Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Seriously, Give It A Rest.

I'm not tense, I'm just excruciatingly alert.~ From a recently spotted bumper sticker.

After the drama of the most recent end-of-times scare I figured that the world is coming to an end folks would relax for a bit, if just from sheer exhaustion. But you folks are irrepressible, you're like owning an Irish Setter puppy that somehow got hold of a case of Red Bull, frantically scanning the news for reports of odd occurrences signifying the end is near.

Now in Mathew 24 we are told to "keep watch" (vs. 42), but Jesus also tells us "see to it that you are not alarmed." (vs. 6) and it's here that I think we all too often falter. We read reports of natural disasters, nations at war, odd animal stuff, and we get our skirts all in a flutter. The wise servant is the one put in charge of the household with orders to take care of the Lord's business until His return. (vs. 45, 46) So seriously, give it a rest. Be alert but do the work the Lord has set in front of you, you know, feed the poor, take care of widows and orphans, love one another, spread the Word that Jesus is Lord.

The urgency is not to divine the date that Jesus is coming back, but to gather as many as possible into the Harvest, whether the rapture is tomorrow or in 1000 years.


I love zombie movies. How can you not love a movie where the victims are eaten by monsters with all the speed and agility of an oyster?  Seriously, if you get run down and gnawed on by a zombie you probably need to die so that your DNA won't pollute the gene pool.

Next to zombie movies I like really bad sci-fi.  To qualify as quality bad sci-fi you need a pack of teenagers on a day trip to some wilderness area, three of whom are nerds, two delinquents, and a couple in love. They'll need to accidentally stumble across a mine shaft where 46 miners died inexplicably 65 years ago, an incident by the way that none of the locals will talk about. Then the teenagers need to die, in no particular order although it helps if one of the lovebirds go early, bitten by a mysterious gerbil heretofore unknown to man.

Occasionally I am faced with times when there are no zombie or bad sci-fi movies playing, it's then I turn to old reliable, SpongeBob Squarepants. But that's another blog post. I pity those drawn to movies with meaning, to well written dramas with a profoundly moving message about why things are the way they are, there's enough of that in the headlines. I like my entertainment juvenile with no redeeming social value, entertainment that speaks to the pre-teen in me. Maybe when I grow up that will change.

But not today!!!!

Monday, May 30, 2011

May 21 Redux

So you've died, gone to heaven or hell, and you're back to report on the experience and hopefully sell a few books or DVD's. What am I to make of that in light of Hebrews 9:27 "people are destined to die once...". We just went through the  May 21st scam and now this primordial ooze of heaven and hell visitors selling stuff. Is there no end to the gullibility of folks willing to ignore scripture and play with fairies and goblins?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

God Told Me

Does God punish believers who have times of doubt? That waver in the belief that the Bible is the inerrant, literal, word of God? That suspect that the world might be a tad older than 6,000 years old, and man and dinosaurs didn't roam this earth at the same time?  That cringe at certain passages in scripture? Can you believe with all your heart that Jesus is who He said he was, and not be obedient to the men and women who claim to speak for Him in the church? 

I hear believers say "God told me to" all the time and I wonder why it isn't so simple for me. Or they say "Satan has me under attack" whenever they find themselves not getting their way. It's black and white for them, and they have a certainty about God's actions in their lives that frankly weirds me out. I don't see this all that often in scripture, even among the great heroes of the Old and New Testament. Often they were beseeching the Lord for answers, pleading for clarity. (Psalms 58) The disciples were fearful at times and wavered in their faith even as Jesus was being led away by the Roman soldiers. (Mathew 26)

I love the Lord and want only to be of service in the Harvest, yet God often doesn't tell me stuff, He show's me things but He often takes His time about it and apparently isn't all that concerned when I wander into dead ends. And it isn't always the Devil thwarting my plans, but God saying No! So I'll just keep reading scripture, listening to fellow believers, and backing out of occasional dead ends. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

More Heroes and Morons

I have a missionary friend in the Philippines who runs feeding patrols at night for homeless kids living in poverty unimaginable here in sunny SW Florida. He does it quietly, while finding time to feed an intellect that makes me unworthy to carry his books. He doesn't brag or pat himself on the back, he just feeds homeless kids. Packs of media hounds don't pursue him, he doesn't generate millions in donations, it's doubtful he'd know a public relations strategy if he fell face forward into it. But he's one of my heroes and I'm glad to know him. I doubt Randy would think of himself that way, he seems pretty self-effacing. But he feeds a lot of kids and I think Jesus is proud of his efforts for the kingdom.

Which brings me to the morons who get all the press, the Harold Campings, Bishop Longs, Ted Haggards and their ilk. They jet around the country spreading heresy and having sex with boys, all of them claiming persecution by the media they used to get in bed with and basically they give morons a bad name. I don't believe that they speak to a cancer in the Bride of Christ as much as they are just human trainwrecks and it's   so damn hard not to watch.

I guess I shouldn't complain about how things work, that heroes seldom rivet our attention the way a good old-fashioned trainwreck does. I should just be grateful that I know some heroes. By the way, if you'd like to help Randy feed some kids here's his website. http://www.lovingkindnessministries.org  I bet the kids will be grateful.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Hearty Attaboy

It would have been well for the church of Christ, if the warnings of the Gospel had been as much studied as its promises.~J.C. Ryle

I don't suspect I'm much different than most folks, I love the teachings in scripture about the love of Christ, His concern for the poor, the hungry, widows and orphans. I long for the fruits of the spirit, a life characterized by love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galations 5:22-24)

This is the God we can all love. But there's another facet to God's personality, a face of God filled with wrath at those that do not follow His will and commands. And it is this God that turns so many against the faith. How can a loving God have a place like Hell reserved for those that do not accept Jesus? Why can't we all just get a hearty attaboy and leave that hell business alone? So they reject Him altogether. I'm not unsympathetic to those who sincerely want the loving God and not the God of divine and eternal punishment, there are passages in scripture that make me cringe too, but I've made my decision. 

My faith is not a spiritual buffet, a take what you like and leave the rest faith. If Jesus lied and there is no hell then why should I believe there's a heaven? There are questions I'll go to my grave with, "God, why'd you do it this way and not another less
troubling way?" But I'm content to wait for the answers. In the meantime, since there is a hell, we better get busy with the Harvest.


Monday, May 23, 2011

And Be Patient With Me Even As I Struggle

 Years ago, a friend and I were in the Smokey Mountains about to take off on a white water rafting trip, and the guide was giving our group instructions on how to paddle the rafts. Now this was no dangerous river filled with monster rapids but it was a briskly moving stream, and if we were to avoid getting stranded repeatedly on gravel shoals we were going to need to know how to negotiate bends in the stream and how to read the current.
Apparently we were slow learners. After an hour of furious paddling and frequent beachings requiring us to get out of the raft and tow it to deeper water, freezing and tired, my friend said "That's it, I'm not paddling anymore!" Well I wasn't gonna do all the work so I quit paddling too. It's amazing how peaceful the trip got. We let the current guide us and with virtually no effort we completed the trip, enjoying the scenery.
 That's how my walk with the Lord goes all too often. Instead of letting God guide me I think I try to help God too much, not with the work assigned all Christians in the New Testament, I'll never be able to do too much there. No, I'm talking about sometimes I get our roles confused. I get to thinking God needs help with the executive decisions and I lose track of the concept that God steers and I row. Now if I insist, God will let me steer, but He's not gonna row. When I finally quit struggling against the current and allow God to take me where He wants things get more peaceful.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21

I wasn't going to do it. There has been so much written about history's latest apocalyptic end of world movement that other than a few whimsical posts on my Facebook page I've largely steered clear of it as a topic. It's not complicated, you say "I did some  math." Jesus said "no man knows", end of debate, what's for lunch?
It's really not my cup of tea, obsessing over end of world stuff. Lord knows I have my share of peculiar mental twists, but the world ends at 2PM isn't one of them. Throughout history people have been predicting the end and eventually, in much the way even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, someone's liable to get it right.
And this time I have more in common with the current bunch of end timers than I've had with many of the other groups. I'm an evangelical, I believe Jesus is coming back, and that this earth is going to be destroyed. I just believe scripture not Mr. Camping.
There has always been that group that has the need to know, and someone is gonna fill that need. Nostradamus, Camping, and all the other nutjobs of history are simply fulfilling the needs of a peculiar breed of human, fortunately small in number, that just gotta know and will listen to the weirdest ideas and say, "Yep, makes sense to me." If you're not one of those people don't worry, whatever you had planned for May 22 is still on.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Sometimes We need A God with Skin On Him

 Don't drink, don't drug, go to meetings, help others, clean house, and trust God, now there's some dandy advice.
 Recovery from the bondage of addiction is painful to experience and excruciating to observe, and it matters little to the sufferer that much of the pain is self-inflicted, suffering is suffering no matter the cause. In our active addictions we set in motion events that will reach their inevitable conclusion whether we drink again or not. It is the sacred task of those of us who went through the painful early stages of recovery and broke into the sunlight of the spirit to encourage and urge the new person to stay the course, to assure them that their day in the sun is sure to come if only they stay free of alcohol and drugs.
Help is available......
Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon Family Groups, and other groups too numerous to mention offer free, effective, and loving help for sufferers, from fellow sufferers who have found a way out. Sometimes we need a God with skin on Him, and prayer is often wasted unaccompanied by action. God bless and good luck. 
For more information go to these groups websites, find a meeting in your area and just go!! 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Spiritual Buffet

I love buffets, not just for the sheer joy of "all you can eat", but because the selection is great. Feeling adventurous? You can sample as many different entrees as you care to. And no one tells you what you can eat,
just take what you want and leave the rest. And yet, I've never left a buffet and said, "That's the best meal I've ever had". It's usually "That was good, we'll have to go back soon".
I know a lot of folks who treat their spiritual life that way. "All great religions share the same wisdom and preach similar principles at their core," they say, "Why claim one way is better than another? Just take what you can use and leave the rest. As in God on a sampler platter. While I guess it's possible to attain a vague sort of  spiritual satisfaction that way, it's hardly fulfilling in the way complete commitment provides Christians. Christians know where they'll spend eternity, we have a well defined purpose for our temporal lives and the certainty of joy in the hereafter.
So I try not to take my faith buffet style, however pleasant that may sound I'm looking for certainty, not vague feelings of contentment.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Dreadful It Is To Fall Into The Hands Of The Living God.

Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined.....Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God.~Soren Kierkegaard
 When  I professed Christ as Lord I didn't know it but I was embracing a course of behavior so radical that the only relief possible was ignorance. Whatever you do don't invite Christ into your life and then make the mistake of reading the New Testament. It's there I find that salvation is not merely a get out of hell free card, that salvation implies action beyond my natural willingness to obey. The enormity of what Christ asks of me, to sell everything, give the money away, and follow Him (Mathew 19: 16-26), to drop everything at once and just go (Mark 1:18) is best dealt with in ignorance, so don't read the New Testament.
Better yet, read the New Testament.  Read it regularly, read about the rejects, losers, social climbers, Jesus deniers (The Apostles), the believer persecutors (Paul), and the tax collectors, prostitutes, and assorted lowlifes that the Lord turned into world changers and martyrs and take hope. I do. On my own resources I can't be obedient, and it was in the New Testament I found a wistful desire to become a branch that bears fruit for the vine that is our holy Lord (John 15), it was in the New Testament that I learned that men and women just like me, caught in the dreadful hands of the living God, found power of a sort they never imagined possible to accomplish things they never dreamed possible. So there's hope for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Don't Drink

If you're like me, if you can't stop on the way home for a beer with the guys and know with absolute certainty whether you'll eventually get home or get arrested, if you're desperately seeking ways to stop paying dire consequences for drinking, I have great news. The answer is so simple you'll wonder why you didn't think of it. Ready?
Now notice that the words Don't Drink are a complete sentence and are followed by a period. Put another way, it's not Don't drink as much, don't drink in the mornings, don't drink beer instead of whiskey, don't drink during the week. No, it's "Don't Drink." Ever. So there you have it, problem solved. Except that if you're like me you won't be able to just "Don't drink." Praying will prove useless, good intentions will fail you, and eventually you end up crushed and defeated by a merciless obsession to drink.
That's called powerless. Doctors agree that the only cure for alcoholism is complete abstinence. Yet the definition of an alcoholic is that he can't stop drinking, Alcoholics Anonymous calls it the fatal nature of the dilemma. So if you don't want to just crawl up on the couch with a bottle and drink yourself to death you're going to need help. A good place to start would be Alcoholics Anonymous an organization of hopeless drunks who have found a solution to this ancient form of insanity, a way that has worked for millions over the last 76 years.
So there you have it, my public service announcement of the day. Good luck.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Do We Really Need Another Church Here? Conclusion

In an area with over 400 churches, with every style of worship imaginable available, is it possible that what we lack is one more church? That we need to invest the time and resources to build one more church that will sit empty 6 days a week and underutilized on Sunday? That one more congregation will address the issue of a growing population of the unchurched in ways that the other 400 congregations couldn't figure out?
Which is not to say that we should do nothing, that we should just quietly accept the growth of the unchurched as inevitable, circle our wagons and wait for the rapture. If all we're doing is waiting, we are in disobedience, and that's not a place I want to be.
 And this is not a critique of the sorry state of the church in Lee County Florida either. Our area is home to wonderful churches, churches with a commitment to outreach and service, congregations doing Herculean amounts of work to carry the message of Christ's love to their neighbors. Maybe what has happened is that for a significant percentage of the population traditional channels of outreach don't work anymore. My experience tells me that there are thousands of people that believe that traditional churches are no longer relevant to their lives, so outreach programs designed to get those people inside the sanctuary are doomed to failure. They believe that churches are only about money, that religion sucks, that Christians are hypocrites, thugs, and child molesters,so inviting those folks to church is futile. Interestingly enough, those same people have a generally positive opinion of Christ, it's Christians they don't care for. They are church bashers not Jesus bashers and therein lies the opportunity.
I believe that traditional churches need to keep doing what they're doing, they fulfill a vital role in the spiritual life of their congregations and traditional ways of outreach still work for many. But the fact is that church attendance here is in decline in spite of their prodigious efforts and perhaps building another church in an area like Lee County is a waste of limited resources.
We need to create opportunities for these highly opinionated church bashers to gain exposure to Jesus without having to darken the doors of a sanctuary. What we don't need to do is to argue with them over areas that are irrelevant to their salvation. Church and religion sucks? No problem, pull up a chair and let's have a cup of coffee.
Missionaries pioneered the technique of misdirection, of going into countries where Christian witnessing is forbidden as businesspeople who then use their businesses as vehicles for witness, we should try that here. Satellite community centers where low cost or free services are offered to the community, coffee shops, reading rooms, anything that will get people through the door and into a non-threatening Christian atmosphere. 
So there you have it. Do we really need another church here? Probably not.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Child of Chaos

Galatians 5:22,23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 

Does it get any more boring than that? Seriously, self-control is fine in theory but where's the thrill, the excitement, the edgeiness in a life lived that way?  
It's been a couple of decades, but I still remember thinking that way. I remember living life on the edge, never knowing as I ordered my first drink whether I'd be going home or to jail at the end of the evening. Uncertainty was my normal, and while I never set out to get arrested it happened enough that it was never totally unanticipated. They say that what you do every day, day after day, is your normal. Uncertainty and chaos ruled my life for so many years during the insanity of my active alcoholism that when I finally, almost by accident, got sober I found it boring as hell.
One day early in my sobriety I asked an old-timer, "What do you do for fun around here? This is so boring." I smiled when he said, "John, You're not bored, you're calm." And he was right, for the first time in over twenty years I was not arrestible during a routine traffic stop, I might get a ticket but I wasn't going to jail. That underlying feeling of impending doom was gone. I wasn't a whole lot healthier mentally and spiritually, but my behavior and circumstances weren't dangerously chaotic  anymore.
It took time, but today I desire love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control  in full-measure, life on the edge does not call to me. The absence of self-manufactured chaos is my new normal, and I thank God for that. I do not know why the Lord snatched me from the barstool while others were left to die, I just try to show gratitude for the mercy extended. "Here I am Lord, send me."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Do We Really Need Another Church Here? Part 4

I came across an article in the Christian Post about the 10 warning signs of a congregation in trouble and it led me to revisit a series of posts I wrote about the role of new church formation in America. Church attendance has been in decline for decades now, from 1992 to 2003, average attendance at a typical church service dropped by 13% whereas the population of America had increased by 9% SEE MORE TRENDS HERE
I don't pretend to know exactly why this is, but I'm sure it has much to do with the growth of Universalism in that same time period. If there is no one path to heaven, if in fact there are many paths, and if you get there eventually regardless of your belief system or adherence to a moral code of conduct, why go to church when you could be relaxing at Starbucks with a latte and a newspaper? I find it revealing that what little growth is occurring in the midst of dreary decline is happening in evangelical denominations. Denominations that are unswerving in their adherence to Gospel teaching, and perhaps most important, their devotion to the Harvest.
Which brings me back to the 10 warning signs of a congregation in trouble. While I would imagine that the article is extremely useful in individual cases, it completely misses the point of what to do to halt the overall decline of Christianity here in America. I'm sure I'll take some flack here for oversimplification, but if the only growth in today's church is in denominations that preach the Gospel and are devoted to missions, perhaps if more churches did that they'd grow too.
And that, finally, brings me to the original topic. Do we really need another church here? This is relevant to my situation because my church, a Gospel teaching, missions oriented church, is considering  planting another church. There is no lack of seating in area churches, there are other Gospel churches in our area doing wonderful work for the Lord, this area has every kind of worship format known to man, and yet still....pews sit empty every Sunday at churches all across our county. I fear what has happened is quite simple, rightly or not, a significant number of people have decided that organized religion, traditional churches if you will, have no relevance in their lives. And building another sanctuary, even a gospel breathing sanctuary does not address this attitude. That does not mean these people are to be given up on, quite the contrary. They are church bashers, not Jesus bashers.
I'll try to summarize my thoughts in a later post, although if you read Parts 1-3 of this series you'll get a sense of where my head is on this matter.