Monday, November 19, 2007

Christian Cliché

"Remember. Don't be so heavenly minded to be any earthly good."

This cliché is not necessarily the domain of Christian circles, but is popular in our post-Christian culture. I've heard Christians quote this mantra whenever we discuss heaven, or the church's role in social reform. It is as if, working in this world requires being earthly minded.

Actually, I've come to the conclusion that if we are earthly good it is precisely because we are heavenly minded. In other words, the more we understand heaven, and the One who dwells there, the more we will understand our role in this world. On the flip side, the more earthly minded we become, the more bogged down we are by worldly matters—even to the point of being no real good to God or to those in the world.

In Luke 12:13-34 the problem the rich man had was not that he was too focused on heaven to care about the concerns of earth. It was that he was too focused on this life (his concerns in this world) to care about the concerns of heaven.

Think about it. Do you agree with what Jesus said is true? "Life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions." If you do, what are you worried about? What are you living for? Or better yet, how do you see the person who has nothing in comparison to you? Can you tell them what Jesus said about possessions? If not, why not? Do you really believe it when you or someone else lives below the poverty line?

In Colossians 3, Paul blatantly tells Christians to be heavenly minded, because it leads to earthly behavior that is pleasing to God. Our perspective is shifted from selfish, worldly living, to living in harmony with God's will. We actually have a change of mindset when we consider heaven in all that we do.

What do you believe? (Consider Philippians 3:17-21, Hebrews 12:1-3, and Romans 12:1-2)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Observations of a Visitor

I and my family have been visiting different churches lately. What is interesting is what is consistent and different between different churches—whether restorationist or not.

Churches that are growing and welcoming have these in common:
  • They all think about a visitor's experience when they come through the door. What I mean is that when I walk in as a stranger, there is somebody there to welcome me and guide me. They even anticipate my needs as a family man, like showing me where my kids go, and what's offered for them.
  • They have a greeters station or desk, with more than one person and orientation literature, and ability to guide.
  • They have a plan for growth. They don't believe that growth just happens because they exist. They build, plan, structure, and communicate with the intention of growing.
  • They are clear about what they are about, and they communicate it clearly.
  • They have a process of growth from visitor to committed member. It isn't taken for granted, and members must agree with the non-negotiable doctrine the church affirms. Yet, there is room to sincerely disagree with negotiable doctrine. Either way it is clear what is negotiable and what is non-negotiable.
  • They respect leadership. They don't allow anyone to lead ministries without being a committed member, demonstrating a character of biblical wisdom, nor having the maturity and giftedness to lead a particular ministry. There is a process in place to nurture leaders.
  • Their small groups are strategic, rather than self-existing. They support the church's mission and strategic approach.

What do you think? Have you seen this too?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ashamed of the Gospel

Courtesy Mary R. Vogt at

More and more, I hear how we are to relate to culture. Some would say, "many in our culture believe we are irrelevant. And we need to be more relevant to attract a new generation." The problem I have with this is that often the motive is to get people to like us. Not necessarily to provide a call to repentance through faith in Christ.

But don't we want people to be attracted to us, so that it becomes easier to communicate the message?

The reason people may not listen to us has little to do with liking us. It may have more to do with respecting us. Between the two, I would prefer respect rather than being liked. Being liked is fickle. When people like you, they may listen to you, but they don't take you very seriously. In fact, once you say something they don't like, they won't like you anymore.

However, even if someone doesn't like you, if they respect you they will have to grapple with what you say. True, it is better to be respected and liked. In that way, people will have to grapple with what you say from a perspective of a respected relationship. Another way to put it, is that they admire you and identify with you, so that your words have impact on them—even if they may initially disagree.

The message of Christ isn't just about making friends, but making peace. The goal of the Gospel is reconciliation between God and men (thus causing reconciliation between men). It is about transformational power. The gospel of Christ brings salvation to a doomed world. Therefore, friendly relations is a means to share the gospel message and a fruit of the gospel message believed. But it is not the goal of the gospel message. The goal is reconciliation.

In other words, when friendliness becomes the goal, the way to achieve this friendliness is being friendly. Avoid problems or situations that upset the status quo, or cause others to hate you. Be agreeable for the sake of avoiding conflict. (Go along to get along.) In this manner, the bulk of the work is on keeping the appearance of peace. The practice of tolerance is for the purpose of ignoring differences; not to use our differences to work towards a common goal nor to become right with God and each other. Rather, the motive is simply avoidance for pleasantness.

But when reconciliation is the goal, the process can seem messy at times—maybe even hostile. This is because reconciliation requires more than cordiality. It requires honesty, confrontation, self-sacrifice, endurance, patience, and great wisdom. Reconciliation requires real work, and an understanding of the role of differences—from non-consequential to outright dangerous. It requires the fruits of the Spirit and willingness not to be comfortable for a greater goal.

Jesus didn't want to suffer and die. But he wanted reconciliation bad enough to endure it. Christians are to do no less. That is our cross to bear. Avoiding the cross isn't an option.