Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Adapt & Die

For longer than I can remember we have been told that the church must change with the times or it will die. There is a sense in which the claim is true, but basically the claim is an once of truth wrapped in several pounds of falsehood.

The churches that have changed the most are dying fastest; while the most conservative churches seem to grow, at least a little bit. The most change-willing church in this country has been the Episcopal Church. According to a recent New York Times article, the Episcopal church has lost nearly a quarter of its membership in 10 years. Not a single Episcopal diocese in the country has seen an increase. On the other hand, according to an NPR report, the fastest growing sect among the Amish happens to be the most conservative Amish group, the Swartzentruber Amish. Interesting.

I agree with Sundar Singh that (when in India) we should "offer the water of life in an Indian cup". In Africa we should have offered it in an African Calabash. We should adapt the method of presentation to the extent one can without damaging the content of the message.

But as soon as we start tampering with or de-emphasizing the content, we lose. As soon as we seek to be an entertainment option instead of a group of submissive worshippers, we lose. As soon as we begin to teach what is popular instead of what is right, we lose.

The world is full of "suit yourself" options. We cannot compete in that market. We will not even be noticed in that market. What is rare is uncompromising proclamation of the unvarnished gospel. With that approach we may offend many, but we may win a few.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A Month of Fasting

Be kind to your Muslim neighbors. Ramadan began Friday, and it will be particularly difficulty this year. During Ramadan faithful Muslim men will not eat (and most of them will not drink) during daylight hours. Ramadan is difficult enough when it falls in the winter, when the daylight hours are shorter and one feels less need of liquids. But this year, with the observance running from July 20 to August 19, it is going to be very difficult.

The observance of Ramadan means different things to different Muslims. Some, for example, see it as a chance to show how physically tough they are. But the main idea of Ramadan is to remember the giving of the Quran. Muslims fast for a month to show honor to their holy book.

Now I would not want Christians to honor the Bible the way Muslims honor the Quran. From my point of view, the Muslim attitude toward the Quran seems to border on idolatry. The Quran holds for the faithful Muslim the place that, for the faithful Christian, should be reserved not for the Bible but for Jesus. But, while I think Muslims doubly mistaken, I certainly admire their dedication.

Which leads me to certain questions, 'If Muslims will spend a month fasting for a book that we do not believe to be true, what should we do to show our respect for a book we do believe to be true?' 'If Muslims will spend a month fasting for a book that we do not believe provides salvation, what should we do to show our respect for our Lord, who provided our salvation at great cost to himself?'

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. Psalm 138:1-2

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Going Without Water

How long do you go without a drink? I went about 13 hours without a drink recently, and I was not happy about it. Most of us have learned to "drink plenty of fluids." We realize that getting plenty to drink is an important part of how we remain healthy.

How is it with your soul? How often do you give it a drink of the living water?

It amazes me that some Christians have so little interest in the food and drink of the soul. Some people who show tremendous concern for their physical food and drink behave as if spiritual food and drink are a matter of small importance. How can this be?

We realize that we must eat and drink to remain healthy. We realize that we must be careful what we eat and drink -- that we cannot eat junk food and remain healthy. How is it that we do not see the application of this to spiritual matters?

We must eat and drink often, and we must eat and drink that which is good for us. Real spiritual food and drink, and real spiritual exercise, these are the keys to spiritual health.

Do not try to exist without a steady, healthy spiritual diet. Do not expect spiritual healthy while consuming spiritual junk food. Eat proper food, and drink plenty of good spiritual fluids.

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God. Psalm 42:1-2

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Abiding In Christ

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 (ESV)

If we would live securely in Christ, if we would produce spiritual fruit to the glory of God, we must abide in Christ. Apart from him, we can do nothing. That is the unmistakable teaching here. But how do we live this out in our lives? How do we abide in him?

We abide in him by following his word. Jesus says, "Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you" (3). It is his word that cleanses us and makes us fruitful; but to have that effect the word must do more than just enter our ears. His word must find a home in us, it must abide in us (7).

We also abide in him by means of prayer. Jesus said, "If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you" (7). Prayer demonstrates our dependence on the Lord. The prayerless Christian lives as if capable of doing without the Lord. Failing to pray is a declaration of independence, a practical cutting oneself off from the vine. The withering of the prayerless branch is only a matter of time.

It is only by means of his word entering and abiding in us, and our words ascending to him in prayer that we abide in Christ. How is your prayer life? How is your Bible study? Are you abiding in Christ?