Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why You Need Diversity in Friendships

One of the biggest blessings in my life are my believing friends. I have some great, very close friends who love Christ and His church. Some of them are in vocational ministry, many serve as volunteers. They have been great helps and supports for me. I made great friends in seminary, many in churches I have attended or served in and some out in the world as we have crossed paths. Having your closest friends be in like faith and spirit is very, very important. You need to have great Christian friends to encourage you, study with you, pray with you and fellowship. I am thankful for those who have been friends for years and some who I have just met. They are vital for my survival as a Christian. You need to be with and around other Christians, together you make up the body of Christ. You are a family, a team, a unit, a single functioning organism to do the ministry and work of Christ on earth. If you are a Christian without a church, a group of believing friends, then you are failing. Get to church, connect with some believing friends and be supported.

You will undoubtedly have friends who have similar beliefs that you do but are not part of the same local church you attend. Some are closer and some are more distant. These people are also vital. We need to remember the kingdom is not an exclusive club. In matters of theology and practice, there may be disagreements. I have friends who are pedobaptists (baptize babies) but I'm a credobaptist (believers baptism by immersion). We disagree but it's ok. We can discuss and challenge each other. It's important to have those types of people to help you grow and learn and be challenged.They are great people to have discussion and learn new things from. Stay humble, stay teachable and stay friends.

There are people in your life that may not believe but will be supportive. These are great people, and you can talk to them about what is happening in your life and show your faith in life. They are the people that you will have a chance to share your faith with. Pray for these people that you may gain a believing friend. Share Jesus with them, invite them to church and speak truth to them. Be humble, be kind. These people will teach you about your faith as they ask questions, so stay in the word. Make lots of friends who are not believers but are supportive.

Lastly, you will have friends who disagree and are opposed to your faith. Yes, you can be friends with agnostics, atheists and members of different religious groups. I have friends who don't believe in the same things I believe in, and sometimes we talk and discuss. They stretch me, they push me and they really make me examine what and why I believe. I love my atheist friends, I love my agnostic friends and those who have beliefs outside of the Christian faith. They are valuable, they are people, made in the image of God and they are worth my time. It's important to be kind and gracious. Jesus loved those outside of the Jewish faith, the Apostles loved those who were part of pagan faiths. Some of those who were outside became believers, some didn't. That will be the same with us, some of our friends outside the faith may become believers, some won't. We love them anyway.

As you live in the world, there is more to being salt and light than just attending church and Bible study. We need to be salt and light everywhere at all times. We love people, we interact with people and we share with people. It's what the gospel is all about. Let's love on those around us and the world will be a little nicer for everyone.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Where Does Satan Live?

I want to teach you about a phenomenon that happens inside of religion, and happens in the Christian faith all too much. It's called syncratism and it has snuck in and done some horrible things. It's when something from inside a culture gets brought into the faith and the two merge to become one. This is what happened when the Israelites made the Golden Calf, they merged faith in God with false idols and said that this (golden calf) is Yahweh. They made mistakes through Isreal's history of bringing idols and false worship into the Temple.

We see this around the world, for example in Haiti, voodoo is commonly practiced along side of Christianity. Christian faith is mixed with pagan faith and it's a corruption.  There are lots of very real illustrations, in the American church we have done it a little more subtly. We haven't brought it golden cows or witch doctors, but some of our knowledge and teachings are very flawed. What I want to focus on is a teaching that makes me crazy, and people say it all the time. They talk about Satan being in hell.

Movies, books, tv shows and all sorts of things in popular culture depict Satan as the ruler of hell, residing in hell, chilling with other demons in hell. The culture depicts hell as the abode for Satan and his demons and they are really quite happy there. In a book called 23 Minutes in Hell, the author talks about being tortured by large demons while in hell. To all those tv shows, books, movies and stories, I say STOP IT.

The idea that Satan lives in hell comes from paganism. The ruler of the underworld was Hades/Pluto. He lived in the underworld, he ruled the underworld. The idea that God was in Heaven, the Devil is in hell comes from pagan culture. In many pagan religions, the evil force lives in the underworld. This is not the case with Biblical Christianity. Hell is not the throne room of the devil.

Hell is a place that God has control of, God created it and prepared it for Satan to spend eternity in torment. Satan and his demons will be cast into the lake of fire with those who are found to be apart from Christ. Hell is the place that will torment Satan, it's not his luxury palace. Satan is not in hell right now, he's on the earth. Demons are on the earth, but hell is their final judgement. The idea of Satan ruling hell would be like building a prison and letting the worst criminal be in control. That's not what a prison is, not what it's for.

The heart of the issue is what we think about God vs Satan. We see this in movies, this idea of balance and the light and dark, good and evil. In most pagan religions, there is a balance and the scales can tip one way or the other. It makes for good movie plots that way. This is not the truth. The truth is, God is all powerful and in control. Satan roams the earth, completely with the permission of God. When time ends, God will then cast Satan out and he will be in the lake of fire forever. Satan doesn't get to rule hell, he doesn't get to torment the lost. He will be in the same position, he will be judged by a Holy God.

It's time we see Satan for who he really is. He is not torturing the lost, he is on earth waging war with believers. He is attempting to devour you and I. His ultimate goal is not to send you to hell, but for him to avoid hell. If God forgives a single sinner apart from Christ, then God must forgive all sinners apart from Christ. If God does this, then Satan will go unpunished for God's justice is perfect. God will send those who are covered in the blood of Christ to heaven and those apart from Christ will suffer eternity in hell with the devil and his demons.

That's it. No balance, to scales of good balancing evil. There is no gate to hell that opens and lets the demons come free. I would go as far to say that hell in itself is not evil. It is the place where evil is tormented, just like a prison is a crime, it's just a place to send criminals. No demons torturing people, no throne room of the devil. God created hell for eternal punishment. Trust me, you don't want to go there and neither does Satan.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Presumptive Narcissism: The Problem with the Selfie Culture

I'm creating a new term for you today. Presumptive Narcissism, the idea that people are interested in you, desire you and even stalking you because they pay any attention to you. Let me back up and start with what I have discovered to be a disturbing trend. When my dad was my age, he would often tell young ladies they were pretty and they would say "thank you". Now that my daughter is a teenager, I wouldn't dare tell one of her friends they look pretty. When older men that I knew in the church would complement young girls, they were often seen as creepy. Even in simple remarks that I have made about a hair cut looking nice or a complement on a jacket, it has been as "weird".

This phenomenon happens mostly to girls in their teens and 20s, the same ones who take and post pictures of themselves constantly. They bait for complements, and when they get it they freak out that it's creepy that someone noticed them. They proceed to tell their friends and the Facebook world that someone is a stalker and creeping them out.

This stems from a few things that come together to make this perfect storm. First is the existence of micro-celebrity-ism. With Youtube, Facebook, and Instragram used by so many they can count their followers, see their likes and the comments and feel a sense of being famous. Social media have given us an opportunity for good outlets, such as my opportunity to write a blog. This can someones go to far and make people become conceded, and even narcissistic. The ultimate sign of celebrity status is being stalked by people, feeling like you are elite in your beauty and charm.

As these young people get compliments and feel like they have celebrity status, they begin to feel that anyone saying anything nice to them is a form of stalking. A man saying "you look nice" is no longer a complement. It is, in their mind, at attempt to "get with" or seduce the girl. They feel as if there are no innocent intentions, they are desired and in constant danger.

Of course most of these girls are being presumptuous. Most men my age and older have little or no desire to be in a relationship with a 20 year old. There are very few who do, and most of them are not complementing friends of their children. In this day and age, we need to be careful and watch out for child trafficking, sexual predators and those who would take advantage, but the behavior has gone too far. It is possible to be aware of strangers and predators without gossiping about your friends dad who said you look like. We must be aware there is a difference between "you look pretty" and "you are so hot, come see me". Narcissism, however, fails to notice the difference.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Problem with the Free Church

I was serving at a church years ago that had a strategy that involved block parties. In the supplies for the block parties were signs that we placed along the road, and many of them involved the word "free". Everything at the block parties was given away, the hot dogs and chips and drinks and so forth. This isn't uncommon, I served at another church that did block parties and gave things to the people who came. This is a good idea and it's a great ministry. When doing so, I remember talking with my lead pastor about the signs. I wasn't a great fan of the wording that everything was a "free".

You see, at a church block party it's not free. The lead pastor and I went to Costco to buy the supplies, so I know they were not free. In that same church we did a coffee house church service, and we gave away coffee. Good coffee, and it was made on a very good espresso maker. The coffee wasn't free either, it just didn't cost the recipients anything. There was a cost, it cost someone.

Salvation is a gift of God that we do nothing to earn or merit or deserve, but it's not free. It cost Jesus everything to purchase our ransom. Discipleship also has a cost, in fact it should cost us everything. There should be nothing in our lives that we don't lay down before the cross. We should be willing to give our hearts, lives, money, time, and energy to serve Christ.

The problem with the church is often that there is no cost and people have begin to not give. There are two sides to this issue I want to unpack, first is those in the pews. People have come to expect that church will cost them nothing. They are there to spectate. I have heard people complain about the music, the preaching, the seating, the lighting, the sound and the temperature of the worship area. There is too much of an expectation to come and be taken care of. We have become consumers of church. This is bad, and it's not what Jesus had in mind. When He said "church" what He implied by the very word is that people would come together to contribute and unite and invest and be involved. It takes time, talent, money, effort, thought and investment. You and I should contribute to the church, not just partake. You don't go to church to be "fed" you go to invest.

People have become lazy, and leaders have empowered the church. Those who are in control often don't want to give up control. They don't want things to look bad or get out of control. They don't share power, they don't include others in the decision making. They want to run the show, so they never open up enough to let others contribute. There is a controlling atmosphere that the leaders come together and shut and lock anyone else out from being involved. They can't contribute because they are not allowed to contribute anywhere. Many leaders take the "us four, no more, lock the door" attitude towards church ministry.

It's time to stop it. It's not free, church isn't free and neither are we. If you are alive, you are either a slave to sin or to Christ. Let those who are slaves to Christ serve Christ to ensure the slaves to sin can be set free. Let's contribute, let's invest and let's change the sign. Instead of saying "everything free" let's say "Christ paid the price for our salvation, so we would like to pay the price for your enjoyment today". It may be a little wordy, but it's the right message.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Can You Make a Difference?

This world is a messed up place. This country is a messed up place. We have crooked politicians, protests about who's lives matter, killer clowns, school shootings trafficked teens and a host of other problems. The issues are real, and they are big and daunting and it makes us think that one person can't make a difference. That is where you are wrong.

The Bible is full of stories of one person making a difference, to the Judges of Israel to Esther to Nehemiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul and on and on. Real people making a difference just by doing whatever they can, when and where they can. They followed where God led them an incredible things happened. Sometimes it changed entire nations, and sometimes it just changed one life.

Maybe God has you in a place to make a difference. Little acts can make big changes. Be kind to someone who needs some kindness. Go out of your way to be helpful or thoughtful. Do a little extra, tip a little more and hug often. Above all, pray often and for everyone. You never know when it will make a difference.

In our adult lives, my wife and I have had opportunities to be part of some amazing things. We have served in various places, interacted with all kinds of people and traveled to some great places. We have never been part of anything that will get roads named after us or get memorialized on a plaque, but we have seen God do some thing things. Maybe someone who we helped will help someone who will change the world. You never know what God is going to do with the gift you give.

You make a difference. With all the evil in the world, the good you do know is holding it at bay. The decline we are on is being slowed every day by those who would pull against it. Those who hold the line and say "I will love in the face of hate and I will do good in the tide of evil".  You make a difference and God sees what you do. Remember to pay it forward and pass it on, do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Sin of Favorites

In the church today, I think we have a big problem that is being overlooked. I think it's huge, it's massive and it's killing our church and we ignore it. It's not pride of our pastors and leaders (although that's probably number two and needs it's own blog). It's not liberalism or legalism or bad doctrine. All those things are bad, but I really believe the slippery slope began with the sin of showing some individuals partiality. Let's look at some scripture.

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
James 2:1-10

There isn't a whole lot of exegesis to this passage necessary. It was clear that James is pointin out that when we give honor to the rich and dishonor the poor, we are sinning. James points out where it's blatant, like the best places to sit and honor. Often it's more subtle. How many wealthy people in our churches have title and position? How many poor people? It's not pleasant to think about, but often those who are professional and successful and fit the "American ideal" are those who are in control of the church. Those who are not doing so well, they are not as influential. It effects things in the church. Decisions are made to keep those who have in control and those who don't on the fringes. Those with power can influence and make decisions that are not Godly. How many men have been forced out of church by a few with power and influence.

What's the answer? First, we need to admit it and acknowledge its' a problem. We need to look around our churches for those who are fit to lead and serve but may not have the status. We need to repent and maybe even remove some leaders/deacons/elders who are not as qualified to lead but have degrees and status and money and power. We need to begin looking beyond what society looks at, admit and repent of the partiality.  We need to look at the status of our church, many things we do or don't do because of pressure of those who get special treatment. Many of the legalism or the liberalism began simply with trying to make the powerful  people happy.

We need to look at the decisions that we overlook. In a church, there was a young couple who were told they couldn't serve in ministry because they were not involved in a Sunday School class, yet a man and his wife who had influence and money were allowed to miss all small group experiences. This is sin, and if you find giving a pass to the rich or influential, it's time to repent. If you hold the poor, young or less impressive to a higher standard than the rich, you are showing partiality. This is in. If the doctrine, teachings or ministries of your church a directed by the needs, wants, or opinions of a few powerful people, that is sin.

It's time to put God in the middle of our ministries and church life. It's time to get rid of the politics and games that we too often play.  Let's look at people the way God looks at people, not at the bank account or social status, but at the heart.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Elusive Happiness

Not to long ago I wrote a series of blogs on happiness. At the time I wasn’t happy. There are several reasons for me not feeling happy and I don’t want to rehash all of it. A few weeks ago and nothing in my life has really changed, but I’m feeling much happier.

I’m still dissapointed about my lack of ministry involvement, about my lack of time to do the things I enjoy. There is still stress about money and finances and to top it off, my truck is out of commission. Things are still rough, but I am happier today than I was a month ago. What is the secret?

Truth is, there isn’t one. I just started being happy about things. I play minecraft with Brayden and joke with Collin and Kaylee and spend time with Elaine. I enjoy the friends I have in the short amount of time I get to spend with them. I focus on the things I like about my job and I try to do things for myself here and there.

I’m trying to do things that make me happy. I focus on things that I am happy about and I try to look forward to some things. I look forward to the future more and look at the past less. Things aren’t perfect, but they never have been nor will they be. They are still good. It’s all good.