April, 2012

Family of God

Sunday I had the pleasure of attending services at Asbury United Methodist Church. I was there to make a pitch for Kairos. The church has been very supportive of Kairos for years so I also took the opportunity to thank everyone for their past support.

I have many Methodist friends but I  believe that this was my first chance to be in a Methodist service. In fact, I attended two. I enjoyed them both very much. Although the service was quite different from what I am used to in my non-denominational home church, there were key elements that were the same. Jesus and His Holy Word were at the center. The people showed a love for both. I was well received by friendly loving people. I noticed several acquaintances that I had not realized were Christian before.  As with many churches today, the congregation had more old than young. We all struggle with keeping our youth in the faith. But one young family baptized a member and joined the church, so growth continues.

It is so easy to narrow our focus to the small piece of Christianity which is our experience. I will be happy to be with my church family next week; but it was a great experience to see that God’s family is as wonderfully diverse as He is.

Won’t worship in heaven be great? I can’t imagine how we will blend together in one joyous worship. People of many backgrounds, races, denominations. How will the blended tongues of many languages meld together? I suspect that God will ensure that  language not be a block to our communication and joint worship.

The joy will be great perhaps with a tiny bit of regret that we were not wise enough to recognize Jesus in each other while still on earth.

Be blessed.

Nick

Responding to Attack

Today I would like to try to address concerns expressed by a relatively young Christian who has been attacked. The attack on the human level came in an email which was critical. It called the recipient a “bad Christian” apparently based on incorrect and/or old information.
Remember we battle not against flesh and blood. Spiritual forces are at work here. Satan knows that young shoots are the most vulnerable. A gardener knows that very new sprouts need to be protected before being placed in the Garden. Satan knows that the new Christian doesn’t have enough experience to be confident in her relationship with Jesus or be sure of the reality of forgiveness. God puts our past as far from us as the East is from the West. Other Christians…not so much.
So how do we respond?
First we pray. Before you skip over this step. Think about it this way. When attacked and hurt, isn’t talking to a good friend an excellent response? That’s what prayer is. Spend some time with the Lord and listen for His guidance.
One of the subjects of this prayer might be help in separating hurt from truth. An attack can be particularly hurtful if there’s an element of truth. If someone calls me fat or bald, it hurts a bit more ’cause it’s true. Consider carefully the particulars of the truth. Are there some elements of what is being said to us, that may really be a word from the Lord? If so, we need to learn from that part of the message and toss the rest.
Plan and execute correction. For anything that you decide is true. Make a plan to make it better. Remember that grace isn’t just forgiveness; it’s also the power to change. He can change in you what needs to be changed. 
The next subject of prayer should be the hurtful speaker. Remember that hate is not the opposite of love, indifference is. If someone is taking the time to criticize, it’s possible there is at least some element of real concern for us, even if the method utilized is poor. Even if there is no such concern, we are told to pray for our enemies. The best initial response to conflict is always to pray for the person attacking.
Consider response. I am a defense attorney. I am excellent at defending attacks. I can usually spot the weakness in an argument. So my initial gut response to an attack is to construct a well-reasoned and potent defense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s wise to analyze the correctness of any attack made against us. It’s not always wise to communicate that defense. As much as we want to “clear the record,” we need to carefully and prayerfully consider how our prayed-about response will be received. We are seldom in a win/lose situation when criticized. In most cases, no response is best.
Forgive. First forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for your angry response. Forgive yourself for any sin that may form a kernel of truth in what was said about you. Forgive the criticizer. Unforgiveness does no damage to the unforgiven. It harms only the one who harbors it. 
Move on. One of the worst things about a personal attack is that we tend to obsess about it. It not only hurts us but robs us of all we should be doing because we spend all our time nursing our hurt. Ask Jesus to help you move on. What one person says or things about us, is a sand on the beach compared to what Our Lord thinks. I watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy last night. A woman who had been saving herself for marriage stumbled. The saddest part was the next morning she said she had held out because she loved Jesus and now Jesus hated her. Hollywood and many of us don’t really know Jesus and the nature of His love and forgiveness. Learn from your past and move on.
Use the incident as a reminder how evil a condemning word can be. We have all be victims of condemnation; and have also been the source of condemnation. Make part of the lesson learned that we need to be so careful of every word that comes out of our mouths. There are times to encourage and even point out failings to brothers and sisters. But such should occur only after careful prayer. 
Remember: Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it needs to be said. How many times do we say something that we instantly realize caused hurt, and is unlikely to do any good,  and defend ourselves with the “But it’s true.” response. Truth is no defense to inflicting hurt.
So don’t tell me I’m fat, ugly, old or bald. 
Hope something here helps.
Be blessed.
Nick

Recently I noticed an article “25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading.” Of course I read it to see if Nick’s Walk was listed. It wasn’t. It did make me realize how many Christian blogs, devotionals, and other material is available for study. There’s lots of competition out there.

It does raise a concern that we may become too focused on secondary sources and spend less time directly with the word. I think most of us are intimidated by scripture to some extent.   To that end I noted another article with some great tips for better bible study

I have modified them here and hope they help:

1. Study with other Christians. I am often amazed by the things I learn from the most unlikely of fellows. God once spoke through a donkey; don’t minimize the possibility he may speak through a brother. 

2. Ask for Holy Spirit guidance and come with an open mind and spirit. We often turned to scripture hoping to justify some position we want to be correct. 

3. The goal is not just information but transformation. 

4. Transformation comes with knowledge OF Him, not just ABOUT Him.

5. Don’t just get into the Word; get the Word into you.

6.  Keep godly commentators, your pastor, theologians, wise Christian friends as SECONDARY sources.

7. Keep in mind you probably don’t need more knowledge, you may just need more obedience to the knowledge you already have.

So I guess I’m saying read my blog less and scripture more. After all, I didn’t make the top twenty-five. Notice I didn’t give you a link to that article. 

Be blessed.

Nick

A Church is NOT a Tavern

I normally blog daily, but sometimes it’s necessary not to  allow a posting to sit out there too long. This is especially true when you are trying to make a point with a bit of dramatics. I became concerned that some folks who didn’t read my earlier posting carefully, and who does, might think I was advocating turning churches into taverns, or only slightly less offensive, a social club. Relax this is not so.
My point was that we are fond of saying that Christianity is about relationship. We often refer to the relationship between the believer and Christ. That relationship is the key stone of Christianity. But Jesus talks as much about the relationship between believers. The article I referred to was written by a pastor who spent ten years away from church. He was discussing the factors that brought him back. Being welcomed into a community drew him in, but does not a church make. 
In fact, I belonged to a church years ago that was excellent at making folks feel loved and accepted. At first that was the first step and the members were led to relationship with Christ and work toward fulfilling the great commission. After a time, the members so enjoyed the fellowship that they lost track of Jesus and the mission. The church dried up.
As the writer of the article said, he was looking for more than community. He wanted the “deeper meaning” that everyone looks for and can find only find in a relationship with Christ in His Church. He may not have cared for worship and sermons as the factors that brought Him in; but they fostered His return to Jesus which is the only thing that gives deeper meaning. 
The bottom line: Jesus told us that the way we loved each other would identify us as His; the way we carry out his commission verifies we are His. 
I remember very little about the Cheers series. I remember it was funny and I remember that all the characters were lost and adrift. They found companionship and fellowship, but not deep meaning. Companionship and community are not ultimate ends in themselves. They unite us so we can accomplish the mission. Without the mission, you’re just a tavern. You need Jesus for meaningful mission and that’s what separates churches from taverns.

That and the refreshments and the lighting.

Be blessed.

Nick

Shouldn’t Church Be Like a Friendly Pub?

I recently read an interesting article by a young person who returned to church after being gone for ten years.  The most fascinating portion of the article for me was a list of things that did NOT influence his decision. They were:
  • I didn’t care that much about the preaching.
  • It didn’t matter to me that there wasn’t an elaborate music program.
  • I was all right with the fact that there weren’t tons of small groups to instantly “plug in” to. In fact, I just wanted to hang out with people I liked, and who cared about me.
  • I didn’t care what denomination the church was a part of.
  • I didn’t care about whether they had doctrines or creeds they all agreed on.
  • I didn’t care if the carpet was nice, the garden was manicured or the bathrooms smelled like lilacs.
Take a careful look at that list. Isn’t just about everything that we think draws folks to church listed? Before reading any further, stop and consider why you attend the church that you attend. If you don’t attend or if you attend without much enthusiasm, consider why that is as well.

INVITATION: The author of the article indicates that he would not have returned if someone who showed evidence of a changed life and who mattered to him had not invited him. All the marketing in the world is of no affect if one person doesn’t give someone a good reason (by their example) to go. 

WELCOMED: A person stays at a church he visits if he feels loved. He must be sincerely greeted, unconditionally accepted, patiently listened to. It’s more important what happens between the folks in the pews that what happens up front.

PLUGGED IN: A persons stays in church if he has a sense of ownership in what’s happening. Folks need to contribute. This is perhaps the greatest challenge to provide meaningful ministry to everyone who attends, to not just fill the pews but to accomplish a mission.

DEEPER MEANING. I can’t say it better than the author of the article did: “One reason I was so willing to walk away from religion when I did was because there seemed to be two fundamental messages I heard, week after week. And after seventeen years, that got pretty old. The two themes were:
  • If you died tomorrow, do you know where you’d spend eternity? or;
  • Jesus could come back any day. It could be today or even tomorrow, so you’d better get yourself right with God.
I don’t really need a church to help reassure me I have some kind of divine fire insurance policy, or that God loves me in spite of the fact that I actually suck deep, down inside. I was more interested in finding deeper meaning in this life, rather than worrying so much about what comes after that.”
This is a message the Lord has been pushing on me recently: the importance of reminding folks that He came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. Not that we would have more things, but that we would have more joy in our life. That comes from participation. 
BELONGING: I once started a teaching by playing the theme from the TV series “Cheers.” 
Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name,

And they’re always glad you came;

You want to be where you can see,

Our troubles are all the same;

You want to be where everybody knows your name.

The author of the article said it this way: “ I wanted to find a group of people passionate about things that mattered to me, and who would make a space for me, regardless of whether we agreed on everything, or if I gave enough money, or if I had signed my name in some official book.”
I think the bottom line is this. We are really all pretty much the same. If we carefully consider what we want in a church, we will know what others want. We want to know that our problems are not unique and that there is a solution. We don’t accomplish that by dressing up pretty and never admitting we have a problem. We do it by being honest and vulnerable and by listening to and loving each other.
Doesn’t that sound really good?
Be blessed.
Nick 

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2 Timothy 3

1This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

2For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,

3Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,

4Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.

6For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,

7Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Are we in the End Times? It seems clear based on this letter to Timothy. How descriptive is this list? Two parts stand out: “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” and “every learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

As Christianity becomes less “in” it seems to become more prevalent to be Christian in form only. Church attendance remains relatively high, at least in America. Yet the attendants don’t seem to look to their relationship with Christ as the source of their power. There remains reliance on money, connections and government. It seems okay to be a Christian as long as we keep our feet on the ground. That is: don’t take it too seriously. We surely have become the Church of Laodicea

Learning and never coming to knowledge of the truth is also a sign of these times. We seem to have become perpetual students, never putting our knowledge to use. Remember that the disciples were in training for only three years and even then, Christ sent them out before the end of that training period. Our faith is enabling. It has power. It powers us to do things. When our Christianity becomes philosophy to be studied instead of a lifestyle to be lived; we have missed the power and the point.

Lukewarm is the temperature of the day. Let’s get hot and get moving.

NIck

Traffic Gridlock

Road construction had most of south Lafayette in gridlock this morning. It took Nicky and I forever to make our errand rounds going far out of our normal routes at bumper to bumper speed.

It was a revelation. Areas that I normally race through crawled by. I was able to make a number of observations. Boy, we have a lot of people living here now. It was’t just the traffic. I noticed subdivisions and apartment complexes that I never realized existed. Cars were attempting to merge into the nearly stopped traffic from nearly every side street and drive way.

This is a prosperous area. Most of the many vehicles on the road were new and many were expensive. Almost all had a single driver. I suppose car pooling isn’t “in” or practical in this area.

Much of my travel time I was listening to David Jeremiah. He was discussing the economic signs of the end times: escalating technology, electronic commerce, the gap between the have and have nots. It was as if all around me I was provided visible proof of the truth of what he was saying as the expensive cars sat burning gas in traffic while the frustrated drives tapped on their smart phones or talked into them the old fashioned way trying to rearrange schedules devastated by the traffic gridlock.

We really need to slow down and take a look at what is going on around us. I was forced to do so today. It was disconcerning to see so many in a hurry and getting no where. What I saw was only comforting in the sense that the end is near. Not as comforting was the realization that there is so much left to be done, so many who need to hear.

When the traffic clears up we have work to do, trying to convince this world hurling toward the end to slow down and refocus.

NIck

 

Who Gets to Make the Rules

Yesterday I discussed how the Bible is no longer universally accepted as true and suggested that we need to prove that following its precepts is the best alternative before we can expect men to try it. I also noted that we need to think of the Bible not as an expressed philosophy but as a Revelation of Jesus. In other words, a lived out Christian life is the best gospel.

This morning I woke up thinking about another related problem that modern man has in accepting the Gospel. It’s now almost universal belief that we should get to make the rules. Consider in the age when Jesus walked the earth almost everyone lived under some kind of totalitarian government. Rome ruled the world. After that came the dark ages, when the strongest ruled, then the era of Kings. 

Democracy and Republics with their concepts of governance by the will of the people is relatively new in  civilization. Even today consider how much stronger the Christian church is in areas of repression like China or Africa. In Europe and, at least partially in America, where self-governance is the norm, Christianity is almost passe’. 

Even though our “democracies” have really allowed the development of governments that run our lives, people still labor under the misconception that we have government “by the people.” So the idea that we should follow rules set forth from above doesn’t sit well. This is another reason why “God said it. I believe it and that settles it” just doesn’t fly anymore. 

Although it is perfectly reasonable to believe that He who made  everything should get to make the rules, we have to realize that western man has trouble accepting that. Once again I believe the answer is in debunking the myths about Christianity and providing people with the real truth. Christianity isn’t a set of rules; it’s a relationship. If we follow the Lord, we will live a life consistent with our purpose and thus filled with satisfaction. 

Notice I said “satisfaction” which means “joy.” It doesn’t mean peace and it doesn’t promise an absence of problems. One of the great mistakes of modern evangelism is to convey the idea that following Christ comes with promises of peace, problem free living and prosperity. Even a cursory reading of the gospels shows that isn’t so. 

God makes the rules because He made us. But we are blessed that He is a loving God and His rules are not repressive or oppressive. They are made by the one who knows and wants the best for us. Christianity is an exciting, challenging, soldier-like life. It is being what we were designed to be.

If presented accurately, it sells itself.

Be blessed.

Nick
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