Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thoughts of Ferguson, How Do We Make Sense?

Unless you've been under a rock, you know the grand jury chose not to indite the officer responsible for the death of a young black man in a suburb of St. Louis.  The result of that decision has been a great deal of social unrest in Ferguson.  Looting an rioting and protest both peaceful and violent.  As Christians, as people of faith, what do we do in response to the heaping of tragedy on tragedy?  How can we make sense of what is happening?

Civil unrest due to ethnic or cultural differences has existed since the tower of Babel.  Man was split into different culture groups, which we have mistakenly called "race".  Let's be clear, humans are all one race, but we have different culture and ethic groups, sometimes based on a similar genetic trait such as the amount of melanin and skin pigment.  Cultures often considered themselves better than other cultures or people groups, sometimes leading to killing them, enslaving them, persecuting them or other harmful or shameful behaviors.  In this country, Africans were brought on ships in horrible conditions and made slaves.  Once slavery was abolished, the now American blacks had no rights, or very few.  This has been a long standing issue, and the economic disparity that exists has created a culture and ethic clash for many in the black community.  This is what exists in Ferguson, and it doesn't matter if the officer in question was justified or unjustified in the shooting.  It matters that the members of that community feel like they are marginalized and shunned.

As Christians, we must recognize that in our own communities, there are many who feel they are not cared for or cared about.  They may be black or Hispanic or white or a mixture of cultures.  They feel like no one cares, they feel like they have no opportunity and will never be able to get out of life they find themselves.  Many are angry or depressed or a combination.  People are hurting and when a tragedy occurs like happened in Ferguson, it causes even deeper feeling of alienation.  We must come along side these hurting people and love them, pray for them and help them to feel connected to a community of support and encouragement.  The church should be active and alive in these communities and bringing support.  For too long, the only supportive community has been that of the gang, the criminal groups or the drug culture.  They have used the opportunity of the hurt to enlist and grow their communities.  The church needs to make sure we are building communities there.

We need to help the kids.  The kids suffer more than anyone in these communities.  They are targets of gangs and drug dealers, trying to recruit them.  They are often alone as mom works to pay the bills.  Sometimes dad is around, sometimes dad isn't around.  The air of hopelessness is all around them, often the schools and programs in the area struggle more and have less to offer.  It's a situation that causes a perpetual cycle, many feel like there is no way out.  The church, Christians need to be present in the situation, giving and sharing and loving.  We need to give the kids something to hope for, and a reason to be happy.

Ferguson reminds us that there are hurts in this country that run deep.  People are hurt and angry and when things like this occur, it releases pain that has been pushed down for too long.  The violence isn't coming just from this even, but from years, decades of hurt and abandonment.  We can speak out against the violence, but more talking will never heal their hearts.  We need to be the hands, the feet of Jesus and do what we can to make things better for everyone, meet them where they are and love them where they live.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How To Tell If You Are in A Cult

With the rise in popularity of the non-Denominational church, coupled with some pretty wild theology out there today, there are people who have found themselves in a cult instead of a Gospel focused church.  Don't let this happen to you, examine a few things in your church, it may not be a church at all.  You may find yourself in a cult, and if so, it's time to pack up and run.  Here are a few places to begin your examination if you are suspicious and think your local fellowship may be headed a cult like direction.

Quick definition, a cult is a group that claims to be Christian, has characteristics of a Christian church, has some doctrine in common but moves away from orthodoxy in a foundation or key aspect.

First, examine the pastor and leadership.  The first sign of cult turnings of an independent church will be with the leadership.  If the focus is all on the pastor, if he talks about himself as much or more than about Christ, look out.  A pastor who is self focused and self absorbed will begin to desire to be worshiped himself.  Preaching makes it difficult to stay humble, you command the attention of a room full of people for 30 minutes or more every week.  They often tell you what a great job you did, it's easy to let the pride begin to change you.  If your pastor is more interested in himself than Jesus, then maybe it's time to go.

If the definitions of Christian truths are changed, there may be a problem.  If they add something to salvation, big problem.  Remember, you are saved by grace through faith, there are no works involved.  If you are told you have to do something to get to heaven, there is a problem.  You are saved by what Christ already did, He will draw you and you respond and confess sin and turn from your sinful ways.  This happens as a response to grace, not as a work.  If you are told you have to do a work, perform an act, display a gift to be saved, then you shouldn't hang out much longer.  If the church adds to the requirement of salvation, it's time to go.

If the Word of God is compromised, time to go.  God gave us everything we need in the Scripture, it's complete.  If you are told there are more books that need to be read, more gospels or modern day revelations, you should be shopping for a new church.  If you are told there are things being said, written or published that are equal with or more important than Scripture, there's a problem.  The best way to lead people astray is to give them something they will believe that tells them what they want.  These false scriptures will lead you away from what the Scripture teaches and can enslave you to cult doctrine.  That being said, books in themselves are not bad, but they must match up to what Scripture teaches and never be elevated to be along side or above Scripture.

Another thing to watch out for is how they talk about Jesus.  Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith, He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Jesus is Lord of lords, King of kings, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  Jesus is part of the Godhead, He is fully divine, He is God.  He is one with the Father and is far above all creation.  Any church that lessons the position of Jesus as less than any of these things has a problem.  Jesus is not a created being, He is co-eternal with the Father (settled by the Council of Nicaea).  Watch and make sure that your church puts Jesus in His proper place of honor and gives Him glory and honor and praise and worship as God.  Anything less is cult like.  If Jesus is not who the Scripture says He is, then Salvation will be flawed as well.

I hope and pray that you attend and are part of a Biblically solid and faithful Christian church.  If you are not, let me urge you to find one.  I know that leaving a church is incredibly difficult, especially if you have friends and family there.  It's worth it, and Jesus said that sometimes there would be divisions like this.  Jesus said that His coming would set family members against one another.  Sometimes this happens because someone is part of a cult and another member of the family wants out.  Jesus is worth it, and you eternal soul is worth it.  Find a solid, Bible teaching, faith holding, Jesus praising church to call your church home.  It's worth it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who's Really the Problem

If you read any Christian blogs, including mine, you have probably heard about all the problems in the American church.  There is no end to the list of issues, yet I have discovered something interesting.  First it seems that it's every other church that is the problem.  It's every other Christian who has the issue, and it's always a problem someplace else.  I have served in a number of churches who claim to be different that all the other churches.  Most of the time, they weren't.  It always seems like the problem is out there, somewhere else.

For the life of me, I can't put my finger on the group or church that has the problem.  If you tell a church they are part of the problem, most of the time they can tell you why they aren't.  What I have learned is that we don't know we are part of the problem, that makes us part of the problem.  I know that I am in need of supernatural help to deal with my part of the problem.

I know that I am flawed, that I don't share my faith enough, I am not compassionate enough, I don't do all the things I know I should for the kingdom.  I think I know more than I probably do, I can be arrogant and prideful.  I have problems and issues, and I know I am a product of the American Church.  I have a hard time looking outside of the established paradigm and focusing on the purity of the Gospel.  I know that I am part of the problem and not enough of the solution.

How about you?  Are you more problem or more solution?  How many people are you actively sharing faith with, serving in Christ like ministry.  If you know the numbers off the top of your head, you are in bigger trouble than I am.  Let's begin to find our frailties and give them to the Father, begin to find our blind spots and work on them.  Maybe then, we can change this whole thing for the better.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Finding Help to Find Help, a review of Dr. Stanely's book The Spirit-Filled Life

I am joyful to be able to write a review of this book, because it came at just the right time for me.  As a Baptist, I probably don't give the kind of attention to the person and work of the Holy Spirit like I should.  I have struggled lately with how He is working in my life, how I can experience His power and follow where He leads me.  It was as these struggles were weighing me down, the opportunity arose to review this book.  I don't think it was just a coincidence either.

Dr Stanley unpacks the very questions I asked, and shares his personal journey when he was led and when we was led and didn't follow.  He gives helpful illustrations and examples and lays out a helpful plan to help walk in the Spirit.  I found it a great help, and began to put many of these things into practice in my own life.

This is a good book, a good and clean read, so give it a shot.  I would recommend it.

Read the Book

I had a surreal moment the other morning that I want to share with you.  I have been recovering from surgery and on short term leave from work.  I was all alone in the house the other morning and decided to spend some extra time praying.  About the time I bowed my head to begin to pray, something reverberated in my head.  Now, I am not one for saying that God spoke to me.  I do believe that God can and does lead us, influence and inspire us and gives us guidance, but most of His speaking is done in His word.  He wrote it down so He doesn't have to keep telling us over and over, since we (His people) are known for not listening.  This particular morning I didn't hear an audible voice, no bushes burst into flames, no pillar of cloud or dove descending.  I got the message, however, loud and clear.  READ THE BOOK.  I had no doubt that the book was The Book, the Bible.

I am pretty good about doing my Bible reading, but post-surgery, I had been slacking a little.  With medications and getting anesthesia out of my system, my reading took a back seat.  It's been enough time that now I am without excuse.  I did as I was told and I opened my Bible on my Kindle and began to read.  I have began reading more and more regularly since I was reminded of it's importance.  God inspired men to write the timeless wisdom we would need, and we need to remain in the Word, reading and studying and memorizing.  Life gets busy and times get hard, all the more reason to be in the Word.  I hope you will take time today too and be in the word.  Remember to Read the Book!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ripples and Waves

I am not sure if we will ever know the full extent of how our actions, behaviors, choices and decisions will effect others. Little things we do or say that we sometimes don't even remember. In Chaos Theory, this is called the Butterfly Effect. A butterfly beats it's wings and it adds a minute amount of air movement, but over time and distance, that minute air moment adds to other movements to create a massive storm.  Small actions that are unseen and unaccounted for often make huge impacts farther down in the system.

Our lives are sort of like that. Decisions we make, things we say and do, they add just a little wind that can become a giant storm. On the other hand, just a small movement of air in the other direction can take enough momentum to stop a storm from developing.  A word spoke in anger can turn a small problem into a hurricane.  A gesture made from a peace seeking heart can stop a raging storm from starting.

We are told that we are given two choices, speak blessings and life or cursing and death.  Two choices, life and death and we are encouraged to choose life (Deut 30:19).  What will our temperament be?  The actions we take today could have long, far reaching ramifications.  Will you choose blessing?  Will you choose life?  In a world that is filled with cursing and death and despair, I hope that we as Christ followers can be a blessing to this world.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Does God Really Love Me?

Sometimes I wonder if God notices all the stupid, sinful stuff I do.  I know He does, so my second thought is, how can He still love me when I screw up so much.  I think these things because I'm stuck in a performance trap.  If I do good, then I will be loved and rewarded.  If I am a good worker, I'll do fine, if not then bad things happen and I'm looking for a new job.  If I'm a good friend, then I have friends, if not then I'm alone.  If I'm a good husband, a good father then my family will be happy and well.  If I mess up, then things will be destroyed.  If I'm a good Christians, God will love me. . . . .

In life, we are judged by our performance.  I use to get a review that rated me by the way I looked among other things.  We get it in our heads that God must use the same standards and if I mess up, He won't love me.  After all, He did punish the Israelites, right?

In the movie Evan Almighty the character of God, played by Morgan Freeman says "Everything I do, I do because I love you".  We sometimes miss that what God did for the nation of Israel was to save them from themselves and put them in a place to be able to bring Christ to save them.  In the same way, even the bad things in our lives come from God's love in order to do mighty things in our lives.  May be hard to see, but bad things have good purpose.

So, here I am, still stuck in the performance trap.  I look at the realities of my life, my sin and my struggles and think "does God really love me"?  The answer is "of course He does", so then the question becomes for me, how do I allow myself to experience that love and grace?

First, I let myself experience the peace and rest that comes from nature.  There is healing and great rest that comes from God's creation, and He did it that way on purpose.  I read the Bible and I let the words of scripture remind me of His truth.  I worship and draw close to God, knowing that He loves me infinitely more than I love Him, and knowing how much I love Him brings peace and reassurance.  I still struggle with the performance trap, and I still struggle with how God can love me when I screw up so often.  I strive to find His peace and rest.  I try to sin less but know I will never be loved more.  His love for me is complete.  He loves you too, completely even as you struggle in your walk and life.  To answer the question, yes, He really loves you.