The Church In A Secular Society (A Response to Current Events)

Let me say up front that this post may upset you, though that is certainly not my intent. I love our country. We are a privileged people to live in the good ol’ US of A! But, as believers, our ultimate allegiance is not to this country. Our ultimate allegiance is to our Savior and his kingdom.

We are witnessing a major shift in our society. As a student of history, I know without a doubt that our country was founded on Christian principles. It is impossible to study our founding fathers without encountering within their writings a Judeo-Christian mindset concerning government and morality. Some were not believers (this is well documented – just look at the Thomas Jefferson bible) but even the founding fathers who were non-believers argued that the best form of government and society would follow biblical principles. The shift is towards an increasingly secular society. Believers, who were in the majority for much of our nation’s history, have increasingly become the minority on social issues.

Here is what I believe we will see in the coming years unless something changes dramatically:

1. Same sex marriage will be legalized in all 50 states. This week President Obama (who originally personally opposed same sex marriage and then changed to personally agreeing with same sex marriage) has declared that he believes same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Recently, the Supreme Court decided not to take up this issue thereby upholding a lower court’s ruling that same sex marriage was legal in certain states. Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage while 26 states have laws against same sex marriage. At some point the justices will have to rule on this issue and I personally believe they or Congress (through enacting a federal law) will make same sex marriage legal across our nation which is approved of by the majority of Americans.

2. Christian businesses will choose to close their doors or face lawsuits, fines and jail time. This week a couple in Idaho who run a for-profit wedding chapel were told that they must conduct same sex weddings or face fines and possible jail time due to violating non-discrimination laws (this previously happened with a baker, florist, and photographer). In my opinion, the courts will rule that the wedding ceremony must be allowed to happen at the chapel but the Knapps will be able to recuse themselves (because of religious conviction) from performing the ceremony. Another person (licensed to perform marriages and who does not have this religious conviction concerning same sex marriage) will be brought in to conduct the ceremony. Christian businesses (bakery, florist, wedding chapel, etc.) operating in the secular marketplace will be increasingly required to abide by secular laws. They can stand up against these laws because of religious conviction but will likely face lawsuits, fines and jail time.

3. Pastors will be removed as agents of the state in regards to performing weddings. Currently ordained pastors operate as agents of the state when it comes to conducting wedding ceremonies. This is why at the end of a wedding service a pastor will say, “By the authority invested in my by the state of ______________, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” While churches are exempt from non-discrimination laws currently with regards to marriage, I believe this will be the next thing challenged. The argument will be made that ordained pastors, as agents of the state, must abide by state laws regardless of religious conviction. The likely result will be that pastors will not be able to act as representatives of the state. They will be able to do Christian weddings in the church but the couple would then need to go to the court to be officially married in the eyes of the state.

Here is how I think we should respond:

1. Pray. Unfortunately, prayer is often thought of as a last result. We attempt to do things to affect change until we feel like there is nothing else we can do…then we pray. Our temptation in this society will be to busy ourselves doing things and fail to pray. However, prayer should be our first response – we need to hit our knees! We need to ask God to move in a powerful way in our churches and in our culture. We should intercede for those lost in their sin. We need to ask God to search our hearts and our motives. Prayer is not the spare tire in our lives; it must be the steering wheel that drives our lives.

2. We, as believers, should seek to defend our religious liberties both in the ballot box and in the courts. We do not need to bow down and retreat at this point. We need to take a stand through both the courts and the ballot box. I believe religious freedoms need to be preserved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up our responsibility, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” We cannot and must not remain silent as religious liberties are stripped away. Houston has given us a glimpse of what is to come and we must be prepared to stand together.

3. Recognize that God may be allowing persecution to come so that his church would be purified and more effective in reaching people with the gospel. I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk recently. Interestingly, Habakkuk begins the book asking why God has failed to turn His people’s hearts back to him and bring revival. God responds that he is at work but it will not be what Habakkuk expects (God will bring in the Chaldeans to take Judah captive and lead them into exile). He then tells Habakkuk “the just will live by their faith.”

Have you considered that God might be allowing persecution to come upon the church to purify it (when it costs to follow Christ, you find out who the true believers are)? Could it be that this world needs to grow darker so that the light of the gospel can more effectively shine through the church? Throughout church history, the gospel has exploded when Christians were persecuted. We, as believers, are called to live by faith…trusting God is at work to bring about his glory and our good regardless of what happens around us!


Christ our Anchor (Reading Notes)

“He who died for his enemies, will he refuse those, the desire of whose soul is towards him? He who, by his messengers, desires us to be reconciled, will he put us off when we earnestly seek it at his hand? No, doubtless, when he goes before us by kindling holy desires in us, he is ready to met us in his own ways. When the prodigal set himself to return to his father, his father did not wait for him, but met him in the way. When he prepares the heart to seek, he causes his ear to hear (Psa. 10:17). He cannot find in his heart to hide himself long from us.

If God should bring us into such a dark condition that we should see no light from himself or the creature, then let us remember what he says by the prophet Isaiah, ‘Who is among you…that walketh in darkness, and hath no light?’ – no light of comfort, no light of God’s countenance – ‘let him trust in the name of the Lord and stay upon his God’ (Isa. 50:10). We can never be in such a condition that there will be just cause for utter despair. Therefore let us do as mariners do, cast anchor in the dark. Christ knows how to pity us in this case. Look what comfort he felt from his Father when he was broken (Isa. 53:5). This is what we shall feel from himself in our bruising.” (Richard Sibbes in The Bruised Reed)


Attitude Matters (Reading Notes)

“Next to our free salvation in Christ, our attitude is the most important thing we possess. Attitude is more important than circumstances, the past, money, successes, failures, our gifts, other’s opinions, even the ‘facts.’

We all have a choice every day regarding the attitude with which we will embrace the day. It is up to us to make a positive volitional choice. A positive attitude like Paul’s in prison, is a solid step toward success.

Two men looked through the bars. One saw the mud, the other, the stars.

What do you see?” (Kent Hughes, Liberating Ministry From the Success Syndrome)


Communion With God Or Content With The Golden Calf?

GoldCalf

There is an Exodus 32 a pretty frightening story. It is a story of idolatry; a story of perversion. Yet, for our contemporary audience it seems a bit silly.

Here is the backstory: God delivered his people (Israel) from slavery in Egypt and provided for them as they began their journey into the promised land (Exodus chapters 1-23). In Exodus 24, God called Moses up on Mt. Sinai for a 40 day and 40 night discussion. He laid before Moses how He would be worshipped by the nation of Israel and what was expected of them. This discussion carried on from chapter 25 through chapter 31.

In chapter 32, the people of Israel grew restless. Moses had been gone too long and they decided to take matters into their own hands. As Moses was meeting with God, learning what He expected of His people, the Israelites decided to craft for themselves another “god” in the form of a golden calf. They even went so far as declaring that this “god” (made with their own hands) had delivered them from the oppression of the Egyptians. Aaron (the priest) made an altar before the golden calf and the people brought sacrifices. They worshipped and celebrated at the altar of the golden calf.

I know what you are thinking – “how could they be so stupid”? How could they have seen God’s hand at work, witnessed him meeting with Moses on Mt. Sinai, and devolved into worshipping a golden calf?

These were the same questions I had when I read the text. However, I quickly realized that we worship “golden calves” as well. They are just a bit more sophisticated and subtle.

God desires to commune with us (like he did with Moses) but all too often we are content with the golden calf. As I reflected on this reality I came up with a couple of personal and corporate “golden calves” that rob us of true communion with God.

Personal “Golden Calves”

1. We believe that the primary place where we commune with God is in church. Many believers have this perspective. Have you ever heard this said: “I attend church on Sundays to get my tank filled up before I head into a new week?” Being a part of the body of Christ weekly is vital to our growth as believers but it is impossible to “fill up our tank” on Sunday and expect it to last all week. The reality is that we should come to our weekly gathering having communed with God for the previous 6 days. I firmly believe one of the reasons God does not do more in our weekly gatherings is that we have not communed with him through the previous week. Just imagine what our services would be like if every believer had communed with God during the course of the previous week and showed up ready to worship and serve out of the overflow of what God had been doing in their lives during the previous 6 days!

2. We equate knowing about God with knowing God. This is subtle but so easy. I know having spent years in school studying Scripture and theology that it is very easy to equate knowing about God with knowing God. It is easy to be consumers of information about God without transformation. Communing with God is less about what you know about Him than it is having an intimate relationship with Him. Many people in history who have experienced deep communion with God were not learned scholars. They were ordinary people who had a passion to live in communion with their Heavenly Father. We should desire to know all we can about God but knowledge means nothing apart from a deep and abiding relationship!

Corporate “Golden Calves”

1. We equate singing songs and listening to preaching as communing with God. It is entirely possible to participate in a weekly worship gathering and never commune with God. We have the guarantee that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20) but is it possible for God to be present in our services and we not truly commune with Him? Consider this – do we really mean the words of the songs that we sing to and about God? When we have the invitation and sing “I Surrender All” do we really mean it? When we hear a sermon do we become “doers” of the Word. David said in Psalm 51 that he would not offer sacrifices to the Lord because that is not what God desired – God desired from David a pure and contrite heart. Are we just going through the motions in our services or are we communing with God?

2. We believe busyness for God equals communion with God. Is it possible that we have become so busy doing things for God (programs, ministries, etc.) that we have no time to meet with God? The cold, hard truth is we can have a church calendar that is filled with activity after activity, program after program and completely miss communing with God. I’m always convicted when I consider that Jesus consistently stepped away from the busyness of ministry to commune with his Heavenly Father.

Conclusion
God desires to commune with us and I honestly believe that most believers want to commune with Him. Yet, we can fall into the trap of worshipping the “golden calf” just like the Israelites did and completely miss communing with God. The good news is God’s grace is free flowing even in our idolatry. Instead of wiping out the entire nation of Israel and starting over he disciplined them in love and agreed to go with them into the promised land (Exodus 33:14). That same grace is extended to us by our Heavenly Father who loves to commune with his children. Will you commune with Him today or remain content worshipping the “golden calf”?


Attacking Our Own? (4 Considerations Before You Blast Christian Leaders Online)

I’m frustrated. I’m discouraged. I wish I could read ministry blogs and twitter feeds without encountering harsh rhetoric and personal attacks. You may have no idea what I am talking about (if so that is good) but I fear many of you have witnessed this divisive obnoxiousness. Christian leaders are being tarred and lit on fire in front of our eyes on twitter and various blogs. This should not be so! When did it become ok to shoot our own, especially when they are already wounded? How can we justify launching grenades into the barracks of our comrades?

Brothers and sisters, our mission to make disciples is too urgent to waste time on such trivial matters. Before we are tempted to write scathing blog posts about various Christian leaders or attack them on twitter, may we heed these admonitions:

1. Speak the truth in love.

We must speak the truth. We need to call out error. But we must do it in love. If we call out sin in a believer it must be in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 – “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” We must get this! Too much of what I have seen and heard lacks even the hint of gentleness.

The Internet has made it possible for people to do and say things online that they would never do or say in person. In situations like these, that is a curse. Speak the truth but do it in love. Expose error with gentleness and genuine concern for a fellow brother or sister in Christ.

May the words of Paul in Philippians 4:8 guide us as we think and write: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are too many true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy things that we can think and blog about without thrashing about in the gutter of contemptuousness.

2. Remember the world is watching.

It saddens me to consider that the world is watching us castigate our own. We often demonize those in Washington for backbiting and viciousness but have no problem imitating that behavior in our own little Christian ghetto. This is not what we want to be known for!

We should be known for our love for one another. We should be known for our humility. It is impossible for us to be salt and light in the world when we have forfeited our saltiness in favor of harsh rhetoric and snuffed out our light in favor of self-promotion. It is no wonder that a lost world looks at us inquisitively, wondering why we say one thing and live another.

3. Consider the depravity of our own hearts & magnify God’s grace.

We are way worse than we ever imagined! It is amazing to me how I can easily spot sin in someone else’s life without seeing my own. Jesus warned us of this very thing in Matthew 7:3-5 – “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” When was the last time you read a blog post attacking a Christian leader that began with the author of that post confessing his or her own personal sin?

Every believer has experienced amazing grace. We have all been saved out of depravity and darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3) and yet we often forget that reality. I am not advocating morbid introspection of our sin (Jesus’ grace delivered us from a life characterized by sin) but it is helpful to remember exactly where we were when God saved us. We can and should boast of nothing except the cross of Christ and God’s amazing grace!

4. Pray.

Pray before you write. Pray before you speak. If a Christian leader is in error, pray for them. Pray for God’s convicting truth to pierce their hearts as the Holy Spirit works. Pray that God would raise up leaders in their life to guide them to truth. Pray, pray, pray.

Then pray for yourself. Pray that God would help you remain true to His mission of making disciples instead of focusing your attention on someone else’s failure. Ask God to give you a passion for encouraging others and lifting them up when they are down. Ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart for areas of unexposed sin and bitterness.

I’m convinced that if we spent half as much time praying for Christian leaders as we have spent discrediting and disparaging them, we would realize very little good comes from personal attacks. The last thing the blog world needs is another critic – be an encourager. Be an intercessor.

Conclusion

The reality is that God has not called us to be “Holy Spirit Jr.” When we take on this role in someone else’s life we elevate ourselves as gods and it was that exact promise (“you will be like God, knowing good and evil”) that Satan used to deceive Eve in the garden. May we trust God to work his process of sanctification in the life of every believer (especially Christian leaders) to conform him or her into the image of His Son. There is no doubt he will accomplish this mission (Romans 8:29-30)!


The Holy Spirit & Preaching (Reading Notes)

“In the nineteenth century, a group of pastors were organizing a citywide evangelistic campaign. As they discussed who they should invite to preach, the name of the noted evangelist D. L. Moody was brought up. Reluctant to have Moody preach, one minister protested, ‘Why Moody? Does he have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’

The question was then followed by a long silence. Finally, another pastor spoke up, saying, ‘Moody, Moody, Moody…does Moody have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?’ One of the others answered, ‘No, but it seems that the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Moody.’

No greater point could be made for any preacher.

God works through His servants in whom His Spirit is mightily empowering. Regardless of a preacher’s resume or ministerial credentials, the Holy Spirit is the One who, ultimately, makes the difference in any preacher’s ministry.

When it comes to your preaching, does the Holy Spirit have a monopoly on you?” (Steven Lawson, The Kind of Preaching God Blesses)


Don’t Just Read Books…Assimilate & Practice! (Reading Notes)

“But let me hasten to slay another myth, namely, that reading books will of itself guarantee growth and success. Not so. Reading is only the key that opens the door to the vault. Assimilating what you read, relating it to what you already know, and practicing it where you serve put the treasure to work paying dividends. It’s tragic to open the vault and stand there empty-handed. Readers are leaders only if they turn their learning into living. To change the metaphor, reading a book is like eating a meal; but if you eat and don’t exercise, you’ll get overweight, and you may die.” (Warren Wiersbe, On Being A Servant Of God)


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