Give Me Eyes to See!

Leading a church that has been in decline for many years can be a very difficult thing. Over the years the people in the church come to understand Christianity very differently from what is actually presented in scripture.

I was reading through the book of Luke this morning when I was reminded of a significant truth. Jesus seldom attempted to reform the Pharisees.  He warned them, but did not spend much time with them. In many ways they are the equivalent of what we see in many of our churches today. They were raised in an environment where true Biblical doctrine was obscured by cultural manifestations of their faith.

The same has happened today. And just as the Pharisees became the gate-keepers of the “faith,” there are people in the church who see themselves in the same role. Over the years they have developed unhealthy expectations of what the church is, what the church should be doing, and what the pastor should be doing as well. When their expectations are not met, they become upset.

Not all such people get belligerent or angry. Some simply withdraw and believe that the church is going in the wrong direction. The result is that the church’s unity slowly becomes fractured. It’s not a compound fracture where the bone is visibly broken, and which renders a person incapacitated. It’s more like a slowly developed stress fracture. Stress fractures may not incapacitate a person, but they can cause a dull pain that slowly gets worse. As the pain of unfulfilled expectations grows, so grows the subtle disunity of the church.

Jesus warned about disunity when He said Continue reading

The Gift of Life

Life is such a precious thing. The miracle of life is often taken for granted. Yet, as a culture we have overlooked this fact, and have embraced a culture of death. We allow our children to play video games where violent killing of others is nothing more than a form of entertainment. We yawn at the fact that everyday children are literally ripped from their mother’s wombs. We have prominent educators who teach that life should be discarded when no longer useful.  We watch with disinterest as people destroy their lives through drug and alcohol abuse.  But God is watching. And he has great interest in what we do with our lives.

He is saddened by our culture of death. He desires to reach people who have been swallowed and devoured by our culture. He seeks to restore lives, save lives, and save souls. God is a God of life, love, peace, joy, and hope. He came to bring an end to such misery. And when he came, he did not send another. He came himself. Jesus is God. He is fully God in human flesh. He came for you.

Perhaps you believe there is no hope. Maybe life has been hard. Maybe you think life is nothing more than a bad dream that you seek to escape from. So, you take another pill, light another joint, or even have contemplated picking up a pistol. STOP! GOD LOVES YOU! THERE IS HOPE!

It may not seem apparent at the moment. But hope is there. God is there too. To apprehend it, one thing is required from you: faith. The bible says that “faith is the substance things hoped for the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). You don’t have to have much faith. Jesus said  “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Just believe that God is there, and believe that God is good. He really is. If you are in the darkness right now, call to him. He will answer. Of course, you may not know what to ask for. Or maybe, you are in the darkness because of sin and you are afraid. Don’t be afraid. The Father sent Jesus for us. God is for you. Jesus died on the cross so that your sins can be forgiven. When you call to him he will not rebuke you. He will not be angry with you. He loves you and wants to save you.

To Serve, or to be Served…

As a pastor I have noticed an interesting and sad trend. More people are dying in the church than are being baptized or otherwise joining. This is not an isolated incident. In your average church the median age is seventy or older. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule – the mega church that thankfully is reaching people. But even large churches that have enjoyed seasons of growth, can and do … stop growing and begin that slow decent.

As a pastor I have preached somewhere north of seventy funerals in the last nine years, have conducted seven or eight weddings, and a couple dozen baptisms. Unfortunately I have become quite good (if one can say that) at preaching funerals.

What is going on? Surely the Holy Spirit has not taken a break from his work in saving souls. Sometimes it may seem that the people in the church are not as committed as they should, but that does not really get to the heart of the matter. After all, most of the seniors I know are very committed. I have had little old ladies in their eighties go with me to do door to door evangelism! Their only complaint was that I was walking to fast. The woman who told me that was breaking out into a sweat!

Every week my church is filled with seniors who show up to study God’s Word and to worship. They love the Lord. They excel at tithing. They show up to pray. They visit one another in the hospital. They encourage, rebuke, love and show much grace to each other. In short, they practice what it means to be a church.

The young people … not so much. It seems that when you get to the baby-boomers and younger the attitude of the people does an about-face. The World War II generation is about as committed as one can get. They generally understand the nature of what it means to be a servant. They believe in community, and they seek to sacrifice to do the Lord’s work. When you get to the younger generations you discover that their perception of church is entirely different.

They approach church with the same attitude as they do a McDonalds with a playground – was the service to my liking, did they pay enough attention to me, was I sufficiently entertained, was the food good, etc., etc., etc. In short they seek to be served.

I think the real problem today is not a lack of commitment in the pews; it’s a lack of understanding the nature of the church. We have somehow managed to raise succeeding generations of people who believe the church exists to meet their needs.

I learned an interesting fact about the underground church in China. In each city, or village, a church is defined by its location. If you live in a particular area, you belong to the church in that area. There are no denominations to speak of. You cannot open the yellow pages and search for the local underground church that might suit your needs. You go to the church that God has raised up in the area, or you do not attend at all. If you do belong to the church, you don’t leave when things don’t go your way. You have to actually work things out and face the difficult task of admitting sin, asking for forgiveness, or giving forgiveness to one who needs it. If you do leave the church, it is because you move to another area and attend the church there.

Somehow this sounds all very biblical. Have you ever noticed that the epistles in the Bible are addressed to churches by their location – Ephesus, Colossians, Thessalonians etc.? No wonder the underground church in China is thriving. It’s the real deal, filled with people in union with Christ, who seeks to live their Christianity in the context of an authentic community. Wow!

For those of us not in the WWII generation we need to do some soul searching. Do we attend the church we do because God led us to be a part of what he is doing in that community, or because we like something or something or something that makes us feel good and well adjusted? Do we go because the service is good, or because our service is needed?

Well, I have never been too fond of McDonalds. But I really like Taco Bell! The problem is that God has better equipped me to flip burgers than to eat tacos. In fact, He even gave me an invitation to join the team. Decisions, decisions….