Category: Christ & Culture (page 1 of 29)

Death to Force and Fear!

The apostolic letter to the churches in Galatia begins with a reminder that “the Lord Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” The letter ends by telling us what that’s all about, where this whole thing is headed: “What counts is a new creation!”

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has put to death the structures, values, and ways of this world and inaugurated the new, glorious, and eternal creation. We are no longer bound to the ways and means and goals of this fallen world; we are set free by Christ to live in the glory of God’s new creation. So why do we insist on grabbing the old and fading and refuse to embrace the new and everlasting? Why do we invest so much of our identity and energy into a world that’s been given a death sentence?

I am increasingly distressed at the way American Christians flock to this country’s current President and giddily embrace his politics of force and fear. This sell-out of our Christian principles was never more glaringly on display than when Mr. Trump hosted one hundred “evangelical” church leaders Monday for a dinner meeting at the White House.

The President gathered these church pastors and Christian authors to gin up support for his agenda and for all Republicans in the November mid-term elections. He used both force and fear to rally these Christian leaders. And they ate it up.

According to everything I’ve seen and read about that meeting (please see these stories from the Washington Post, New York Times, Rolling Stone, Jennifer Rubin, and CNN), Trump claimed that he has given so much to Christianity, he has protected Christianity, he has even helped revive Christianity, and if the Democrats prevail in the November elections, Christianity will be devastated as a religion in this country.

Trump told these Christian pastors the mid-term elections are “a referendum on your religion” adding, “You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”

He used force. He appealed to strength. He promised increased advantages if these pastors and preachers would only use their power for his cause. “You have tremendous power,” he said. “You have people who preach to almost 200-million people. I just ask you to go out and make sure all of your people vote. Because if they don’t — it’s November 6 — if they don’t vote we’re going to have a miserable two years and we’re going to have, frankly, a very hard period of time because then it just gets to be one election — you’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve got.”

He told these Christians that he was delivering their power to speak: “You’re not silenced anymore.” He declared Christianity to be plateaued (I can’t argue with him there) and that hitching the Church’s wagon to his agenda would cause the Church’s stock to rise (I would suggest it’s getting in bed with this country’s politics that is damaging Christianity).

The President also used fear at this Monday meeting with preachers and pastors. If Democrats are successful in November, “they will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently — -violently. There’s violence.”

“The level of hatred, the level of anger is unbelievable,” Trump said. “Part of it is because of some of the things I’ve done for you. You’re one election away from losing everything that you’ve gotten. Little thing: Merry Christmas, right? You couldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas.'”

Force is how the world operates. The world gets things done by using force. But our Lord brings death to the use of force. His death and resurrection dooms force as a method to accomplish anything. Jesus shows us the way to really get things done, the way to really save the world, is by sacrifice and service, it’s in submission and obedience. And love.

Fear is how the world operates. This is how the world gets its way, by spreading fear and making people afraid. The world makes decisions out of fear. The way of the world is to react out of fear; to be motivated by fear to do the wrong thing and to be paralyzed by fear in the face of doing the right thing. But our Lord brings death to fear. His death and resurrection obliterates all fear as any kind of factor for anything. Jesus shows us the way to face life and death and everything in between is with faith, not fear. The way to overcome is with trust that God is in charge, that God is working all things together for your good and the good of the world, trust that God will vindicate the way you live and die.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” ~Galatians 6:14

The new creation, the new life we live in Christ, happened at the cross and Paul’s banking on it. He’s all in. For Paul, the world no longer has any power, authority, or control over him. The world’s standards and rewards mean nothing. The world does not determine Paul’s status or place. It’s all dead to Paul in exchange for this new life in Christ. Jesus says we are not of this world, just as he is not of this world.

So why do Christians fall all over themselves for Trump?

In that dinner meeting Monday, these one-hundred pastors embarrassed all of us by fawning over this worldly leader. According to the tapes and the reports, one of them said to Mr. Trump, “We love you and we believe in you. You are doing amazing, amazing things.” Another added, “Now we have a warrior at the helm who is willing to stand up and fight. Amen. Sir, I commend you for your courage. It is an amazing thing. So, team — let’s fight and we’ll win. God bless you.”

Fight? To win what?

We’ve lost our way. We’ve lost who we are in Christ and where we live in God’s new creation.

This world that rewards you for putting yourself first, this world that promotes and glamorizes violence and greed, this world that divides people and motivates by fear and accomplishes its goals by force — this world is destined to die. It’s not going to last. It’s dying. Stop chasing it. Stop identifying with it. Stop defending its ends and using its ways.

Our crucified and risen Lord, our reigning and coming King, is the only one who will save us. He is our only hope. His ways are love and humility. His methods are sacrifice and service. His goals are mercy and grace and forgiveness and peace. His reign will ultimately prevail. His rule will eventually win the day.

America’s mid-term elections are not a referendum on Christianity. Give me a break.

Peace,

Allan

The Gospel is Too Complicated to Share

This week we’ve been looking at the things we need to stop believing. There are things in our heads and our hearts that we believe to be true that really aren’t. These false ideas we believe contribute to a church culture in which we don’t talk about Jesus with others the way we used to, the way we’re called by God in Christ to. The things we hear and the things we pass on that aren’t true — we start to believe those things the more we hear them. And it has the potential to shut us down.

The last thing we’ll consider is the idea that The Gospel is Too Complicated to Share.

The Good News of salvation from God in Christ is not hard. It’s simple. But for several generations now, especially in Churches of Christ, I think, we’ve put too much emphasis on knowing all the details of our rules and regulations and on being able to explain and proof-text all our inconsistencies and loopholes that we’ve made sharing the Good News kinda scary. We’ve turned into a people who’d rather not say anything to our friends about Jesus than risk saying something and not be able to answer a tricky question. For a variety of reasons, we’ve come to believe it’s a sin to say to somebody, “I don’t know.”

The Good News is not complicated. It’s the very simple and beautiful truth that God’s eternal salvation through his crucified and risen Son is a gift. It’s a loving gift. And his loving grace continually washes us and covers the stuff we don’t know.

If we believe what the culture tells us about church, if we believe only what we see with our eyes and what we read and hear from others, then, yeah, we can start believing that we’re just hanging on to a dying brand and that our message has no power and the world has passed us by. Who wants to have me try to push that on anybody? See, if we believe these things, we’ll stop talking.

You know, it looked bad when the world crucified Jesus. But God used that to save humanity. It felt bad when the world executed Stephen and scattered the Church. But God used that to expand the borders of his eternal Kingdom. Today, we know our God is using the circumstances in our culture and the conditions in our world — right now! — to do more through his Church than we could ever possibly dare to ask or imagine.

The question is: What do you believe?

Living in the middle of this world that resists Jesus and his Church, living in a society that rejects salvation from God in Christ, we need to believe the Good News. We have to believe that God lives in us and his Son is our Lord. The government does not have control over how we live our lives. Technology does not define our existence. Postmodernism doesn’t determine how we think. News and entertainment does not account for who we are. We must break the faithless habit of letting the journalists tell us what’s really real — we should at least give the Scriptures equal time!

Just like Moses in the Midian desert, just like Isaiah in the Temple, just like John on the Island of Patmos, in chains, guarded by Roman soldiers, watching the trade ships of the Empire sail by, hearing the reports of increased persecution, we, too, have been given a vision and a task. We’ve been given a picture of the way things really are: God on his throne, Christ Jesus by his side, and the Holy Spirit inside his people, filling us with courage and working in us and through us so his eternal will is done on earth just as it is in heaven.

May we believe the Good News.
May our words be fueled by the Spirit and filled with boldness.
And may our risen and coming Lord Jesus receive all the glory forever.

Peace,
Allan

Everybody’s a Christian

Another of the things we must stop believing if we are to become more faithful proclaimers of the Good News in our communities is this feeling that Everybody We Know is Already a Christian. We think that everybody we meet in our town — this is especially difficult for us in the Bible Belt South and Southwest — is a Christian. We must stop believing that everybody in our city goes to church. Because they don’t. And we also need to stop believing that people who don’t follow Christ  have all heard the Good News about Jesus and thought it through and made the decision to reject it. That’ s not true, either.

Census research in Randall and Potter Counties here in our Texas panhandle and surveys done recently by our local newspaper reveal that almost 50% of the people in Amarillo do not have a church home. One out of every two people we run into at work or at the store doesn’t go to church.

And there’s an increasing number of people who don’t know very much at all about Jesus. Over the last couple of decades, kids in this country are being raised differently than the ways most of us were raised. And there are lots of men and women in their 20s and 30s who have never heard the Good News. That’s difficult for us to believe — they’ve never heard it! We’ve got to stop believing everybody already has. It shuts down our desire to witness. It tempers the urgency to share the Gospel.

Our culture today is a lot more like the first century of Acts than it is the United States of the 1940s and 1950s. We can learn a lot by reading and re-reading Acts.

In the face of serious opposition, when the culture opposed them, when society ridiculed them, when the government threatened them, the Church did not pray for wisdom or protection or favor with the authorities. They don’t ask God to change any of the circumstances. They pray for two things. They ask for strength to obey, to have the nerve and guts and faith to continue to speak boldly about the Christ. And they ask for God to act in his mighty power, to do what he needs to do to advance the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” ~Acts 4:29

The prayer is not about numbers or relevancy or new laws or positive press. The concern of the Church is for the Word to go forth and for Christ Jesus to be glorified. To speak more boldly about the Good News in a culture that isn’t Christian and to praise God when he does amazing things.

Peace,

Allan

People Are Not Seeking God

We know what we believe about God’s salvation work in Jesus. We ask for an increased faith to believe even more what we know is right and true about our Lord’s mission to save the world. But some of us have stopped talking about it. We haven’t stopped believing, we’ve just stopped talking. and in the Bible, believing is talking!

I wonder if there are things we need to stop believing. Are there things we hear every day and believe and pass on to others as truth that really are not true at all? And can those things we believe act in our heads and our hearts to shut down our Christian witness?

There are at least five things that a lot of Christians take for true these days that simply aren’t. We’ve already looked this week at The Church Is In Decline and The Church Is Irrelevant. Today, let’s consider the statement “People in our culture are not seeking God.”

It’s not true.

Yes, we do live in a pluralistic, post-modern, post-Christian society now and there’s no going back. Denominational loyalties are dissolving, Christianity is no longer viewed as the exclusive way to God, and truth is no longer an eternal reality as much as it is something each person determines for himself. There are more skeptics and agnostics and atheists in this country than there ever have been before. But that doesn’t mean they’re not searching. They’re all searching! Everybody’s seeking! And there’s tremendous potential here for God’s Church.

The research is beginning to show that we’re on the front edge of a backlash against all the pluralism and individualism in the U.S. We’re discovering, as a people, that living in a world without universal truth is a terrible way to live. We’re learning that addiction to our screens and ear buds isn’t healthy — it’s doing real damage to our relationships and communities. And people are looking for something else.

They’re searching for a meaning outside themselves. They’re seeking a purpose higher than their own careers and entertainment, they’re looking for something more important and longer lasting than their own posts and tweets. People today are starting to recognize the noise and the clutter for what it is and they’re looking for something real. They’re seeing the failures of our politicians and institutions and they’re looking for something genuine. Something they can trust. People are open to it. People are seeking. And that gives the Church an exciting opportunity.

What if we’re not on the wrong path? What if we’re just a little bit tired? What if we’re on the right track, we’re just a bit weary? What if the message of the Gospel — I’m stretching out on a limb here — and even the heart of our restoration ideals are actually gaining steam in this country?

Simple worship instead of a concert. Lots of local ministry in our own community. More frequent Lord’s Supper. Baptism by immersion. A return to the Bible. A depth of discipleship. You know, all of that is actually appealing now to folks who are burned out by all the pluralism and technology. An emphasis on the weightier matters of mercy and love, justice and forgiveness and grace — these are the very things that can inspire the world!

We must believe that people in our culture today are certainly seeking God. And, even if they weren’t, we know for a fact that our God is seeking them.

Peace,

Allan

The Church is Irrelevant

This week I’m posting a list of five things we Christians need to stop believing in order to be more effective Gospel proclaimers in our communities. These are things we hear all the time from seemingly endless sources and pass them along as truth among ourselves. I’m of the conviction that believing these falsehoods is damaging to our Christian witness. Believing these things that just aren’t true has the potential to shut us down.

Yesterday we looked at The Church is in Decline.

We also need to stop believing The Church is Irrelevant.

We hear that the Church doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, that the Church doesn’t have an impact on anything that’s happening outside its own walls. Wrong answer! Don’t believe it!

The churches right now today are rebuilding Houston. God’s Church is rebuilding all the areas of South Texas that were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Not the government, not the Red Cross, not the insurance companies — they all left a long time ago! The churches are rebuilding the homes and restoring hope to those families God’s Church was first on the scene and God’s people will be the last ones to leave.

Disciples of Jesus provide free health care to the poor. God’s Church provides shelter for the homeless. Followers of Christ feed the hungry kids and furnish the transitional houses and train the unwed mothers. God’s Church builds the schools in Kenya and operates the clinics in Guatemala.

Christians understand the physical, incarnational aspects of salvation and they always have. In the early days of the Church, the apostles healed the blind and the crippled and fed the poor. In the first 150 years of American history, God’s Church established 90-percent of the colleges and built 100-percent of the hospitals.

Living in the middle of a world, in the middle of a culture, that resists Christ and his Church, living in a society that rejects salvation from God in Jesus, we need to believe the Good News. We have to believe that God lives in us and his Son is our Lord. And we must believe that God is powerfully at work through his people to heal the sick, to restore the broken, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, the comfort the hurting. We must believe that, like he always has, God continues to work today in and through his Church to take care of the most basic and fundamental needs of a broken world.

Remember, the Romans during the second and third century plagues and pandemics marveled at how the Christians took care of, not only their own, but all of their community’s sick and dying. Roman historians wrote about it — at great personal risk, disciples of Christ ministered to the sickest and poorest among them. That hasn’t changed.

God’s Church is irrelevant? I don’t think so.

Peace,

Allan

Stop Believing!

We know what we believe about God’s salvation work in Jesus. We believe our Lord Jesus is raised from the dead and is reigning today at the right hand of the Father in heaven. We believe that God’s salvation comes to us by no other name. We’re very clear on the things we believe. We ask for an increased faith to believe even more what we know is right and true about our Lord’s mission to save the world. But some of us have stopped talking.

We haven’t stopped believing, we’ve just stopped talking.

I wonder if there are things we need to stop believing in order to start talking again.

Are there things in our heads and our hearts that we believe to be true that really aren’t? And do those false things we believe contribute to a church culture where we don’t talk about Jesus with others the way we used to? The things we hear and the things we pass on that aren’t true — we start to believe those things the more we hear them — have the potential to compromise or completely shut down our witness. What are the things we need to stop believing so we can be more effective proclaimers in our communities?

I’ve come up with five things I believe faithful Christians need to stop believing. We’ll take one every day this week.

The first non-truth we have a tendency to believe is that God’s Church is in decline and it’s getting smaller and weaker.

We hear it, we read about it,  and we repeat it. But it’s simply not true. Yes, the church in America is declining in membership and attendance. The Churches of Christ in this country are losing numbers at an alarming rate. It’s undeniable. But I wouldn’t call it smaller and weaker; I’d call it smarter and stronger.

Think about this. The culture in this country has changed. Fifty years ago you had to be a regular church-going Christian to be viewed as a good citizen. Being a Christian and being an active member of a church helped you in business, it helped you develop contacts, it raised your statue in the community and improved your reputation. Church is where you met people and built relationships that were beneficial to you. The American society propped up the church. Gas stations and retail stores were all closed on Sundays. Teachers never assigned homework on Wednesday nights. And there weren’t any school functions or practices or games on the first day of the week. The culture encouraged church. If you didn’t go to church fifty years ago it was weird, it raised questions: Why doesn’t he go to church? So most everybody did.

Maybe you’ve noticed. That has changed.

Our culture today doesn’t care if anybody goes to church or not. It doesn’t matter anymore in our society. It doesn’t hurt your business, it doesn’t impact your social standing, it doesn’t bother anybody if you don’t go to church. In fact, we’ve moved so far the other way, it’s kinda weird if you do regularly go to church: I think that guy’s kind of a fanatic.

The result of this is, yes, fewer people are going to church. But here’s the way I see it: The nominal Christians, the barely Christians, the ones who were only in church because the society pushed it — they’ve left. But the truly committed Christians, the all-in followers of Jesus, are more committed to Christ and his cause than ever before. As the numbers go down, the dedicated disciples of Jesus are gearing up. They’re giving more, they’re volunteering and serving more. The church is not getting smaller and weaker, the church is getting leaner and meaner, smarter and stronger, better equipped and prepared to what we are ordained by our God to do.

Look at our situation here at Central in Amarillo. This is a 110-year-old church and our weekly attendance is smaller right now than it’s been in 60-70 years. We’re half the size we were just 40 years ago. And we notice it. We walk into our worship center on Sunday mornings and we feel it. We wring our hands and exchange worried looks with other members: What’s happening? What’s wrong? What’s going on?

Well, here’s what’s going on at Central: This church is regularly today giving more money to the causes of Christ than it’s ever given before in its history; by God’s grace we’re doing more Gospel ministry in the city of Amarillo and more Christian mission all around the world than we’ve ever done in Central’s history. Ever! How is this happening? The culture has shifted. The take-it-or-leave-it Christians are leaving it and the truly dedicated disciples are doubling down. That’s the only way to explain it. And I think it’s actually pretty exciting.

It’s especially thrilling when we remember that this is historically God’s preferred method.

Gideon brought 32-thousand men into the presence of God and said, “We’re ready to fight the Midianites!” Our God wouldn’t even give Gideon the battle plans until he had whittled that number down to 300.

It was young shepherd boy David, not super tall King Saul who took down Goliath.

God told his kings not to count the numbers of people, not to measure the size of the armies. When the kings counted heads, they got in trouble with God.

God’s preferred method is to use five little rolls and a couple of fish to feed five thousand. He likes to use a tiny mustard seed to provide shelter for all the birds of the air. When God’s Church is exploding onto the scene in Acts, the leaders of the faith are described as “unschooled and ordinary men.”

The Church is not in decline. God is weeding us, he’s sifting us, he’s pruning us, he’s getting us ready for something truly spectacular in his Kingdom. We’re not getting smaller, we’re getting leaner and meaner for the mission.

Peace,

Allan

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