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October 2013 entries

Confession of a Near Gnostic

As Dallas Bay has gone from mini to industrial strength I have discovered my responsibilities have changed tremendously. In the beginning I would load my lawn mower in the trunk of the Sentra and travel to church to mow the strips of grass around the rental space where our church was meeting. I also painted the first sign out front, taught the adult S.S. class while my wife kept the nursery. I even sang in a men's quartet. (Along with the other 3 adult men in the church.)

Now, most of those things are hired out or done by the dozens of wonderful volunteers. Ninety percent of my time is spent in two important tasks, administration and teaching. Don't think I have forgotten disciplining, but disciplining occurs as I lead the staff and teach the congregation. Because I spend so much time preparing messages and Bible studies I have accumulated a healthy foundation upon which to build public presentations of God's Word. Here is the secret to success, time. Time with the Word and time with the Living Word. And herein also lies the problem. Let me explain.

The praise of people who tell me, "Pastor, Ive read that passage before, but I have never seen that truth before. Thank you so much," is intoxicating to a preacher. Or, "Your sermons just get better every week" consistently sets the bar just a little higher and increases the pressure to perform a little greater. I begin to seek out just one more little known fact or pray for just one more nugget of previously unknown spiritual wisdom. Eventually, my pursuit of the Word leaves me further and further from the Living Word and I fear those I'm teaching are following.

This type of thinking has a name. It's called gnosticism. Gnosticism elevates knowledge as the ultimate goal of faith. In this culture of religion the more secret truth you obtain the more spiritual you are deemed to be. The quest is for the Word, known and mystical, not on the Living Word. I'm afraid I may not be unique. I may be just an example of what is happening throughout many evangelical churches. The ultimate result of introducing people to the Word while giving only momentary opportunities to fellowship with the Living Word is creating a world that is both more knowledgeable and impotent at the same time. Our services are orderly but sterile.

Why has this lean toward knowledge and away from an encounter with Christ taken place? Simply put: It's easier. It's much simpler to introduce someone to a text than it is to the unseen God. It's also more attractive to the fleshly desire of the preacher. We are more likely to be praised for hammering a truth home than to allow the Spirit of God to introduce some hurting soul to Jesus. It's also more structured. I can put together a sermon that will get people on their feet, but only the Spirit can bring people to their knees.

To say that I'm convicted is not enough. I'm compelled to do something. I want to embark on an adventure and I'm inviting others to follow. I'm not suggesting that I will study less or stop asking God for wisdom. I am going to continue to put great importance on knowing His Word, but from this day forward, I plan to pursue the Living Word with just as much enthusiasm. I'm praying to know what this pursuit will look like in my life and in the church I'm called to lead. 

What are your thoughts? Are there others out there who feel the way I do? I would love to dialogue with others of you who are thinking like I am. Just comment on this blog or on Facebook.  

The Solution to the Problem in Washington

In the midst of a govenment shutdown and futile attempts by congress at negotiating a way out of the latest fiscal crisis, I have attempted to take a fair assesment of the state of the country. In my humble opinion we are in a horrible mess and I'm not sure we have the moral compass to lead us out.

What is the basis for my conclusion you ask? Simply put, a representative form of government is dependent upon people who have the greater good as the foundation for decision making. We no longer possess that mind set. Instead, we have have a selfish entitlement mentality.  We vote for and elect represntatives who will promote our own selfish desires before the good of the country.  A representative form of government requires give and take. It is a dance of compromising on non-essentials and standing firm on core principles. Personal gain is not the highest goal. How we may best promote the good and security of all by way of personal sacrifice if necessary is the objective. This is what made America the greatest nation the world has ever known.

How did we become who we are today; a selfish nation seeking personal adavancement to the detriment of others. It began to occur when we started to neglect the basic truths of Scripture; the moral law that our forefathers believed in and gave their lives for. The basic Golden Rule taught by Jesus would help alleviate this great nation of her current dilemna. If we would treat others the way we wished to be treated we would not be playing partisan politics at the risk of losing our national identity. We could once again be One Nation United Under God!

Who is to blame? I guess everyone could take some blame; Democrats, Republicans, Liberterians, Tea Party and independenta. However, organizations are nothing but compilations of the thoughts and desires of their constituents. In other words, we are all to blame to one degree or another. It is the individual that must take responsibility for our current situation. We have been conformed by the world rather than transformed by the Spirit of God. In that respect the majority of the blame may have to be accepted by us, the followers of Christ. We alone are the earthly vessels of the Spirit of God. 

We have had the power to change the world. Instead we have substituted that power for the desires of the world. We have traded our testimonies for man's favor. We have remained quiet on issues that have real eternal signifigance. We have turned to the government for social justice, providing for the under-privileged, the sanctity of marriage and of life from conception to the grave. We give lip service to these issues but we turn to Washington and not to heaven to plead for justice.

Believer's can't blame non-believer's for acting selfishly. That is natural to man. However, we have been changed and the purpose for our transformation is not just to gain entrance into heaven. It is to make a better world. It is, as Jesus put it, to be salt and light in this world. Instead, we acted like the men and women were once were. We are guilty of the sins of the Corinthian church:

1 Corinthians 3:3 (NLT)
3 for you are still controlled by your sinful nature. You are jealous of one another and quarrel with each other. Doesn’t that prove you are controlled by your sinful nature? Aren’t you living like people of the world?

 Finally, what else can we do? At this point you may think I am going to encourage you to contact your congressman. No, the problems may manifest themselves in Washington, but that's not where they began. They began in our own hearts. I am going to ask you to call on heaven not Washington. You might want to pray for sanity inside the Beltway, but that's only a symptom of the real problem. We have forgotten God. We will not come back in mass. We didn't get to him that way. We will come one at a time as we repent of our selfishness. As we deal with the real problem, ourselves, we may come together as a people again and become the great nation we once were.

See you around the throne!  


"Hypo" and "Hyper" Critics in the Church

During a recent time of counseling a young man asked me how I dealt with all the hypocrisy that was in the body of Christ. I thought for a moment and responded that all of us are hypocrits now and then. However, the problem is that some people live in habitual hypocrisy. Afer the session was over I sat back in my chair and reflected on the conversation in my mind.

How many times had I pretended to be concerned over someone's situation, but was really so covered up with issues of my own that I gave only lip service to theirs? How many times have I promised to pray, but have walked away with no prayer and later the request is forgotten and never taken to the Lord? I was troubled by the number of times those have been my responses to the needs of others. They are by no means normal, but I nust admit they have happened that way more often than I am comfortable with.  So am I a hypocrit?

Here's how I look at it. Anything that is "hyper" is characterized by being above or having abundance. A hyper-active person has an abundance of energy and activity. A person who is hyper-aware is overcome with the abundance of sensory input from their environment because their sensitivity is above normal. Anything that is "hypo" is characterized by under or below or scarcity or lack. So a hypodermic needle goes below the skin. A person who is a "hypo"-critic is a person who minimizes criticism of themselves. They try and hide their faults "under" acts of righteousness.  Ironically, a person who is "hypo"-critical of their own lives are most often "hyper"-critical of others.    

So as I was considering my past failures the Lord impressed upon me this thought; "The opposite of hypocrisy is not righteousness, but transparancy." My thoughts immediately went to the words of Jesus:

Luke 18:9-14 (NKJV)
9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.
12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'
13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'
14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

 The Pharisee was not as good as he pretended to be. He could boast of his outward displays of religious activity but his heart was far from God. He was hypocritical of himself and hypercritical of others. However, the tax collector had not conquered all the outward religious activities required of his culture, but he was honest and transparent about his personal struggles. He was closer to God in the admission of his weakness than the Pharisees was in his hypocrisy.

Yes, there are hypocits in the church. Some are habitual hypocrits and some are struggling to do better. Still God is not surprised by our weakness. He encourages us to be honest about our struggles. He knows about them anyway. He just wants us to be honest with ourselves, others, and God. He will come to the aid of those who will admit their struggle with sin and supply His Spirit so that we may overcome those things that trip us up. For those who are unwilling to admit their sins He has only words of condemnation. The opposite of hypocrisy is to be real with others and God about who we really are. That's not only right but it is also refreshing.    

Open the Door and Let Him In

Biblical dispensational scholars have long held that the 7 churches in Revelation 2 - 3 represent church ages from the birth of the church over 2000 years ago until today. The progression goes like this:

Ephesus - the Apostolic church from Pentecost until 100 AD characterized by neglecting "their first love.'

Smyrna - the persecuted church from 100 AD until 316 characterized by only words of encouragement.

Pergamos - the compromising church from 316 AD until 800 who were told to repent.

Thyatira - the immoral church from 800 AD until 1517 characterized by the command to hold fast.

Sardis - the powerless church from 1517 AD until 1750 who was commanded to repent of being spiritually dead.

Philadelphia - the missionary church from 1750 AD until 1900 who was given an open door.

Laodicea - the lukewarm church from 1900 AD until present who is told to let Christ re-enter their fellowship.

If these ages are correct then we are living in the last period of church history, the lukewarm church. The characerization is of the church in general and not specific congregations. However, even those congregations who would exempt themselves from this category suffer from a lack of divine power and clarity. Through decades of politicalization, deceipt and indifference the church of today pales in comparison to the original that threatened to turn the world upside down in the first century. (Acts 17:6)

Why is this? Why is the local church so similar to the secular institutions that surround it? Why is strife and deceipt prevelant in the body of Christ? Has God removed His blessings from us? Are we paying for the sins of our past or are we just so indifferent to sin that we forfeit His promises? I've given this some thought as of late. Here is what I'm thinking.

The church is a living organism. Living things are depenant upon the genetics passed on to them from generations that preceded them. If there is some truth to the dispensational view of the 7 churches of Revelation 2 and 3, then we have consistenly inherited weaker genes after each church age. Granted there have been periods of revival such as the missionary church of Philadelphia, but the vast gene pool from which we have emerged is full of sin, indifference and idolatry. How do we once again become the body of Christ that is so full of His presence that we turn the world upside down?

The answer is in His Word to the church of Laodicea, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Revelation 3:20)

Here is the answer. The invitation is not to the church to let Him in. It is to the individual person. "If any man hear my voice and open the door." The church as a corporate body will receive the presence and power of Jesus Christ into her midst as individual believers invite Him to enter. The burden is on the individual believer to bring the church to its proper place in the world as we await His return. If there is a revival to break out in our churches it will begin in the hearts of men and women who make up the body of Christ. It will not be because of worship or preaching. It will be a result of personal repentance of individual believers. Then great worship and preaching will grow out of such an environment.

Are you tired of the routine church service? Are you tired of corruption and indifference in the pew and the pulpit? If you are then it is up to you and me. The practical application here is this: if you want the power and presence of Christ in your church, you must open the door! Are you willing to say let it begin with me and invite Him into your church? Be careful, the last time He entered a place of worship He turned over a few tables. But if you are willing to invite Him He is waiting for you to open that door. Any door openers out there?