4 Reasons Fewer Christians Might Be a Good Thing

13 May
Where have all the Christians gone?

 

 A new research study was just published on the Pew Research Forum website.  You can find it here.  To sum it up, the religious score in America is in:  Hindus, Muslims, Atheists and Agnostics are up.  Christians are down.
This surely shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who watches the news, reads the paper, has set foot on a school campus, or even watches popular TV.  And for anyone in Christian ministry, it is abundantly clear.  More and more people are less and less rooted in the culture, ethic and story of the Bible.
Rather than bemoan these results as many Christians will, or use these stats to marginalize a biblical faith as many are doing, I believe these results can strengthen our mission as Christians.
1)  First, it reminds us the self-professing is not enough.
This survey, like all surveys are answered by people who “self-report.”  They tell whether or not they are Christians.  This is really an unrealiable measurement.  I’ve had many people who have told me they had a particular church home.  But when I asked how often they attend, or if they are involved, they give me a sheepish grin.  They realize they’ve been caught.  Real affiliation isn’t a label, but a commitment.   
 There are many who would call themselves Christian, though Jesus wouldn’t call them Christian.  Jesus warned of that himself.
Matthew 7:21-23  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdo of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
Self-reporting isn’t enough.  We need to inspect the fruit of our lives.  That brings us to the next point.
2)  Second, it makes us redefine what being a Christian is.
This survey may shake us at first glance.  But it should cause us to be a little introspective.  After all, “what is a Christian?”  Our affiliation may or may not be an expression of our faith.  I read an article this last week from a lady, who is an atheist and she wants to hang onto the traditions of her Episcopal upbringing without confessing Christ.  Huh!  I guess, at least she’s honest.  But she’s not Christian.  What is a Christian?
A Christian personally confess (believes in) Christ as Lord (God, the Divine).  In Romans 10:9-10 Paul summed it up, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”
Lest we think this was just “Paul’s opinion.”  Confession is important to Jesus too.  In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me beforemen, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  This is why people would rather take a sword to the throat then deny Christ.
A Christian is a disciple (learner) who obeys (follows) Christ.  We can’t divorce what we believe from what we do.  In John 3:36, John warned, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life (we like this part); whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him (ouch!).”
Ok, so now we know what a Christian is, even if imperfectly.  That should motivate all of us self-professing Christians to reevaluate where our loyalty lies.
There is another good thing about this survey of fewer Christians.
3)  Third, it confronts us that we live in a big mission field.
It is a big reality check.  Are there really fewer Christians, or are we just departing a cultural Christianity that kept us all numb to the fact of this nations “lostness”?  It may be a little of both.  Either way, we now know, as the church that we need to be on the mission that God gave us.  That mission is not to make the world feel Christian.  That mission, in the words of Jesus is to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I commanded.  And I will be with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).”
We don’t have to go to another country to share about Christ, though we should.  We just have to go the Jewel, McDonalds, the YMCA and yes, even church.  People who are lost are no longer “out there” somewhere.  They are here.  They are with us.  And in some instances, they may be us.
One last reason this study about fewer Christans might be good is…
4)  Fourth, it gives us an opportunity to be different and make a difference.
Remember Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… (Matthew 5:13-14).”  We can’t count on culture to make the difference we should personally be making.  We are commanded by Christ to be transformed by His Spirit.  When that transformation takes place, the world will notice.  Some won’t like it.  Some will be indifferent to it.  But some will be attracted to a life of purpose, love, joy and hope.  And we will have a clear answer when asked, “Why?”  It is the work of Christ, by the grace of God.
The truth is, I don’t want fewer Christians.  I want everyone to be restored to God through Christ, just as God does.  I also don’t want to lose my heritage of living in a land where it is easy to be a Christan.  But more than being comfortable, I want the real, powerful gospel of Christ to bring life to those who are lost.  And the first step to that usually begins when people know they are on the other side of grace.  That’s how it happened to me.

love talking to pastors who have a heart

23 Apr

love talking to pastors who have a heart & vision for ministry after decades of giving their all! #livingthedream

The Church Will Survive Without It, America Will Not

21 Apr

Religious liberty is essential for this nation to endure.

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There are two essential parts to the religious liberty guaranteed in the Bill of Rights in Article I.    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,”  Over the past 50  years, we’ve argued and argued over the first clause.  These debates have led to prayer and the Bible being removed from public schools; informed decisions about governmental support of faith-based organizations, et al.  Some of these issues are now part of settled law.

Today, the second clause is starting to get some new attention.  “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

What is the free exercise of religion?  Aren’t people free to worship how they want?  Is group worship all that religion is?  I don’t know of any religion, or religious philosophy that only deals with how one operates within the four walls of the worship space.  A religion is a way of life.  It provides a philosophical framework for life’s big and small decisions.  It provides a worldview by which people make the extraordinary and the mundane decisions of life.

In the broadest sense, any decision to limit, curtail, or force one to live against one’s philosophy of life, or conscience, is an infringement on one’s religion.  And it should only be done with caution and care.  Because, if we lose religious liberty, we as Americans lose what has made us unique since our founding.  We lose America.

Why is religious liberty so pivotal to our identity as a nation?

  1.  It is rooted in the concept of individual conscience.  The idea of individual conscience is rooted in the concept of judgment.  Today, we have begun identifying people by what group they belong to.  The rights of individuals are subservient to the “group.”  Group-think works because it is the easiest way to gain political clout.  When we define people by the group they belong to, that person loses their individuality.  That might work in the rest of the world, that is not what this nation was founded upon.  Each person is a moral agent.  Each person is responsible for his/her choices.  If there is a God (I believe there is), do you want someone else controlling how you do or don’t follow that God?
  1.  If you don’t have religious liberty, you don’t have any liberty.  If the power of the state can dictate that one deny his/her actions toward God, since actions flow from belief, it controls one’s belief in God.  When the state controls one’s belief in God, it can control anything and everything.  That is how caesar-worship worked.  If we give up the conviction that there is an idea, or power, or person that is greater than the state, we have just made the state into a god.  And when the state is our god, we have lost personal liberty.
  1.  Religious liberty protects the minority.  Religious liberty was fought for by baptists who were being arrested and run out of certain colonies for preaching without state-church approval, They resisted paying taxes imposed by the state to pay for certain religious practices they didn’t believe in.  At its core, the idea of religious liberty keeps the majority from imposing its views and practices on the minority.  In the past, the principles of liberty have fueled unpopular abolitionists, women’s suffrage, even the gay-rights movement.  All minorities have benefited from the principles of religoius liberty.
  1.  Religious liberty keeps power in check.  The voices of religious minorities have kept the world powers in check.  The voice of dissent is a check valve for power.  And without a personally well-developed conscience, there is no dissent.  Every nation that has run down the road toward totalitarianism started with trying to minimize the voice of the religious.

Without religious liberty, society no longer values the life of the individual.  Each person is nothing more than a cog in the machine.  Each person’s value is determined by the collective.  Without religious liberty, the one with power, be it political, social, or financial power, will determine the outcome of each life.  The one(s) in power will dictate thoughts, direction, responsibilities and privileges.  At this point, the American experiment will have come to an inglorious end.

We might think that the end of religoius liberty will be the end of the church.  It won’t.  I’m not worried about the gospel of Christ being snuffed out.  We have seen, in 2,000 years of history, that every attempt to bring the church to an end, has only introduced a new beginning.  Christians will joyfully suffer for their faith.  And more will come to Christ.  Christ will build his church.  That’s a guarantee.  But he never promised to build the United States of America.

We may not like some of the results of religious liberty.  We may wish that we Christians, athiests, socially conservative or liberal, could control what our society looks like and that everyone who disagrees with us would just “get in line.”  It may be less messy.  But without the guarantee of religious liberty, at some point of our own personal convictions, we will find ourselves without the freedom to be who we think we were meant to be.  And we will be forced to yield our self-determination to another.

That is the end of this country.  America, as a government may exist, but we will have forfeited the most unique part of our national DNA.

4 Reasons Why Good-Byes Are Important

15 Apr

This weekend, we had to say “good-bye” to our congregation of over 12 years.  And they did a fantastic job and left us with memories that will last us a lifetime.   But good-byes are hard and sometimes we would rather skip over them and just move on.  But good-byes are important, especially in the community of the church.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 015 (1)

1.  Good-byes help us face the reality of change.  Change is hard, but it is good and necessary.

2.  Good-byes help cement the good memories deep within us.  Memories of good times and God’s grace give us strength for the future.

3.  Good-byes remind us of the active love and grace of God.  At times we work and work and never notice all that God has done.  But these good-byes remind us that God is active in the nitty-gritty of everyday service.

4.  Good-byes remind us of what’s valuable.  People, time, sacrifice are what makes an impact.  Good-byes bring all those things to the surface and encourage us to do it all again in our new setting with new people.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 003

So while it may be hard, take time to say “good-bye” when you’re making a change.  Even if not all the memories are good, a good-bye helps settle the past as we move on to the future.

Thanks to Village Green for a very good “Good-bye.”  We cherish you and the time we’ve spent together.  We affirm that God has worked and we look forward to him working again in our lives and in yours.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 027

Here is a link to that wonderful service:  Farewell Worship Service @ Village Green

Three Warnings and Encouragements for Lent

17 Feb

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I was raised a Baptist.  For almost 29 years, I’ve pastored Baptist churches.  And until recent years, I’ve never made mention of Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent.  I won’t try to explain it all except that I’m learning from my pastoral colleagues, from other tradtions that it’s a rich time of spiritual reflection.  It is a season wherein Christians around the world enter into a great awareness of our need for repentance, faith and seriousness in following Jesus.

But as I’ve observed what really happens at Lent for many Christians is anything but serious. People celebrate “Fat Tuesday,” they get their “ashes” on Wednesday and give something up for Lent.  And those sacrifices include TV, Facebook, cussing, or removing some unhealthy treat from their diet.

As I’ve said, I don’t come from a background that holds to Lenten traditions.  But I have to believe it was meant to be more than this.  As I reflect on Lent and on how our “Christianized” culture treats it, I think we’re in danger of doing real spiritual damage.  So, here are 3 things we need to watch for and 3 things that will help us have a more meaningful Lenten season.

3 Warnings For this Lenten season.

1.  Our sacrifices won’t absolve us.
Giving something up is no substitute for being honest about our sin.  You see, our positive actions can never undo our negative actions.  We need forgiveness.  Forgiveness comes through repentance and confession.

Trying to perform our way out of sin is like a friend who, after being harsh or criticial, just trying to change without ever saying their sorry for their actions.  The offense doesn’t go away without us addressing it.

In God’s economy, only Christ’s sacrifice can remove sin.  He alone could do what was good enough.  So, giving up Facebook, or Pornography, or even reading your Bible more doesn’t absolve us of our sin.  Don’t trust in your good actions to outweigh your sin.

2.  Our sacrifices won’t get us any closer to God.
We think that we can earn God’s favor.  We tend to think that if we do something for God, he will do something for us.  God doesn’t want what we have to offer.  He wants us.  I’m reminded of this in the story of King Saul.  King Saul was commanded to follow God’s direction and he disobeyed.  But in order to restore God’s favor, he offered this huge sacrifice.  And then he said, “Look, what I did for God!”

Then God, through the prophet Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).”

God wants us to respond to him as God.  He wants a relationship with us.  He wants us to hear and listen.  No sacrifice can earn God’s favor or blessing.

3.  Our temporary self-discipline is a set up for failure.
This season can be a lot like a physical diet.  We fear permanent change, so we go on a 40 day spiritual diet.  We don’t want a new lifestyle, we just want to get into shape, so we don’t feel so bad about splurging.  The problem is we get done with our temporary commitments and then we go back with a vengeance.

In the gospels, there is a warning about spirits.  Matthew 12:43-45 reads, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and swell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.  So also, it will be with this evil generation.”

A temporary spiritual fix is not a fix.  In fact, it is a set up for greater failure down the road.  We need, not just to rid our lives of the things that clutter our lives, we need to fill our lives with the Spirit of God who frees us and keeps us free.

Is Lent a waste then?  I don’t think so.  Playing at Lent, like playing around at a relationship with Christ can be a waste.  But the real thing can have lasting benefit.

3 encouragements for experiencing the benefits of Lent.

1. Our attitude is important.
Lent isn’t observed to make us feel better about ourselves.  The “Hey, look what I gave up!” misses the point.  This season is a time to exalt Christ, not ourselves.  We are identifying with his sacrifice.  Humility is key!  This act of self-denial is the admission that we’re not “all that.”  We need God’s grace in every way.  There is no room for pride in that.

Remember the warning of Jesus, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).” This is not a time to seek attention. But it is a time to humbly live before the God who has loved us and called us.

2. Self-discipline is ongoing.
Self-discipline is the attempt to bring our physical lives under the direction of the Spirit of God.  This is a life-long attempt to bring the flesh under the control of the Spirit.  It is an admission that all that is in this world is temporary.  And we are living for eternity.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline by body and keep it under control, let after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

3. We need a greater goal.
There may be times when we are led by God to give something up temporarily, but the temporary sacrifice shouldn’t be our goal.  We should do it for an ongoing, ever-deepening intimacy with Christ.  We should do it for the glory of God.  This sounds a lot like the Westminster Catechism which says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Now that’s a greater goal.

Three and a half years ago, I went into the hospital for heart surgery.  Since then I have changed my whole approach to health.  It was a short term action that led to new life-long patterns.  Lent can be the same thing.  It is a short stay in spiritual rehab.  But it’s real impact comes with what happens afterward.

I pray you have a powerful Lenten season.  But more than that, I pray it is just a step in a life of a deepening daily walk with Christ.
What have you experienced through Lent?
What do you hope to experience this year?
I’d especially love to hear from Christians from other traditions!!!!

If this post encouraged or challenged you, please do me the honor of hitting the share button.

Little Leaguers, A Newsman and Joe Christian

11 Feb

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This morning, we learned that the Jackie Robinson West Little League Chapmpions from Chicago, just had their title stripped from them.  A team that was lauded by the Second City and the rest of the nation were now deemed unworthy to hold the title because they broke the rules.  While being honored as a team that was taught hard work, teamwork and strong values, the leaders were breaking the rules by playing kids that lived outside the district boundaries.

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We also heard that NBC has just suspended Brian Williams for six months without pay.  He was presented to us as the man who told us the truth night after night.  It was this professional and uncompromising image that made him so funny when he acted out of character with Jimmy Fallon.  Why was he suspended?  Because he refused to let the truth get in the way of a good story.  Simply put, he lied.  He fabricated and exaggerated stories.  And while the jury’s still out, it seems he did it on more than one occasion.

How do people get into these kinds of trouble?  The Bible says, it’s the flesh.  The flesh throws caution to the wind in order to win, or to validate oneself in the eyes of others.  In the moment, we think that winning is all that matters.  Then we find out that winning outside the rules isn’t winning, it’s ruinous.

Paul was concerned with this in his own life.  He expresssed his heart in 1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  This disqualification may not keep us out of heaven.  But it does undercut our influence and weakens the gospel.  How do we Christians disqualify ourselves?

1. We live hypocritically.  We refuse to display the holiness of God.
2. We live without love for other believers.  We don’t offer grace to one another. We weaken the witness of Christ’s body.
3. We live with a judgmental spirit toward our neighbor.  We think of others as “lesser than,” rather than seeing the image of God in them. We limit the impact of grace on others.
4. We live without concern for God-given priorities of spouse and family. We make excuses to live outside of God’s order. In this we chip away at the greatest metaphor God has given to display his love for his people.
5. We live with the drive for self-fulfilment rather than the glory of God. We listen to the flesh and we quench the life-giving Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, disqualification happens when we don’t practice what we preach!  We need to take gospel transformation seriously.  We need to discipline our passions, desires and actions in order to walk the path.  And when we fail, we cannot claim it was a “mistake, an oversight, or a misstatement.”  But we must honestly say, “God calls this sin, and so do I.  I depend on his grace and I hope for your forgiveness.”

Like Paul, I have to do character “double-checks.”  I have to be honest before God and others, so I don’t get to the end of my life thinking that I won and realize I’ve disqualified myself from the reward God had planned for me.

Should you discipline yourself in a new way today? What has the greatest potential to disqualify you?
How do you react when someone else disqualifies themselves?
Can someone come back?
How do you understand the importance of alignment between our life and our message?

How the Pope Just Got it Wrong on Free Speech

15 Jan Global Reaction To The Terrorist Attack On French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo

I just read this article about the Pope’s response to the situation surrounding the terror attack in France.  Take a read and let me share with you why he got it wrong.

http://news.yahoo.com/pope-charlie-hebdo-limits-free-expression-121639260.html

To summarize, Pope Francis says there should be free speech, but there are limits.  And those limits, it seems from the article, are determined by the sensitivity of others, or we might expect the reaction we get.  In other words, if you speak out against another’s religion, you are crossing a line and may really deserve what you get.

Let’s start with Pope Francis’ example.  “If my good friend… says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”  While this  may be an understandable response, it is not a justifiable response.  If the Pope clobbered his best buddy for saying the wrong thing about his mother, or his faith, the Pope has just committed assault.  And certainly it conflicts with the example of the Head of his church.

Second, he says “You cannot insult the faith of others.  You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”  If faith is off limits, we have no way to critically assess the value of a particular faith.  It is “shut up and believe, or disbelieve.”  Who will set the limits?  Who will judge whether a comment is a critical, honest question, or mockery?  And who will determine whether something is blasphemy or simply a disagreement in beliefs?  For some, you can’t say anything critical about their prophet, or their god, or you have set yourself up as an enemy and a blasphemer who is worthy of death.

Third, he said, “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”

It is horrific that the Pope would equate popping a buddy in the mouth for saying something evil about his Mom with shooting him and eleven of his closest friends.  After all, I hear him saying, “you get what you get.”

Lastly, the Pope seems to be worried about the ability of true religion to stand with silence, power, confidence and peace in the face of ridicule, criticism and even blasphemy.  And yet, Jesus did just that.  No faith of any substance will stand or fall on the verbal accusations and criticisms of the unbeliever.  But it will crumble with the weak, reactive, violent and unholy actions of its believers.

Should people be respectful of other people’s beliefs?  Of course.  Disrespectful and dishonoring attitudes don’t persuade others to change and neither does law.  If the desire of a religion is to change the hearts of people, we must remember that no law has ever changed the heart.  Also no word, no matter how offensive, justifies a physical, life-threatening response.

 

 

marshkins01

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