Search This Blog

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Can't Forget the Crowds

I have heard many Christian leaders claim that they must forget about the numbers and focus on a small group of disciples. They claim that this is the way of Jesus but I beg to differ.

Sure, Jesus had His small group. They walked with Him daily. They were the people He would hand His ministry when He was gone. They were essential to the continuance of the gospel.

But Jesus also spend a significant time preaching to the multitudes-those people who had no close attachment to Him. These people also got the full gospel. Much of what we know of Jesus teaching was recorded by His disciples as He taught the multitudes. He said what they needed to hear. He drew them in by going to them.

Jesus taught the crowds the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. He fed the crowds in Mark 8. He had compassion on the crowds in Matthew 9. Jesus was concerned about the crowds too.

Let's imagine Him differently. Let's say He took the small group approach alone. He would never have been crucified if He hadn't made such a huge impact on the crowds. The Pharisees would have seen Him as one of the many self-proclaimed messiahs with a few followers. They would never have spent the time or thirty pieces of silver to have Him executed. He would never have been more than an annoyance to them.

But isn't that true of Christians today? We will never change our culture or even get our message out unless we have both the small groups  and the large crowds. Very few will pay attention if we are no greater than a few small groups who keep their faith to themselves.

Thus, much of Paul's preaching was done before crowds. A couple of months ago I was at Mars Hill in Greece and imagined what it would have been like for Paul to preach the gospel there. He stood on the small platform and began his message to appeal to the crowds passing by. A crowd assembled when he talked of an unknown god. He addressed them right where they were.

So, please do not think of the gospel or discipleship as only for the small groups. The crowds were discipled too. The small group was not exclusive for Jesus and it doesn't need to be exclusive for us either.

When someone says to you, "So, your church is all about the big crowds,' please answer: "Yes, we love the crowds, the small groups and the individuals, too."

Jesus loved all three, too.

Matthew 5:1-2 (ESV) 1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Distant or Casual with God?

The pendulum of theology swings from transcendence to immanence and back again. We know that God is high and lifted up; in His holy place. We know He is never changing but we also know that He is personal and present with us. Our architecture reveals our theology. The pulpits were lifted up above the people when we emphasized His transcendence. They were brought low and closer to the congregation when we wanted to know God is present. One scenario presents Him as distant and the other as casual. Which is it? Of course, it is both and we must guard that we don't lose one for the other.

The God who is too far away is never personal. He is relegated to the presence of priests who hold the power of salvation. Prayers go through other, more pious individuals. He is respected and truly feared but never really known. His holiness and power are known well. His love is hardly mentioned.

God is too often made casual when His immanence is at the forefront. He is often fallible. People question His motives and whether He knows what He is doing.  His justice is forgotten and replaced with forgiveness without consequences. The fear of the Lord is a completely forgotten topic.

Somehow these two extremes in theology should be merged. The presence of God must be known while the transcendence of God is still in place. There must be awe while there is a personal touch. There must be the fear of the Lord and the love of the Lord known at the same time.

I believe that many people who are younger than I have known something was missing in worship. They have searched and returned to more liturgical churches. They want to know the God who is holy, just, immutable and still present. They want to leave behind the casual worship they have formerly experienced. They are tired of health, wealth and "let the good times roll" preachers. They know that their own personal time with God is more than casual. It is reverent. It contains His holiness and they are brought to their knees.

I believe the Psalmist understood this when he said:

Psalm 5:7 (ESV) 7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house. I will bow down toward your holy temple in the fear of you.

Do you believe this too?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Boring Christian Life

I know I have written on this subject before but my observations of Christians reveals that most believers live a mundane, boring, uneventful Christian life. Maybe that's why they run from church to church seeking the next great preacher, revelation or experience. They are expecting something outside of themselves to bring meaning to their lives. They believe that God is someone to be chased down rather than allowing Him to enter in. They believe they must be swept into a new experience by the preacher or place.

There are characteristics to this boring life which are not readily recognized.

A boring Christian life is more excited about what it gets from the faith than that there are people who are coming to Christ. They do not know the true excitement of a life changed by Christ. They feel no excitement when watching others being baptized. They may have never known the joy of leading someone to Christ. They have forgotten that joy if they have.

The boring Christian life focuses on itself. It wonders what it is getting out of every event. It wants to know how faith will help endure life's hardships. It seeks faith to give an advantage over others. The boring Christian life believes the believer should benefit over the rest of the world. The boring Christian life has no place for true sacrifice.

The boring Christian life is able to hold grudges. This believer has forgotten the cost of his own sin. He looks as his own sins as mere mistakes while seeing the sins of others as egregious. He believes he has some right to hold these grudges and thus severes his connection of grace to the Lord. Any right assumed as a Christian has to do with pride. God is always opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. A graceless Christian life is boring.

The boring Christian life either has no quiet time daily or the boring Christian is simply going through the motions and calling it a time alone with God. God cannot be fooled. He knows where the heart is. He will not meet with those whose hearts are deliberately set against others or Himself.

The boring Christian life fails to worship. The boring Christian may attend worship but does not actually worship even if he sings the songs and bows his head in prayer. Worship happens in the heart or it doesn't happen at all. Worship is giving God worth through the giving of the Christian's life. Worship does not happen when the Christian wants to claim his own self worth.

The boring Christian life never takes a risk. It doesn't tithe when finances are tight, it doesn't go on mission trips, it doesn't witness when ridicule is possible, it doesn't pray when people say the answer is impossible, nor does it do anything that puts it at risk. It doesn't allow God to invade the dreams so that the impossible can be done. It opposes all who want to challenge the impossible with what God has said. It stands in desert afraid of attempting the Promised Land.

So, the boring Christian life lacks true fellowship, heaing what the Bible says, witnessing and prayer. I suppose these are the essentials of living the Christian life. I guess that's why some Christians and churches are said to be dead. They lack the essentials of living.

The Apostle Paul's life was exciting. He witnessed when others would have told him to be quiet. He had allowed God's word to go through him so thoroughly that he connected all of God's word to living. He went places that few people would go with little resources. He trusted in God to provide for him. He knew his Lord so well that he wanted to be fully with Him.

He life was hard but it was never boring. I pray my life will not be boring either.

Philippians 1:21 (ESV) 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Pain of Betrayal

I don't know of someone who hasn't been betrayed at some time in his life. Each person has had someone who was trusted and failed to live up to that trust. Each person has felt some measure of pain when betrayed. That pain can be excruciating when the trust was at the highest level. This can be in a spouse who is unfaithful or a best friend who makes a damning personal statement. Some people hurt so badly that they can't think of anything else.

I don't know believe there is anything I can say which will alleviate the pain. It truly hurts like hell because it is the pain of hell. Those who have trusted in someone or something else other than Christ will realize that they have been betrayed when they arrive in hell. So, betrayal is the pain of hell.

I can give you some things I have seen in my Lord which may help those who have been betrayed. As you know, He was betrayed by two of His disciples. We don't know if those who abandoned Him also betrayed Him. In a way, I suppose, even their abandonment is a betrayal.

Judas didn't kill Jesus. He just made it possible so that Jesus could be killed. He knew what he had done only after the fact. Judas never allowed Jesus to heal the relationship they had once had. He killed himself before the resurrection and did not realize what Jesus meant by conquering death.

Peter, on the other hand, was restored. Jesus heard Peter say with a curse that he didn't know Him. Jesus must have truly hurt even though He knew this was Peter's path. He had told Peter that He prayed for Peter to be "turned again." He knew what had to happen but the actual experience had to hurt. Jesus knew that the cross would hurt but the actual experience really was pain beyond belief, too.

So, I would say that you should pray for those who are close to you. You may not ever expect them to betray you but you should pray that they might be "turned" back to their relationship with the Lord so that they can also be turned back to you.

You will never be able to heal the relationship if you do not also restore the person. It does you no good to hold a grudge and wallow in your pain. You must confront them with the problem. The problem isn't that they betrayed you. The problem is in their lack of commitment in loving you. They must make a new commitment to love. Otherwise there is no restoration.

This new commitment must be questioned. While you may want reassurance, this is not the point. They need to realize what they are saying. They must say it again and again or deny that they have love for you.

The commitment must be lived our rather than simply wished for. In other words, the commitment of love must have a task that follows it. I always address the commitment of love in wedding vows. I have both bride and groom make their commitment verbally. I tell them that I expect that they will keep their vows. These vows explain the extent of their faithfulness. They are not invalidated by sickness or poverty but are always to  be held in the highest regard until death takes one of the them.

But let's say that the person that betrayed you does not live out that commitment- what should you do? You cannot give that person your trust because trust is earned. There can be no trust given when it is not earned. There can be no growing relationship without trust. The person who fails to build trust is severing the relationship by his actions. You must forgive but you cannot build trust for them.

Is there a mandate for severing the relationship? No. But you must know that there isn't much of a relationship there either. Even Jesus said that divorce is possible when there is adultery.

I personally believe that you can only take so much pain. I also believe that it takes two people to have a relationship. Therefore, I never tell someone who has been betrayed that he should continue to be hurt. (For the record, I never tell them that he must stay in the relationship either.) Each person must ask himself if he has done everything reasonable to continue the relationship. (I never ask if they have done everything possible because there is always something else that could have been done.)

I pray for those who have been betrayed. I don't think betrayers really know the pain they have caused.

Luke 22:48 (ESV) 48 but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”

Luke 22:60-62 (ESV) 60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.

John 21:15-19 (ESV) 15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Failure of Repeating Success

There are two tyrannies: Things change and people will judge you. Yet, many people try to live like these are not true. They are blindsided that people judge them and fail to notice that things change.

Take for example the story of Ai when Joshua is leading the Israeli's into their Promised Land. He has just had an incredible victory at Jericho. Jericho was a royal city with thirty foot thick walls which seemed impenetrable. He listened to God, did what God said and "the walls came tumbling down."

So, his next target is Ai. A small town which would have had  less than 3,000 fighting men. There was no report of the loss of life among the battle for Jericho. After the battle Joshua's fame spread throughout the land. People had judged him as a competent commander.

The city of Ai, therefore, should have posed no trouble. It was not protected as Jericho. It wasn't necessary to send the whole army against such a small group of people. Merely 3,000 men were sent. The problem was that things had changed. These were different people than Jericho. They weren't content to sit in their city and watch the Israelites. They came out of the city, chased and killed thirty-six of the Israelites. Joshua knew what this meant. His reputation was about to take a drastic change for the worse. He would lose stature among his own men as well.

Joshua failed to notice the most drastic change too. He didn't know that they no longer had the Lord's presence. He was fighting on his own with his own strategies in his own strength. In retrospect, defeat was inevitable.

So Joshua goes back to the Lord to gripe at the Lord for the defeat. He didn't see what he had done wrong. He didn't realize that things had changed and could not simply take matters into his own hands to inhabit the Promised Land. The Lord said He would give this land to the Israelites but Joshua was trying to take it for them. The Lord really doesn't want us taking what He wants to give.

Once Joshua adjusted to the change and obeyed the Lord, he was ready to take on the people of Ai. He listened to the Lord in the new situation of Ai and was again victorious.

How long did this last? Not long for the Gibeonites come wanting a treaty with Israel. They deceive the Israelites into thinking they have come from a long distance away and will be no bother to them. The Israelites look at the evidence the Gibeonites present but fail to ask for the Lord's wisdom and make a foolish treaty. They simply failed to learn from Ai. They repeated a failure rather than a success.

It is hard for most Christians to realize that there are no two situation which are exactly alike. What worked in one place does not necessarily work in another. What failed in one place does not necessarily fail in another. The only constant we should keep in making decisions is inquiring of the Lord. He knows all there is and can direct us to victory. Relying on our own resources may result in some victories but simply repeating exactly what we have done in the past is an unreliable method of success.

I have a Blackberry cell phone. It was one of the best phones on the market when I purchased it. However, Blackberry kept doing what had brought them success only to find that the market was changing. People wanted more "smart" phone technolgy rather than superior email. Thus, Blackberry is not repeating its success even though they are repeating what brought them success. Why? Because things are always changing.

The Christian life is not carbon copied between individuals. God knows the names of each person. No person is exactly alike. God has made that clear in our physical makeup. We have different fingerprints, different eyes, no one looks exactly like another person (even identical twins are different) and even our voices are different. We are unique down to our DNA! It is impossible to copy another person in minute details. We can appear to the same but it only appears that way because the measurement is flawed.

This means that I must listen to God and obey Him completely in every situation in every day. Since I am unique and those around me are just as unique, I can't repeat the success of another person in exactly the same way. I can't simply copy a mega-church pastor and grow a mega-church since I am not that pastor nor are the people in my area the same as the people in his.

So, the most pragmatic approach to ministry is to listen to the Lord in each and every situation and obey Him completely.

Believe me, this is not new news. It is just something I have to remember daily.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV) 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From Last to Great

The world is very sutle as it invades the church. The things which make sense to the world are often presented as common sense. The world says that those who have paid their dues are the ones that should receive greater services. Thus, those who have been in the church for years, tithed, taught and attended should haved earned some privileges for their faithfulness.

But that is not what Jesus taught. He taught that the one who has become mature in the faith should give up all of his privileges and take the lowliest position of servant to all the others. He should not seek to have special parking or special seating. He should not seek to have the music, sermons or aesthetics of the sanctuary as merely pleasing to him. He should not expect others to serve him. He should expect to serve others.

The maturity of a believer is measured by his service. It is marked by putting others before himself. He does not have to be noticed nor does he seek being noticed. He is content that he has served his Lord. He still has ambition but that ambition is to serve his Lord even more.

I am constantly amazed at those who are afraid they will not be heard or obeyed in church. They assume that they have earned the right to tell others the way church should be. Their concern for the lost is cursory at best. They are unwilling to make changes that will reach others. They believe that the lost need to comply if they are to be reached. They have become the Pharisees who wanted privileges because of their self determined faithfulness to God.

This will never amount to anything in God's kingdom. The kingdom of privileges will never see God's presnce. God's kingdom finds those who have been the servant to all and calls them great. The greatest is a slave who claims no privileges at all.

Our own flesh hates being ignored. We (I) want to be known,  obeyed, and given privileges. It is normal to think like this but we were never called to be normal. We were called to be great.

This greatness stands in the shadows among men but is seen by God as if in bright sunlight. He sees it as one who has become like His Son.

And there is no higher honor than hearing God say that we have become like His Son.

Matthew 20:25-28 (NIV) 25 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Clearing Out the Clutter

I can't continue in intense prayer all the time. I can't study my Bible around the clock. I can' t allow anything to clutter my life-even the good things.

Life gets cluttered when we fail to watch how we walk. The obsession with one activity results in the neglect of another. I can't read my Bible if I witness all the time. I can't witness if I am in intense prayer. I can't worship with others if I continually spend time alone with God. Wisdom in how we use our time depends upon using this time as the Lord leads in the moment rather than simply choosing a good thing and doing it all the time.

Much of the problem of obesity is eating without enough exercise. Both exercise and eating are good but they have to be balanced or our bodies will die. Much of the problem people have with living godly lives is that they are not balanced in the good things in their lives.

Most of us know the things we should avoid. We should avoid gossip, ungodly movies and anything else that damages our spirit and our witness. However, we struggle when it comes to the good things. We lose our balance when we focus on corporate worship without private worship, Bible study  without prayer and witnessing without a quiet time (vice-versa applies to each of these). Our lives become cluttered because we haven't used the wisdom to realize that we cannot be one dimensional. Our lives require balance. It is important that we realize what we need to keep and what we need to put away. It is just as important to know what we need to do with each moment. It means that we make a trade-off with some activities. Whatever we are doing means that we can't be doing something else.

Now, I know that most people would rather that I mentioned watching tv rather than prayer or Bible study when speaking of things that will clutter your lives, but that could easily be misconstrued. Leisure is not evil. In fact, some times we need leisure more than we need work.

We should understand that we can't peg any activity as what we need to be doing all the time. We walk with the Lord daily or we don't walk with Him at all.

So, wisdom considers every moment we spend. It weighs that moment as to what needs to be done. It knows that evil will prevail when God's people fail to do what they need to do. That means they must pay attention to their Lord or their lives will get cluttered.

Ephesians 5:15-16 (NIV) 15 Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The World Longs to See the Gospel

Salvation is more than saying a prayer and getting dunked in water.

Many parents bring their children to me so that they can receive salvation. I don't give salvation. I don't have it to give. I lead them to give their lives to Christ. The initial acts are generally saying a prayer of commitment and being baptized. The parents are happy that their children are now going to heaven. We may not see them in church for months. I wonder what they thought salvation is.

Salvation is a changed life. It stands when it is much easier to fall. It lives when peer pressure seeks to kill it. It remains alone when there are no others who will join in. It is order while the rest of life is chaos. It is faithful when it is much easier to join the crowds of those who play with the lures of the world. It is true when all others are calling it a lie.

I preach the message of the gospel each week. There are those that think that the gospel is only the story of Jesus death on the cross but they are wrong. The gospel is also the story of believers taking up their crosses to die to themselves and become totally different persons. They will never be considered part of the mainstream of humanity again. They seek to be transformed into the likeness of Christ so that people will know the presence of Christ when they come into the believers' presence.

There will be some in the world who will severely criticize those who seek this constant living for Christ. They will claim that the committed believer is superstitious or is merely putting on a show but time proves the faith of those who are living their faith.

And in reality the world is seeking someone to believe in. They follow politicians and find all of them lacking. They seek after heroes on the battlefield or the football field. They find some whose atheletic prowess or courage  admirable but often also find that their heroes are lacking in character. They have been disappointed so many times.

But when the world actually finds a Mother Teresa or a Billy Graham the world is full of admiration. Many people cannot deny the faith that these people have preached by the way they have lived. They see the gospel rather than hear it alone.

Yes, the world longs to see the gospel. They have only heard it from so many of us.

1 Thessalonians 1:6-8 (NIV) 6 You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. 7 And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. 8 The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia--your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it,