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“…and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:26, 30-33). 

God, some have said, is wholly “other.” We know, by definition, God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. When we attempt to ruminate on His greatness we can feel infinitely small (and we are) and seemingly insignificant (but we aren’t). He can’t be totally and accurately defined but we describe Him as glorious, sovereign, transcendent, majestic, incomprehensible, and almighty, among many other lofty adjectives. And God is all of this and more!  But it is one particular aspect of this “more” that I’d like to drill down on: God is also personal. He is our perfect Father! 

All of our physical fathers are imperfect, many are disengaged, and some are downright negligent and mean. And because of this we live in a world of hurting people whose view of God as Father has been skewed by their experience with their earthly fathers. We tend to assign to God the same character and personality traits of our human fathers. If our dad was absent then we think God is also. If our earthly father was angry, God is seen as a condemning and hostile (and He can be to those who aren’t His own). If dad was loving, we project the Creator as kind and beneficent (and He is). Generous, then generous. Cruel, then cruel. Distant, then distant…and so forth. Praise God, I can say nothing negative about my Christ-like earthly father but, given the dysfunctional and disintegrating nature of the contemporary Western family, many don’t feel this way. It’s no wonder that the idea of God is unappealing and many have been prompted to avoid, rebel against, or reject such a notion.  

But we have good news! For all whose view of God is tainted by your physical father’s failures, please know God can be very personal, even more intimate than our own family. He has initiated a familial relationship with us that is most amazing. God can be, as Jesus often said, “your Father.” Yes, most recognize that the Scripture portrays Jesus as the Son of God but what about us? Are we too unlovely and insignificant, given the way we may have been treated by our own fathers, for the ruler of the universe to be that perfect Father to us, to love us in a way that reminds us of the way He loves Jesus? Could the Almighty claim us as His own children? Despite what we may feel, the fact is that God’s Word says He can and does. Again, what great news! 

As a matter of fact, we can be adopted into God’s family, become one of His children, share in Christ’s inheritance, and be glorified with Jesus, the very son of God! As you read the words of Paul, notice the terms of endearment “Daddy,” “children,” heirs,” and “son.” And don’t overlook the promises and provisions made to those that experience God’s adoption and familial affection: 

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “[Daddy]! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:15-17). 

So what’s the catch? For us to experience this glorious reality we must do 2 things – receive (turn from ourselves and our ways and turn to Him) and believe in (put our total trust in) the person and work of Christ. As the Apostle John said, “But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).  

Do you feel disappointed and disenfranchised with your earthy family? As scarring and sad as that is, God says you can join His eternal family. You can call Him “Daddy.” You can become joint heirs with Jesus. You can personally know a Heavenly patriarch who will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). You can find comfort and security in an incomprehensibly loving Father who will receive you back with seeking arms, an embrace, and a sumptuous feast when you return to Him from your wanderings (Luke 15:11-24). You can find in Him a love that is eternal and filled with hope (Romans 8:31-39). 

So my plea is simple: Despite the tragedy of families that fail us, don’t let that keep you from your perfect Heavenly Father. The God of the universe beckons you to call Him “Daddy” and receive His unequaled paternal provision. Receive and believe in Jesus and be “born again” into the family of the Father of the heavenly lights, “from whom every good and perfect gift is [received and] who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17, NIV).

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” (Luke 24:30-35).

Only Dr. Luke records this post-resurrection event. Two downcast disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem and returning to their home in Emmaus. They share with their unrecognized Lord how great their crucified Master was. Yet they could not veil the disappointment that their hopes that He was “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) had vaporized. “After all,” they said, “it has been 3 days since His death.” Jesus’ response was loving but stern: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then He patiently explained that these events were the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and that Scripture had pointed to Him from the beginning (v. 27). And when they understood, they rushed back to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of enablement.

These followers of Christ were still living in the past, choosing to dwell upon Friday’s seemingly tragic events. They had been told that he was alive (v. 22-24) but, with their faith shattered and their heads staring down at the dirt road, they solemnly trudged home to their former life back in Emmaus. But they weren’t alone. Peter, along with some of the other disciples, had essentially done the same thing. Jesus had called them to be “fisher’s of men” but where did He find them after He had come victoriously from the grave? Fishing! For fish (see John 21:1-14)! Defeated by their failure to be faithful during Christ’s suffering and hopeless and helpless without the leadership of their Captain, they had returned to the same purposeless way of life they knew before they met Jesus. But upon seeing their risen Lord they made a mad dash to greet Him (John 21:7-8).

This season we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ expression of His continued presence with us, power in us, peace for us, and purpose through us that is clearly demonstrated by His resurrection. In the 40 days (Acts 1:3) before He ascended to the right hand of the Father He continually reminded His followers of those 4 things and made clear statements regarding each (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:15-19; Acts 1:1-11). All of this became a reality for His disciples as they waited in Jerusalem (the very place many had left following His crucifixion) for these promises to be fulfilled by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, it was after Easter that the full impact of His resurrection was most realized in His followers and they, moving forward, led lives that demonstrated His continued presence, power, peace, and purpose. Just read the book of Acts for the dramatic aftermath.

My point? Let us not lose the inertia of our Easter worship and festivities. Many of us will be stirred by exhilarating music, emotional “Passion Plays,” and motivating sermons. But our experience of the profundity of His resurrection is not meant to end there. The influence of His resurrection is to be something that propels us all year around, day by day, moment by moment. Let us not, like these disciples, return to the routine of a former, spiritually trivial life, but let us be continually transformed by the “fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May His presence, power, peace and purpose in and through us not fade after the invigorating crescendo of our Easter activities and focus. Instead, may our hearts continue to “burn within us” with an all-consuming passion that can only come from the ongoing sufficiency that His resurrection guarantees.

Let Jesus’ truth resonate with us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Do we? Then let us be transported by the truth that His resurrection is to be experienced not just on a holiday but every day before and after. Let us not live like He is still dead. Let us not revert to the old passionless, mundane ways that we rose above during this sacred season. Let us magnify Him through His presence, power, peace, and purpose…even after Easter!

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:34-39).

Christian Teens Tell Churches: Challenge Us, Don’t Water Down Gospel, Christian News

For years I’ve been saying that our watering down, liberalizing, and softening of the claims and demands of the kingdom of God (and the Gospel) is the problem with reaching our culture with the truth of Jesus. The false logic goes like this: “If we make receiving and following Jesus easy and palatable then more will choose to do so.” Not only is that awful theology and an inexcusable compromise but it doesn’t work either. People (youth in particular) are looking for something so extreme they are willing to “sell out” to it. Look at much of what our young people have become attracted to (such as Goth or gangs – there are a lot of ugly subcultures into which our youth are willing to submerge themselves) and see their passion once they commit to a lifestyle or “cause.”

People are looking for a radical calling to devote themselves. And there is nothing more outrageous than the claims of Christ and the demands of discipleship. Die to self, hate your life, take up your cross, sell all, lose your life that you might gain something far greater (Jesus) – these are the drastic messages of true, undiluted Christianity. And this is not only the truth but also what people or hungry for. They don’t long for some passionless, stoic, simplistic, easy, lazy, disengaged belief system. They don’t desire to just go through the motions of shallow religion. They want to live for something worth dying for!!! This article is just another reminder that our weak, fearful, faithless approach to reaching people is actually turning them off. They want the real deal, the real Jesus (the Lamb and the Lion), and His extreme calling. And the real Jesus is the real deal!

I think a personal story is in order. Several years ago at a Christian youth rally the leader of the band that was the focal point of the meeting concluded the service this way: “Please remain seated and don’t bow your heads. We are going to stop the music now. If you are interested in surrendering to Christ and following Him please stand. While everyone watches, please come forward. We would like to spend some time with you and more fully explain what receiving Jesus means.”

Out of an audience of over 2000, 3 young people stood.

The worship leader continued: “Now come to the front so that a counselor can spend some time with you. We want you to know why we are doing this. If you choose to follow Jesus tomorrow there will be no background music and all eyes will be on you to see if you meant what you said when you made this decision to give all of yourself to serve all of who He is – and rely upon Him to live the way He calls you to live.”

The 3 young people walked to the front and were greeted by counselors.

Can you imagine the uproar from pastors and youth leaders? They were livid! “The world makes it hard enough to become a Christian, we don’t need to make it any harder,” they screeched. “Last year,” one said, “we had dozens come forward.” The band leader softly and graciously replied, “I’m sure you did. And I’m also sure these 3 are more likely to continue in the faith.”

The thing that made such an impression on me, and I’ll never forget it, was what I learned when I spoke to all 3 of those kids. All had come to the front the year before. And they all said essentially the same thing: “It wasn’t real last year. It was pure emotion. It seemed like the popular thing to do. Now I have a better idea of what I’m signing up for, what it means to follow my Savior.”

And, I believe, follow they will.

…a continuation of the previous post . 

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). 

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

Fifth, our going and making disciples is vitally linked to Christ’s presence with us in the person of the Holy Spirit. This leads to a critical and profound question: Do we go because of His presence or do we more fully experience His presence when we go? I would answer, “Yes!” His presence in us compels us to go and share and disciple. But, simultaneously, the more we do these things the more, it seems, we experience intimacy with Him. What a beautiful continuum: We go because He is in us, in our going we experience a greater sense of His presence, and this intimacy and fellowship with our Savior motivates us even more to go and disciple. Understand, He goes both before us and with us as we live out His commission to see true Gospel transformation. “The LORD your God is with you. He is mighty to save…” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV). It is good for us to be reminded of Moses’ words in Exodus 33:15 (NIV): “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us…”

Number six is that the tactical process to deploy the Gospel to all nations is found first in the word, “Go.” This could be translated “as you go” – as you go to the store, to work, to church, on vacation, etc. This denotes a lifestyle of leaving the fragrance of the Gospel as a trail-finder everywhere we journey. Another feature in the game plan for expanding God’s kingdom is that the spread of the Gospel starts at home (Jerusalem) and moves out (until it reaches the ends of the earth). Let’s not gloss over this. We all have a Jerusalem (work, family, neighborhood, circle of friends, etc) and we are called to go there first. The harvest is ripe in our own sphere of influence. Although we are to promote global missions we are not to do so at the expense of the harvest outside our front door. I would even venture to say that one of the greatest mission fields in America can be found in church pews on Sunday morning. 

And last, although not explicitly mentioned in these two texts, I believe that prayer must undergird all going and making of disciples in the name of Jesus. Although this includes praying for missionaries it also means that we must have prayer-saturated lives in order to most effectively carry out the command to spread His life-transforming Good News. Paul’s teaching in Colossians 4:2-6 is pivotal on this point. In the context of sharing the Gospel, Paul taught the church at Colossae to devote themselves to prayer and even asked that they pray specifically for him as he sought opportunity to articulate the Good News. This more than suggests that we need to pray for ourselves and others as we seek to make this mandate a Great Commission (not omission) in our lives, the lives of others, and throughout the church universal. 

So I will leave you with the words of Jesus Himself. Words that, when combined with the texts we have studied, should give us a sense of urgency to go, share, and make disciples for His glory: 

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:35-38). 

May each of us fervently and consistently pray this prayer and know that we are undoubtedly one of the laborers called to go, share, and disciple in the field where God has placed us. May it never be said that we are the omission in The Great Commission.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). 

These passages are so familiar to most Christ-followers that we have become numb to their significance and relevance. So I’d like to visit these passages with the idea of showing how many (myself included) have become desensitized to Christ’s command to go to all the world. I think you will see along the way why so many have called our reaction to this mandate as “The Great Omission.” 

First, let’s see that this was a personal dictate. Jesus didn’t say, “they will go.” No, Jesus “came near” (HCSB) to them and said, “[You] go!” Can you envision the scene? He huddled with them to lay out them the game plan for the expansion of His church and kingdom. And it was a personal command. They, and us by extension, are summoned to go. This is not to overlook that we are called to go in community and as the church universal, but it’s so easy to just write a check to a local or foreign missions group (and I praise God for them) or consider the church where we give a portion of the money God has generously given us to be a “missions-minded” church. But this does not exempt any of us from personally going and making disciples. We must not let our giving to (or praying for) missions replace the individual “good news journey” that’s to be an integral part of our daily lifestyle (more on that later). 

Second, this command is to be done with His power. It is His authority that makes our going come alive. It is not our own power that we go with. As ambassadors of Christ we go with His Kingly approval and authority. We must not think that there is anything else but His boundless energy that brings life-changing transformation to those who hear His Word. Though often times weary and weak in our calling to go and tell and train, we must be dependant upon Him and rely on His limitless resources to empower our going and sharing. If it is from us or about us, it is ultimately destined to fail. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 

Third, we see the purpose of our going. We are to make disciples not just “converts.” Our goal (as is His) is to see people radically transformed by the Gospel. This is not just about counting those that raise their hands during an invitation, pray a scripted prayer, are baptized, or become “church members.” This is about people fully embracing His calling to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) and “take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow (absolutely surrender to) Jesus (Luke 9:23). This is where evangelism and discipleship must merge (as if they were ever designed by God to be different, segregated functions).

Which leads us to the fourth point – the practice that is part of making disciples. This practice is a lifestyle of obedience. Disciples, according to Jesus, are to observe all (not some) of His commands. They see Him not just as Savior but as Master and Lord of all aspects of their lives and being. Discipleship is not just intellectual assent to who Christ is but also capitulation to His Lordship and obedience to His commands. As John Calvin once said, “We are saved by faith alone but the faith that saves is never alone.” This, in a sense, is an extension of the 3rd point. But, given the cultural landscape (Watchman Nee described American Christianity as “three thousand miles wide but only one inch deep”) we can’t overemphasize that our call is to see people drawn to the light of Christ and live in it. And this synergistically leads to multiplication and exponential growth in going and making other disciples. 

…to be continued in the next post.

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:14-16).

Reason Rally

U.S. News – Westboro church pastor’s son to face off against dad’s picketers at atheist rally

Today, March 24th, the Reason Rally will take place in Washington, DC. I would urge you to click the first link and study this site, examine this rally’s purpose, and make special note of the speakers at this event. It is quite obvious that nontheism has become quite chic and en vogue.

Here are some excerpts from the site I would like to highlight and comment on:

When will the Rally be held?
On March 24, 2012, from 10:00AM – 6:00PM at the National Mall, nontheists from all corners of the nation will descend on Washington, D.C. en masse to deliver the good news: “We’re huge, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing.”

Why are we doing this?
Across America, in every city, every town, and every school, secularism is on the rise. Whether people call themselves atheists, agnostics, secular Humanists, or any of the other terms used to describe their god-free lifestyle, secularism is coming out of the closet. According to the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (PDF), the percentage of people with no religious affiliation grew in all fifty states.
The purpose of this particular rally will be to advance secularism (in the broadest sense of the word) in society.

  • Let’s be clear – in America, these folks have every right to gather and exercise both freedom of speech and religion. Despite their objections, I do believe this is a religion – it is a belief system of disbelief. And I support these constitutional rights as the original authors intended them. Actually, I’m thankful that, generally speaking, we are allowed to voice our beliefs without fear of retribution, even though it seems orthodox Christianity is now more often the target of censorship than other belief systems.
  • Why do they have to come out of the closet? Actually, I thought they already were – they have had several NYT best-sellers in recent years and the news is flooded with stories about an unbeliever joining forces with the ACLU to suppress religious expression. Really, what are they hiding from? They are protected by the laws of the land and, however wrong I think they are, I support their right to believe in disbelief and live their faith openly. And, after all, it is faith; as they can no more scientifically disprove God than we can prove Him.
  • They use the phrase “the good news.” How ironic they have hijacked terminology that is most identified with the Gospel (good news) of Jesus. There is no need to elaborate on their definition of good news being vastly different from God’s. I’m terribly chagrined that our culture is embracing a worldview of meaningless living and hopeless dying, not that the Gospel has lost its power, but because on some level the church has failed to live out the principles of God’s kingdom (see Matthew 5-7).
  • My view is that much of the attraction to nontheism is actually an aversion to religion. When wounded and burned by the church, nontheism is the logical place for flight. It’s not that it is an attractive belief system but many adherents so detest Christianity that they find some sort of solace in being as far away from that culture as possible. In some cases, Christians and institutional religion bear some responsibility for the violent reaction of some who have fled to a godless ideology. If we call ourselves His followers, failing to pursue a life and love like Jesus is wrong.
  • As Christ-followers we should know what we believe, why we believe it, and never compromise on Scripture as our primary source of our faith. Although reason and science can and often confirm our worldview, we must always be ready to give an answer for our hope. Are we able to defend our faith in light of the growing opposition to it? We must be able to because we are command to. We must boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word, the hope-filled message of the cross of Calvary, and the person and work of Jesus.
  • Sometimes unbelievers can’t hear us over the hate (that’s the reason for the second link). Yes, I know much of what they call hate is really the truth running against the grain of their self-destructive flesh, pride, and self-determination (it does the same to me). But sometimes it is hate, or at least hateful. We are to clearly enunciate truth but speak it through tears of love and sadness over their rejection of God as He is revealed in Jesus.

I’ve got a crazy (and probably unpopular) idea. Let’s pursue friendship with a nontheist. And let’s start today. I’m not saying we condone what they believe but let’s reach across the philosophical chasm and treat them with respect and dignity. Let’s love them like Jesus would so that we might be able, empowered by the wisdom and Word of God, to share our reason for believing and living to glorify God. And then let’s keep loving them with undeniable joy while the Holy Spirit does His work.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-47).

Have you been to a church fellowship recently? Maybe a Super Bowl party? If so, what was it like? Typically it involves a lot of food (put me down as a “chips and dip” man) and some conversational banter. This seems to be the modern definition of “fellowship.” It’s all about “getting together” in a cloister or a holy huddle with most, if not all, energy being focused on self-oriented “feeding” or being “fed.” I’m not saying this is totally wrong but I’m of the persuasion this is not the complete biblical model.

Have you recently heard church leadership talk about the importance of fellowship, living in community, or doing life together? These are important as well, as long as these activities aren’t done in a vacuum and we become isolated from the culture we are called to engage with the Gospel. As we all know, fellowship, as we’ve come to define it, can be overtly comfortable and myopic, especially if it is an end and not a means to something larger and more outward in focus.

Let me make it clear that fellowship is important! After all, it was one of the key activities of the early church (see our focal passage above). But the Greek word for fellowship (koinonia) used in Acts 2 has much broader implications than just self-focused social gatherings. As it is used in other New Testament passages, the word demonstrates something more sacrificial and missional than what we have become used to. It can also be translated as “partnership,” “sharing,” “communion,” and, get this, “contribution.” Many of its uses in Scripture point to a sacrifice or service to one another, not some gluttonous social festivity. Here are some examples of this word and its context (the word(s) translated from koinonia is highlighted):

  • “For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints– and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (2 Corinthians 8:3-5).
  • Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16.).
  • For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem” (Romans 15:26).
  • “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you” (2 Corinthians 9:12-14).

I think it should be clear now that koinonia is much more than a party or idle, shallow chit-chat. It is about loving and doing and serving among one another (do a biblical word study on the phrase “one another” and you’ll get an even more in-depth look at what true fellowship is). It is such a dangerous, radical, sacrificial expression of community, in its deepest sense, that it produces a Gospel scream that pierces the insulated walls between us and unbelievers. For this type of dynamic fellowship inevitably grants us favor with outsiders (Acts 2:43) as we become reflections of the favor (grace and goodness) God has shown to us. This, in turn, is used by God to draw those observing to Himself (Acts 2:47).

In other words, the rich, self-denying fellowship Scripture describes can be the very tool God uses to transform those who don’t yet know His favor. And something tells me, if what we call fellowship isn’t touching the community around us, we aren’t experiencing the same type of koinonia that God expects.

“Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me… When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”…And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:43-45, 60, 65-67).

It’s confession time. So let me preface this account by saying that administration is not my spiritual gift. Neither is the gift of mercy, but that’s an entirely different story.

I was a Sunday School teacher at a rather traditional Southern Baptist church. Once they figured out I wasn’t an official member of the church they were flabbergasted but showed me grace due to a long and consistent record of financial contributions. So I transferred my “membership” and was allowed to continue facilitating a class of single, “20-something” misfits. And I fit right in although I was 20 years their senior. It was a unique group that grew rapidly, though rarely had more than 15 attendees. They sometimes showed up still wearing the wrist stampings that allowed them to get into the clubs they were frequenting the night before. No worries, we were there to talk about Jesus.

There was one young lady, in her early 30’s and not part of the party crowd, who was always faithful. LeeAnn served as a pillar for the group and the class secretary. For those who are unfamiliar, she kept the attendance roll and other records the church used to report to the convention. That was all well and good until she went on vacation and I was left with the administrative chores. That is when I exaggerated a bit in documenting the attendance and other statistics. Knowing how much Southern Baptists love their numbers, my report read something like this:

Attendance – 6,429.3

Professions of Faith – 8,477.8

Baptisms – 9,469.27

Rededications – .436

Giving – $12,965,328.97 (Warren Buffet, I noted, was a visitor).

Shockingly, I received a call from the Pastor of Administration early on Monday. After admitting my miscalculations, I told him the good news about my embellishments: “We have suddenly jumped to #1 in the convention in several categories, most importantly baptisms. Praise God!” After he chided me I asked if we could pray together and petition God give him a sense of humor. He not-so-graciously declined. But I had accomplished one thing – church leadership made sure someone other than me did the records when LeeAnn was out. I was off the hook!

I hope, unlike the Pastor of Administration, you get my point. Yes, we see God use numbers throughout His Word. There is an Old Testament book with that very title and we see the approximate counting of the converts at Pentecost (Acts 2) and soon afterwards. But, really, why are we so obsessed with numbers when it comes to ministry? I, by the way, can tell you exactly the number of hits this blog has on a daily basis so, convicted, I recently took the “counter” off of my blog’s home page (my total hits had just crossed over 7,103,540,789,000…oh, never mind).

Is this some sort of self-justification? Is it pride? Is it shallowness? Or is it just the natural outcome of bad theology? Maybe it’s all of these but, whatever its source, it concerns me.

Our tendency to use numbers to determine our “success” or “failure” as followers of Christ and ministry leaders seems a bit incongruous to me. Especially if we look at the earthly ministry of Jesus – who someone has called the first and greatest mini-church pastor.  At the end the number of His followers had fallen precipitously and he was left alone and forsaken by most of those who claimed that they would be there until the last. Was His ministry a failure? I don’t think so. After all, I don’t believe He was thinking as much about quantity as He was quality. I don’t think he was keeping some legalistic count of all the numbers. At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus had shifted His focus from the masses who pursued Him for food, healings, and miracles to a very small number of people. Most of the last year of His ministry was dedicated to these few – discipling and preparing them for the ministry ahead.

So maybe Jesus was telling us that our service, and the way God measures it, is more about being biblically faithful than being numerically successful. Maybe He was saying that investing ourselves in a few is often better than trying to accommodate throngs. Given our trend toward mega-churches and a “bigger is better” mentality, this is worth considering.

By the way, excluding the title, this post has 852.27 words.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

My good friend Don forwarded me this article in CNN’s Belief Blog section. Although I’m immediately dubious of almost anything that CNN says about religion they have, on occasion, surprised me. This is not one of those times. This is a perfect example of the so-called “higher criticism” that has infected theological study and, therefore, the church. Read for yourself.

My Take: The 3 biggest biblical misconceptions

One of the finest definitions of this method of biblical interpretation is found in John Rothra’s work, Critique of Higher Criticism. He defines this school of study as “a historical approach to scripture that investigates the “composition, date, and authenticity” of scripture in order to determine its “place in history.”  In other words, higher criticism looks beyond the text and into the historical setting surrounding its construction and development. This endeavor requires the critic to accept a presupposition of doubt, meaning he must acknowledge uncertainty exists regarding the precise origins of the present-day biblical text.”

Alarmingly, higher criticism, despite its unique ability to cloak itself in semantics that cover what disbelief lies underneath, is alive and well in many mainline seminaries and denominations, secular graduate schools of theology, and pulpits. I would be curious about your pastor’s response to, “What do you believe about JEDP or the Q Source?”Although my purpose here is not to deep-dive into the intricate arguments for and against higher criticism – as the amount of literature on this subject is absolutely massive – I would like to state 4 simple but critical issues surrounding this scholarly strategy as we see it in this CNN blog.

First, it is based upon dangerous presuppositions. Although every system of thought has them, higher criticism’s starting point is doubt, presuming that the Bible is inaccurate. And, quite often, they use these “unreliable texts” to prove that Scripture is unreliable. Using doubt as a platform for any faith (See the contradiction?) or study is almost certain to pre-determine that the object of your faith or study is false. The blatantly misguided statement of this article’s author – “First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it” – reflects this logic. This is patently false – there are many erudite biblical scholars who maintain the total veracity of the Scriptures. All men, including scholars, are biased in some way. Christianity and Scripture, however, is self-authenticating when we start with the idea that it is God’s Word and, therefore, reliable.

Second, we see as another subtle and insidious problem – the notion here is that the Bible contains truth but is not THE truth. This can be then said of virtually any book ever written (even some of mine would fit into that broad category). The Bible then is not the Word of God but God does speak His truth through it. But, then, so does the Koran, Shakespeare, Keats, and Hemingway. Scripture, in higher criticism, is nearly relegated to the same standard as all great human writings (to be fair, these scholars would probably claim the Bible does contain more of God’s truth than nearly all other writings).

Third, if my second point is true, then who determines what part of Scripture is true or false, relevant or irrelevant, correct or incorrect, applicable or not? The reader (or scholar). The final authority on what has God has really said or done is not objective but subjective. It is left to the interpreter or theologian to decide. Do we see the danger in this? We, then, become the god of what we believe, because we have made ourselves the final arbiter of what is truth. Not the Bible, but us. At that point what we believe is not Christianity but “Selfianity.” We, and what we decide to be true, have become our god, deciding for ourselves what is worth believing and how we should live. And, if you are like me, I don’t trust myself or my intellect that much.

Last, the basic premise of higher criticism is the rejection of anything supernatural (creation, miracles, physical resurrection, etc,). Those parts of Scripture must be inaccurate as such events aren’t “scientifically verifiable.” This is both false and causes the definition of God (omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent. etc.) to be invalid. And who would want to worship a God who has been stripped of His powerful attributes? Not me – because, at that point, He is no longer God.

I choose to believe Scripture of be God’s Word without error and the final source of truth and authority. This is a wonderful statement of what I believe and I pray what you believe as well – The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

So I will leave you with a quote from the Apostle Peter. He nails this issue dead on:

“And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 19-21).

*Please note this is not a discussion about those who believe in the plenary inspiration and authority of Scripture having different interpretations of the Bible. Those who trust in the reliability of God’s Word are in consensus that fallen man cannot fully apprehend His truth and will often disagree. These differing opinions, however, are not an argument against the validity of Scripture but, in a real sense, affirms what it says about the transcendence and holiness of God and man’s sinful nature. No, this post is about those who think themselves to be so smart that they have concluded that the Bible, in its original text, is filled with unexplainable errors, myth, and legend and its primary value comes from them discerning what is true and false (i.e. what Jesus actually said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do).

Scum of the Earth Church

While driving to see my in-laws, scanning the radio channels for something edifying to listen to, I ran across a Bible study (I don’t know what station or program it was as the channel quickly became static) that mentioned this church (link above). Along with this intriguing site, there was a story told that is worth repeating. But I’m going to make you wait for that. Instead I’m going to take you to 1 Corinthians 4:10-13, 20:

“We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things…For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.”

To understand this passage one must consider the context. Paul was chiding the Corinthian church because of their arrogant attitudes. They were judgmental, condescending, and “rich” (but not in a good sense). He is showing that the humble state of the Apostles was more of a testimony to the power of God’s kingdom than their affluence and haughtiness. They were unwilling to get their hands dirty but he was happy to be considered as rubbish (The HCSB translates verse 13 as, “We are, even now, like the world’s garbage, like the filth of all things.”) for the sake of the Gospel.

Recently, driving again, I ventured through a ritzy and glamorous suburb of Nashville, one of the richest counties in per capita income in America. There was church piled upon church, new building after new building with, I would suppose, comfortable theatre seats, cushy carpet, and a temperature controlled environment. The week before I had been in dangerous and dreaded East Nashville and downtown. Not so many churches there. I guess they couldn’t fund the lavish creature comforts from the contributions of the disenfranchised and down-and-out.

Have we abandoned those who might seem to be most in need because they have no jobs, leave a trail of stench, and have dropped out of society? Maybe. Truth be told, I will be sitting in the most comfortable seat this coming Sunday morning where I attend church. And I will probably eat a sumptuous meal soon after the service; a meal whose cost could feed dozens.

And now for that story. The radio broadcast stated it something like this: In an urban church, after the sermon, the pastor headed to the church door. There he was greeted by a homeless man, who smelled of stale booze, urine, garbage, and vomit. Being used to beggars attending the church, the minister assumed what the man wanted and began to reach for his wallet. But the vagrant protested, “No, no, no! I don’t want your money! I want to know the Jesus you were talking about.” And he buried his head in the preacher’s chest and sobbed. The pastor immediately felt God speak to him in his heart with these piecing words: “This is what the world I came to save smells like.”

I think Paul would agree. And so should we. We are often inclined to go up to meet the needs of the lofty and exalted, but are we willing to get smelly and dirty and go down to those who aren’t? So let us (that would mean me) not be like the haughty hypocrites in Corinth – let’s go and give and serve “the least of these,” the scum of the earth, in the name of Jesus. For in doing so, we are embracing and loving Him (Matthew 25:40).

I will leave us with some of the lyrics from Todd Agnew’s My Jesus:

Blessed are the poor in spirit
Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

Who is this that you follow
This picture of the American dream
If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
But the Word says He was battered and scarred
Or did you miss that part
Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud
I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
He loved the poor and accosted the rich
So which one do you want to be?

Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
You see I’m tired of living for success and popularity
I want to be like my Jesus but I’m not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
Can I be like You Jesus?
I want to be like you Jesus!
I want to be like my Jesus!

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