Can We Talk?

There is a question burning in my mind that will NOT go away.

SOOOO… best medicine for that is to put it here and see if there are answers that reside among the limited audience that reads this. Or perhaps that limited audience will repost, and thus re-ask, and help me find answers from the great and mysterious inter-webs.

What has happened to honest dialogue? What has happened to asking questions, being open to discussion, even argument, and still being able to remain friends at the end of the day?

I ask because it seems as though our society seems to be more content with picking a side, digging in, and vilifying the “other side”.  This is something that has existed for quite some time but has become increasingly apparent in the wake of the election cycle and continues to drive wedges into our culture seemingly screaming at us that our differences must define us, and when I watch and listen it seems that is the sad reality.  Every news cycle tells me this is true, every time I engage with social media it tells me this is true, but I cannot bring myself to believe it.  I cannot believe that voting for someone, that another person disagrees with, makes that person evil. It cannot be true that disagreement is intolerance, or that being intolerant is just a form of dissent.  There has to be a better way.

Especially in and among people who claim to follow Jesus.

Shouldn’t we above all people have the capacity to dialogue? And I mean really have the patience and love for one another as people who are trying to figure it out. To extend grace to those we may disagree with on social or political issues (especially on social or political issues). We must realize that life is messy, right? We must realize that people have passions around something that we may not, and that it’s OK for that to be the case, shouldn’t we?  Perhaps if we would follow the idea of having grace, speaking the truth in love AND kindness, considering others greater than ourselves, being quick to listen and slow to outrage (speak), and even going as far as to ask why people process they way they do (which by the way… this is my attempt). Maybe then, we could come to the table, disagree in love and without division and seek understanding so that we can be united in what unites us and in spite of what we may disagree upon.

Again… these are just some thoughts; along with an invitation to hear yours.

what’s on your mind?

 

j-

The Plank… or Marriage Mayhem.. or ARRRGGGHHHH!!

As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more burdened by a cultural conversation than I am right now. I received a text from a friend this morning asking my opinion on the swirling marriage controversy and I, though I am really not sure why, found myself feeling a definitive weight… So please walk with me through the journey of my mind as I weigh in on what seems to be the defining issue of my generation for the church.

First… I think it’s by scheming design that it’s Holy Week and this topic has grabbed everyone’s attention. The enemy wants no more than to distract from the awe that is the resurrection of Jesus, the complete substitutionary atoning work of the death and resurrection of our Risen Savior. I mean after all, who wants to be reminded of the greatest butt whooping they’ve received to date? So he wants to distract believers with the one social thing that divides, frustrates, consumes, and embitters more quickly than soft butter melts in a hot skillet. So let’s push back… because true equality is found only only at the feet of the Savior, in the redemptive work of His gospel (at least that’s what I get from Col 3:11)

So that brings me to the rest of it, and truly let me say this is an honest and open struggle, not with the biblical definition of marriage, or sin, or love. Those who know me, know that I am a rather huge fan of the Word of God. The struggle is the collision of culture and church, government and faith, hypocrisy and sanctification. So let me start with the asking of a couple of different questions I struggle with. Some of this stems from the wave of facebook profile picture shifting that I have witnessed over the last few days seeing the red = sign pop up everywhere. So to my Christian friends I have questions, a few for each side of the fence. These questions are meant to cause thought, whether introspective, or outwardly processed through discussions and comments, either way as long as we are talking honestly and openly.

To my Christian friends that are changing their profile pictures to red = signs, and declaring to stand in the camp of marriage equality:

What is the reasoning behind your stance?

Where do you stand with regards to the Bible, sin, and the rather direct way in which marriage and homosexuality are defined?

What is the church’s role in your thoughts? (for example, if the government mandates marriage for all, will it then be o.k. for the govt. to mandate that the orthodox/evangelical/Christian church perform gay weddings?)

To my Christian friends who are opposed or have changed their profile pics to something else in response:

Same first question as above (and feel free to expand on your thoughts…or in other words… don’t just say “because the bible says”)

Where does the role of church and government balance out? In other words, are we in a right place as the Christian church to say that the government should mandate a one woman-one man definition of marriage?

To anyone who is reading this that is not a believer, or perhaps is LGBT… and honest question (and in thinking about it maybe everyone should consider this):

What is it about the word “marriage”? Let’s face it, at this point the argument is over a label and certainly not an institutional definition of what it is, because the reality is those camps will forever be differentiated by a host of inputs. Basically I see a bunch of people at the center of this argument with both sides trying to scream louder than the other “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE!!!”, without anyone willing to lay down their hatchet to see what’s really going on.

I know I’m at risk here, I know that I’m at risk of hard core conservative believers saying I’ve gone liberal, and at risk of those on the other side of the argument saying I’m judgmental and un-loving (which is kind of an odd place to be considering the argument itself) but I’m willing to be at risk as I’m in process.

These words have been floating around facebook as well, a quote from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Ca:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

This particular quote gives me great hope that there are those who are looking to have an honest perspective, and hopefully honest dialogue. I want to, I am longing to be involved with an open and honest dialogue that involves an actual agreeable disagreement that is founded in love, respect, and dignity (kind of like the model seen in John 8)

I’m going to speak from an honest point of view, maybe it helps maybe it doesn’t, maybe it clarifies, or maybe it’s just rambling, it’s in keeping with the “Mayem/ARRRGGHHH” part of the title. I’m in agreement with the idea that we should in no way as believers feel that we are to compromise our convictions in the center of this issue… but let’s be honest.. the sanctity of marriage issue, should really start at home.  How is it that we as the church aren’t putting forth a better model of marriage for the world to see? Why is it that the church is wrought with divorce, abuse, and other marital dysfunction? We aren’t offering a better image of marriage! It seems to me that most times the argument being made that the world is defiling the institution of marriage is the epitome of the plank in the eye. I mean we live in a world that does little to honor the actual covenant bond of marriage, where people get married on a whim, in drunken stupors, out of desperation, in complete selfishness, men and women sacrifice marriage on the altar of “ministry”, fail to serve one another, fail to cultivate dependence on Jesus rather than spouse, and so much more, all this and we have the audacity to try and tell the world it’s corrupting the institution of marriage? Ouch.  Perhaps it’s high time we realize the greatest thing the church could do for the institution of marriage, is change the face of marriage in the church! I mean, I have a tough time justifying my preaching at an unbelieving world about the “morality” they should espouse when I need to spend more effort encouraging Christians to actually adopt and practice a biblical model of gospel centered marriage.

Does this mean I deny God’s Word and condone gay marriage as cool in God’s eyes? Nope, sorry, I’m not swinging that way either. In my eyes the biblical institution of marriage is by far the best model, in fact when the biblical model of marriage is put in place and grounded in the Gospel it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools for redemption man has ever seen. The problem is, most Christians can agree with that, but then fail to realize that the government never mandated that, nor is it by any government institution that that occurs. So maybe it’s my opinion that the government can’t change the institution of marriage, any more than they can re-write the bible. Perhaps, I wonder at what point to we simply render unto Caesar and let them do what they will do. People get married without the church all the time, whether it’s Vegas or the courthouse and millions upon millions of people are legally married and don’t hold the Christian value of marriage as esteemed, other than they are “one man and one woman” and let’s face it… that alone is not the biblical definition of marriage. People are longing for something more though, something to give them them value, meaning, and really to give them a sense of satisfaction in life, and that is where we can enter the discussion in love and in truth.

When we get to the point that we can understand that one of the main roots of sin is the heart of man/woman seeking deep satisfaction, then maybe we realize the battlefield isn’t one of espousing morality, but elevating Jesus as the true means to satisfying our hearts deepest thirsts. Perhaps that’s where we get back to the real crux of the matter, That 2000 years ago God came, at just the right moment, in the flesh, lived the life I should, died a death that I deserved, and walked out of a tomb, all that I could have that satisfaction. Maybe the priority should be getting beyond the “marriage” issue and pointing out the Jesus is the better Groom and has come to redeem for Himself an undeserving bride, who is broken, imperfect, and flawed, but in whom He places beauty, perfection, and flawlessness. That’s the only solution I can see as lasting, as meaningful, or as viable for the believer… I guess I’m not sure how demanding a biblical standard be endorsed by the government helps that mission, or how the government endorsing the other side of the argument, changes or hinders that mission. AT the same time… I KNOW that walking away from, watering down, or abandoning God’s design for ourselves as believers, our marriages especially… that does hinder the mission. Anyway… there are other good reads on this matter, the guys over at The Gospel Coalition have THIS to say and it’s hard hitting and thought provoking for believers (and Biblically accurate).

The bottom line… I’m sure that this is not the end of the process for me, because, like all of us, I am continually being sanctified by the grace of God and grown in maturity, but I just want an honest, grace-filled, open discussion about a really difficult issue, I think we could all use a little more of that.

Please pray and consider your words and hearts before leaving comments or questions.

Indebted to Grace,

j-

P.S. – This is the actual bottom line.

The Pulpit & Politics Part 3 – The Crux

Now we have come to the final part and thus the final point of this particular line of thinking. If you need to catch up you can can click to see Part 1: Election Year; here or see Part 2: Confusion; here. So if you are caught up or have been keeping up we now come to the crux of the matter, the center point, the lynch pin, the meat and potatoes, the bottom line… the point, which I need to get to. It comes down to this:

Involvement in the political process is a matter of wisdom/stewardship/discipleship

In other words it is the role and responsibility of the individual believer.

This being the most important aspect of this whole statement (blog series), it must be understood that I believe in the process and being part of it, being wise in stewarding your community, voting based on your convictions. As a pastor my job is not to tell anyone what to think, but to sharpen those believers who are under my care, challenging each of them to grow in wisdom, grace, and understanding of the word, which then would effect any participation in the political process. This is where it matters that we live for truth rather than carry truth around like a club, where it is of the utmost importance that we do not live like hypocrites, but walk in humility.

If we actually live out the freedom and hope that is given us through the gospel we can let go of our fervent political ideology as a means to that freedom or hope. Then we are free to enter into discussion and thought about politics more practically and less emotionally. Then people can vote with wisdom and conviction based on what they understand to be biblical, without the need to tell everyone else how sinful or unintelligent, or worse, un-Christian they are for not voting like Jesus would have voted. It also disallows the assigning of one political party as more Jesus centered and keeps the election year free from needing to turn the pulpit into a series of sermons on the hot topics, and keeps the pulpit focused on the elevation of Jesus, not the United States’ political climate, as our central object of worship. In reality it transfers politics into one of the least aspects of who we are as believers and how we express our faith (unless of course you work/serve in the political arena) and puts us back on mission to live for Jesus consistently in every aspect of our lives, this is how impact is truly made.

Change is brought by Christ-like character lived out (the Gospel in action in our lives)

Every biblical example of a man standing for right and effecting change in a government leader or system is based in that individual living as set apart and in the case of Joseph (Genesis 39-45) and Daniel (Daniel) they were first taken into slavery and then in submission to those in authority over them and by living righteous and Godly lives, as well as using the gifts God gave them to serve (even those who held them captive) it was only then that they were able to effect change and offer counsel to the leaders.

In the case of Paul before Felix and before Agrippa (Acts 23-26) it was more of the same, Paul was living out his calling as an Apostle and after being accused by the Jews he stood trial in defense of the Gospel, then he was able to share wisdom, which honestly Felix rejects and leaves Paul in jail.  However even knowing that didn’t stop Paul from preaching.

The final piece of this is John the Baptist before Herod the Tetrarch in which John had spoken out against Herod’s adultery, keeping in mind that Herod was a Jewish leader and subject to Jewish law (Matt 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29) and John was calling him out on living outside of the law. To contrast this last example, we cannot hold a non-believing President or legislators to biblical standards and get hacked when they don’t “follow the Lord” by implementing policy we disagree with.

 The bottom line of the bottom line:

I hope you can understand that this is not a position I take out of fear of offense, or out of lack of conviction, or certainly out of biblical ignorance, but as a pastor I understand my calling is to elevate Jesus, compel believers to draw close to Jesus, preach the gospel, and teach the full counsel of the bible. I am convinced it is more important for us to live as faithful, seek righteousness & holiness, love mercy & justice, and from that our lives then make impact. Believe me when I say I will preach like a lion in defense of God’s truth and certainly I hope you understand that I am willing to do whatever it takes to forward the gospel in a manner consistent with the biblical calling of a pastor/elder, however I see little kingdom value in using the pulpit to contest the political measures of a fallen world, endorse clearly secular political candidates, or in any way press people toward aligning any political ideology or party as more “Christian”, when I know that such contesting, endorsing, and pressing will not bring about change in men’s hearts, nor will it draw them closer to Jesus. I will continue to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ as our only hope, the only thing that brings lasting change to our sinful hearts, the only measure of righteousness, and our only means of salvation.

Hopefully this blog is a catalyst for understanding and growth in this particular matter as I was preparing to post this this morning I came across another blog from another pastor whom I respect named Ed Stetzer and you can find that here. It may convey some of these things more concisely, but I will end with a quote from his blog this morning

“Pastors should preach something more important than politics– they should preach Christ. They should preach Scripture. When they preach Scripture, they will indeed address issues that the world sees as political, but they distract from their message and mission when they start using the church to endorse candidates”

Grace and Peace to you.

The Pulpit & Politics Part 2 – Confusion

From the last post, which you can grab here if you haven’t read it, we left off having established the basic roles of church and pastor in an effort to set some right expectations when it comes to politics in church. So where did the expectations get out of line? I think it really took hold when people somehow blended their patriotism with their faith blurring the lines of truth and making their “Americanism” an intrinsic part of their Christianity or in some cases out an out replacing Jesus with the American flag and the founding fathers. Then of course followed along the right manner of political involvement and the assigning of particular partisanship to the Church and to it’s people.

What I believe is the mix up in this particular issue, is the confusion of roles.  It involves the confusion of the role of the Pastor, how he instructs, what he’s supposed to talk about, and how he leads. It also involves the role of the church, local and universal, what it stands for, what it’s primary message is, and how it reaches and impacts the world. Finally the overarching, and most concerning, confusion is the role of the Gospel in contrast to moral change, which leads to hope in legislation of Christianity as opposed to faithful belief in Jesus (for more on that you can read a short article I wrote a long time ago here)…

So let’s clarify some roles…

Political/Moral Instruction is not the role of the pastor:

The pastor’s job is not to teach the unbelieving world to live morally, but to faithfully declare to them the glory of Jesus through the Gospel. My fear is that we are falling into a pattern that has elevated morality into a place of substitution for the Gospel. That if we simply declare what is moral according to the Bible, then people will somehow get it and come to saving faith in Jesus.  This is not the way it should be because according to Romans 1:16 the gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”. The pastor is called to share the hope of Jesus first, then to instruct those who believe to pursue Christ with all that they have, because of what He has done. If we as pastors slip into merely teaching and declaring morality we are leading people toward a false Gospel and hope in their own righteousness. Indeed pastors should not shy away from the full counsel of the Bible (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim 3:16-17, Titus 2:1) but this truth is intended to guide the believer in growth and maturity, after all we must understand that Paul’s letters are written to believers in churches. In the same fashion that Jesus continually rebuked the Pharisees and religious leaders so we are to call ourselves (believers) first to live in response to the Gospel, thus declaring its power in our own lives.

If we place our hope in morality or moral reform (which generally takes the shape of a socio-political agenda) then we are in effect rejecting Jesus as the only hope the world has. Again the gospel (as defined: the good news of Jesus birth, life, death, substitutionary atonement, and resurrection which offers man reconciliation to God the Father) is listed in Romans 1:16 as the power to save and nothing else is given that role.

The pastor’s role is indeed to defend truth, biblical truth (2 Tim1:13-14), but it is also to avoid foolish controversies (2 Tim 2:23) which leads me to understand that any pastor must be wise in what he defends and why. Pastors should, and I will always, preach and trust the word of God stand in its defense, and declare its truths. However, we are also to live wisely and trust God faithfully and this means that we cannot view every non-biblical declaration by a secular government as an assault on the church or Christianity. Certainly we cannot react to that by running around screaming our heads off about how God doesn’t like it when they do that, as it serves no good purpose. Let’s face it, the secular world is not confused about where the moral compass of the Evangelical church points when it comes the majority of issues.

Let me expand on this point. As a pastor, or simply as believers, we are not capable of pointing out the nature of an unbeliever’s sin, at least not without coming off as judgmental, prideful, arrogant, and unkind.  As a matter of fact, that’s not what the bible calls us to do, but for some reason we have taken that as our primary calling. The issue is to contrast one’s sin by elevating Jesus’ beauty, righteousness, and mercy.  Think about it, as believers our sins were not repulsive to us until we heard, understood and were moved by the gospel of Jesus. Then as we have grown we have been able to accept the counsel of others in our lives that call us to account for our sins and we thank them for that, again… after coming to more maturity in Jesus.  We aspire to cling to Jesus more tightly as we grow in maturity because we realize that it Him alone who is better than all things and is our only hope. An unbelieving world does not possess this understanding, yet in a tragically misguided fashion Christians believe that through moral declaration, they will somehow open their eyes.

Instructing people, believers and non, to simply behave morally is insufficient and does not have the power to save (Eph 2:8-9)

Socio-Political/Moral Reform is not the role of the Church (local or global)

As I stated before the mandate of the Church is clearly laid out for us in Matt 28:19-20 and in Acts 1:8 and we see how they conduct themselves and establish church community in Acts 2:42-47.

What is important in this matter is to recognize that we have no biblical reference or inference or outright command for the Church to involve itself in Government matters (flex it.  In Romans 13 Paul shows that God has placed us under the governing authorities and we are to submit to those authorities with the understanding of, and faith in, God’s sovereignty. Then in 1 Timothy 2 he writes that there should be prayers for “kings and all who are in high positions. So in an apparent stark contrast to a cultural mandate that many have adopted in the U.S., we do not see any biblical evidence that the early church, including the gentile churches throughout Asia, ever engaged in, sought to sway, or for that matter were encouraged to sway or steer, the governing authorities.  In fact they were instructed to live in harmony as best they could persevering through whatever persecution would come as a result of living for Jesus. In fact we can reference several occasions where they (hence we) are taught in scripture that they should expect persecution and they should praise God for it. The church existed to draw people to Jesus that their lives would be of eternal purpose and in that the mission of the Gospel is accomplished (which, for those of you who are worried I am advocating a lack of action or involvement at all, includes gospel driven social justice)

To sum up: the role of the Church is to elevate Jesus, glorify God, serve one another, share hope with the world, and train up believers to continue this work, placing our hope in Jesus alone.

That last line is what’s most essential… Place our hope in JESUS alone. The government,  the political party you like, the agenda item you carry around, the national citizenship you possess; NONE of these are where hope should lie, yet all of them will compete for your affections and lead you toward distraction at best but at worst straight into idolatry.

So what is the answer, avoid politics all together? Stick our heads in the sand or look the other way? NO…

but that’s for the next post where we tackle the role of the believer in the political process.

The Pulpit & Politics part 1: Election Year

PART 1 – It’s an election year…

Maybe you’ve heard, maybe you haven’t but a great number of people will be involved in a small process at the end of this year to decide who would be president of our nation.  Every election year it seems that we see many people become involved in, not just the political process, but politics and all that it entails for better or worse, and often worse. In any given election year, and at my age I’ve seen a few, there is an overwhelming outpouring of opinion and in those opinions it often looks like people who normally love Jesus, don’t really think He’s capable of much in the way of influence or power.

During this time it seems a lot of people want their church to chime in on such issues and declare moral rightness in voting one way or another, whether in regard to a candidate or party, or with regard to specific propositions.  It may be that there is a mass of confusion for people who love Jesus and are trying to follow after Him when it comes to political involvement. There are a lot of questions that come from this confusion, at least questions that need to be asked. Such as; where do we truly find hope? How do the hearts of people really change? What makes me so passionate about this stuff?

At the very least there is the obvious confusion and at the very worst there is a borderline idolatry (or maybe even outright idolatry) that occurs every election cycle. Some people, as followers in Christ, want to know what their role is, if they are supposed to have a specific political affiliation or if it is the church’s job to tell them how to vote. Others believe they have the answer and are more than willing to share… many of whom are wrong (there… I said it).

So to help bring perspective, I thought I would offer this 3 (maybe 4) part blog into the conversation. By the way, a conversation that involves people who love Jesus who find themselves on either side of the “aisle” for whatever particular reason, so please read on.

First thing we must start with is the basic mandate of the New Testament Church (big “C”), which is found succinctly stated in two scriptures:

Matthew 28:19-20 – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Acts 1:8  – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in all Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the Earth.

From these two passages we can see and discern Jesus intent for the Church. We are to be about proclaiming the Gospel, baptizing, and teaching people who have come to faith to follow Jesus (making disciples).  In addition there is as outlined in Acts 2:42-47 the church in community, but I believe this is what it looks like when the Gospel is lived out by the people of God. This is a corporately held mandate for all believers; it is not one that is executed solely by the pastor or leaders however we do understand that there are positions of leadership given to the church for it’s guidance and benefit. So then we have to look at the biblical role of the pastor.

The pastor or pastor/elder (the Greek word is the same) is given a very specific role within the church and it’s important that we understand what that is.

1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lay out the qualifications each man should possess as he is called, as well as Paul’s second letter to Timothy he instructs him this way “and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” 2 Tim 2:2

Paul also gives what I believe is the most complete and concise pastoral directive in Ephesians 4:11 – 12  “And He (Jesus) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ” The passage goes on to describe that equipping as building in maturity that we may grow in Christ-likeness.

From these two things I have drawn the distinct conclusion that my role as a pastor is to preach the Gospel (Acts 1:8, Romans 1:15-17) , teach the full counsel of the word of God (2 Tim 4:2), continually lift the name of Jesus as our Lord and Savior and only hope (John 3:14),  challenge people who have come to faith (believers) to live lives in response to the Gospel (Romans 12:1)  , and teach/empower those believers to share, teach, and lead (Ephesians 4:12) all of this is also encompassed in Matthew 28:19-20

You may be able to see where I am going but we are not done, and I would please ask that you refrain from passing total judgement before getting all 3 (or 4) parts of this blog. Feel free to comment and ask questions. There is more to follow and in the next post, we will cover the confusion of the roles of the church and the pastor and more importantly the confusion of the role of politics and the gospel in our lives.

Turning the Tables

This thought has really been brewing for a while, but it was brought rushing to the forefront of my mind this week in light of sermon prep and other contributing factors. It started this week with a look at the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each of these accounts starts of the final week of Jesus’ ministry with a particular event. It occurs in Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-18, and Luke 19:45-46 ( a really small amount of text but big in content) For our purposes take a peek at Mark’s account:

”    And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.”
(Mark 11:15-18 ESV)

As this thought and these verses tumbled through my head, it caused me to use twitter to communicate some snippets (which are on the right side of the blog window) but that just wouldn’t do. So here I sit this Wednesday morning at the kitchen table, laptop open, Mickey Mouse coffee cup freshly filled… onward!

Jesus going into the temples and turning over tables does some things to our minds and hearts, on the one hand we love Jesus when He’s “sticking it to the man” and we love Him as the hero. On the other hand, we also experience the reality of Jesus being righteously angry, and this can be a little unsettling for some, if not many people.  I want to get to the heart of this event and look at it from a place that challenges our hearts and helps us to examine the possible tables we are setting up.

Jesus went in and overturned the tables of the money changers, literally these men were crooks taking money from Jew and gentile to sell them “temple coins” at a significantly inflated exchange rate. He also drove out the people that were “buying and selling”, and these men were selling animals for sacrifice, again at inflated rates, for the aforementioned temple coins. It was a crazy racket to be sure and it was going on in the church of the day. These people had turned church into something for their personal private gain and it was an insult to Jesus.

That of course turns a fat spotlight on our hearts and asks this crazy question:

“Have I turned church into something it’s not? Have I turned it into something that’s just for my gain?”

This is a hard question for us to wrestle with and can evoke a number of responses so let’s break it down a little more specifically:

First we have to know what church is for. The corporate gathering of believers for worship is for the glorification of Jesus, the lifting up of Him, His name, and His saving grace. Secondarily the church exists to disciple believers and proclaim the Gospel to the lost, notice these are equally important as discipleship contains both equipping and evangelism. From this community is fostered, service happens, needs are met, burdens are borne.

Enter the problems of the day, and the proverbial setting up of tables. We have in so many ways determined that the church exists to serve us, rather than serve God. When this happens we start exalting things in the church such as programs, buildings, events, formats, styles, and so much more, rather than exalting God. We start to turn the church into something that is for me, rather than having a perspective of “I am God’s and thus I am for Him”.  Here are some tables to consider in the modern day…

Consumerism – are we part of a church because of a specific program or person? Or are we part of multiple churches taking part in a bevy of program diversity, never really immersing ourselves into the fabric of the church, yet complaining that we are “not as connected as we’d like to be”? Symptoms of this table would include:  Knowing you’d leave a church if the pastor wasn’t there anymore, if they ended or significantly modified your favorite ministry program, or the music changed. “Dating the church” going from local church to local church, usually within the same week, taking from the buffet table of program options and never plugging in or becoming a member of a local church.

Building Dependence – Yes the church needs a local place to meet. There is no advocating doing away with church buildings, but we should consider doing away with depending on the building to house every last program, bible study, small group, coffee meeting, discipleship, mentoring… bleh!!!  (you may gather that this one is a big deal to me). Can we stop running to the church facility and return to the home, have bible studies in our homes, do life together in view of our neighbors, heck… include your neighbors! Acts shows us the community of believers meeting both in the temple courts (corporate worship) and together from home to home breaking bread. I realize that it can be inconvenient to clean up the house, and have kids around during groups, but authentic community and discipleship CANNOT happen without inconvenience, discomfort, and stretching. Plus imagine the benefits of your children seeing all of their parents studying the bible together. Or what would happen if they took part? Symptoms of this table: Booking your small group bible study for a room in the church months and months if not years in advance.

Political/Moral Ideology – The church can become a place where some are determined to promote their cause specifically in the political and moral arenas. The struggle here becomes an issue of competition with the gospel. The temptation exists to elevate our agenda item to an equal importance with the gospel and take passionate stances about certain ideas, arguments, and actions. Petitions are highlighted and announced, candidates are trumpeted (but not outright endorsed) measures are rallied for or railed against, and then we make some drastic mistakes. We can elevate certain sin issues into the spotlight offering (sometimes unintentional) condemnation, forgetting our own sin is just as filthy before a Holy and Righteous God. We can also assume that ALL Christians think politically the same, and assign a morality or maturity to our political bent, when in reality Christians are a diverse political spectrum (some are just too polite to say anything). We can no more assign a “Christian way” to vote, than we can determine whether pews or chair are more holy, nor can we rally against a specific sin without realizing that ours is equal, and that someone sitting in the congregation could be struggling and needs the gospel, and we could close them off simply by our tone. Symptoms of this table: Constant attempts to get petitions in the church lobby, political/moral handouts in the bulletin, or flyers on the windshields of cars in the parking lot. Frustration at the lack of “participation” by the church leadership or joy at the level of “participation”.

Check-list Religiosity – Are we in church because it’s the “right” or “good” thing to do? Now understand, to be in church seeking, or searching is a good place to be, but that’s not what’s on deck here. I’m talking about “churchianity” where God is acknowledged but church is simply on the morality check list and serves to keep “The Man Upstairs” happy with me.  Believe me when I say that this is indeed a table and Jesus wants to tip it over. Symptoms: Church feels like a chore to accomplish and accounts for all the “bad stuff” that’s done all week.

Realizing that this list could continue to grow, we will close out with these four items. You may be able to recognize and add more from your experience and I’d invite you to do so in the comments section… but more importantly, there cannot be a close to this blog without this important fact:

JESUS DIDN’T JUST TURN THE TABLES OVER… HE DIED SO YOU WOULDN’T NEED TO SET THEM UP!!!

That is the beauty of the Gospel, Jesus died so that we could be set free from the tables, from the agendas, from the “for me” church mentality. The problem exists because we forget the all sufficient nature of the gospel and the freedom that flows from it. We also forget that nothing is as important to communicate as the gospel and its freedom. That we celebrate this weekend that Jesus came and died for us while we were opposed to Him. So please if anything on this list convicts or challenges you… please contemplate and reflect on the gospel.. and for the sake of the gospel, repent and ask Jesus to nail those things to the cross and give you freedom.

Indivisible… with Christianity for all?

But who’s counting right?

In all actuality I was sickly yesterday, laying on the couch sleeping, watching netflix, and having a great conversation with an old friend. Which brings me to another retro-type thought… Is it just me or did the movie “DUNE” seem so much cooler when we were kids? I watched it yesterday and thought it was kinda weird. I loved that movie when I was younger.

BUT… that is a totally different conversation. Today, since we missed yesterday, is “Retro Blog Day – the make up day” where I will take something from my old blog circa 2007-2008 and publish it here, for the fun of it. This one goes out to my man PC over at http://www.ragamuffinpc.com who asked a great question (or made a bold statement with instruction) in his comment on my last post:

One thing I have been thinking from time to time is that it seems American Christians seem to wait on the government to enact movement to situations and areas that the Church should have been a long time ago. Chew on that!

So this sort of answers my thought to that question/statement…

This was originally written Spring 2008 during the Presidential election cycle and the talk radio rhetoric was at an all time high in quantity, and low in quality. As I re-read this post, I do realize there was a bit of an angry tone, so I ask for your forgiveness in advance… I was much younger then! READ ON…

Indivisible… with Christianity for all? April, 1 2008

So… The second half of this exasperation; political agenda. I fear we have place political conservatism above the cross. That “good Christians” should vote or think only in very specific ways and that we should only be caught up with certain issues. Again… CRAPOLA!! The problem with the zealous political wing of Christianity (if you can really put all that together) is the underlying insidious nature of what they really want. They basically want a new messiah.

Much like the pharisees in Jesus day, they want a politically established leader who will affirm all that we believe as Christians as right and good and start to legislate as such. Now some may wonder why that is even a problem. It’s a huge problem, we shouldn’t want mandated Christianity, in fact it should scare the crap out of us. The thought of it should cause us to run out and get motivated to stop it. We should desire passionate, authentic, zealous faith that people gain from their interaction with the Holy Spirit, not something that they are doing in fear that the government will come barging in to their home to decree that they are not fulfilling their duties. Now… do I desire a Presidential candidate that has biblical wisdom and is a professing Christian… sure, but I don’t want a government that will start legislating Christianity as law, because the reality of the matter is… how long will it be before I don’t measure up?

I’m not sure which aspect of this gets me most riled up, but to be sure there is a level of Hypocrisy that is extreme. We have certainly come right out and bashed any of the Arabian and Asian governments that have established any form of religious law and to be sure we praise the founders that fled England due to religious oppression under the established church state. Yet for some reason there are those that think that it would work here, that power and corruption would never take hold in these modern times. My response to that is… are you crazy?

The question that must be asked… or the warning that must be leveled at this line of thinking;

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

The major problem with this whole thought is not just having a faith mandated (establishment of a religion) and having people forced into a way of believing which never works, and I have no doubt in my mind that is not what God desires. The issue is again relying on governmental or institutional powers to do the work of the Church and God’s people. If faith and all morality is legislated, then faith and morality in and of themselves lose power.

I certainly think there is a place to stand for what is right, and to be vocal about it, but there are times I fear the underlying motivations, and in the over-zealous politicised Christian conservative, even though I do not doubt they are my brother/sister… I do indeed find fear. So weigh your convictions, act on them, live with them firmly in place. As the word came to Zechariah the prophet:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’

We need to seek true justice… and many times that will not come in the form of the government. It will come in the form of God’s people going forth and acting as His hands and feet to a fallen and broken world.

Now please do not take this as a call to vacate the political process in general. It’s not.. go and vote, exercise your right to do so, vote with that same conviction and wisdom that guides you in life and trust the God, who is Sovereign over all, will see that the outcome is to His plan.

A Better Intersection…

So here it is… Monday again, and as we all know, Monday is blog day.  Well, technically, it’s the day that I’m home, the kids are at school, and there is reprieve from the “honey-do” list.

On today’s agenda is a topic that has been part of my life for a while, or at least something I have been moderately (alright at moments  this may be more like; intensely) concerned with over the years. It’s one of those things that I think a lot of people get caught up in and at times can be pretty divisive. And, though that weren’t enough, we have all been taught that it’s not something we discuss at family dinners or in polite company. So, by this point, you are wondering what it is, and I’m hoping that I’ve had you reading long enough to get you past the revealing of the topic at hand… so here we go, it’s…

politics (please move the cursor away from the close button, I promise it’s not what you think!!!)

There has been a thought rattling around my head in regard to the political realm and the Christian faith (we did, after all, just have another election year). Now usually here is where the lecture or directive on some political view would go, but that’s not what we are here for… I think there is way too much weight put on what Christians should vote on and how (again, room for debate, but that’s not the point). More important than debate is finding a better intersection for our faith and our politics than what happens in election cycles or what political cause we attach ourselves to. But I digress, our political affiliations and philosophies are not my aim, but really it’s our hearts for our leaders that I am concerned with. It would seem the better intersection can be found in the heart of prayer.

You see in two instances in scripture I see Paul dealing with this whole idea of political leaders. It’s in Romans 13 that he talks about God being over every authority, and not one of them being in power outside of His will. Then in 1 Timothy we are challenged to pray for all those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-4) and in light of these two things I started thinking…

Would God put leaders into power, that we may disagree with philosophically, politically, or even morally, in order to check the heart of His church (people) when it comes to prayer?

After all, what’s more important, the functioning of the government or our refinement as God’s people? I find that thought very challenging, but then, I find a lot of things that God does to grow me very challenging.   As Christians, if we are honest, we already know that our first allegiance shouldn’t be to country but to Christ (yes there is a point to be made about our faith informing our vote and need to be wise, but that’s not the heart of the matter here) and in that we should seek to lift every leader we have over us up to God in prayer, agree or not. In fact I wonder if we shouldn’t be praying more for those we agree with less (and not prayers that they will see it our way either). I’m not sure if this particular post counts as a rant, but I guess it could be mistaken as such, either way I just want to see our hearts change from a people of faith that are widely known for one sided politics, to a people of faith that can come together despite political difference to pray for the wisdom and guidance of our national, state, and local governments.

So.. bottom line… are we praying for our leaders at all? Are we praying for the ones we didn’t vote for? Are we praying for their wisdom (not our wisdom), clarity, safety, family? If not, are we really answering God’s charge to us, His body, to pray for those that are in authority over us? If not, let’s commit to changing that this year. Let’s start the discussion.

Be sure to check out Wednesday which is retro blog post day… I’ll pull something off my old blog that might even be related to this.