The Faithful Church


“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

In the Book of Revelation, Jesus dictates letters to Seven Churches. To all but one He has something He’s not pleased with. It seems to me we need to consider carefully the attributes of the one church that He had no problem with. In fact, He kept before them an open door. They were a church of evangelism. It’s Jesus who is the open door and He will direct those who seek him to places where He can be truly found. Although this church had little strength, it kept His word and did not deny his name. Doesn’t sound like a lot. Yet all the other churches relied on their own strength in some way. Instead of holding to His word, they in some way added to it or subtracted from it. In some way the other churches denied the Name that is above all names. Holding to His word means being faithful to what He said. Not denying His name, means staying true to who He is, not denying His character. The church in Philadelphia didn’t make those mistakes. It held on. It endured. It stayed faithful and true.

In these days when the church is being challenged, when it seems no longer relevant, a historical oddity, it’s hard to stay faithful. It’s so tempting to become relevant, to adapt, to conform.  One of the commentators has described it this way:  “The church of Philadelphia is commended for keeping the Word of the Lord and not denying His Name. Success in Christian work is not to be measured by any other standard of achievement. It is not rise in ecclesiastical position. It is not the number of new buildings which have been built through a man’s ministry. It is not the crowds that flock to listen to any human voice. All of these things are frequently used as yardsticks of success, but they are earthly and not heavenly measures.” (Barnhouse)

Success as a church means denial of our own strength, reliance on Jesus, holding faithfully to what He said and who He is.

 

Story Power

My grandson and I went to the movies yesterday. It was a good movie. For us that means it was sci-fi with action, special effects and a good story. A good story is a powerful thing. It involves a situation gone wrong, an agent of change and situation corrected. In the movie, a change in one character changed the course of history. It was a powerful story enlivened with action and special effects. We left the theatre believing that a change in one person can change everything. As Christians, it’s a truth we should know, but of which we sometimes need a reminder.

Jesus was a big  believer in the power of stories. A good speaker knows that his audience will likely forget the details of theory or theology he is trying to convey, but they will remember a good story and its point. We all have a story and, for those of us who are Christians, we have a Jesus story. A Jesus story relates a life gone wrong, Jesus and a change of direction. Jesus stories are stories of grace, grace as forgiveness and an agent of change. For there to be a real change of direction there needs to be a disconnect or forgiveness of the past, and a hopeful possibility in the future.

Our part in a Jesus story is small but significant. We do the turning. At church it’s called repentance. It’s a change of direction. It’s made possible by the forgiveness part of grace and by the empowering part of grace.

The world and most of the folks we know in it are living out a story. It’s a story of a situation gone wrong. What is needed is an agent of change, something to bring disconnection with the past,  hope and power: forgiveness for what’s done, hope that the situation can change and the power to change it. We are commissioned as agents of change. Our weapons are not intellectual. We don’t have the power to convince or to change minds. What we have is a story.

We need faith in Story Power. We need to stop wringing our hands over the situations we see. We need to stop shaking our heads over the wrong-headed thinking we meet. We need to tell our stories and watch what happens.

Senseless Killing

An off-duty police officer is shot down while investigating a suspicious circumstance. A young child dies in her home when a drunk drive runs way off the road trying to run from an accident. These can only be described as senseless killings. Senseless killing is on the rise. Nearly twice as many Christians died for their faith in the past year than in 2012, according to Open Doors International’s 2014 World Watch List.

We should not make the mistake of being comfortable in our lives. We can’t think that we can put off anything. It’s foolish to put off the important to deal with what is pressing. We can’t plan to someday, spend more time with family, enjoy the wonder and beauty of the world God placed us in, or share eternal truths.

God has ways of reminding us that our time is limited. As we age, our bodies don’t work as well and start to weaken and collapse. The closer we come to our end, time speeds up. Senseless killing is just another way that God reminds us that we need to do what needs to be done and we need to do it now.

We should honor officers who die heroes. We should more and pray for families that lose little ones way too soon. We should remember and pray for those whose faith makes them a target for an early death. We should also make those senseless killings more meaningful by learning the lesson of the uncertainty of the future and the shrinking of opportunities.

Do what’s important and do it now.

A Day in LA

No one spends a day flying there and a day flying back to spend a day in Los Angeles. I did. The full story is on my Facebook account. I have to wonder why God would have me go through the last three days. Is there a purpose? Is there any eternal significance or deeper spiritual meaning?

I didn’t really do anything there. I drove up to Beverly Hills and Hollywood and out to Venice Beach. I didn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before. I lived in California while in the Navy. It hadn’t greatly changed. The Mexican and Oriental food is still the best.The weather is still awesome. There are still way too many people.

Not having travelled much by air in recent years I did learn a few things.

1. Air travel sucks.

2. If you have to fly avoid summer afternoons in the south when thunderstorms are  common.

3. Check your bag. It’s a lot less hassle.

4. If you are tall, pay a little extra for extra leg room if available.

5. Assume there will be delays.

6. Bring a charger for your phone. See number 5 above.

7. Don’t fly out of Lafayette. The planes are smaller and see numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 above.

I guess I was reminded of some facts I already knew:

1. There is no place like home.

2. There are lots of people in the world.

3. There are lots of people in the world whose lives are not as nice as mine.

4. There are lots of people in the world who have no eternal clue.

I guess really learning number 4 was worth it all.

 

Christian Balance

“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Bonhoeffer is hard to read. Some of it comes from his Germanic phrasing; but most comes from his understanding and explanation of hard teachings. Grace versus works. Freedom versus servanthood. Cheap versus costly. Fan versus follower.  It seems Christians live on either end of a teeter-totter. It’s comfortable to be down on the ground or up in the air. It’s fun to go up and down. It’s tough to stay even.

Half of my Christian friends are free spirits celebrating their salvation but never doing anything with it. The other half are legalistic bores always pointing out imperfection and piling on rules and adding obligations to lives that used to be free. I’m uncomfortable around both groups. I think both groups are hindered by pride. Some are so prideful that they believe salvation is the ultimate means of control over life. God is their co-pilot around for the times (the many times) they go too far and mess up. They never put him in control. The others discover that grace isn’t just forgiveness but the power to change and they discover a change in their lives and forget that Jesus did it and become boastful, legalistic chest pounders claiming credit for what Jesus did and demanding that others do likewise.

Bonhoeffer offers the path to balance in his description of cheap grace and costly grace. Both end in Jesus. Grace is Jesus, the Incarnation of God. Jesus saves and Jesus changes. Works don’t save and the works in our lives are done by Him for His purposes. If your teeter-totter is down, let Him work. If it’s up, enjoy the ride but quit thinking you did it. The Christian life can be  both joyous and meaningful. Both are simultaneously possible. Don’t show me your works. Don’t flaunt your freedom. Show me your Jesus. He’s all you have worth showing.

 

Production

For the first time in many years I cut my grass yesterday. Earlier in the week my yard guy retired and I decided to take up the task myself. It was hot and dusty and great. There was great satisfaction in seeing an unruly lawn transform into something neat. Besides, the smell of cut grass is great. I suspect it won’t be as rewarding in late August, but we’ll see.

My usual job is pretty much like most jobs these days. There isn’t much chance to see something produced. I mostly push paper, not even so much paper these days as emails and pdf files. It’s rare that I can see something I did and can be proud of.

This year in addition to our usual spring flower planting, we planted a small vegetable garden. It has been fascinating to see the plants produce. We were intended to maintain the earth and to produce. Modern life has stolen some of that from us.

I didn’t cut the grass alone. My grandson helped. He finished up what I started and I sat in a rocker on the porch and watch the great young man he is becoming. It’s a different kind of production, but it’s perhaps even more sweet. I know that some plant and some water and some gather in the harvest, but God is great enough to allow us, at least on occasion to see some production from what we do. It keeps us motivated and hopeful and that’s a great thing.

Share Jesus

Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

If we aren’t being persecuted, we are doing something wrong. More likely, we are not doing something that we should: sharing. Are we yielding ourselves to God to be used by bringing  this Good News (the Gospel) to others, both by our examples and our words. Remember that we all have wonderful gifts from God whether we perceive ourselves as weak, strong or in between. Always remember that God never wastes a hurt! And, He will not waste yours. The Bible shows us that God often does His Best Work through weak people.

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW PAIN: Here are the Big Four Reasons.

GOD HAS GIVEN US FREE WILL: We are created in His Own Image. This gives us the freedom to choose. We can choose right or wrong, good or bad, life or death. We can accept God or reject Him. Our free will is a blessing and a burden. We often choose what we perceive as pleasure over pain; however, that pleasure can cause immense pain to us and others, and our relationship with God. But, it is our choice! Our choices can hurt others, and others’ choices can hurt us. Pain is part of the free-will package.

GOD USES PAIN TO GET OUR ATTENTION: Pain is not your problem! It is a symptom, a warning light. It tells us something is wrong, and you have to do something about it.

GOD USES PAIN TO TEACH US TO DEPEND ON HIM: You will never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got! When you are falling apart, at a bottom, lost is all, that’s when you can clearly see the only One who is remaining besides you. This is POWERLESSNESS, and only God is the way out. “The suffering you sent was good for me, for it taught me to pay attention to your principles:” Psalms 119:71.

GOD ALLOWS PAIN TO GIVE US A MINISTRY TO OTHERS: Pain prepares us to serve others. It makes us humble, empathic, sympathetic, and compassionate (sensitive) to others’ needs. Everyone needs recovery of same type. The four major areas of everyone are mental, physical, emotional and spiritual. No one is going to be perfect in all 4 areas very long. When we are hurting, we need someone who has had a similar hurt, hangup or habit to help us, to share their struggles, their experiences, their strength and their hope with us. This is recycling the pain in our lives to help others. Remember the story of Joseph in the old testament. Betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, accused of all Egypt and saved Egypt and other countries from the great famine. Then he confronts his brother who betrayed him, and what does he say? In forgiveness, “You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good.” Genesis 50:20.

HOW CAN WE USE OUR PAIN TO HELP OTHERS? ACCEPT YOUR MISSION: It is called the “GREAT COMMISSION!” “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19. We are on earth to share the GOOD NEWS, the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ! Sometimes we do it by storytelling. Sharing our struggles, intervening on those who are hurting and at a bottom. Followers and disciples of Christ have a responsibility to share in the problems and troubles of other people.

TELL YOUR STORY: It is a good practice to write your story out.

1.  Be humble. Your story is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. Get your EGO out of the way. Remember the road to Healing is a life long journey! You are never finished just because you are getting it together now.

2. Be real. Be honest about your hurts and faults. To thy own self be true! Open up, be transparent. Let us know you!

3.  Don’t lecture. You cannot argue or force people into heaven with your power. Remember you may be the only Bible people some people will ever read! God wants you to be a witness, not a defense attorney.

CONSIDER YOUR BENEFICIARIES : Who benefits from your story? Others going through what you have been through. People who need to know Christ and the freedom found in Him and who need to understand the eight choices that go with the Beatitudes.   How wonderful it will be to meet a brother or sister in Heaven, and they tell you ” Thank you for telling me your story. I’m here because of you!” Tell your story because everyone needs to move from darkness to the Light of Jesus Christ!

NOTE: I hope you have enjoyed these posts for the last eight days. They were taken from outlines we used at a retreat this weekend at Angola. My senior pastor wants to do a sermon from at least one of these and my wife asked me if I wrote them. Apparently there were no typos and the posts were “good.” If I get my confidence back any time soon, I will post something. Until then, be blessed.

 

Maintain Momentum

Blessed are those who Hunger & Thirst for Righteousness

Keeping our hunger and thirst for righteousness means maintaining momentum. Why do we need to Maintain Momentum? Growth is never smooth. If we don’t keep our guard up, we can easily fall back into our old self-defeating patterns. Remember what the cartoon character “Pogo” said when he saw himself in the mirror, “We have seen the enemy, and it is US!” Failing to keep up momentum is setting ourselves up for RELAPSE.

  1. COMPLACENCY- our pain level has been reduced [not eliminated], and we
    think we can live with it.
  2. CONFUSION – start lying to ourselves with rationalization, justification,
    minimization and defending. “Maybe my problem really wasn’t that bad.”
  3. COMPROMISE – start going back to the places of temptation. Returning to the
    risky situation that got us into trouble. When we put ourselves in risky situations, we make poor choices.
  4. CATASTROPHE – When we actually give in to the old hurt, habit or hang-up.
    Hate, resentments and old patterns of behavior. Acting out again

THE 4 CAUSES OF RELAPSE:

WE REVERT TO OUT OWN WILLPOWER -Taking control of the helm of our ship.

WE IGNORE ONE OF THE CHOICES – maybe we think we can’t forgive, or that making the amends would be too hard. Maybe we haven’t really surrendered to the reality of Powerlessness. There is no quick fix, work the steps and don’t ignore the Choices.

WE TRY TO RECOVER WITHOUT SUPPORT – I can do it on my own with just me and God! Not so, we are made for relationships and community. We all need help. Sometimes we cannot see our image in the mirror. It takes someone else to help us see who and what we are.

WE BECOME PRIDEFUL – “Pride goes before destruction.” Proverbs 16.18. False pride is the first of the 7 deadly sins for good reason! False pride lets us blame others and prevents us from seeing the truth. We need to learn to live in humility, “Stay humble or stumble.””   Be true to yourself. Know yourself.

PREVENTING RELAPSE: reserve a daily time with God for self-examination, Bible reading and prayer in order to know God’s Will and for power to follow His Will.

 

HABIT 1: EVALUATION – What, Why & When to Evaluate:

What You Should Evaluate – (1) Physical what is your body telling you? Are your muscles tense? You’re under stress! (2) Emotional – What am I feeling? Am I mad, glad, sad or fearful? Do the following Heart Check:

H – am I hurting?
E – am I exhausted?
A – am I angry?
R – do I resent anybody?
T – am I tense?

(3) Relational – am I at peace with everyone? Do I need to Forgive, or do I Resent anyone? (4) Spiritual – am I relying on God? He is our Lifeline, am I spending time with God.

Why You Should Evaluate – to be honest in our shortcomings and to celebrate the positive we have done! Progress not perfection. We will sin [miss the mark] everyday. But, we become aware of our short comings and chose to do the right thing [celebrate]!

When you Should Evaluate –

(1) Spot Check anytime of the day;

(2) Daily review, some journal, but review (a) Things I did well today? (b) Things I messed up today? ( c) How did I respond to these things?

(3) Annual Checkup – take some time off, a retreat, a weekend where you will not be disturbed. Look at what is in order and what’s not. Do some deep cleaning. Some of the things to check are your relationships, priorities, attitude, integrity, mind, body, soul, family and your church [what are you ministries?]. How have I been of service to others? Review the corporal acts of mercy found in Matthew 25:31-46.

HABIT 2: MEDITATION – take a positive thought [Bible Verse] and think about it over and over. [Reverse worry].    Thinking about one of or just parts of the 8 CHOICES until you have them anchored in your Heart!

HABIT 3: PRAYER – Plugging into God’s Power! Remember, God is just a prayer away. Prayer is how we build our relationship with God. Prayer about anything! God wants a relationship with you! Jesus tells us How to Pray in Matthew 6:9-13 when he gives us the Lord’s Prayer. ? Daily Prayer and Meditation improve our conscious contact with God. In prayer and meditation, we need to listen in silence at times for God whispers to us in many ways.? Daily Prayer and Meditation to improve our conscious contact with God.