Thursday, October 29, 2009

Encouraging Facts

There is always plenty of bad news being shared about our nation and about the church. We are constantly being told how little influence we have and even that the church is old and dying. The most recent copy of Search Light (mailed out from the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma) contained the following good news about the church.

Twenty percent of the American population falls between the ages of 18 and 29. Twenty-two percent of the membership of the churches of Christ falls into this age group. This indicates that, far from being a church of old folks who will soon die off, the church nationwide reflects the age distribution in our country, particularly with reference to young adults.

We are a church of small congregations. In terms of membership, churches of Christ are the twelfth largest religious group in the country, but in terms of number of congregations we are in fourth place.

Perhaps there is a connection between that fact and this next one.

A much higher than average percentage of our members are active in attending worship and contributing to the work. All churches have inactive members, but the percentages are lower in churches of Christ.

Although the church is much stronger in the South, our congregations are better distributed around the country than other groups.

In Search of the Lord’s Way, a television ministry of the Edmond congregation, was in third place among religious programs in the most recent ratings month.

Yes, there are plenty of problems, plenty of things about which we must be concerned. But there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful as well. This is especially true when we remember the promises of our Lord.

"Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." 1 John 4:4

"Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." Zech. 4:6

Friday, October 23, 2009

Pre-evangelism & Preperation for Worship

Thirty years ago it was popular to say that everything a Christian does is evangelism. More recently, it has become popular to say that everything that a Christian does is worship. These seem like noble ideas. Some passages seem to give biblical support to these claims. But are these thoughts really biblical?

Everything a Christian does is to be done to the glory of God. That is clear from passages like Colossians 3. In that chapter we are told, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (17). And, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ" (23-24).

Everything a Christian does, if done well and with a good attitude, may help in the task of evangelism. That is Paul’s point when he tells Titus, "Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior" (Titus 2:9-10).

Everything we do may support evangelism, and everything we do may bring some indirect form of glory to God, but does that make everything we do evangelism and worship?

A job well done helps prepare people to hear the gospel from us but we have not evangelized until we intentionally and clearly teach the gospel. A job well done is pre-evangelism, but it is not evangelism. Yes, we should live in such a way as to set a good example, but we should also intentionally and clearly teach the gospel; and we should not claim that we have evangelized until we have done so.

A life well lived is a good thing. When a Christian accepts his lot in life and makes the best of it, his life glorifies God. But this is no substitute for intentional worship.

The notion that we could evangelize just by setting a good example has killed evangelism in the church. It has given people an excuse to neglect evangelism. It is also arrogant. Jesus proclaimed the gospel. He did not depend on his good example to convert them; he taught them as well. Are we pretending that our example is better than his?

The notion that everything is worship is killing worship in the church. It is giving people an excuse to neglect those times when we set aside our natural activities and focus specifically on the Lord. It is giving an excuse to those who want to use unauthorized forms of worship.

Should we live every moment of every day with God in mind, with the intent to glorify him, with the hope that our example might help to win someone to him? Yes, of course we should. But, having done so, should we say, "We have worshipped and evangelized"? No, we should not.

A life well lived is good pre-evangelism and good preparation for worship. But until we set aside the natural activities of living for a time focused specifically on rendering to the Lord the worship he has commanded, we have not worshipped. Until we speak in such a way as to persuade others to honor him, we have not evangelized.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Small Things

The quality of our lives is not in doing great things, but in doing small things well. Too often we are waiting around for a chance to do some great deed, while neglecting dozens of small tasks at hand. George MacDonald writes, “The weakness of my life has been that I would ever do some great thing; the saving of my life has been my utter failure. I have never done a great deed. If I had, I know that one of my temperament could not have escaped serious consequences.”

God knows our temperament. If he is not giving us some great deed to do, perhaps it is because he knows that it would have serious consequences for us. But he has given us plenty of little things to do. How faithful are we in the little things?

Jesus said, "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).

Mother Teresa has been quoted as saying, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”

Stop waiting for some great thing to do. Instead, do the small thing well. As the scriptures tell us, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Eccles. 9:10).

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Thought On The Health Care Debate

Health care has been the biggest topic in the news this year. The health care debate in congress goes on, and on, and on. Almost everyone has an opinion on the subject. Many of those opinions are firmly held and loudly promoted. I hear a lot of misinformation being exchanged and a lot of facts being abused. But the biggest problem I have with the health care debate is that we are so concerned with it.

Why is our nation so worked up about providing care for our physical bodies -- which ultimately will die and decay? Why is our nation so unconcerned about spiritual health?

Why is it so important that children be protected from seeing tobacco advertised, and "unconstitutional" to protect them from seeing and hearing things which rot their souls and demean their spirits?

Why are we so concerned that our children learn lots of science, and so unconcerned that they learn ethical standards for the use of that science?

In the case of most politicians, I know the answer. They are atheists. In public they refer to God occasionally, but in truth they have no real belief in God, no respect for his word, and, in most cases, no respect for our constitution.

But why are many (so-called) Christians so hot about health care, but lukewarm about evangelism? Are they also, in practical terms, atheists -- with no real belief in God and no respect for his word? How is it that we can raise millions for the rescue of physical life when there is a disaster, while real evangelism among the teeming billions is neglected? How can we be so concerned about their physical lives, which will last no more than a few decades, and so unconcerned about their eternal fate?

It appears to be unbelief. Is there any other explanation?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reflect the Light

It is a lifeless land, almost 15 million sq. miles of rock and dirt -- without water, without vegetation, without animal life. It is impossible for humans to survive there. Yet, for centuries, we have romanticized and even worshipped the moon.

In terms of direct self-produced effect, the moon’s only effect on earth is the tides. But in terms of useful effect, the moon’s greatest influence on us comes from its ability to reflect the light of the sun when we are not benefiting directly from the sun’s light. Because of the moon, it is still possible for us to benefit from the sun’s light even when we are not facing toward the sun.

Many people are not facing toward the “Sun of Righteousness” (Mal 4:2). They are lost in spiritual darkness. We have no light of our own to share with them, but we can reflect the light of the Sun for their benefit.

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV)

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:5-6, ESV)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Disappointed Plans

Elisabeth Elliot is a well known Christian author. Her books have inspired and encouraged tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands. But Elisabeth Elliot did not set out to be what she became. As she tells in her book Keep a Quiet Heart, her goal was to be a Bible translator. She intended to live in the jungle and translate the Bible into the languages of various Bible-less people groups. She did some translation work in three languages (Colorado, Quichua, and Auca), but all of that work came to nothing. In each case she was interrupted in this work. Other translators came in, developed a different orthography for the languages, and proceeded with the translations.

So often, our plans and God’s plans do not seem to be the same. Ezekiel was to be a priest, but ended up a prophet - living in exile, far from the temple at which he had intended to serve. Paul had plans for how he would serve God. God had other plans.

If you are like me (like Mrs. Elliot, like Ezekiel, like Paul), your plans for how you would serve God will be frequently interrupted, disappointed, and frustrated. Let God be God. If we cannot serve where and how we would wish, let us serve where we find ourselves, doing the task that is at hand.

Henri Nowen remembered an old priest telling him, "I have always been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted; then I realised that the interruptions were my work."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Do Not Refuse Him

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

There are many things that we do not know. There are many things we will never know. There are many things about God that he has not chosen to reveal. There are moral dilemmas that we cannot untangle.

For some people this is an excuse. Since they cannot know all about God, they refuse to teach what they do know. Since they cannot know all about him, they refuse to learn what they could learn. Since they do not know all of his will, they refuse to do that portion of his will that is clear to them.

Part of the reason we do not understand better is that we have not put to use what we have learned. We fail to understand because we are really not committed to doing (John 7:17).

We cannot really know God as God is within himself; but, as A.W. Tozer has said, “he in condescending love has by revelation declared certain things to be true of Himself.” These things we can know, for God has revealed them. These we must come to know, for refusing this gracious revelation would surely be sin.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Content or Complacent?

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, 'The Lord will not do good, nor will he do ill.' (Zeph. 1:12)

According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, Complacency is "a calm feeling of satisfaction with oneself...."

To be satisfied is not bad, nor is it bad to be calm. But what is the basis of our calm satisfaction? That is the question.

To be content with our situation in life is a sign of spiritual maturity (Phil 4:11-12). But to be content with ourselves is not. We ought always to be pressing on, seeking to grow (Phil 3:12-16).

Those who are content because they believe that God is in control are blessed. Those who are complacent because they do not believe that God is going to do anything -- either good or bad -- are condemned.

The content are satisfied with God. The complacent are satisfied with themselves. There is a huge difference.

Are we content, or are we complacent? Let’s have a prayerful look at our hearts and be sure.