Monday, December 17, 2012

What is Church?

Recently a pastor friend asked me to describe what is a church and what does it look like?  Sounds simple doesn't it?  All Christians know what a church is and what it looks like.  It is a place where believers gather in a building, say a prayer, sing some songs, listen to some announcements, place money in an offering plate, listen to sermon, sing one more song, and go home until next Sunday.  At least this is the definition that most Christians would give.  No wonder the church is in decline in America. 

So what is a church?  I know what it is not, it is not a building, it is not an order of service, it is not a few songs, and it's not about someone standing in a pulpit.  Church is much more than all of this.  Church is about two or three people gathering in the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit being present.  This can occur anywhere at anytime.  Church happens wherever we invite the Holy Spirit to be present.

This weekend I had church at a KFC with Leon, a homeless guy.  Leon had asked for some money and I asked why and he said he had not eaten anything in three days.  I told him that I would meet him at KFC and buy his lunch.  As we were walking into KFC Leon asked me what I did and I told him that I did different things.  Unless I have to I rarely tell someone I am a minister.   Somehow he knew that I was a pastor even though I was wearing a flannel shirt, jeans, hiking boots, and a Mickey Mouse ball cap.  It is not what you have on the outside but what is radiating from the inside.  I ordered Leon what he wanted and carried the food over to him and sat down with him just to fellowship for a few minutes.   I prayed a blessing over the food and then church broke out.  As soon as I finished praying Leon grabbed my hands and started praying a prayer that opened the heavens.  Leon prayed some things over me that he could not have possibly known.  As Leon is praying my eyes are beginning to get watery and I have tears streaming down my face.  Church was taking place at KFC with a homeless man blessing me.  Jesus said whatever we do for the least of these we are doing for Him.  Jesus was blessing me with a Holy Spirit inspired prayer by a brother I never met before.

Church is wherever Jesus is present.  For the church to get out of the spiral of decline we must begin asking ourselves what is church and what does it look like.  I encourage you to search out scripture to define church, review early church history to see how church was done in the beginning, and finally ask the Holy Spirit to remove the blinders of traditionalism.  Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living and tradition is the living faith of the dead.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Just be You

A couple of years ago someone gave me some wonderful advice, just be you and minister the way God has made you.  These words of wisdom came from my beautiful wife and for once I actually listened.  Several years ago I met with a very godly priest by the name of Brother Louie who told me that God had blessed me with a wise woman and I should listen more often.  Ever since that day I have worked at talking less and listening more to one of the Father's gifts to me, my wife.

As I travel about the church and observe what is going I have noticed that we are more concerned about how we appear to others than just being ourselves in Christ.  For example, there is the attractional preacher.  This is the preacher who is eloquent and so moving that others are attracted to his local church just to hear him preach.  In other words, there is a spirit of entertainment and a tickling of the ears that is taking place from the pulpit.  It is more important to be charismatic than biblically sound.  All one has to do is watch "Christian" television and see the smiles, hairdos, and massive audiences to see folks who are being entertained and not discipled.  I would challenge everyone to listen intently to any sermon and check it against the Word of God.  That is what the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11) did and they were commended for being a people of the Word.  Unfortunately, many times there is more fluff that substance flowing from the platform.  Is this the case because we are ashamed of the gospel and how it challenges us to live our lives?  Are we more interested in having an audience or making disciples?  I was once told I never would grow a church preaching on holiness and righteousness.  This person was right because I was more interested in making disciples and expanding the kingdom than growing a church. 

Not only is the issue attractional preachers but attractional churches as well.  In these settings everything is geared towards the unbeliever and what they might think if they happen to walk into the service.  We cannot let the Holy Spirit get to far out of hand, what will people think?  If it is of God they know it is not contrived of men but something far more powerful, God Himself being present.  A wonderful example is when a message is given in tongues it is for the unbeliever not the believer (1Cor 14:22).  Yes everything is to be done in decency in order but not so much order than the Holy Spirit is limited in how He can move about a congregation.

Finally, heresy upon heresy, let us have worship services that reflect who we are and not be ashamed!  If you like Southern gospel do Southern gospel.  If you like gospel do gospel.  If you like traditional hymns do traditional hymns.  If it is contemporary do contemporary.  If you like to run and shout, run and shout.  We are so concerned about what others might think that we hold back on praise of God because someone might not understand or worse yet be offended.  David offended Micah when he was dancing before the LORD so we would be in good company if our praise led to a rebuke.  The beauty of the last 18 months is that I have experienced praise in many settings and often times it was of God.  It might not have been my cup of tea but I joined in because it was genuine praise.  Praise is like going into the closet and picking out the clothes you want to wear according to my mom, we put on the garment of praise that is comfortable for us.  Good teaching from the platform will educate new comers to what is happening and why it is biblical.

Let me encourage you to be you.  Since taking my wife's advice there has been a burdened lifted as I am who I am not trying to please anyone but my God.  I minister the way God has gifted me, I pray the way the Holy Spirit has taught me, and I serve the way Jesus has called me.  Just be you and serving the LORD will become much easier. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Are You a Minister?

One day during a church fund raising event I asked someone to help me who was not doing anything and they responded, "that was not their ministry".  Yes, that's right, not their ministry.  One of the fallacies of the church today is that people say that they are "called" to such and such place or they are "called" to a particular type of ministry.  With much wisdom and experience my spiritual father would tell me my "calling" was always first and foremost to God and my assignment was wherever I was serving.  In other words, the church did not call me to pastor a particular church but God assigned me to that local body until the assignment was done.  Doesn't it make you wonder how the Father could make so many mistakes when people say that they are "called" to a ministry but a short time later it does not work out and they are moving on to their next "calling".  During a camp meeting Bill Wilson of Metro Ministries in New York said he was constantly being asked if was he called to New York and his response was no.  Wilson saw a need and responded to the need, now that is ministry.  This is really an important point for pastors and churches to get.  If God assigns a pastor to a church rather than one being 'called" by a church then the pastor works for and is responsible to the head of the church, Jesus Christ, rather than a church board or a congregation.  I would agree that there is always accountability to a church board but at the end of the day the senior pastor is first and foremost being held accountable to the Father.  This view diminishes the pressure to please men rather than seeking to please God.  Nearly 85% of pastors feel a disconnect from their congregations because what is expected of the pastor by the congregation is not the same expectations of the pastor leading to frustration by both parties. 

So what is ministry?  Since all believers are part of a royal priesthood, ministry has nothing to do with the recognition of status through man inspired traditions such as clergy or ordination; but rather ministry is about serving others as there is a need.  Some examples of ministry would include: giving someone an encouraging word, a hug, handing out water, vacuuming a church building, cleaning toilets, teaching, singing, preaching, answering the phone, opening a door, and my all time favorite-praying with someone.  What is so wonderful is that none of these ministry opportunities require a certificate or special training, anybody can do these things.  Jesus never meant there to be a divide in who does ministry, it is for all of us.  We may not be called to any of these things we just see the need and we respond.  One day I was in the same room with a woman who was homeless and I struck up a conversation with her.  As I talked with her about her she began to open up and shared with me her story and that she had HIV and no place to stay.  (Everyone has a story so our job is to ask them their story.)  I asked her if I could pray for her and she allowed me to hold her hand and pray.  For me this was just part of my regular day and I did not think twice about it.  Later I learned what this simple act of ministry meant to her.  She could not get over the fact that someone would take the time to talk to her then hold her hand and pray.  Three months later she is still talking about that simple act of ministry-to God be the glory. 

Every day I have the blessing of being able to minister to others not because I am called but because I see the need and respond.  At the same time I have been the beneficiary of ministry that others have provided to me by praying for me, listening to me, and caring enough to ask me how I am really doing, not being afraid of how I might answer.  You have the same opportunity to minister every day.  Pray as I pray each day, Father give me the opportunity to minister to at least one person today.  In the last nine months I have had the privilege of ministering to someone with a need each day. 

Go and be blessed, be a minister to someone today.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Personal Rant

This is something that I have wanted to get off of my proverbial chest for quite some time so please bear with me.  Since my walk with Christ I have noticed a disturbing attitude among some of the people who identify themselves as Christians.  It is an attitude of spiritual superiority, pretending to know the very mind of God, deciding which sins are worse than others on God's behalf, and judging who has been restored by grace and who has not.  One day Jesus was teaching in the temple and the Pharisees brought a woman in who had been caught in the act of adultery for they were wanting to trap Jesus (John 8).  By the law this adulterous woman, along with her lover who is conspicuously absent from this scene, should have been stoned to death.  Jesus' response caught them off-guard when He said that if there were any without sin they should cast the first stone.  Those that were ready to condemn the woman to death wisely dropped their stones and walked away.  The problem today is that wisdom is lacking.  Some within the church are ready to stone anybody and everybody even though they themselves have sin in their hearts.  Too often Christians rail against the sin that personally offends them, abortion, homosexual acts, pornography, adultery, etc.  All you have to do is watch "Christian television" to find out what the sin of the day is.  Yet, this same person has lust in their heart making them an adulterer, never passes up a buffet line resulting in gluttony, gossiping about others, coveting what belongs to another person, and on and on and on. If a person claims to be without sin they are deceiving themselves and are a liar (1John 1:8).     

Often it is claimed that Sodom was judged for homosexuality, therefore, we should judge homosexuals.  Before we start casting stones in this direction we should read Ezekiel 16:46-52.  This is the word of the LORD to Israel and can easily be applied to some in the church today, including pastors and preachers.  The sin of Sodom was that they were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, not helping the poor and needy and they did detestable things before the LORD.  These are the people who are often the first ones to pick-up a stone and begin throwing them at the one caught in sin.  The arrogant, overfed, apathetic, who are not doing anything to relieve the burden of the poor are often the first and loudest to condemn another's sin.  Recently it has been very strong in my heart that people who live in glass houses should not be picking-up any stones. Sin is sin and all of our righteousness is nothing more than filthy menstrual rags.  Each and every one of us has sinned and fallen short of God's glory, so let's get over ourselves and begin restoring the fallen sinner for love covers over a multitude of sins instead of condemning the one who is caught.  One day all of our own personal sins will be exposed in the light of His glory so we should be humbled by our own sin, recognizing that regardless of our sin or anyone elses', we are loved.

I have come to the place in my life where I want to love the sinner and let the Holy Spirit take care of the sin.  That person's sin is between them and God and really is none of my business except if somehow I can help them overcome their failings.

Next I will write about the restoration.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Sharing in Sufferings & the Resurrection

One day I was having a pity party complaining to the Father about life and things that had been happening to me as I was being obedient to Him.  (I am sure this doesn't sound very spiritual nor like I have much faith but I seek to have an honest and open relationship to my heavenly Father.)   Anyhow, I was complaining about being publicly humiliated by church leadership, being jeered at by pastors, someone yelling at me at church, betrayal by a friend, lies being told about me, and in general just how hard life was at the time.  Worst of all of these things happened because I had been obedient after fasting and prayer, being impressed by the Holy Spirit to do and say certain things.  As I am complaining I thought about how bumper sticker theology says that being in the center of God's will is the safest place to be, not in human terms!  Being obedient has led to more than one person's torture, humiliation, and death.  At the height of my selfish rant I heard this small voice say, "I wanted you to know just a sliver of my Son's suffering."  I fell to the floor weeping, repenting for selfishness and complaining.  My present troubles were nothing compared to what Jesus went through for me.  In my mind all of these things were terrible and not fair.  In the mind of Christ these things were for my benefit causing me to understand the benefit of suffering for His sake in this life. 

The Apostle Paul, who knew something about suffering, wrote these precious, encouraging words, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." NIV
Easter weekend we remember the Passion of Christ for us.  As we reflect on the One without sin being made sin for our sake let us rejoice in our own sufferings since we will share in His resurrection.  You and I will never suffer to the extent Jesus did carrying the burdens of humanity to the Cross but we will suffer as we serve Him.  Our current troubles are but for a moment but the resurrection is for eternity.  There is joy in knowing that Jesus has overcome sin, disease, death, and finally the grave as we await His return, or even the possibility of our own stepping into glory at our last heart beat.

Once I was with an elderly saint who served the LORD as a pastor's wife, mother, and servant to others as she was living her last few days in a worn out body.  She kept repeating the same words over and over again and her daughter-in-law asked me if I could understand what she was saying.  Leaning over the bed rail, getting as close to her as I could I heard as she was reciting Psalm 150, "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.  Praise ye the LORD!."  Let us praise the LORD as we share in His sufferings and resurrection. 

Have a blessed and wonderful resurrection Sunday.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

What Do People See In You?

One of my favorite images in the Bible is in Isaiah 6:3 where the seraphim  are calling holy, holy, holy, to one another as they worship around the throne of God.  The word holy means different.  Since the beginning of time the seraphim have been crying different, different, different to one another as they look upon the character, personality,and glory of God since eternity.  I have often visualized God as this exquisitely cut diamond, where as the light hits it you are seeing something you have never seen before, a different facet of this precious gem as you look intently upon it.   This is what the seraphim experience each moment of each day. We as mere humans who have yet to view the Father in all of His glory.  Our view and image of God is obstructed by our carnality thus obscuring the different facets of a holy God.  In this life we have yet to see all of God's character, depth of His personality, or the fullness of His glory.  This is a humbling realization yet we know aspects of God's character from the scripture.  For example, we know that He is a jealous God, a just judge, a compassionate shepherd, and a God of love. 

 Paul wrote in 2Corinthians 3:18 that we reflect the glory of the LORD to the world.  We are created in His image and we share a part of His personality and character.  There are times I wonder what aspect of God's personality and character do we reflect?  Based on my experience and my own sinful nature I am concerned how the world sees God through the church.  Do they see the God of compassion or apathy?  Do they see the God of love or hate?  Do they see the God of mercy or a vengeful God?  Do they see a God of grace or a God of judgement?  You get the idea, how are we reflecting God's character? 

As those that claim to be followers of Jesus we have to be on guard how we represent Him to the world.  There was a time in my life that I walked away from the church because grace and love were not exhibited.  While in college I would watch Christian television for a laugh because it was entertaining.  Walking around campus the only "Christians" I saw were Bible thumpers spewing hate and condemnation.  Going through a crisis moment in my life when life wasn't worth living anymore and searching for answers I found pastors more concerned about the law than grace and love.  Being in church I have found pettiness, selfishness, sin upon sin, betrayal, liars, thieves, you name it I have experienced it and so have you.  In fact, we probably have a name and a face we can match to this list. 

If our view of God were only though the lens of some in the church we would never want to have anything to do with Him or His church.  Yet, that is not the complete picture of God.  There are many who are reflecting the character and personality of God in how they serve Him and others.  When I see people being served and prayed with I am seeing God.  When I see individuals and families sacrificing to serve others I see Him.  When I am in a service and the congregation is engaged in worshipping in spirit and truth I see Him.  I have been blessed more by watching God's personality being revealed by those that are truly following Jesus than I can possibly put into words.  These followers will never receive fame or fortune, they will not have a TV ministry, nor will they write a best seller but one day Jesus will call out their name before the Father and proclaim this is my servant and I am well pleased.  (I might be able to preach that one).  So the question is this, which aspect of God's personality and character are you reflecting? 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Getting Along

There waa a gentleman who would ask me on occassion why couldn't Christians just get along?  What a great question. There must be some days that Jesus shakes His head and sighs and says what were they thinking?  He told us to love one another as He loved us.  Yet, there is strife in the church in most places that you look making us look bad before the world.  This strife is nothing new.  Paul and Barnabas had a falling out over Mark.  Two dear saints could not get along with one another and Paul encouraged others to work for their reconcilliation.  Some would fall away from the ministry and walk away from the apostles. 

Today the church is divided over style of worship, style of dress, style of ministry, Bible version, women in the pastorate, ad nauseum.  Why cannot we just get along?  The LORD's table is big enough for variety, diversity, and differing opinions.  Do we really believe that our opinion is infallible and everyone  else is wrong?  Does it always have to be our way?  Are we the only one's that have all the answers?  The answer must be yes because of the way we act towards one another. It's either my way or the highway.  (This might explain some of the church hopping going on today.)

Jesus gave us the answer to strife-love one another as He loves us.  What does that mean for the church today?  First, recognize that love is always a choice.  Second, we are to serve one another.  Third, we are to break bread together.  Finally, ask the LORD to show you what you have been forgiven of thus far and your view of others in the Body of Christ will change.  In this moment of spiritual clairty humility rises up because you have come face to face with the depravity of your own heart.  With this new sense of humitlity it is easier to love others, serve them, and fellowship with them.