Tuesday, January 27, 2015

When Things Are Bad--Does My Faith Hold?

“If you obey Jesus you will have a life of joy and delight.” Well, it is not true. Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go to the other side of the lake,” and they were plunged into the biggest storm they had ever known. You say, “If I had not obeyed Jesus I should not have got into this complication.” Exactly. The temptation is to say, “God could never have told me to go there, if He had done so this would not have happened.” We discover then whether we are going to trust God’s integrity or listen to our own expressed skepticism. 

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalm 51:17)—that of a spirit God has made glad by a great forgiveness. The sign of this kind of broken heart is that the saint is untroubled by storms, and undismayed by bereavement because he is confident in God. 

Reflection Questions: When things go badly, do I see it as an indication that I have been mistaken about God’s leading or about God’s love? Am I prepared to accept that perhaps neither is true? What better explanation is there? 

Now on one of those days Jesus and His disciples got into a boat, and He said to them, "Let us go over to the other side of the lake." So they launched out. But as they were sailing along He fell asleep; and a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger. They came to Jesus and woke Him up, saying, "Master, Master, we are perishing!" And He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm. And He said to them, "Where is your faith?" They were fearful and amazed, saying to one another, "Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?" (Luke 8:22-25 NASB)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Church: Family or Store? by James Emery White

Vol. 10, No. 93

On Halloween, a member of our church’s staff came to our door to trick-or-treat with her three kids.

It was their 17th straight year.

Her oldest son is taller than me and stopped dressing up long ago. In fact, he drove the family to our house.

The daughter is probably on her last year (she dressed as Katniss Everdeen – that should be a hint).

The youngest may have a couple more years in him. Tops.

Their mother has been a part of the church for even longer – twenty-two years, to be exact. She was actually at Meck’s very first service on October 4, 1992, and was the very first person to become a Christian through our services.

For whatever reason, it made me think of two different ways of viewing a church: a family or a store.

If church is a family, then you relate to it as a son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister. Deeply biblical ideas, I might add. When the Bible talks about Christian community, these are the metaphors it falls back on.

If a church is a store, then you are nothing more than a consumer. There is a retail outlet and a customer, a provider and a receiver.

It strikes me that these are the two ways that people can view a church.

Family...or store.

If it’s a family, they stick with it. Work through it. Stay in it. There are deep blood ties. It’s not about what you get, but what you give.

If it’s a store, then it’s a consumer decision. Who has the best prices? Most convenience? Quickest access?

The great danger, of course, is when churches intentionally posture themselves as “stores” in competition with other “stores”. This is not only biblically misguided, it is theologically heretical.

And will not serve in the long run.

Open the front door wide, to be sure, but never fail to remember that who you are at your most foundational level is “family.”

And make sure you help people become that family.

James Emery White

    
Editor’s Note


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president.  His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon.  To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world.  Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

This Thanksgiving “get to Him” and give thanks.


One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect. He said, "I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store."
Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said "Did I leave anybody out?" His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, "God." Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, "I was about to get to him."
Well, isn’t that the question about which we ought to think at Thanksgiving time? Are we really going to get to him this Thanksgiving? The Psalmist said, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples. Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; Speak of all His wonders. Glory in His holy name; Let the heart of those who seek the LORD be glad. Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth, O seed of Abraham, His servant, O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!  (Psalms 105:1-6 NAS95)

This Thanksgiving “get to Him” and give thanks.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

10 Ways the Enemy Gets the Upper Hand in a Church

Reposted....

Let me start this post with a clear caveat: Satan will not ultimately win as he attacks God’s church. Jesus broke the powers through His cross (Col. 2:15), and the enemy will eventually be cast into outer darkness (Rev. 20:10). In the meantime, though, the devil strategically attacks us. Consider these ways he seeks to get the “up”per hand.

  1. He wants us to mess up in sin. The results of our sin are numerous. Our witness loses credibility. Our prayers are hindered. Our joy wanes. Relationships often suffer. The world looks at us and sees no difference– and the enemy temporarily wins.
  2. He wants us to cover up our sin. He did it in the Garden of Eden, and he still does it today: if we sin, he wants us to hide like Adam and Eve did. That way, we never confess it and turn from it. Likewise, the enemy wants the local church to ignore the sin among its members.
  3. He wants us to get hung up on difficulties and discouragement. “You’ve served God faithfully,” he says to us, “but what good has it done? You’re still struggling and lonely.” He delights when we cower in the cave like Elijah (1 Kgs 19), forgetting God’s previous blessings and focusing on only the trouble at hand.
  4. He wants us to clam up in evangelism. God has only one plan to get the gospel to our neighbors and the nations: believers tell the story to others (Rom. 10:9-16). It’s the enemy who points out reasons for us not to share the gospel. Maybe you’ve heard messages like “You’re going to lose your friendship” or “You really don’t know enough to do evangelism.”
  5. He wants us to bow up over position and power. The enemy who himself sought the throne of God is pleased when we guard our turf and protect our positions in the local church. “You’ve served in that position for years,” he reminds us, “and why should you give it up? Nobody can do it as well as you can.”
  6. He wants us to break up. This strategy, too, started in the Garden, where Adam turned on Eve and blamed her for his wrong. From the beginning, the enemy has sought to sever marriages, families, friendships, and congregations. He knows the church will hardly make a difference when we shoot each other in the back.
  7. He wants us to build up our own kingdoms. He does not mind when we talk about the kingdom of God as long as our real focus is our own kingdom. “Serve God,” he says, “but make sure others know just how much you’re serving Him. In a ‘humble’ way, be sure to get the word out about the size and influence of your ministry.”
  8. He wants us to cloud up the message. Without question, the enemy rejoices when the gospel message is decidedly and clearly forsaken. At the same time, though, he is pleased when the message is subtly changed so the gospel disappears while still sounding like a biblical message. The cloudiness of the message thus keeps non-believers from hearing the truth.
  9. He wants us to give up on prayer. He points out unanswered prayer, reminding us that God has at times not heard us in the past. Why would we then seek God’s presence and power today?
  10. He wants us to get puffed up with ego. In fact, this strategy is the root of the rest of these strategies. When we reside on the throne of our lives, the enemy is at least temporarily winning.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

7 Things We regularly Get Wrong About Worship


Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name (Psalm 29:2).
It's Sunday around noonish. As the congregation files out of the sanctuary heading toward the parking lot, listen closely and you will hear it.
It's a common refrain voiced near the exit doors of churches all across this land.
"I didn't get anything out of that today." "I didn't get anything out of the sermon." "I didn't get anything out of that service." "I guess her song was all right, but I didn't get anything out of it."
Sound familiar? Not only have I heard it countless times over these near-fifty years in the ministry, I probably have said it a few times myself.
This is like dry rot in a congregation. Like a termite infestation in the building. Like an epidemic afflicting the people of the Lord, one which we seem helpless to stop.
But let's try. Let's see if we can make a little difference where you and I live, in the churches where we serve and worship. We might not be able to help all of them, but if we bless one or two, it will have been time well spent.
1. You are Not Supposed to 'Get Anything Out of the Service'
Worship is not about you and me. Not about "getting our needs met." Not about a performance from the pastor and singer and choir and musicians. Not in the least.
2. Worship is About the Lord
"Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name." That Psalms 29:2 verse atop our article today is found also in 1 Chronicles 16:29 and Psalms 96:8. It deserves being looked at closely.
a) We are in church to give. Not to get.
Now, if I am going somewhere to "get," but find out on arriving, I am expected to "give," I am one frustrated fellow. And that is what is happening in the typical church service. People walk out the door frustrated because they didn't "get." The reason they didn't is that they were not there to "get," but to "give."
Someone should have told them.
b) We are giving glory to God. Not to man.
We know that. At least we say we do. How many times have we recited, "...for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory"? And how often have we sung, "Praise God from whom all blessings flow..."?
c) We do so because glory is His right. He is "worthy of worship."
This is the theme of the final book of the Bible. 
  • "Who is worthy?" (Rev. 5:2) 
  • "You are worthy...for you were slain, and have redeemed us" (Rev. 5:9). 
  • "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain" (Rev. 5:12).
3. Self-centeredness Destroys All Worship
If my focus is on myself when I enter the church--getting my needs met, learning something, hearing a lesson that blesses me, being lifted by the singing--then Christ has no part in it. He becomes my servant, and the pastor (and all the other so-called performers) are there only for me. It's all about me.
We have strayed so far from the biblical concept of worship--giving God His due in all the ways He has commanded--it's a wonder we keep going to church. And it's an even greater wonder that our leaders keep trying to get us to worship.
The poor preacher! Trying to cater to the insatiable hungers of his people, even the best and most godly among them, is an impossible task. One week he gets it right and eats up the accolades. Then, about the time he thinks he has it figured out, the congregation walks out grumbling that they got nothing out of the meal he served today.
The typical congregation in the average church today really does think the service is all about them--getting people saved, learning the Word, receiving inspiration to last another week, having their sins forgiven, taking an offering to provision the Lord's work throughout the world.
Anything wrong with those things? Absolutely not. But if we go to church to do those things, we can do them. But we will not have worshiped.
Warren Wiersbe says, "If you worship because it pays, it will not pay."
4. Evangelism & Discipleship, Giving & Praying, Grow Out of Worship; Not the Other Way Around
The disciples were worshiping on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit filled them and drove them into the streets to bear a witness to the living Christ (Acts 2).
Isaiah was in the Temple worshiping when God appeared to him, forgave his sins, and called him as a prophet to the people (Isaiah 6).
It was in the act of worship that the two distraught disciples had their eyes opened to recognize Jesus at their table (Luke 24).
5. We are to Give Him Worship and Glory in the Ways Scripture Commands
"Give to the Lord the glory due His name and bring an offering." So commands I Chronicles 16:29 and Psalm 96:8.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart--these, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17)
Singing, praise, rejoicing. Praying, offering, humbling, loving. All these are commanded in worship at various places in Scripture.
The Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well, "Those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). That is, with their inner being, the totality of themselves, their spirit, not just their lips or their bodies going through the motions. And in truth--the revealed truth of how God has prescribed worship to take place. He is not pleased with "just anything" that we claim as worship.
We must balance our worship between spirit (the subjective part: body, soul, emotions) and truth (the objective aspect: all that God has revealed in His word).
6. We Are the Ones Who Decide Whether We Worship upon Entering the House of the Lord
Don't blame the preacher if you don't worship. He can't do it for you.
No one else can eat my food for me, love my cherished ones in my place, or do my worshiping for me.
No pastor can decide or dictate whether we will worship by the quality of his leadership or the power of his sermon. Whether I worship in today's service has absolutely nothing to do with how well he does his job.
I am in charge of this decision. I decide whether I will worship.
When Mary sat before the Lord Jesus, clearly worshiping, He informed a disgruntled Martha that her sister had "chosen the good part," something that "will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). That something special was time spent in worship. Such moments or hours are eternal.
Lest someone point out that Martha could have worshiped in her kitchen by her service for Christ, we do not argue, but simply point out that she was not doing so that day.
7. Remember: Worship is a Verb
And it's an active verb at that.
Worship is something we do, not something done to us.
In the worst of circumstances, I can still worship my God. In the Philippians prison, while their backs were still oozing blood from the beating they'd received, Paul and Silas worshiped (Acts 16:25).
Even if a church has no pastor and has to make do with a stuttering layman or some inept fill-in, I can still bow before the Lord, offer Him my praise, and give Him my all. I can humble before Him and I can bring my offering.
What I cannot do is leave church blaming my failure to worship on the poor singing, the boring sermon, or the noise from the children in the next pew. I am in charge of the decision whether I will worship, and no one else.
Someone has pointed out that ours is the only nation on earth where church members feel they have to have "worshipful architecture" before they can adequately honor the Lord. Millions of Christians across the world seem to worship just fine without any kind of building. Believers in Malawi meet under mango trees, according to retired missionary Mike Canady, and their worship is as anointed as anyone's anywhere. (What? No stained glass!)
Our insistence on worshipful music, worship settings, and worshipful everything are all signs of our disgusting self-centeredness.
It's disgusting because I see it in myself, and do not like it.
No one enjoys a great choir more than I. I love to hear a soloist transport us all into the Throneroom by his/her vocal offering in the service. A great testimony of God's grace and power thrills me. And of course, being a preacher, I delight in hearing a sermon that you feel is direct from the heart of God.
But if I require any one or all of those before I can worship, something is vastly wrong with me.
My friends, something is vastly wrong with us today.
Dr. Joe McKeever is a Preacher, Cartoonist, and the Director of Missions for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. Visit him at joemckeever.com/mt. Used with permission.