasm (premailinalsim). While Calvin moderated (somewhat) on the matter, the antagonism towards pre-millennial viewpoints endured. As people act based in what they believe, much anti-semitism came from a non-dispensational viewpoint.

My Guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Q&A

Why the series? Are you anti, pro or neutral to fundamentalism?
There are three big reasons why:
1) Fundamentalism became a strawman argument. So, people can attack ‘fundies’ and gain some quick accolades. Strawman arguments are bad and it’s better to address real heart issues instead. Not all fundamentalist churches are cults or legalistic.

2) Many have been spiritually abused and crushed in fundamentalist circles. Some want to leave the baggage but retain what is good. By addressing heart issues we can sift what’s truth vs human error. I’m finding doctrine isn’t the real issue for people leaving fundamentalist, it’s the actions of some fundamentalists.

3) Faithful are the wounds of a friend. Many in my generation take an unbiblical attack dog stance against fundamentalists and then anyone who acts or smells like one. I wanted a balanced critique and not a tribunal.

I’m pro-gospel and pro-bible. May sound like a cop-out, but I don’t think we should get stuck on words too much.

Will this series be just a critique?
No! I’ll be focusing in three big benefits to fundamentalism just as I focused on three big heart issues.

Is the movement essentially dead?
Yes & no. It’s a recurring movement. Pharisees, monastic movement are two examples of separatist movements. There is a cycle to history that repeats. The break that occurred in the emerging church was along the similar lines as the liberal/fundamentalist controversy in the early 20th century. I think the essence of the movement will continue. I do think our culture tends toward being shallow so the name will die out, as will organizations, but new names and networks will emerge.

You often use act vs react, why is that?
Reactionary movements, what fundamentalism essentially was, are inherently unstable. Acting is far more difficult than reacting. Acting vs reacting is my attempt at articulating God’s instructions to Joshua to follow His Word not turning to the left or the right.

Are you a fundamentalist?
I’m a recovering fundamentalist. I don’t use the word because of the baggage associated with it… What I find is living biblically is the hardest and most elusive stance to take. So I’ve been accused of being ‘fundy’ and being ‘liberal.’ The label isn’t important, walking by faith and being biblical is.

Are you against labels then?
Everyone is for labels. The anti-labels gig is disingenuous, I think. Example: remove all labels from canned goods and then go grocery shopping. Adam labeled things. So did Jesus and Paul. Rather than being anti-labels let’s focus on the issue of being gracious and loving and civil and listening. I sense that’s what the anti-labels gig is going for.

Are you a creationist?
I believe that if you lose the resurrection you lose creationism and not the other way around. Jesus is the best proof and validity for creationism. I do think creationism is a secondary or tertiary doctrinal issue, not primary or a fundamental of the faith.

Dispensational?
I’m little ‘d’ as opposed to big ‘D’… I think the essentials of plain interpretation of the Bible, distinction between Israel and the church, and the Bible is about God’s glory is core. Too often dispensationalists get stuck on a timeline and details rather than the major emphasis of the Bible. We should heed Jesus words that “it is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” Eschatology is important as our view of death determines how we live. So, those who argue against any focus on studying the end times are off as well. It’s a hard balance.

Baptist?
I’m baptistic. While baptists probably wouldn’t say it this way, they focus on three big areas: Biblical authority (the Bible is the basis for our faith and actions, Individual soul liberty (a person is left to their own choice to believe and should not be coerced into believing) and Priesthood of the believer (in Christ we have direct access to God). These are core themes in the Bible and other baptist attributes stem from those three. I think the label is often, not always, a hinderance based on behavior of baptists and not it’s doctrine per se.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Separation or discernment?

“You have no business promoting public schools!”
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise.” St. Paul

First, separation is a command
The Bible teaches separation. There is no avoiding that in Scripture. Our associations, friendships, business partners, ministry partners have to be viewed through a lens of separation. I often hear from those chucking church or fundamentalism that “separation is wrong.” Oddly, they then “separate” from fundamentalists. The issue is whether separation is a core doctrine or a matter of wise discernment. I take it to be discernment.

Separation as objective idolatry
For some fundamentalists separation is a core tenet of the faith. Not always by articulation, but often by practice. This unbalanced view of separation leads this idea of a particular articulation of theology and/or method of doing ministry as being pure. Others as to be critiqued and questioned. Theological correctness becomes more like a God and not the God of correct theology.

Theological separation isn’t dead
In reading about the emerging church split that evolved into “missional” and “emergent” circles, the lines of separation were similar to the liberal/fundamentalist controversy of the early 20th century. If people are going to deny the Gospel, there is an obvious line and clear expectation for separating. There are times when discerning whether to separate or not is blatantly clear.

In the world
Jesus in his priestly prayer talks about how we’re to be in the world and not of it. The great commission sends us into the world. The Gospel and the church are culturally neutral and able to contextualize the Gospel in a way that doesn’t violate Scripture or the Gospel. Still, in North America the issue of proclaiming the Gospel in a way that our culture understands gets clouded by an unbalanced view of separation. An unbalanced view of separation is a fortress mentality, not a discernment one.

Fear of man
An unbalanced view of separation focuses on one’s self and not God. Yes God is all holy and to be honored. But we shouldn’t neglect grace to fulfill the command of separation. A hard focus on separation creates an environment of distrust, is poisons grace and it often leads to an unloving culture. I often observe that it seems more about gaining approval of certain men the focusing on what God. We all love the pats on the back for standing firm in the faith by our peers or congregants. Jesus was called a friend of sinners- not always as a compliment.

The public school
I remember an intentional “you’re not going to be invited back” conversation based on a comment I made in a workshop. “The easiest place to live a dynamic Christian life is the Public School. There you have no choice, you’re either on fire or a hypocrite.” Apparently, I violated the doctrine separation by that statement. After being instructed on separation, I was then told that nothing good comes from public schools, broken homes, etc. A good christian has no place in a public school.

By God’s grace, I was able to start a Bible study, hold a regular morning prayer meeting and witness in my public school. I remember conversations about respecting parents, not having an abortion, being a servant and others. I remember people accepting Christ and being affirmed in the faith. I came form a broken home, and again by God’s grace, I’m a minister of the Gospel pointing people to Jesus. This explanation wasn’t good enough.

The bottom line:
An unbalanced view of separation distracts from the mission of making followers of Jesus. It violates love as described in 1 Corinthians 13. It pulls us away from the world. Separation is a command in Scripture to be obeyed through wise discernment. It’s not a command to build a fortress and hide until the rapture. Don’t react out of a fear of man or protectionist ideology. Act out of wisdom, applying the Scriptures to each situation.