The Good Church

I spent ten days going through ten indictments against the church. It was exhausting. I took the last couple of days off. Each of the indictments is right and we should all be working to respond. However,  I would be guilty of massive imbalance if I didn’t talk about The Good Church. Not everything is gloom and doom. Not every “christian” is controlling, self-centered, and demon influenced. There are plenty of selfless, loving followers. The Church is Christ’s bride and it is alive and, in significant spots, is looking good. As evidence, I offer the following:

Amana Christian Fellowship – Forgive me if I start with my church. I know it best and am extremely proud of it. We have a wise and loving Senior Pastor. We have an energetic, humble, and giving pastor. I am amazed at the depth of knowledge in one so young. I learn something every time I hear him teach and, more importantly, I learn when I watch him work. The last couple of weeks I sat on the last row and Christ’s words about loving each other came to mind. Sunday we had to dig out three dozen extra chairs. This morning one of the regular guys was there making sure the extra chairs were put up and everything was ship-shape. In our church, everyone contributes. Amana, I love you guys.

Not Just one great church. The great news is that I know there are many other great churches in this area alone. I have been blessed to work with followers from many of them.

Kairos. I have often mentioned Kairos a lay led ministry in which regular folks from many denominations of different color work together to bring Jesus to prisons. Last November, they did it again at Angola and at prisons throughout the world.

Twelve Days of Christmas.  Locally followers from different churches are meeting each night to share Jesus and the real meaning of Christmas. Come to Parc San Souci and see at 6:30 any evening through the 23rd.

Covenant Spotlight If you haven’t seen a copy of our local Christian magazine, you are missing out. It has the same elements: different churches, ordinary people, loving outreach.

These are just examples from my personal experience. I know there are more and would love to hear about them. God is preparing His bride for His return. He is doing it outside the traditional structures. It’s not happening in denominations, but in personal independent explosions of His love and grace. He is breaking down barriers of denomination and race. He is working from the bottom up. As He has always preferred he is working through the weak and unexpected. If you are not involved, you are really missing out.

 

 

 

Your Best Lie Now

Indictment 10: Lack of Discipline

The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth.
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever. You can count on this. Take it to heart. Teach believers with your life: by word, by demeanor, by love, by faith, by integrity. Verses from 1 Timothy 4

Some of the lies.

  • I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.
  • God wants you rich. (Guess that’s why the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.)
  • Only the faithless are ever sick, poor or struggling. (Christians in Sudan and Iraq just need a bit more faith. You know. Like us.)
  • Your best life now. (Best for whom?)
  • There are many ways to God. (Shouldn’t that be “many ways to hell?”)
  • Bigger is better. (Just think if  only Jesus had known and started with more than twelve.)
  • We will all get to heaven in the end. (So why are we here?)

Are the liars winning? We are living in the end. Look around. Things are bad. We are surrounded by lies and confusion. The liars are driving the big cars and have the huge followings. It’s tough to know what to do. Is there a new plan? Has God changed His mind? Should we forget eternal things and just make the best out of this life?

The Lies were expected. Paul warned us: The Spirit makes it clear that as time goes on, some are going to give up on the faith and chase after demonic illusions put forth by professional liars. These liars have lied so well and for so long that they’ve lost their capacity for truth.

Stick to the plan. This is war guys. In war, the winners stick to the plan when bullets are flying. All hell is breaking loose. Many are retreating. It’s not the time to devise a new plan. We don’t decide to live our best life now, and forget about taking up crosses and being despised. We need the discipline to stick to and execute the plan.

What plan? The simple plan of Jesus. To follow Him and live a life that would attract others to join the parade. You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion.

Disciplined Soldiers. We need to be disciplined like soldiers:

  • Know the plan: Stay  more in the word, and less in the world.
  • Stay in communication: We call it prayer, especially the listening kind.
  • Pass the word: Teach what you have learned.
  • Encourage the troops: You are not the only one being lied to. Share your concerns and confusions and, of course, the plan of TRUTH that prevails.

This is the last indictment. Aren’t you glad?

 

Death of Discipleship

 

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A wise son heeds his father’s instruction,
    but a mocker does not respond to rebukes. Proverbs 13:1

He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Proverbs 13:20

Indictment 9: Replacing Biblical Discipleship with sociology and psychology. 

It’s about time. Recently I have spent even more time with my grandchildren, especially my grandson Nick. His father died when he was very young and he is getting to that age where his Dad’s absence is very significant.

It’s fun. I have greatly enjoyed the time together. I pick him up at school on Fridays. We do things together: some play, some work. We are looking forward to a day trip to the New Orleans Bowl next Saturday.

It’s God’s way. The obvious has  become clear to me: that God’s plan is for us to disciple through personal contact. Jesus spent time with His disciples. Paul did the same with Timothy. For much of history, parents spent time with their children. Fathers trained their sons in the family business. Mom’s taught daughters how to run a house. I know how very old-fashioned that sounds. I’m not suggesting that we go back in time. I am suggesting we recognize what “modern” life has done and make necessary adjustments.

Don’t Call the Experts, Yet. When our kids have problems we tend to seek “expert” advice. Call in the big guns. Sometimes that is necessary. Maybe it would necessary less often if we followed the biblical model of spending time. Sometimes it takes the observations of others to point out to us; that our kids will model us, whether we plan it or not. They will learn how to love, how to argue, how to control or be controlled by simple observation. When you see behavior in your kids, good or bad, look in the mirror. They learned it somewhere. Maybe from TV, but maybe from thee.

It ain’t easy.  God ordained the  spend-time model of discipleship because it works. Does it work! I have discovered how easily and quickly my habits and ways are picked up. This will come as a shock so prepare yourself. Not all my habits and ways are good. Discipleship, whether of kids, or office interns or new believers requires us to be on our best behavior. I think that’s all part of God’s plan. This system not only teaches others how to act, but requires us to be careful to act right.

Paul/Titus. If each of us had a carefully chosen Paul to guide our steps and an eagerly learning Titus to teach, the counseling boom would wither. We, especially us men, have to get over the idea that we know how to act instinctively. We have to grasp that we are teaching others whether it’s intentional or not. We better get intentional, and fast.

 

Holier Than Thou

14Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled; Hebrews 12.

The Eighth Indictment is that the church is Ignorant about Holiness. We score high on “holier than thou” and apparently don’t understand that’s not the same thing. Let’s hit some basics about holiness.

Holy means to be separated for a divine purpose. When most of us think of “holy” we think, “super good.” It’s actually being separated for a purpose. Since that purpose is divine; a certain amount of purity is certainly involved. That’s where the “goodness” comes in.

Holiness is achieved through Sanctification. Sanctification is a divine process. It’s something that God does and nothing for us to get big-headed about. After He saves us, He sanctifies us.

What do I do? We do play a role in sanctification. We have to keep our eye on Christ. We have to abide in Him. We have to look to Him for direction, guidance and power and execute the “plays” we are given. Anyone who spends quality time with a powerful personality is changed by the experience. So much more so are we changed by abiding in Jesus.

Not a competition. Notice how the writer of Hebrews surrounds his thought about sanctification with a command to purpose peace and to avoid bitterness. We are so prone to take credit for any good thing, that it’s easy to fall into competition, conflict and bitterness.

Fruitful evidence. We need to remember that only the regenerated are sanctified and only the process of sanctification bears fruit. There is reason to rejoice when we see fruit and to be concerned when there is none.

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Church Discipline – In 2014?

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Matthew 18

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 2 Thessalonians 3:6

Indictment 7: Ignorance and a lack of loving and compassionate church discipline

Church Discipline? You have to be kidding. Sounds like something out of the middle ages. Surely that’s not for today. Let’s look.

Brother or sister. We are talking about something initially between you and someone with whom you have relationship, a brother or sister. There is already love there. You are concerned because someone you love appears to be in trouble. Remember that sin is doing something harmful to  yourself, others or the mission. Isn’t that something that not only should concern us, but to which we should respond?

Just the two.  Confronting the problem directly is so much better than “praying about it” with everyone else, which is really just gossiping. Got a problem? Go directly to the person with whom you have a problem and not the your mutual friends or to Facebook. Most of the time the process ends here. Either you will discover that what you thought was a problem isn’t. Or the one you love will realize that others are noticing what they were denying to themselves. Either way, problem addressed.

One or two others. We should think of this as the “don’t you think we should talk to someone about this?” stage. If after a one-on-one discussion, it makes sense to get others involved. Ideally, these others such be mutually agreed upon, Call them trusted referees.

Treat them like the IRS. If all else fails we need to keep away. Sounds like “shunning” and it doesn’t sound good. In 2 Thessalonians these folks are “idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received.” The church is a team. If someone isn’t helping the team (idle) or is disruptive or is just working from a different play book, we can’t keep them on the team. We still love them, pray for them, and try to get them back in uniform, but we can’t allow them to lose the game. (Wow it must be bowl season or something.)

You see church discipline isn’t really something weird. It’s just good personal relationship strategy from a person who loves both the one in trouble and the church that’s threatened by their behavior. The trick is that it only works in a loving, mission oriented church. That’s your church, right?

 

 

Whose the Real Church?

Indictment 6: Ignorance of the nature of the church.

The church isn’t a building or a denomination. It’s all of those who have been regenerated into new creations by the power of God. There have been some of these creations in every church I have every been a part of. Sometimes they were a big part. Other times they were such a small minority,  you had to seek them out.

The most potent local church is one in which most of its members are real followers. Sadly, that’s rarely the case. Not only are the real followers often the minority; they are usually a silent minority. The loud voices belong to control freaks and look-at-me types. These guys are often up front, running programs, making decisions, and making loud noises when their gold coins hit the collection plate.

The real followers  are working with kids, down on their knees in prayer and being quiet blessings to everyone they meet.

We need to learn how to identify, multiply and edify the real church. We need to call out and separate from the church fraud types. Let them run social clubs.

The Lord’s church is a beautiful bride. If we can clear out the junk we can see it. More importantly the world will see it and suddenly Christian will not longer be a bad word. It will describe those who love like Jesus. Like it should have all along.

 

Ignorant Invitation

Indictment Five: Ignorant Invitation.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

“Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony,honor your father and mother, and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’

“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

Jesus answered,“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Matthew 19:16-22

The simple but most important question.  “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” The answer was there is no way to do a good thing and get eternal life.

 

Why didn’t Jesus say, “Just invite me into your heart?” I haven’t been able to find any place in scripture where someone is asked to invite Jesus into their hearts.

Why didn’t Jesus say, “Repeat this prayer after me.” I can’t seem to find the verses that lay out the sinner’s prayer.

Why didn’t Jesus just lay out a wonderful plan? Where are the verses that lay out the wonderful plan Jesus had for this young man’s life?  He did lay it out. It was in dying to everything and following. It just didn’t sound wonderful.

I know that prayer is wonderful. I know about being “in Jesus.” I know about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I know that Jesus does indeed have a plan for me. I don’t think I would have thought it was a “wonderful” plan before I was saved.

Die to your old life. Give up everything. Follow me. I do hear Jesus saying either keep the law perfectly or give it all up and follow me. I am not as deceived as the young man was, believing that keeping the law perfectly was possible. I know my only choice is following. Death to self. Life in Christ.

How many sermons have  you heard in which the preacher tries to explain we don’t all have to give it all up and follow. It was just that this young man loved his riches too much. Sure none of us love what we have too much. Kind of makes you wonder why this whole tale appears in scripture if it only applied to one young riches loving young man, who just wanted one more thing: eternal security.

Can I know I am saved? Absolutely, but not because I prayed a certain prayer or came forward at a particular time. I know because I follow and I have fruit. It’s never perfect the following or the fruit. The following isn’t a straight line. The fruit isn’t bountiful. It is a following in a completely different and radical direction. It is fruit that was never possible from going my own way.

We have to stop telling folks to invite Jesus, or repeat prayers, or come forward just for a few minutes, when they need to die, and follow forever.

And Now the Really Good News

 

 

 

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

When we come to know scripture, the holy and just nature of God and the depraved nature of man, we begin to see the problem. If we are create for relationship with God, how can a God that we know just begin to understand, have depraved man in his presence? The fourth indictment is:

Ignorance of the doctrine of regeneration.

God the Just and Righteous became God the Justifier. He doesn’t just forgive. What good does that do? We will soon sin again. He creates anew. He makes us new creatures. Things change.

Hearts of stone become hearts of flesh.

Our dark ignorance becomes knowledge of sin.

Our death in sin becomes life in Christ.

Our depraved minds become renewed.

Slaves of sin become slaves of righteousness.

This miracle can’t be performed by clever preaching, emotional pleas, or any act of man. Regeneration is a miracle of God greater even than the initial creation. In the beginning God made man out of nothing. In regeneration he begins with depravity and produces righteousness.

Through regeneration we become something new. We have evidence. We produce fruit that the old creature could never have produced. We stumble. We fall. We doubt. But there is fruit. Evidence that there is something completely new.