Saturday, June 23, 2007

Are You Ready?

There was a public service TV commercial that came on in Baltimore many years ago. It warned against sexual activity among teenagers. The commercial was meant to be serious, but it was sort of funny. It pictured a mom standing at the doorway of her teen son's room. Her son was sitting on his bed in his messy room, looking dejected, while his mom chastised him.

She chastised him about his choice to engage in sexual activity. She argued that he was just not responsible enough to understand what he was doing, let alone deal with any of the possible consequences of his decisions. Then she said a line that was very funny, as well as poignant. She said,

"You want to run around out there having sex! Boy, you can't even keep your room clean!" (LOL)

Lately, I've been seriously thinking about how this is parallel to the Christian experience. Do you know that we will not be effective in this life if we "can't keep our rooms clean?" If we do not tend to the little things in life, God will not give us greater things. If we do not study our Bibles or grow in faith and love, we are essentially useless in our Christian walk. In fact, we may end up being more useful to the devil.

What does it mean to become mature?

It is essential that we mature, because if we do not grow, we will die. I want to explore that for a while, because I am concerned that in our society many who profess the name of Christ are at best arrested in their development, and at worst unbelievers. (See recent Barna study.) I also want to take my own growth more seriously, and to do whatever it takes to ensure that I, and those I help, am on the right path to get there.

So, what does it mean to become mature? I will begin to answer that by sharing an observation I made during a recent family vacation. My two girls are an excellent example of immaturity. They lack patience, are easily annoyed, and sometimes whine when they don't get their way. Although their boldness is admirable, it is always focused on what they want, not on other people's needs. (So, they can be lovable but rude very often.) And they are unable to even differentiate their needs from their wants, nor do they care to. All they know is what they do not want.

I also noticed that they aren't aware of their surroundings very much, and cannot discern what is dangerous or untrue. I wonder how many times I've said, "Don't put that in your mouth! Don't run into the street! Pay attention! It's not okay to whine; use your words."

So, based on what I observe about immaturity, I can safely say that maturity encompasses these characteristics:
  • patience (long-suffering)
  • humility
  • healthy concern for others (honoring)
  • needs and wants are in proper perspective
  • discerning (ability to judge right from wrong; good from evil; danger from safety; healthy from unhealthy)
  • long view of life, rather than immediacy

This is not an inclusive list, but it gives me an idea of what it means to be grown up. As a child, I needed to be taken care of, because I was unable to become these things on my own. But as an adult, not only can I take care of myself, but I realize what it means to be responsible. In fact, that is what I believe the definition of adulthood is: being able to take responsibility for oneself, and those in one's charge.

Spiritual maturity is no different. In Christ we realize something bigger than ourselves, and we seek to please him. This leads us to discern, and make choices that we are fully aware of as believers, and free to exercise as our responsibility. But we desire to grow in this faith and knowledge.

Mature people realize they need to grow, and yearn for it. Mature people yearn for those around them to do so as well. Mature people are not satisfied with rituals. Mature people are not satisfied with a shallow understanding. Mature people are not interested in joining movements and following trends. Mature people are not seeking after experiences per se, but want realities.

Mature people want genuine maturity, not a quick fix; to know the God who is real and loves us; and to enjoy His Presence.

Do we play at Christianity without cleaning our room? Are we willing to dive deep without pretense? Do we dare to fan into flame the gift of faith we have received?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Death of Common Sense

I have to explain this graphic a bit. Recently my wife discovered a snake in our front yard. Needless to say, she wasn't pleased by this development. So, she called Animal Control. And would you know it, they told her they couldn't come out unless it came into our house, because snake is in his natural habitat and is a protected species. What? It is a 4 foot snake in our front yard! Maybe if I could deliver it to their yard they may feel a little different.

The graphic above is tongue-in-cheek. But it illustrates the current problem we are having in our society. It used to be that common sense was the idea that we all experience life with a set of presuppositions that are in conformity with reality. Not so today, especially in western societies. Common sense has become very uncommon. And the reason this is so is that we reject God in our discussions. And when we do this, we reject reality. The end result of rejecting reality is insanity (or a depraved mind).

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Elders By Any Other Name

What does it take to be an acceptable elder before the Lord? The Scriptures give us an idea of what God is wanting. And it isn't to create job descriptions within the church. Although there are different roles that God has assigned, the main goal is always for the strengthening and growth of the church.

Before looking at qualifications and what elders are to do it first takes an understanding of why we need elders in the first place. After all, leadership seems to be a matter of appointment in our world. However, in God's church, it is not about performing a duty or office. It is about being the example of spiritual maturity, and using that influence to help other believers become mature. A potential elder can't help the church mature and grow if he doesn't know what that looks like. But the one who is spiritually mature has understanding, and is an example for those looking to grow in their faith.

Their character should reflect their maturity, and competence. The Scripture details some of the character traits a potential elder is to have, and the type of lifestyle they should exhibit. Sometimes people make the mistake of seeing these as a list of qualifications that need to be checked off. However, even though this isn't true, these guidelines are important. The issue is maturity exhibited in a serious relationship with God. This is beyond just being good guys. It is a person who has shaped his life around God's principles and lives his life that way. It requires a genuine faith expressed in love for God and His people. This person knows where he is going, and why he is here. And Jesus is his life, not his hobby.

When I read the Scriptures I see that God's elder:

  • wants to serve as an elder (1 Peter 5:2)
  • desires continued personal growth and the growth of those he leads (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • accepts accountability from other elders and members of his church community (1 Timothy 3:1-7; 1 Timothy 5:17-20)
  • is an example of spiritual maturity to the flock in his lifestyle, demeanor, and passion (Titus 1:5-8; 1 Peter 5:2-3)
  • able to distinguish right from wrong, wheat from chaff, and heat from light, and can help others do the same (Ephesians 4:11-16 ; Titus 1:9; Hebrews 5:13-14)
  • prays as a matter of necessity, not special occasions
  • understands that leading means being a faithful follower (1 Peter 5:4)
  • will give his life protecting the flock
  • is concerned with the approval of Christ more than of men
These items should be easy to spot. And the fruit of which will be evident among the congregation they serve within. Their influence (plus their congregation's willingness) will produce growth that is measurable by these same criteria.

To evaluate this, we need to start with ourselves. We must ask ourselves, what deeds or attitudes demonstrate our maturity level? Can I concretely delineate them for myself? As a church, how are we doing? Are we growing in these traits as a body? In what ways are our elders and other leaders concretely demonstrating these traits, or at all, and in what measure? Do we have the courage to make a concrete assessment?

It is easy to agree with the concepts, but another thing to examine the genuine fruit. Let's get serious and grow up.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The New World Religion

(2 Thessalonians 1:3-2:12)

Times have changed.

People have always seen religion as a cause for division, problems, and unrest. Some have seen it as a source of great good too. But it seems like more and more people don't have any tolerance for the mention of religion as a truth claim. Religion is only tolerated as a preference like a particular flavor of ice cream or candy. One religion is just as good as another, as long as it sees itself in that way—a preference.

The world response has become a call for a new type of religion that embraces all other religions. If I remember correctly, the ancient Romans had a similar issue. To have peace throughout the empire, different religious views had to come under a rubric of acceptance and accommodation. They were all tolerated and all enjoyed peace as long as they remain an acceptable choice to enter and exit from, and caused no disruption upon Roman life, culture, and economy.

Of course the Jewish faith did not allow this very easily, and it became a source of great consternation for the Romans. Then add in the Christian sect of Judaism, and the Romans were apoplectic. Although there were periods of peace among these groups, there were also periods of great turmoil. Even the Christian faith itself had periods of turmoil within—which were heretical attempts at altering the faith. Someone is always trying to accommodate to the culture to bring peace and acceptance, even today.

Which brings me to the rising of a new predominate religion. This religion has an orthodoxy, eschatology, and salvation message. In some ways it resembles the Christian message, but it is laced with deceit. This religion sets itself above all other religions, faiths, cultures, and gods. This religion is being accepted by more and more people, regardless of their faith claim. This religion is the religion of this world, made by man. Some people call this new world religion, Postmodernism. Some call it Humanism. Some call it Socialism. Some call it Universalism. Either way, it is the religion that is called The Great Error.

The Orthodoxy

  • Truth is relative. Those that disagree are heretics. Those that embrace this are celebrated.

  • The virtue that holds this together is worldly love. This love is not concerned with seeking the highest good of the beloved. It seeks to feel good about itself in the act of demonstrating non-judgmental tolerance, and sexual exploitation and perversion.

  • Anything that upsets peace is considered evil. This type of peace is defined by the absence of conflict, whether war or arguing. Living together, but separated from each other, is considered optimal living conditions. If we group together in tribes of like-minded individuals we are doing well. Now, technology like the internet allow us to just that. Gathering a large amount of teachers to say whatever our itching ears want to hear.


  • Global warming. Destruction of mankind is imminent because of mans lack of care for this earth. Gaia will retaliate against man's carelessness, because his very existence threatens this earth's delicate system.

  • Lack of peace, and the presence of war. The reason we have war and unrest throughout the world is because of a lack of justice, lack of love, and lack of economic fairness. Man is basically a survivor, and cares little about the weak among us. Everyone in the world is interested in self-preservation, and the lack of vision is destroying us. If mankind can only grasp that our existence is dependent on us getting along, we would see the need to make peace with each other, even out of selfish reasons.

Salvation Message

  • Love. Like the Beatles' song says, "All we need is love." If we decide to put down our hostilities and live our (selfish) lives and keep to our own business, we will have peace and safety in this world.

  • Sharing. If we share resources with one another, regardless of what people believe or practice, no one will be in need. And it will eliminate the reasons we make war with each other.

  • Global allegiance. There is this strong belief emerging that says that unity throughout the world is the key to our survival. Issues like global warming, AIDS, and economic prosperity can pull the world together into peace and harmony, if we all work together for their solutions. It doesn't matter what religion you are, or what you believe or don't believe. Come together, and we can make this world a better (Utopia) place.

The Great Error. It just isn't true.

Jesus didn't come to help us get along or to make our current lives better and smoother. He came to take over—thus the Kingdom has come. He didn't come to see that people cared more about each other for selfish reasons. He came to unite the world under himself, bringing everyone back to the true God. The fruit of this is that his people will care about others in truth, not pretense.

He didn't come to initiate a program of revolution throughout the world. He is the revolution. He didn't come to bring unity and peace. He came with a sword to divide the world and to bring turmoil over his name. (Oh, blessed are those who do not fall on account of his name!) In so doing, the resulting unity will be a genuine unity. All peoples, great and small, old and young, east or west will come together under his name, worshiping the One true God together.

He didn't even come to make this world a better place. For the day will come will all this will be destroyed by God by the ultimate global warming on that day he visits us again. In fact, those who are his are not even looking for a kingdom built by the hands of men (Utopia). They can't be fooled by the counterfeit promise because they seek a heavenly kingdom, built by the hands of God Himself. In it they will be kept safe, and they will never thirst or hunger again.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Three in One

How is it possible that God is one entity, yet three persons? I don't know. But I know that some people would rather reject that idea than grapple with it. It is too hard, and doesn't make human sense. So some people, who believe in God, say it isn't true. Unfortunately, that is not a good reason to reject this idea about God, because we can't possibly understand God on our own. The way we get to know God is when He chooses to reveal Himself to us. And that has happened through Scripture (testimony and His messages), Jesus (the exact representation of His being, and the testimony of his apostles and other witnesses), and the Holy Spirit.

Why do I believe this? Jesus.

For people who reject ideas about God, and reject the Bible (Scripture) because they require proof that their rejection is wrong, they will be disappointed that I believe the reverse is actually required. The person of Jesus is historically verifiable. What he did and taught is verifiable and attested to. The issue is not proving it, the issue is accepting it.

Concerning Jesus, he settles the matter about who God is, and what He wants. First, Jesus did what no other man or woman has ever done. He taught with verifiable proof—miracles. Not even his enemies contested that. Second, what he taught about himself was either revolutionary, or heretical. He taught that he had the same authority as God (Matthew 28:18-20), the same nature as God (John 5:16-23, Philippians 2:5-6), and that he and God are One (John 10:28-30, 14:9-14). Since his miracles and resurrection are attested to, he was right. Therefore, we have confirmation that the Scriptures are not only authentic and reliable, but divine, because Jesus confirms Scripture.

This is a stumbling block for some people. Consequently, it is impossible to accept God's triune nature without accepting the nature of Jesus. When we say we have faith in Jesus, this is at the crux of the matter: accepting him as Lord and Christ (God in the flesh). And in so doing, we accept the Holy Spirit into our lives (John 14:15-17) and we accept the Scriptures as God's authoritative Word about reality.

This is another stumbling block, because the world cannot accept the Holy Spirit, because they have neither seen Him nor known Him. But a believer must be saved by the Holy Spirit. For without the Holy Spirit there is no salvation (Romans 8:5-11).