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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The General Theory of Will-itivity

God has a general will that falls upon each of us. God wants everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV)
23  Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

God desires all people to  walk with Him.

Micah 6:8 (ESV)
8  He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

God also has a specific will.

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)
11  For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

He calls us just as He did Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Simon Peter and Paul. Each of us has a specific will.

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
10  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God does not force us to do anything within His will. He has given us a free will and allows us to do things we never should have done. He allowed Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, Cain to kill Abel, David to be with Bathsheba and Peter to deny His Son. He has allowed me to do some pretty evil things as well. Should I expect that I will never be in His will again since I have sinned?

So we don't follow Him and miss His general will and His specific will for our lives.

Years ago I worked for a man who felt he had been called into the formal ministry. He even made a public commitment to that calling twice but he never went. I met this man when he was sixty-four years of age. Does this mean that he would never know God's will ever again in his life?

I know people think they can do what God wants at any time and come right back into His will. That isn't what happened with Israel after they had refused to take the Promised Land. They thought they could simply do God's will on their own time table. They were utterly wrong. God did not bless their commitment after the commitment time had passed. They were trying to do His will from the past rather than His will that was right in front of them.

God's will is always right in front of us. It appears to us that His will is changing because we have changed it but nothing can be farther from the truth. God, in His omniscience, knew exactly what we would do. He offers us His will even when He knows we will reject it. He takes those moments of disobedience prepares the path of obedience. He did all this before time began. Thus, He hears our present prayers before the beginning of time and answers them before they have been prayed by us. We still have to pray them or He couldn't have heard them before time began because we will never have prayed them. (All this starts me thinking I believe in Stephen Hawking's circular time!)

This all makes sense if we could understand things like God. We simply have a hard time realizing that the writer of the story knows the story before the story is written. The characters in our stories decide at the moment but all they will do has been known from the beginning. It is not fate because each moment is completely free.

Paul wrote:

Romans 8:28 (ESV)
28  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

All things are determined by the past. Working for good applies to the present. We never receive anything that resembles a consolation prize from God. He always gives us what is best for us. It is best for us right now. God's will is for us to obey Him right now. The moment to obey Him passes with each moment we delay. We can't simply go back to what we once knew as His specific will and act on it.

God's general will never changes. His specific will for each of us appears to change because we may know what it is and not obey Him. Instead of making us go back to what we should have done, He often gives us a new opportunity that isn't the same as the one we disobeyed. We receive His will and walk in it with Him as that which does us good and has a hope and future. Thus no one ever receives God's consolation prize when he obeys God's will.

God's will is always in front of us. The question is whether or not we will walk in it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is Your Church Successful?

I just read the stories of several mega-church pastors. The attendance in their churches reaches the thousands. Some of these pastors have resigned. Some of them are preaching a gospel other than the one that I understand from the Bible. Each of them seemed to put church growth ahead of everything else. Each one of them is worth millions of dollars. Many of them are watched on tv by our own church family.

The actions of these mega-church pastors are not proof that mega-churches are bad. History cites many churches that grew to huge attendances who did much for the cause of Christ. There have been many preachers who were unaffected by the fame and were never enticed by the avarice of huge incomes. These churches started other churches, sent out missionaries and sent millions of dollars to mission agencies. Their lights burned bright for the cause of Christ.

A church must consider her values before she can call herself a success. What happens to the church who focuses solely on attendance? The temptation to change her message to accommodate and lure others in is enormous. Thus, pastors fall into the trap of giving hearers things which tickle their ears. The messages fail to speak of Christian commitment and make God someone who wants to help people reach what they have always wanted. The message that the world brings- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16)- becomes the message of the church. You want to have a great sex life? God can help you with that. You want to be rich? God will make you rich. You want to be someone of significance in the world? God will make you a victor in the world.

Surely, you have heard these messages. They draw huge crowds. Those who preach them stay away from messages that speak of taking up a cross. They don’t mention the need to hate father, mother, wife, children and personal life to be a disciple of Jesus. Can these churches make Jesus’ disciples if they don’t mention these things? I can’t see how.

So, what would happen if we had thousands in attendance but had no one who matured as a believer? What if no one took up a cross after attending here for any length of time? What if no one understood that God’s will might lead to martyrdom?

I can tell you plainly what this means. It means we have been a failure.

Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
19  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Christianity Lite

Great entertainment deserves a great crowd. I get it. I think that people are enamored with someone who can tell a good joke and keep your attention for twenty minutes by telling amusing, even hilarious, stories. Why would someone purposely attend a boring speech if it wasn't for a grade or advanced them in any way?

However, I have found that what bores one person is absolutely exciting to another. Why is that so?

The person who is excited at what another would call a boring speech can see the way that speech helps him. He follows what is being said because it takes him to a place he wants to go. That place may be called laughter or new ideas or new methods of doing what he is doing.

Is this always good? No, is the obvious answer. Many people may not know where they want to go. Thus, they look for mere entertainment which satisfies the distraction from their problems. Or maybe they look for a superficial solution which is so easy that it requires little on no effort on their part. (Like the info commercials which sell pills to make people thinner. People will watch these for thirty minutes at a time without any sense of boredom. Unfortunately, these pills only make the wallet thinner.) The church is not immune to enticing people in this.

The message of many churches today is found in the world. These churches know that the world wants to be richer. Therefore, their messages tell how God wants the people to be richer. The world wants to have complete safety. The messages of these churches tell how God wants them to be completely safe. The world wants to win at everything. Thus, the messages tell how God will make you a winner in the world.

The Christians who come out of these churches have a very weak faith. They see God as someone who gives them what they already want. He doesn't need to change them. They simply need to change their thinking so that they can get Him to do what they want. These church attendees do not have a depth of knowledge of the Bible nor Jesus because they have avoided any scripture and any relationship that did not fit into their own wants.

I call this Christianity Lite. It is less filling and has a better worldly taste. It promises all the good times and none of the bad. It hinges on the stated faith of the one following the "Lite" Christianity. Things that don't work out like the attendee wants are caused by a lack of faith. The statement may be said, "I just have to believe it without any doubting and God will do what I want." It doesn't matter what God's will is. It doesn't matter that God may be able to do more in the difficult situation than in all good times. It doesn't matter what God thinks about any of this.

Thus, this "Lite" Christian can still act like any worldly person and call himself a Christian. He is jealous of those who have more than he does. He hates like the world hates. He acts like the world acts outside of the church. He has taken the world and put a thin Christian coating over it all.

It is just as possible that someone would listen to something which appears boring and get the very most out of it. The church which expounds depth from the Bible may be boring to the majority but is extremely interesting to him. It, too, takes him where he wants to go. It brings him into an intimate relationship with Jesus. His life is changed daily because of this relationship. He seeks God's will rather than his own will because he believes that God knows and does what will be seen as glorious. He prays but addresses God as the One who knows what should happen. His faith is not built on what he wants to happen but on God's revelation to Him. He submits to the will of God and finds joy in his Christian growth. He may find himself in the minority even at church. He proves his faith in what he has done as he has walked with God.

Which one do you want to be? Or maybe I should ask, which one are you?

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (ESV)
1  But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

I'm Done with the "Dones"

I recently read an article about a growing number of people who were once active in church but now are "done" with it. This article said they were once essential to their churches but no longer want someone who will tell them what to do in preaching. The implied suggestion was to keep these people from being "done" with church by giving them decision making abilities.

This article, no matter how long ago it was written, will circle the internet for years. Churches and, especially, pastors will lament what they could have done to have kept these people. After all, it must have been the Church's fault, right?

While I would agree that the Church may have not done so well in making these people mature disciples, I must admit that this is not a new problem for the church. The writer of Hebrews admonished believers to continue in church.

Hebrews 10:25 (ESV)
25  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 

Evidently, there were once active members who had dropped out. The writer of Hebrews doesn't tell the church to "go out and get them back." No, he speaks to those who have left the church and tells them that they ought to be in church. The author also doesn't tell them that the church has or hasn't been all that they expected. The day of Christ return is drawing close and believers should be in church. If these people were as mature as the article I read implies they are they would have known this and wouldn't have left the Church no matter how flawed she is perceived to be.

The truth is that these "dones" are really immature no matter how long they have been in church. The Apostle Paul addressed this.

1 Corinthians 3:1-3 (ESV)
1  But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3  for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way?  

There was self importance in the church as long as they were able to continue in their own sinful nature. The jealousy and strife can be compared to the sense of entitlement and selfishness seen in those who are done with the Church. They have claimed their own self as more important than the needs of the others in church. They have become bored because the church has not stimulated them like the world which appeals to their flesh. So, they leave.

Let's remember the story of the Prodigal Son. The father continues to look for his son to come home but he doesn't go out and bring him home. He has to come to his senses on his own. So, I, too, will welcome back these immature Christians who have left the church at one time. I will rejoice that they have come home. I will not however go out to get them. I will note that the struggle remains in making disciples who are mature enough to know that they simply can't leave the church because she is not everything it was hoped to be.

Jesus had a number of the people leave Him. It hurt and He asked His disciples if they would also leave Him. 

John 6:66-69 (ESV)
66  After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67  So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” 68  Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69  and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Again, it should be noted that Jesus didn't go after them. He didn't say, "Don't go. I'll change my preaching just for you!" No, He turned to His own disciples to see if they would leave too. He wasn't changing what He was doing to keep people. He was doing what the Father told Him to do. He would not deviate even if it meant that no one followed Him.

The mandate given to the Church is to make disciples. That cannot be exchanged for large crowds. Maybe that is why the "dones" left. They were entertained into coming until it was no longer stimulating. They left because their churches used entertainment to get them to attend and never challenged them to become mature devoted followers of Christ who do not seek their own desires.

Philippians 2:4 (ESV)
4  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Unfortunately, many churches believe that a huge crowd is more important than solid discipleship. Thus, the crowd of people who seek their own interests grows within these churches. We should not be so surprised that immature people will think they are justified in leaving the Church.

As for me, I'm done with all this. I just want to walk with the people who want to walk with God. I can't understand how I can walk with the people who don't want to walk with God and still walk with God myself. I will proclaim the gospel to the lost but I will not try to "entertain" them into heaven. The truth of Jesus is much more powerful than entertainment.