Thursday, November 12, 2009

Whitewashed Tombs

I'm going to rant a little today. I'm tired of people comfortable in traditional churches looking down upon and opposing those attempting to reach the lost and unchurched by means of contemporary worship and practical teaching, as if these two things are immoral.

Jesus was clear that rules and traditions of men kept the Pharisees, Saducees, and Scribes from inheriting the Kingdom of God. The spirit of the Law, not the letter, was God's heart. Jesus condemned the Jewish leaders for usurping His law with rules surrounding the Sabbath, prayer, relationships with our parents, divorce, swearing practices, tithes, and cleansing rituals. All of these rules led to false theology (good works [following the law] will save you) and burdened the people with more than they could bear. Instead of looking like the Messiah, people were told to look like the Jewish leaders, the "whitewashed tombs!" Yet, isn't this same Pharisaical spirit alive in the American church today? Don't we, perhaps inadvertently, require the lost world to come in line with what our churched members prefer rather than require our churched, supposedly saved, members to demonstrate Christ's sacrificial spirit?

Time and time again, the church has changed with culture. I think of the first pianos in churches. They were not welcomed because pianos were saloon instruments! Now, just try to take the piano out of a traditional church! This molding to the culture is not in itself a bad thing. I believe that Jesus worked within and without His culture to win the lost. Culture is amoral. By using amoral cultural norms, a church is not being blasphemous or even ignorant, it is being relevant so that it can reach people where they are at. Wasn't Jesus about meeting people where they were at? Paul explicitly endorsed this as well.

In I Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul talks about becoming all things to all men so that he might save some. In studying these verse, John MacArthur makes an enlightening point. Paul isn't saying that he is free to do whatever he wants so that people will come to know Christ; he is saying that he will give up all his individual freedom so that people will come to know Christ.* Paul will refrain from exercising his preferences so that other won't be distracted by him and will be uninhibited to be saved. Now which of these sounds like Jesus and which of these sounds like the Pharisees?

Now, I'm not saying that those who prefer traditional church are unsaved like the Pharisees (although some definitely are!); rather I say this that I might challenge them to consider their discouragement or opposition of anything "contemporary" within the church. Is their opposition based on any biblical principle or command? Most of the time it is not. Rather it is based on personal preference. And because of their personal preferences, because of their lack of sacrificial spirit, people all around their communities and even within their churches are dying and going to Hell.

Let me make this personal. We are planting a church right now in an area where what I have said is not popular. Traditional worship abounds. I don't think there is one other Baptist church in our Association that offers contemporary worship. It is also in an area in which only 23% of people attend church on any given Sunday. What are willing to sacrifice in order to get the other 77% in church?! I like traditional worship. I already miss singing in the choir and we have only been on the field 4 months. Yet, I am willing to sacrifice my preferences of having a blended service in order to reach the unchurched and dechurched. We are planting a multi-ethnic church. I prefer a type of music that will not speak to all ethnicities. I am willing to sacrifice that preference in order to reach a multi-ethic group of people. Jesus taught me that He is bigger than any one type, beat, or style of music! It is just music! As long as the lyrics of the song praise Jesus Christ and are true to Scripture, I can worship my King!!

Maybe those of us in the church need to heed Paul's advice and set aside our own freedoms (preferences) and do what it takes to meet the lost where they are so that they might be saved! Maybe if we started doing this, just maybe the American church would come alive, maybe just maybe our churches would start seeing record numbers of conversions again, maybe just maybe we would look a little more like Jesus.

* I think American believers in particular have a hard time with this concept because individual autonomy itself is worshipped in our country. We are indoctrinated at a very young age that we are free and can exercise that freedom unabashedly, no matter what. Our wants reign supreme in our decision making. This is directly contradictory to Christianity, however. So, many believers have a hard time truly getting this American philosophy out of their hearts and minds after salvation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To the believer: Is it "good enough"?

In a world that is constantly vying for our time, attention, gifts, and resources, we have become accustomed to quickly discerning what we think is "good enough" for us, our family, our lives. As mothers we are inundated with choices about food, clothing, toys, activities, sports . . . the list could go on and on. But really what should we be spending our time investing in?

Recently I came across two verses that have challenged me about what I deem "good enough" for my time, energy, and resources.

Acts 17:17 - "So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place EVERY DAY (emphasis added) with those who happened to be present."

Rom. 1:16 - "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek."

The latter verse really made me stop: Am I ashamed of the Gospel? Or to ask the same thing another way, "is it 'good enough' for me to spend time, energy, and resources talking about?" I have to admit, if someone looked into my personal, daily deeds, they wouldn't answer this question in the positive. It is kinda like asking someone what they think is important. You can get a good glimpse at their answer by looking in their checkbook at what they spend money on. Under that same litmus test, you might say that I am not ashamed. I give freely of my money, time, and gifts to the church.

But the question that haunts me is, what about each day in my personal dealings . . . as I am in the marketplace (Acts 17:17)? Am I still not ashamed there? Is the gospel of Christ "good enough" for me to step out of my comfort zone and share it as I go about daily living, as I meet those who happen to be there?

It is! It is the power of God to salvation! It is not just "good enough;" it is the best thing out there! It brings life to the dead; it makes new the old; it frees the enslaved; it empowers the powerless; it strengthens the weak; it enlightens the darkness!

So, I will heed the voice of God. I will run my race with more determination. I will NOT be ashamed. I will reason in the church with the believers and I will reason in the marketplace everyday with whomever I meet. It is more than good enough for me - it is the most worthy thing of my time, attention, gifts, and resources.

Have you thought recently whether it is "good enough" for you?

post script
If you are wondering whether you are good enough for the gospel of Christ. In one respect, the answer is "no!" Now before you get offended or stop reading, none of us are. We have all sinned, which makes us less than equal to God (Rom. 3:23). But what is so great is that even though we are sinners, God loved us enough to make a way for us to spend eternity with Him and have an abundant life on earth until our death. He took the consequences of our sin, which was death, and died on the cross. Then He did something that we could not do. He rose from the grave (he defeated death!) and gave us the opportunity to live again.

Now, back to the question: "yes! you are good enough!" Jesus Christ did all this for everyone . . . even while they were in sin! He did it for you! He loves you that much! You don't have to be a certain type of person, of a certain family, etc. What you do have to be is repentant; meaning you have to understand you are a sinner (you do wrong sometimes) and you have to want to turn from that sin. Ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and ask him to take complete control of your life. I promise, you will not regret it!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I want a "Do Over!"

How many of us want to start over? We might have this desire in life generally or in a specific situation. Sometimes I feel this way with my children. We start the day already having conflict and I just want to scream, "DO OVER!" When my daughter wakes up on the proverbial "wrong side", I have actually sent her back to bed and told her to wake up a second time in a much better mood (a tickle treatment while she was down usually helps this!). Or even this feeling arises with my husband, especially when an important conversation starts out with the wrong phrase, tone, or gesture. "DO OVER PLEASE!"

Unfortunately, I can't even count the number of times this has been my mantra in trying to reach those who do not know Jesus as Lord and Savior. Whether it is saying something too "churchy", not being compassionate enough in ministering to someone hurting, or having to address a topic with a new friend with a politically incorrect answer, there always seem to be too many times when I wish I would have done it "better" . . . better in my view at least. I wanted a "Do Over!"

You know what is so good about even these times though? God still can use them. God still can use me, even when I want to scream, "DO OVER!" and He can make something good and glorifying to His name come from the situation. That's my God though, always taking something that is far short of perfect or good and making it useful, giving it a purpose. He can continue to do this in my life circumstances because He has already done it in my heart.

God, through Jesus Christ, has taken my sinful heart and given me a new one. He has taken that spirit of the law within me and given me instead a spirit of grace. He has taken my works of the flesh, which really weren't that great, and given me His Spirit of righteousness. Do you understand how big that is?! I wasn't deserving of any of these gifts! Yet, God loved me so much that while I was living in those works of the flesh (sin), He died on the cross to pay the penalty of my sin and give me a new life. He gave me a "do over!"

I sure am thankful for "Do overs!"