Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marks of a healty Church

The question, "what is a spiritually healthy church" has been knocking on my door over the last couple of years. Today, when I woke-up it was knocking  particularly loud, so off the top of my head I'll list some attributions of what I think make a church spiritually healthy.

I would note that these observations are coming from a parishioner's perspective and not so much from a church leader's perspective. I do feel that depending on what side of the pulpit you are on will certainly change the view.

My observations also come through my own personal experiences as I've journeyed through different churches. My conversion did not take place in a church or through any para church ministry. I was a young teen in the 1970's who's life came to the cross-roads when my cousin shared the gospel with me.

After my conversion, my girl friend (now my wife), found a bible study happening in the town we were in. Soon after meeting in various homes we found ourselves in a church where the main emphasis was on casting out demons and the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit.

From there we found another Church that in many respects was similar. This particular church would have the pastor's wife speak to the congregation and tell us about her forty-day fast for Jeee-sus. In this church we witnessed people getting slain in the spirit, speaking in unknown languages, and a host of pseudo healings.

From there we journeyed on to find ourselves in a Fundamental Independent Separated Bible-Believing Baptist Church. Here we found that to be a good solider of Jesus you followed all the rules: hair was cut to a certain length, Godly women wore dresses, you didn't drink alcohol, you tithed, you came to church every time the church doors were opened, oh, and you didn't go the the theater to see ET, I could go on, but I think you get the point.

Next, we found ourselves back in the house church movement. Without any real structure or defined leadership there arose self promoters, those who would make claims that "this is my church;"  and again the ME monster would raise his ugly head.

From that house Church we found an established denominational church-- The Evangelical Free Church, where we spent twenty years.

This is my background, and from that perspective I'd like to share a few characteristics that any church should exhibit in order to be called a spiritual healthy church:

1.Leadership: All of the leader's operate from the biblical paradigm of servant leadership. All of the leaders must be spiritually and emotionally healthy. True humility must be the defining attribute of all those who are to lead.

2. God's Word: The word of God is viewed as the authoritative, inspired, inerrant, and the revelation of God to His people.

3. A church that focuses not on program development but people development:  Any church that makes the church the focus and not the building up of the saints is not a healthy church. Too many churches focus on quantity and not quality. Too many churches are so busy with building their programs that the people of God are used as a means to the church's end. 

In this type of church you begin with programs and the church looks for people to make them happen. In a healthy church the leadership looks to minister to people and may create a program to help people grow.

In a program driven church the emphasis for service will always be "what are you doing in the church." This creates a false view of how the Christian life should be lived.

The healthy Church will emphasize that all of our lives are to be lived in service to Christ. The healthy Church will not equate spirituality with the degree of involvement you have in their programs.

4. A healthy Church will be a church that makes God the center of all spiritual activity. The spiritually healthy church will do every thing with the intent to bring glory to God. The leadership in a healthy church will go to great pains to measure every thing that is proposed or done against the measuring stick "does this glorify God?"

Conclusion: I know there is no perfect Church. I know that many other things can be added to this list. This came off the top of my head and for me they can't be compromised. Let me emphasize that any healthy church must have healthy leaders---health starts from the head down.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Are you listening,I mean really listening?

Sometimes I feel the need to examine my life to see what kind of listener I am. Do I simply nod my head in agreement while not really hearing what is being said? Do I just give a tacit approval to comments without really allowing the other persons spoken word to penetrate my brain barrier?  Well, sad to say, I must answer in the affirmative, for so many times my listening radar gets turned off.

I'm an intense observer of people; noticing body language, how things are said, what specific words are used, and I pay particular attention if the other person is listening or just chomping at the bit waiting for their next round of mortar fire.

It seems that in our society and culture it is rally hard to have good quality conversation. Let me provide an example: The New York Telephone Company made a detailed study of telephone conversations to find out which word is the most frequently used. You have guessed it: it is the personal pronoun "I."  "I." "I." it was use 3,900 time in 500 telephone conversations. "I." "I." "I."

Think of when you are looking at a group photo, who do you look at first? bingo, you got it, yourself. It certainly seems it is in our nature to be self absorbed and consumed with the ME monster. How can we have friends, real friends, deep and meaningful relationships when we simply just try to impress people or get people interested in ourselves?

For anybody who has the time go to you tube and search Brain Regan's "me monster" and his comedy skit " I walked on the moon." If you don't crack a smile I promise to buy you dinner at your choice of restaurant, nah just kidding, but really check it out, it speaks to our topic and is extremely funny.

The "art of listening" is a skill that must be learned and practiced in order to get good at it. Good listening skills like any other skill in life be it baking, cooking, athletics, or building a rocket ship must be practiced. We must become, and here is one of my favorite words, intentional. We must zero in and become determined that we are not going to be actively thinking about a reply, no, we are going to listen, really open up our hearts  and ears and listen to the other person.

As Alfred Adler, the famous Viennese psychologist wrote:

It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring

We can't presume to care for others if we don't listen. We can't presume to love others if we don't listen.

Let me share God's perspective on developing the "art of listening:"

  James 1:19 ESV 

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger....

Proverbs 5:1 ESV / 

My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding....

Proverbs 18:13 ESV 

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

The Bible is filled with admonition after admonition on being good listeners--do you think God knew that our
sinful tendencies are to focus on ourselves?

I need some feed back on this article for some future research. Share a personal story or reference any articles or books that you have read that were helpful in the area of communication.

Your Brother In Christ

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Study to show yourself approved to God!

Most people have a Facebook account. Social media has opened doors for us that otherwise would have never been opened. Old friends can get connected and get caught up on life, pictures can be shared between friends and family, and professionals can use social media to network and find job possibilities.

My personal use of Facebook has been to express my political views, share my two blogs, and to create a network of believers so that good, solid, and edifying theological debate can happen. All of this has happened through Facebook; I've met some strong solid believers who have given good counsel from God's word and have shared some fantastic resources where a christian can go and get valuable information.

Some debate threads would consume reams of paper as the topic grew in scope and while others jumped into the fray. For me it has all been a positive experience. But I'd like to share today one concern that I've come across during some of the debates.

I'd like to share at least three of the more serious theological errors that have come up in debate or in posts.  First, we should know as believer's how to handle God's word in a way that brings honor to His name, we as believer's should know how to rightly divide the word of truth, we should also at least have a workable systematic theology by which we can present the truth's of God's word in a logical and cogent manner.

Here are 3 of the more serious errors that I've come across:

1. Kinism: Now if your like me you're saying never saw that word before, what does it mean? Here is a quick definition.

Kinism is one branch of a diverse series of religious movements that promote racial segregation. What makes Kinism different is the belief that God has ordained an order for mankind that goes beyond personal and individual worship. They believe that God has set boundaries for groups of human beings and that human beings should respect those boundaries by maintaining a tribal order.

In short order it is a type of Biblical sanctioned segregation and racism.

2. The second error that I came across is the denial of original sin and the belief that man can be justified by his works. This error continued and said that the believer does not receive the righteousness of Christ (called imputed righteousness). This teaching denies the orthodox and biblical teaching that man is born with Adams guilt and thus has a depraved sinful nature (Psalm 51:5; Eph. 2:3; Gen 8:21).

 But the Bible says that man can't work to attain God's pleasure. Man must receive God's righteousness ( Rom  3:20,28; 4:5,22,25).

This is a very serous error that seeks to spread the poison that man is basically good and that he can through his own human efforts please God. This teaching takes the significance of the cross away for the believer, for the believer clings tot that "old rugged cross" for in and through the cross the believer finds propitiation for his sins.

The last error taught that there is no Second Coming of  Christ-the preterist teaches that Christ came already at the destruction of the Jewish Temple in A.D. 70.

This false teaching takes away the blessed hope of the christian as Titus tells us we have: "while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13).

There are dozens of scriptures that deal with the second coming of Christ or the Day of the Lord here are just a few:

Matthew 16:27   For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
Matthew 23:39    For I tell you, ye again until yoou wil not see mu say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'
Matthew 24:27   For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  
Matthew 24:30  "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn.  they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. 
Matthew 24: 36-39  No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.   As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.   For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark;  and they knew nothng about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away.  That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
Matthew 24:42  "Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come."
Mathew 26:64  "Yes it is as you say,"  Jesus replied.  "But I say to all of you:  In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Mark 8:36-38    What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with holy angels.
Mark 13:26-27   At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.  And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Mark 13:35-37   Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back - whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.  If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'
Mark 14:61-62    Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Might One and coming on the clouds of heaven."
Luke 9:26-27   If anyone I fanyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."
Luke 17:28-30    "It was the same in the days of Lot.  People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building.  But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  "It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.
Luke 18:8    I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.  However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
Luke 21:25-28  "There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars.  On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.   At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift your heads, becasue your redemption is drawing near."

Christian read, and study your Bible.. Pray for understanding, seek out good, solid commentary's, discuss in small groups, and talk to your pastor and teaching elders.

Study to show yourself approved to God.

Addendum: The above stated position would be held by a hyper preterist. A partial preterist does not believe that all prophecy was fullfilled in A.D. 70, thus a partial preterist does believe the future coming of Christ that is physical and real.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

" Your Best Life Now" is contrary to the gospel message as taught by Christ.

John Bunyan speaks out! Bunyan's voice from his prison cell in Bedford, England cries out with the warning that the Christian life is fraught with difficulties.

Bunyan summons us to view the Christian life from a different lens than the prosperous and pleasure-addicted churches that surround us today in our culture. Bunyan was imprisoned for 12 years for refusing to stop preaching the gospel.

John Bunyan was sent to prison having four children with his oldest daughter Mary born blind. John's wife has just passed away before he was sent to the Bedford  County Goal.

Bunyan calls us to live in this world as a Pilgrim on our way to the Celestial City. In his book Pilgrims Progress, Bunyan tells how Christian starts his Pilgrimage on the Hill of Difficulty. On the contrary, we modern Christians have come to see safety and ease as our right.

We in our soft and comfortable churches sit and listen to fifty thousand dollar sound systems, to entertain and make us feel good. We have become soft and have come to relish the "feel good" message of Christianity. I can still hear Christian talking as he ascends the Hill of Difficulty:

"This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend,
For I perceive the way to life lies here:
Come, pluck up, heart, let's neither faint nor fear!
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe."

"Like the tearing of my flesh from my bones."

That's how John Bunyan described parting with his family after their brief visits with him in prison. Each time they walked away, John was reminded of the great difficulty his incarceration imposed on them, especially on his blind daughter, Mary. "What sorrow you are likely to have as your portion in this world!" he wrote. "You must be beaten, must beg, suffer hunger, cold, nakedness, and a thousand other calamities, even though I cannot so much as bear the wind blowing upon you."
Adding to John's misery was the knowledge that by just saying the word, he could be released. Just one simple statement—"I will not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ"—was all it would take to set him free to support his family again. But John couldn't do it. "I have determined," he said, "the almighty God being my help and my shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith." And so John waited on God for twelve long years in the overcrowded, unsanitary, poorly heated Bedford jail. Here's something of what he learned there.

How many of us could truly say as Bunyan said,
"Bless you, Prison, for having been in my life!"

The picture that the Bible paints and that of John Bunyan and all the suffering saints, is completely contrary to that of Joel Osteen's new book, Your Best Life Now, unfortunately Osteen's theology has taken hold in our flesh gratifying culture, a culture that screams "it all about me."

Christian, be willing to die to self, be willing to kill the desires in your life that are contrary to the will of God, be willing to pluck out an eye or to cut off a hand if need be. Allow the Holy Spirit to have His way in your life, don't quench the work of the Holy Spirit by fulfilling the desires of the flesh and carnal mind.

The Renewing of the Mind

I've have written in the past on the life of the mind. I cannot stress enough the importance for the Christian to develop the life of ...