Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Nothing New...

When is this?
"turbulent years"
"great financial panics"
"A gulf seemed to be widening between the great captains of industry and the (labor force)"
"unprecedented government scandals"
"general decline in public morality."

These are the comments describing our nation just before the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit at the turn of the 20th century.

2 Chronicles 7:14 (TNIV) if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

What is church for?

Great question right? One would think that the answer would be simple...and yet ask some people around you and see what responses you get.

"Church is a place to sing praise."
"It's all about values."
"My parents always took me, and it gives me a feeling of connection."
"It's the right thing to do."
"It's important for my kids..."

Those all seem like good answers...but then why are so many leaving churches today? Why do so many find church boring and irrelevant? (Because many of them are!) The very fabric of our nation is coming undone even as the churches falter.

For the last several decades we (in the church) found out that we can build big churches by focusing on the peripherals.
"If we just have the best song service in town we can grow!"
"If we just teach a person how to be good in this broken down world everything will be fine."

Many churches today have become Christian Country Clubs. Many have become mere concert venues. Many have been shaped so that the ultimate goal is to further the ends of the local church alone. The result? We have people claiming Christianity that have no idea what that means. Christianity has become about "values" or about what political party you normally vote for. Churches have become the place where "good" people go on the weekends to affirm their goodness. We have an entire generation that has grown up in institutionalized churches that have no idea what it means to be a follower of Christ. They are being eaten up by the new philosophies and the new ideas that they are being exposed to.

What is church for? It is for Christ.

Do we at West Shore want to grow? Yes. Have we spent the last year and a half going through the hard work of changing how we do things in order to be relevant? Absolutely. Are we continuing to build and work toward having a great contemporary worship service? Abso-flippin-lutely! Howver, we are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater as the old (and quite disturbing) phrase goes. But the essence of everthing that we are doing is to call people, young and old, into a genuine life-altering relationship with Jesus Christ.

You see we are just crazy enough to truly believe that Jesus is alive after being crucified, dead and buried and is now sitting at the right hand of God the Father. We are just silly enough (according to today's cultural mindset) to believe that the Living God is still calling people out of their brokenness and addiction to sin to live a free life through repentance and restoration. These are not mere lifeless doctrines that have their residence in the abstract. This is real life, lived in connection to the Real God.

Yes, church is the right thing to do. It is great for the kids. It is right to continue in your Christian heritage. It is where we connect with other people in healthy relationships. It is where we become better people through relationship with Christ... Support missionaries, hear the gospel preached, praise and worship our God, get blessed, serve our community, help the poor, etc. etc. etc.

But it is about Christ! The central focus should be about Jesus. Are you madly in love with Jesus? Do you know Him like that yet? Have you had a life-altering experience with Jesus Christ, or have you just hung around all the stuff that has the Christian label to it? You see without Jesus sitting on the throne of your heart or beating as the heart of a church, all the other stuff is just garbage...stop eating it.

John 15:5 (TNIV) “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Philippians 3:7-8 (TNIV) But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Recession or Revival

It has been a truth that during the hardest times in history past that people all over the world have found hope in Risen Christ. People often point to the various hardships in the world as a reason to doubt the existence of God. "How could a loving God...?" When it is in fact that our fellow human beings have been the ones to inflict harm.

People right not in this country are suffering. People are experiencing fear about their futures, people are losing their homes, being laid off, "nesteggs" disappearing, and that's not even to mention the plight of those who were poor before this economic meltdown. Responsible people are feeling the pinch and effects of those who acted irresponsible. But apart from bringing to light the need for reform is there any other lesson here?

I know I was taught that the $ was almighty. We were to navigate our lives based upon the acquisition of this strange little symbol... $. Even when God called me into the ministry I felt the pull of $. There's nothing wrong with $. In fact I would like to have many more of $! I think people should endeavor to make as much $ as possible in order to build the Kingdom of God. But I have been fighting my whole Christian life not to be ruled by $. Each time I switched ministry positions (3) I have gone down in pay, yet it was always the Lord. A few years back I experienced the pain of what many people are experiencing now. I found myself without a job, without income through no act of wrong doing. I became one of those guys I swore I never would... a guy in his mid-30's who had to move back in with his parents..wife, kids and all! I felt shame, fear, anger at myself and God. It was the hardest time in my life to date...and God led me there. What I didn't know or see was that it was God's graduate school for me. It was a time to truly learn that God is my provision; nothing or no one else is. I may not like how he provides...it might offend my pride, but he cares for me. I went from being, for all intents and purposes, homeless to now experiencing being a first time homeowner in a nice neighborhood. Why? We trusted God and we waited and we prayed and asked God's direction. Everyday it was a fight to crucify my desires, goals and pride in order to wait on the Lord.

Have you discovered the freedom of living by faith and the Word of the Lord? Matthew 6:33 (TNIV) "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Have you learned this yet?"

You see we are fine with the "God thing," until it costs us. Until it leads us to a place where we are truly out of control. And yet is that not the lesson of where we find ourselves as a nation right now? We have kicked God out of our country and remade it in our own image...and look what's happened.

Are you broken enough where you realize that wherever else you place your trust in besides Jesus is going to lead to death? There is favor and provision for His children. He cares for us and we care for one another. Are tired of serving the false god of $? Revival always comes with the tearing down of our idols...not making a nice place for God right next to them. I am looking for revival and an explosion of people turning to Jesus during this time of trial. Will you find hope there as so many have throughout the centuries? Repent of the desire to be your own God in the name of "responsibility" or "providing for my family."

Matthew 3:2 (TNIV) ...“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Live the adventure that is following Jesus.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't be a pansy...

Don't be a pansy in your walk with Christ... Have you ever lived in such a way where if God didn't come through, you're toast? Peter is a great example of a non-pansy faith. Many people chide Peter because of the fact that he started to sink because of a lack of faith after walking on water to the Lord. But let me ask you this, have you walked on water? Maybe your expression of faith will not lead to a literal walking on water for you. But there are plenty of parallels in the Christian life where God beckons us to come to Him and it requires us to leave the safety of our "boats." So, have you "walked on water?"

At West Shore Church we are building a church that is going to be different. We are taking our step out of the boat very soon in that we are relocating and believing God to provide in numerous ways. What is needed in addition to our faith and willingness is some people who we have yet to meet willing to step out with us. Many people check out our church and c
ome to visit, but right now we don't have the huge menu of ministries and options that people normally judge a church by. What we do have is an opportunity for people to live an extraordinary life of faith and adventure. (If you are plugged into a great church that is seeing people saved and lives changed and you are an integral part of that, ignore this!) Let me ask you this: Would you rather find a church where you can just fit into the establishment, or would you rather be a part of building something different and new in this area. Let's be honest...some churches suck the life out of people. Not everyone who is walking away from their church these days is wrong for doing so.

Make no mistake...we are passionately committed to connecting people who don't yet know Jesus to His wonderful Good News. But in order to accomplish that we are going to need the help of some Nehemiahs who can see with vision by faith and who are willing to help build the Kingdom of God.

Do you want to make a difference with your life? ...then don't be a pansy. Put your stuff on the line for Jesus...go "all in."

Friday, March 13, 2009

When I Falter...

Every time my strength begins to falter; every time my resolve begins to erode, God sends His Word to refresh my soul. The task before is one that continually tears me down…but where is my strength found? Where does my help come from?

Does anything worth doing come without cost? And yet He is there to refresh me. My responsibility to His direction is obedience. But He doesn’t leave me with just duty. He comes and refreshes my soul. Why? By His grace. Because that’s Who my God is.

Hosea 6:1-3 (TNIV) “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

Why we stepping out in faith as a church? Because we’ve sensed His direction. It will be challenging to fulfill His call. But we also know that He will not leave us as orphans. He will come…

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

For those who wish for proof instead of faith....

There is sufficient light for those who wish to see, and sufficient darkness for those of the opposite disposition.
Enough clarity to illumine the elect, and enough darkness to keep them humble.
Sufficient darkness to blind the reprobate, and sufficient clarity to condemn them and make them inexcusable.

-Blaise Pascal

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Anti-Me Generation

People describe the folks in the 1980's as the "Me" generation. There was such a focus upon self, getting more stuff, driving the right car, etc. Though that hasn't totally gone away, there is a ideological backlash going on in our culture. Much of it is an extremely positive thing. People are more conscious about other people, cultures, ideas, etc. People are concerned about the environment and are not just acting like a bunch of mad consumers with no thought for the repercussions. Whether it is more recently because of the terrible economy or a product of this backlash I don't know, but people are driving more sensible cars. There are a lot of positive things about this.
There are also some negative things. In the grwoing awareness of global cultures, values and religions, people in our culture are afraid to make any right/wrong choices. I hear more and more people refusing a personal faith in Jesus because they have questions like, "what about the child on the Sarengeti who needs water?" "What about all the injustice?" Good questions, but wrong application. (Just finished a series called "Where is God When..." dealing with some of these tough issues). Because of this people are refusing personal commitment and making a choice because...someone might be offended by what I believe...what makes this truth right and the others wrong?...
Bottom line...while there are many positive things resulting from this ideological shift, there are some negative things as well. Faith by the very nature of what it is requires an element of self-centeredness. "What do I belive and why?" Yes, you are responsible for more than just yourself...but you are responsible for yourself. On the most foundational level we will be judged not for "what we do" but for "who we know." Did we place personal saving faith in Person of Jesus Christ as our Savior? Apart from that, your works, you attitudes your feelings about everything are irrelevant.

John 15:1-8 (TNIV) “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

To proclaim God's truth about Himself and our personal belief in Him and this truth is not bigotry, intolerance or arrogance. In fact it is one of the most servant-hearted things that we could do. After all if God is real, if Jesus really died for all, then ours is not simply one choice among many options. If you really are in relationship with Jesus Christ, then the only thing holding you back from sharing His truth really would be "me" centered.

Live the answer.