Archive for January, 2009

Maybe Its Time To Reevaluate Our Faith

 

            We cannot continue like we are going.  Modern Christianity has lost its connection to historic, first century Christianity.  We have lost our way.  Maybe you are a skeptic and want more proof than my bold declaration that we have lost our way.

 

            I think that the proof is in the pudding as they say where I live.  And the pudding is to look at how we are changing our world.  From the time of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry through the end of the first century the Church of Jesus Christ, and of course the master himself, turned their world upside down.  They did it without modern communication.  They did it without written apologetics.

 

            There were no televisions to promote the word.  There was no radio ministry.  Shoot, even their newsletters had to be written on reed parchments.  It was not an easy time to communicate.  And forget about traveling.  To get from one place to another they either walked or rode a donkey or horse.  Nothing was easy for these guys and ladies, and yet, they turned the world upside down.

 

            What did they have that we did not have?  Nothing.  What do we have that they did not have?  Everything.  And therein lays the answer.

 

            Jesus was homeless.  He was also relatively unemployed; in fact, Peter found the money to pay the taxes Jesus owed in the mouth of a fish.  Clearly, Jesus did not have a strong mailing list to go to for help.

 

            Where were the intercessors when Jesus needed them?  Here He is, facing the lord of Hell on a daily basis, and His ministry is not fully developed by our standards.  Yet He managed to accomplish the most important goal of anyone in history.  An accomplishment that stands as the turning point of history—even now.

 

            The second most critical person in the history of Christianity is the Apostle Paul.  A quick look at his life, found in I Corinthians 4:11 “To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless;”

 

            So now we are two for two.  The master and his top man are both homeless.  How many of our leaders are homeless?  How many of our leaders are hungry and thirsty?  How many of our leaders are poorly clothed and roughly treated?

 

            You got it—none!

 

            I am not saying that we all have to be homeless, hungry, thirsty, poorly clothed, and roughly treated to be true Christians.  What I am saying is that there is something missing because the Church, largely on the Christian right, does not have any place for those who are homeless, just as Jesus was homeless. 

 

            It is time we returned to a simpler day.  A day when we placed less value on the things we owned or the size of the reserves in our ministry. 

 

            The problem is that we are not asking the right questions.  We are concerned with what looks right for the staid and set believers around us.  We are concerned with not offending people.  All the time we teach that Jesus was offensive to most everyone he met.  Some He offended into the kingdom.  Some He offended so much that they had Him killed.

 

            Instead of wondering how to keep up with the Jones it is time we learned how to keep up with the Jesuses of our world.

 

            The question we have to ask ourselves is:  How do I respond to those around me the way Jesus did?  How do I learn to appreciate everything in its proper place the way Paul did?

 

            Maybe instead of fighting to get to the top of the heap we should be fighting to get to the bottom of the heap.

 

            Maybe instead of believing God for a new car and a better house we should be believing God to show us how to live with less.  Maybe we should be praying for the prosperity Paul had—you remember, the prosperity of hunger and thirst and homelessness.

 

            Where are the television preachers showing us how to move down the ladder in God’s will, rather than spending years convincing us that God wants us at the top of the heap in the nicest clothes and best cars and mansions in this world?

 

            Maybe I am dreaming.  I am not there.  But at some point we have to come to grips with the truth of the Gospel and not just the parts that make us feel good.

How To Expand The Evangelical Presence In Europe

There are three simultaneous events that will expand the evangelical presence in Europe.  These are not mysterious events.  They are not secret; in fact, many people and organizations do these things in a variety of countries.  There are a number of reasons why it is important for us to expand evangelical presence in Europe that are not relevant here.  They will appear in other articles more targeted to that question.

Also, by evangelical presence I am not talking about conservative republican political evangelical presence.  I am talking about pure New Testament based evangelical churches whose presence reaches into the community through a variety of outreaches and influences.

There is currently a small presence that needs to be encouraged and strengthened where it is.  The expansion of the presence must be from within.  We do not need to export American evangelical Christianity with its political overtones to Europe.  We need to support the European Church.  That is one of the amazing things about God.  He creates a church within a location that is relevant to that location. 

We have to learn to empower others and trust them to do what is right.  This is what real parenting is all about.  It is about training a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.  It is not about control and manipulation.  True freedom involves trust and confidence.

The first event is to begin coming alongside the evangelicals, both churches and individuals, who are already working in Europe.  This means we should financially support them, pray for them, and work alongside them physically. These actions increase the strength of the presence that already exists in Europe. 

In order to do this we will need to leave behind some of our own theories of what a real church looks like.  This does not mean we must compromise the core tenants of our faith.  These core tenants are not culturally transformative; they are eternal and transcend culture.

At the same time, there are a variety of doctrines we think are eternal and they are not.  Things we grew up with that do not matter.  We have to evaluate these cross-cultural movements by sticking to the eternal questions, questions about salvation and the transformation of man rather than how our parents or grandparents did church.

The second event is to begin planting evangelical churches in Europe.  Like coming alongside local European evangelical churches, we have to be careful about how we plant churches.  We do not need to create a further outreach of American denominations in Europe.

We must create a European evangelical church that answers the moral questions of the day with answers from the true church that properly reflects the Gospel through the eyes of Europeans.  It must be a culturally relevant, doctrinally true church.

These must be churches that reach out into their communities and minister to the poor, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, and homeless, and any other outcasts within this culture.  They must be prepared to minister the Gospel to the growing Muslim community as well.  Many in this community are sensitive to spiritual matters and therefore open to the truth of the Christian message.

The best way to do this is to work with teams of church planters whose goal is to plant a first church that will inevitably be American at its core.  This church should then seek to plant a second church using leaders from the country where the church is being planted.  Thus, the support for the church might well be American, but the core of the leadership and the membership of the church is European.

The evangelical imprint remains on the church.  At the same time, the church is European and thus relevant to the local community without the ties back to the negative impressions many Europeans have regarding American Christianity.

The third event is to come alongside these evangelical outposts and protect their religious freedom.  This is where the International Human Rights Group comes into play.  This is what we do.

This means that we must fight to protect the right to share the Gospel message in public places throughout Europe.  We must fight to protect the right of parents to control the education of their children, either through a true voice in the public schools or through home schooling.  We must fight for the right of churches to exist, even in a system that requires a discriminatory registration process like most of the former Soviet Block countries.

Whatever the religious freedom cause, we have to be there support our brothers and sisters.  We must encourage them.  We must embolden them.  Trusting them to remain true to the core of the Gospel and transform their own countries.

Together these three events will see a transformation and expansion of the European evangelical presence.

Jets For Jesus

 

I remember an article in Charisma Magazine over a decade ago in which Jamie Buckingham, God rest his soul, asked the question, “Would Jesus drive a Mercedes?”  Looking at the present crop of Christian leaders gracing our televisions on a weekly basis I think Jamie asked the wrong question.  Maybe his vision was too limited.  Maybe he had too much trust in the goodness in man.  Maybe he just did not live long enough to see where it was really going.

 

The question we should be asking is “Which private jet would Jesus fly?”  I think we should get a new round of bracelets made with the initials WPJWJF.  Suddenly we are covered up with Christian leaders who are spending literally fortunes flying their private jets around the world to share the Gospel with the poor and homeless.

 

I knew of a ministry that bought a jet.  They needed it to get everywhere the work was taking them, including Europe.  A trip to Europe in this jet cost $60,000 when jet fuel was less than $2.00 a gallon.  That was just to get the jet to Europe and back.  It did not include the cost of flying around while you were in Europe.  It did not include the cost of golf outings in Scotland or other important ministry workings.

 

Why can’t we fly commercial like everyone but the rich and famous?  Why can’t we spend our donor’s money better?  Why do we suddenly feel that we are entitled to a better life?  Why is our time so valuable that we cannot waste it being treated like regular human beings?

 

This is part of the celebrity culture that has invaded the Church.  Instead of rightly discerning what Jesus would do we simply gave in to the lifestyle because it made us feel good.

 

If you want to fly in a private jet, then get your money the old fashioned way—earn it.  That is at least a better way than bilking donors out of their hard earned money.

 

Maybe Flip Wilson was right all along—the devil made me do it.

The Jesus I Read About, Or The Jesus I Hear About?

We live in a culture that makes it hard for us to properly evaluate Jesus. We cannot see his legacy because it is shrowded in too much mystery. Not the mystery of the supernatural, but the mystery of the pop culture we live in. The celebrity of Jesus makes it impossible to look at the modern version and see the ancient reality.

Is Jesus the version we see in the movies? Is he the man in the photo hanging on the wall in Sunday School? Is he the man hanging on the cross around the neck of the priest? Is he the man the preacher is talking about from the pulpit? Does he want me to be rich? Does he really demand that I submit to the rules of man to achieve the goals of God?

So the question that must be answered is where do we look to find Jesus as he existed. There is only one place to find him and that is in the scriptures. Granted, many believe that is not the complete story. It is, however, the only story we have. We must go back to that place and see what Jesus said, what he did, how he valued things and people.

It is no longer enough to take the word of a man or woman standing in a pulpit-it never has been. There is no valid argument that Jesus Christ has not been one of the most influential people to ever live. How else can we understand the great esteem and the great hatred that a large population of the world feel for this one person.

When we look at the life story of Jesus we see a man who did not give in to the political pressure of his day. He was not influenced by the religious leaders of his day. He redfined how we should live our lives. He made it plain that life was not about what we possessed; life was not about what we achieve; life is only about how we treat those around us.

If we were to evaluate the world around us the way Jesus evaluated his world we would quickly realize that few people, even Christians, have any idea who the real Jesus is. He was a man who stood for the weak. He believed that a system that only rewarded the wealthy and popular was not a system of justice al all.

Remember, it was Jesus who rebuked the religious leaders of the day for giving more honor to the rich than to the poor. His point was simple-we should not show favoritism to those who can reward us now, we should stand for the downtrodden and God will reward us one day.

That is the hardest part of believing the real Jesus. One of the reasons he stands alone in history is that he teaches that we should work without concern for a reward in this life. In fact, he goes even further and states that if we are working for rewards here and now we will miss the purposes of God in this life and in the one to come.

Where is that being taught-even in the modern church?

Just Because You Are Sober Does Not Mean You Are Not Stupid

 

            I know better than to look at the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine, but I cannot help myself.  I was just in Blockbuster and there it was.  It looked like they were faking an interview with the President—they are probably mad because he does not talk to anyone who is still living on flashbacks from sixties acid trips.

 

            My frustration levels were already up because I have been forcibly reminded that the Bruce Springsteen, New Jersey’s Official State Idiot, is playing at the Super Bowl.  I remember when Bruce was going to be the next Bob Dylan, but that never really materialized did it. 

 

            These guys all seem to refuse to grow up.  Of course, why should they, the drugs are still free and the women are still throwing themselves at their feet.  The rock and roll dream lives on.  Listen folks, even Meat Loaf cut his hair and got a real job.

 

            Don’t get me wrong, I am not looking for everyone to agree with me.  I love U2; that is what caused me to pick up the magazine in the first place.  Even though I love them, I doubt we agree on virtually anything in the political world.  The thing I really like about these guys is that they spend the capital they have gotten from their celebrity to do something positive that transcends politics and is making the world a better place.

 

            I am tired of musicians trying to relive the days when they were important.  David Crosby actually complained that we did not have a draft when the war in Iraq started.  If only we would reinstitute the draft it would really give some life to the anti-war protest.  Damn, why is it you can’t count on the government to really come through for you and add some life to a movement that was wrong in the Sixties and is wrong today.

 

            So, here I am, frustrated on a Sunday night.  We are waiting on a new president, who looks a lot like the last guys we had in office, owing a lot to everybody but the people who voted for him—I am not one of them.  At least he is a politician and that should give us something to talk about.  Bill Clinton turned out to have the moral structure of a pimp selling drugs on the side—but he seems like a nice guy.  Maybe a solid, honest Chicago politician who did not seem to lie to us because he never really said anything that made sense to me about what he intended to do will be just what we need.

 

            After all, Chicago has been known for years for its fine, upstanding honest politicians.  I am sure this one is going to be better, after all he looks almost as pretty as John Kennedy and we all know what a fine moral man he was.

 

            Should be fun at the very least!

Why?

 

            I was once sitting in a church meeting, really it was more of a Christian cult, but we don’t need to explore that any further right now, when the guest preacher said that there was one word God hates.  I admit I was intrigued because I like to know what God loves and it is probably important to know what God hates as well.

 

            So, I sat, listening intently waiting to be enlightened.  Unfortunately, like so much that is being presented as Christian truth, this was not even good pop psychology.

 

            “God hates the word why.  The word why suggests that we do not have faith and that we think we are equal to God and can therefore question Him.”

 

            I have to confess, I am the guy who always looks around at the end of a church service when the pastors asks to have every head bowed and every eye closed.  I don’t believe in sneaking into the kingdom of God.  Therefore, I look around to see if some one has really raised their hand or if the pastor is using encouragement to get us to join the others.

 

            Asking why is to count myself equal to God.  That sure seemed a little strange to me, so I looked around the room to see if anyone else was troubled.  They did not seem to be, but that did not stop me from tuning out the rest of the sermon.  I don’t have any idea what was said after this point.

 

            I believe God welcomes an inquisitive mind.  I think He welcomes those of us who want to more know than where to blindly go next.  At the same time, I understand the need for blind faith.  There are times when the only answer is this is so because that is way it was designed.

 

            I also believe that God is looking for more than mere robots to follow blindly through every moment of life without thinking.

 

            After all, I was created in the image of God and God is a God of wonder and brilliance.  Why can’t I be like that?  Why can’t I ask why?  Surely God would like to explain a lot of His work to us all—if we only cared enough to ask.

Where Is Reality When You Need It?

I know, it is more fun to live in the dream world most of us create around ourselves.  It is easier than looking at the cold hard facts surrounding our lives.  The economy is struggling; the only real argument is over how bad the struggle is.  We are living in the world, the reason we have so much trouble as Christians is we have forgotten the command to live in the world, while not being of the world.

 

            We should not be feeling the gloom of those around us.  We should, however, be a solid place for people to land.  The solidity of our position should not be that we are as rich as the world around us.  The solidity of our position should be that we are not measuring our lives on what we own or how our investments are doing.  The standard by which we measure our lives has to be the commitment to the eternal principles of the Gospel message—you remember those:  love your neighbor has yourself, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

 

            The church is losing its influence in America for one reason—it is not behaving as the church.  Any organism that does not follow the laws that define its existence will not survive long.  We are still debating the depths of our opposition to abortion, we have accepted divorce as an alternative to unhappy marriages, we are wavering on homosexuality, we have accepted gluttony as if it were a normal state of being…I could go on, but you get the point.

 

            We do not need a new wave of seeker friendly ideas.  We do not need a new fad religion.  Fads are good for diets and fashion, but fad is not legitimate for religion.

 

            I am not talking about returning to a fundamentalism that demands we read only one version of the Bible.  I am not talking about the fundamentalism that suppresses women and African-Americans.  I am talking about the real fundamentals of our faith—again, a return to the teachings of Jesus that revolutionized the world in the first century AD. 

 

            This was not a weak faith.  It was a faith that was able to challenge one of the greatest military regimes in the history of the world.  And this faith won.  It was ultimately consumed by its own prosperity, but it won the initial battle.

 

            We need to see the return of that faith—not more prosperity and God wants us to be millionaires.  God does not care about our money—He cares about our living the life He called us to live.

 

            That is a reality we can live with, everyday!


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis

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