Sunday, December 8, 2013

Talking the Talk or Walking the Walk?

The Critical Eighteen Inches  Part 5
The Journey from Head Knowledge to Heart Revelation
             Pilgrims Progress, considered one of the masterpieces of English literature, has a great deal to say about the head and heart in relation to the Christian experience.  The author, John Bunyan, was once quoted as saying; “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” 
            In this allegorical work, Bunyan has many characters that represent various types of Christians and people who thought they were Christians.  One of these allegorical figures is “Talkative” who is all about rhetoric in relation to his Christian experience, but when pressed upon shows very little Christian virtue to match his words.  “Talkative” is a perfect example of all head and no heart, who had a form of godliness but denied it’s power to change his life. 
            I once had an experience in a classroom where I observed someone go from head knowledge to heart revelation; from a form of godliness to a changed life.

The Classroom
Buzz off, buddy. She burned you last night!
      The story involves a young woman. The setting was a Discipleship Training School that I was leading. A young woman named Kim had arrived at the training center with a set of conflicting affections. Kim had been raised in a Christian home but recently had become involved with a young man who did not share her moral values. This involvement had taken its toll on her relationship and walk with God. At the urging of her mother, Kim had enrolled in our school.
      As the initial weeks passed, I noticed that Kim was starting to respond to the love of God. God was very gently wooing her back to himself. One day I was teaching a session on the relinquishment of rights. The message was based on the life of Abraham and how he had to give up Isaac, through whom all God’s promises to Abraham were to be fulfilled. The message of the teaching, put simply, was that there are things in our lives, some good and some bad, that if we hold on to will hinder an intimate relationship with God; they are roadblocks to our being useful to God. Normally, I would have an application or response to this teaching. I would instruct the students to take some time in prayer that afternoon, asking the Lord if there was anything that he wanted them to give to him. Was there anything in their lives that was more important to them than God? That evening we would build a bonfire where students could burn little folded sheets of paper upon which they had written whatever, if anything, God had shown them that afternoon.
      On this day we were hit with a low pressure area, and the weather forecast called for twenty-four to thirty-six hours of steady rain. This sort of precluded a bonfire, but one of our staff members said, “There is no miracle in the fire. Why don’t we put a candle in a bucket and do it right here in the classroom?” We decided we would give it a try. The spiritual atmosphere turned out to be just as solemn. There is always a sacred presence in meetings like these, because people bring lifelong dreams and aspirations and place them before God to take away or give back.
      The students brought their notes and watched them burn slowly in the flame of the candle and turn to ash. Kim sat near the front of the classroom toward the side. As the meeting progressed, she took a picture out of her Bible. It was a picture of her boyfriend. She stared at the photo for a few moments and then put it back in the Bible. My wife, who was sitting in the back of the classroom, told me later that Kim did this at least twice. As the meeting was coming to an end, I gave one last opportunity for anyone to come forward. Kim took the picture and slowly stood up and walked up to the bucket. She carefully placed the picture in the flame. It was one of those old Polaroid pictures that seemed like it was made partly of wax. As the flame started to burn through the Polaroid, the picture bent and made a cracking sound. It was almost as if you could hear Kim’s heart breaking. That night there was a change of the residents in Kim’s heart—one moved out who would never totally fulfill her, and one moved in who would never, ever disappoint her.
      The next morning I was walking toward the dining hall and the pay phone rang. I almost never answered the pay phone, but it rang and I was there, so I picked it up. Guess who it was? Kim’s boyfriend. What do I say to him? Buzz off, she burned you last night! No, it was not my place to speak. I told someone to go get Kim. I don’t know what she told the guy. I never asked her, because it was none of my business. But I do know that she finished the school, and instead of going back to her home, she worked for a couple of years as a missionary. That speaks for itself.
Why did God have me answer the phone that night? I think there are two reasons. First, he wanted to remind me again that words can sometimes be cheap. It is not what we say but what we do that counts. Even symbolic gestures such as burning our notes can be useless unless we are committed to follow through. The real test for Kim came not in the classroom that night—yes, maybe it started there—but when she talked with her boyfriend. That is where the rubber met the road. That is where she proved whom she really loved.
Second, God was reminding me of the importance of my relationship with him and the lordship of Christ in my life. The burning of notes was not a spiritual game we were playing but an avenue to allow God to take his rightful place in our hearts. There is room for only one God in our hearts. There is the capacity in our heart for many loves, but only after the one true God reigns supreme in it. Anything that challenges his supremacy and lordship is a vain idol, which God in his mercy must allow to die. Why? Because he knows such idols will never fulfill those who worship them.
            Kim had to choose whether she was going to be a “Talkative” or the real deal.  Was she going to have a form of godliness or allow God’s love and power to change her heart?  That evening Kim’s intellectual understanding of God and a heart revelation of his love for her embraced.  Our Christian experience must have head and heart.  Bunyan in his Apology to his work finishes by inviting us; “O then come hither, And lay my book, thy head, and heart together.”  No, my friends, we never arrive, but are you on that journey to traverse those critical eighteen inches?

Adapted from Ken Barnes, The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2011), 99-102.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Guest Blog: You Don't Have To Be A Theologian To Trust God's Word

My name is Zach Malott and I’m the Senior Pastor at Mescalero Baptist Mission on the Mescalero Apache reservation in Southeast New Mexico. I am on staff at First Baptist Church of Ruidoso, New Mexico and pastor our Native American mission on the reservation.  I currently hold a BS in Religion, working on the last few classes on my MA in Professional Counseling at Liberty University.

On a lonely, wind-swept hill, Jesus willingly died in your place.  Not only did he die for you, he died at your own hand.  Yes, we are all guilty of killing Jesus.
Are you completely aware just what it is that Jesus did?  This is the truth of the Gospel of Christ.  This is the good news of the kingdom of God.  Let the truth of God sweep over you and cleanse your soul as you read along.
God Himself, took on human flesh, making Himself a little lower than the angels and suffered the death of a criminal in your place.
Because He died for you while you were still dead in your sins.  He granted you opportunity to return to the original fellowship with Him that was had in the Garden experience before sin entered into the picture.
Understand this, the first Adam infected humanity with the virus of sin that leads to spiritual and physical death.  The second Adam, Jesus Christ, paid the price of ransom for us and lifted that sin debt off your shoulders and onto His own.
His punishment was undeserved.  We deserved to suffer it but he suffered for us because we could never find favor with the Almighty Father on our own.  The Almighty Father accepted His Son’s death as payment-in-full for our sins.  When we believe on His name (Jesus), we are set free from the debt of sin – which is death.
When those who do not credit what Jesus did on the cross as being all sufficient in our salvation and claim that we have to earn our way, just remember this:
  1. You are now a child of God, justified by Jesus’ blood, and an heir with Him.
  2. You have victory over spiritual death because of His work on the cross.
  3. You are victorious with Christ over sin and death.
  4. You once were dead in sin but you are now alive and filled with the Holy Spirit.
  5. Eternal security is yours through the precious blood of Christ!
When you are confronted with the lies of the devil that threaten your eternal security in Jesus Christ, forgive them for they no not what they are doing.  Do not allow their judgment against your liberty in Jesus to cause you to feel condemned.
John 3:18 (AMP)
18  He who believes in Him [who clings to, trusts in, relies on Him] is not judged [he who trusts in Him never comes up for judgment; for him there is no rejection, no condemnation—he incurs no damnation]; but he who does not believe (cleave to, rely on, trust in Him) is judged already [he has already been convicted and has already received his sentence] because he has not believed in and trusted in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [He is condemned for refusing to let his trust rest in Christ's name.]
 Don’t buy into the false doctrine of losing your salvation if you are truly saved!  Don’t allow them to steal your joy!  Don’t walk in the fear of lost liberty in Jesus to be judged by a mortal man!  Rejoice as did the Apostles!  It is God who justifies, not man!
If you have truly believed in He who died for you, confessed that you are a sinner, and believed in your heart that Jesus is the Lord of all, you can rest in the following passage:
Romans 8:1-3 (AMP)
1  THEREFORE, [there is] now no condemnation (no adjudging guilty of wrong) for those who are in Christ Jesus, who live [and] walk not after the dictates of the flesh, but after the dictates of the Spirit.
2  For the law of the Spirit of life [which is] in Christ Jesus [the law of our new being] has freed me from the law of sin and of death.
3  For God has done what the Law could not do, [its power] being weakened by the flesh [the entire nature of man without the Holy Spirit]. Sending His own Son in the guise of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh [subdued, overcame, deprived it of its power over all who accept that sacrifice],
 God bless you!
Until next time,
QUESTION:  Are you truly saved?  Comment about your testimony!

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

This Dog Doesn't Hunt Anymore

To everything there is a season, 
A time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJV).

New Wine In Old Wineskins
            Old Beau was a good old dog.  In his day he and his master Jake would never come back from hunting without game.  But things had changed, all old Beau wants to do is lie around on the porch.  Jake still takes him out in search of game, but it’s no fun any more.  It’s too much like work trying to get him to do anything.  Jake looks at Beau lying on the porch half-asleep and thinks; this dog just does not hunt anymore.
            Maybe sometimes we “do church” like Jake does hunting with Beau.  I am not suggesting that the church is an old dog, just the opposite.   Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 NKJV).  The church is indestructible. Every new creation in Christ is alive and vibrant and the church (its communal expression) should be also.  What I am submitting to you is that maybe we are trying to put new wine (life and vitality) in old wineskins (out of date and worn out methodology).

Bowling Alone
            Our scriptural reference says that there is a season for everything.  Seasons come and seasons go.  Steve Hewitt in his eBook The New Protestant Reformation mentions research by Harvard University professor Robert D. Putman.  Involvement in social organizations like the PTA, the Boy and Girl Scouts, etc. is down across the board from the 1960’s through the 90’s.  Putman is his book, Bowling Alone, documents an interesting trend in relation to this recreational activity.  Over time owners of bowling alleys noticed that people did not want to join bowling leagues like they once did.  They preferred to bowl alone or with a small group of friends or family.  The bowling alleys scaled back their leagues and instituted specialty nights where small groups could bowl together.  The result is that just as many people are bowling today compared with the heyday of the leagues and the bowling alleys have survived.
            The church is facing a changing social landscape where people are just not joiners.  Hewitt suggest some reasons.  First he mentions what he calls the “Personal Communication Age.”  People today due to technology and social media live with an information overload.  They have moved away from sources Hewitt calls  “information and connectivity” such as newspapers, network TV, etc..  They are looking for a personal source for their information.  The church seeks to inform and connect primarily via large group meetings, which can appear impersonal to many people.
            Also, people seem to want to be part of the process.  As Hewitt says, “one way communication doesn’t work the way it used to work.”  People want to comment, question and be part of the conversation.”  They want to obtain information through personal dialogue. Even social media is personal to them as they connect, follow, and like each other.  An example of this is the popularity of the medium with which I am communicating these ideas, the blog.  It is a simple idea that takes “one way” communication and allows people to comment and question and truly become active in the discussion. 

Signs Of The Times
            The Barna Research Group and many others have discovered some interesting statistics in relation to church attendance.  In 1992 there were about 22% of Americans attending on a regular basis (twice a month).  In 1999 it had dropped to 19% and by 2002 it had plummeted to 18%.  Some predict the figure may be close to 15% currently.  Surveys show that at least 50% of Americans considers themselves as Christians. Yet, less than 18% support or attend regularly the conventional church.  How can this be happening?  Are people ignoring Hebrews 10:25, ...not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together...?  On the surface the answer may appear to be yes, but one Barna study questions this conclusion.  The study indicates that 25% of those who call themselves Christians are not affiliated with a church, yet study the Bible on a regular basis.  Barna has been watching the house church movement and in a 2006 study he stated;

            The new study, based on interviews with more than 5000 randomly selected
            adults across the nation, found that 9% of the adults attended a house church
            during a typical week.  That is remarkable growth in the last decade, shooting
            up from 1% to near double digit involvement.  In total, one of five adults
            attends a house church at least once a month.

            From the above mentioned research and many others we can make some conclusions.
The preferences of the American people are changing.  People are more likely to join a group that is smaller in size.  They want to get their information on a more personal basis.  They seek to be able to interact with the source of the information and not just receive “one way”
communication.  To affect the personal nature of their interactions, small seems to be better. There is a growing group of un-churched people who are interested in spiritual things who don’t or won’t join the conventional church.  According to the statistics of the church’s overall attendance decline, the people are voting with their feet.  Are there many and varied exceptions? Yes, but the trend is pretty clear.  Someone once said, “wisdom is just having a keen sense of the obvious.”

The Priesthood Of All Believers
            How has the church addressed these societal adjustments?  In many ways we have found ourselves a day late and a dollar short.  We have been slow to recognize and adapt to the signs of the times.  There are reasons for our resistance to change.  The church has to be conservative as we are called to maintain the unchanging message of the Gospel.  Many have done this and paid for it with their lives.  But our greatest strength can become our greatest weakness.  We include with the Word of God media and ministry structures by which we deliver the message thinking they are divinely inspired. They may be things that may have worked in their “season” but not now.  Do we need to rethink things like church membership, where and how we do church?  We must think outside the box to get people to interface with God’s people.  But once they are with the church we must give them the same message the Apostle Paul preached.  The message must never be modified but the medium must always be evolving.  Unlike the operators of the bowling alleys the church has been slow to embrace change and to adapt and present the Gospel in a cultural context that is viable to our clientele. 
            I hesitated in writing this blog.  I feared it might come across as being critical of the church that I love.  I was apprehensive that I might just pit the conventional church against the house church movement.  There are numerous vibrant and healthy traditional churches in this land.  Who am I to be critical of what God is doing through these groups of believers?  But for every healthy and growing church there are hundreds, maybe thousands of marginally successful ones.  These churches are pastored by people working their hearts out and wondering; what am I doing wrong?  Maybe they are doing nothing wrong.  Just trying to do church in a way that will not work for them.  Should we all seek vertical church growth as opposed to horizontal?  By vertical I mean where we build bigger and bigger church buildings to accommodate larger and larger audiences.  Or should we be thinking horizontally where you plant cell groups of believers, who when they grow past 12 or 15, subdivide and plant themselves in another neighborhood in your city.  At this point you might say, we already have home groups.  Yes, but do you give your groups the amount of freedom and autonomy which people today are seeking; the latitude to view themselves as churches within a church.  In the business world it is well known that people take care of their own business better than someone else’s. When we empower people and give them ownership they generally respond well.  But, isn’t this risky, you might ask?  Of course it is; but no risk, no gain.  What if by chance a church loses a group?  Then they have spun off a group of believers who are people discipling people where they live.   Not a bad model to affect the priesthood of all believers. Maybe churches, instead of fearing losing people, ought to think about how many (as Hewitt calls them) micro-churches they can spin off.
            It is not my purpose to highlight the benefits of small groups or the house church over the conventional church.  They both have strengths and weaknesses.  God is big enough to grow His church in either type of setting.  Maybe we should take a hint from the first century church, And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:42 NKJV).  It may not be “either or”, but “and also”.  The conventional church and the cell group, be it a house church or a group that meets in an office, can sit around and be critical of each other, but what eternal purpose does that serve?  If we love, serve, and recognize our need for each other, we may awaken a sleeping giant.  As Bob Dylan once sung, The Times They Are a-Changin.  If we are open to God’s changing seasons, who knows, we may see old Beau hunting again.

Learn more about “micro” churches.