May 2007


Since I’m promoting my review site, I might as well share the latest review with you. There I discuss Ken Hemphill’s EKG, ostensibly a challenge for Christians to become Kingdom citizens to the nth degree. On a practical level, the book is an excellent treatment of the Sermon on the Mount.

The question that arises from the reading is this: Whose kingdom is it anyway? In what kingdom do we spend our time living and working. Hemphill argues that to be true Kingdom citizens, we live life the way Christ encouraged, demanded, and exemplified.

Today I read a review of the book, I’m OK – You’re Not by John Shore. This is the second review I’ve read for this book. While I have not read the book yet (it’s on my intended list), it concerns me that Shore may be encouraging people to stop evangelizing. I’m sure that isn’t his intention at all. The radical thing that he says though is that we should de-emphasize the Great Commission (which reads to evangelicals as “evangelization”) in favor of emphasizing the Great Commandment (to love each other).

I would argue that it’s not an either/or, but a both/and proposition. We must evangelize, and we must love. The two are not mutually exclusive. If we are trying to build our own kingdom, we will either use battering-ram styled witnessing techniques (which Baptists have developed whole programs around), or we will soft-serve love without ever mentioning why we love. If we are to become effective citizens of the Kingdom of God, then we must evangelize with love, and love evangelistically.

Well, that’s my opinion, anyway. What’s yours?

 

            I recently completed the book Stop Dating the Church: Fall in Love with the Family of God by Joshua Harris. (Click here to see my review of the book.) The book is one that addresses a question of commitment among believers—especially young believers. The term “young” here is a double-edged sword because it could refer to the younger generation, those who are disenchanted by establishment wherever they find it. This disenchantment applies especially to the established church. There are areas where the emerging generation finds it difficult to trust what is older and set. The argument is expressed in a variety of ways depending on the decade the speaker is spending his youth. One popular saying several decades ago was, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Comically, those who made popular that idea have long since passed the age of trustworthiness.

            The conclusion of Stop Dating the Church is that it is time for believers to commit themselves to being a part of the on-going work of God, which is best done through the local church.

            The individual is not the only one who must answer the question of commitment, however. It is also an issue to be addressed by the local church. Will we as a body rise to the occasion of becoming the instrument through which the world is reached? Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger seem to think that we can do just that, but it requires a deeper level of commitment on the part of the church. They speak to this issue in their book Simple Church (see review). The question on the church level is not so much one of being committed to Christ and His cause, but more so, one of over-commitment of our resources that can be corrected by focusing on the one or two things we can do and do well.

            I recommend both of these books as you look to finding what it is God wants you to do as a believer and as a church. I also recommend commitment—it frees you up for Kingdom advancement.

Today I will let Rudyard Kipling speak a word of honor for me:

The American Spirit speaks:

To the Judge of Right and Wrong
With Whom fulfilment lies
Our purpose and our power belong,
Our faith and sacrifice.

Let Freedom’s land rejoice!
Our ancient bonds are riven;
Once more to use the eternal choice
Of Good or
Ill is given.

Not at a little cost,
Hardly by prayer or tears,
Shall we recover the road we lost
In the drugged and doubting years.

But, after the fires and the wrath,
But, after searching and pain,
His Mercy opens us a path
To live with ourselves again.

In the Gates of Death rejoice!
We see and hold the good—
Bear witness, Earth, we have made our choice
For Freedom’s brotherhood!

Then praise the Lord Most High
Whose Strength hath saved us whole,
Who bade us choose that the Flesh should die
And not the living Soul!

To the God in Man displayed—
Where’er we see that Birth,
Be love and understanding paid
As never yet on earth!

To the Spirit that moves in Man,
On Whom all worlds depend,
Be Glory since our world began
And service to the end!

            There must be something about prayer. It is our means to connect with the Creator and to soothe troubled souls. Thinking about it reminds me that even the most devout of non-believers are moved by the thought of prayer. Whenever there is a physical need or a tragedy happens we turn to prayer. We say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with you.” Or “I’ll be praying for you.” There must be something about prayer.

            One interesting thing about prayer is that, although we give great lip service to the activity, we don’t really practice it. Several years ago (and I don’t have any evidence to prove that our situation has changed) I heard a report on Paul Harvey’s commentary that fewer than 5% of ministers in main-line churches spend more than an hour a week in prayer. It is interesting to me that we have such a fondness for prayer without offering prayer in any dedicated manner. Most people have a prayer life that includes saying grace at meals and kneeling at bedside to pray “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” Sadly, we discontinue the practice of even these once we get beyond grade school.

            In our own church—and we seem to be a typical example of Southern Baptist churches—we continue to hold what we call “mid-week prayer service.” This service is actually a Wednesday evening Bible study with a prayer time for all the in-grown toenails, indigestions, and scraped knees that our congregation knows of. And we tack it onto the end of the service. Certainly, I am in support of Bible study, intercessory prayer, and all that takes place in these meetings. On the other hand, this particular service continues to be a dying breath effort. We provide child care for younger children, and the only parents to attend are the staff. Once in awhile there may be another toddler or baby in the nursery area on this occasion—usually if their parent is working as a volunteer. Why is this part of our church life so ill-attended? I can identify two reasons for sure, although there are probably many more:

  1. Prayer has been de-emphasized to the point of inconsequential—partly by the insistence that we “do more than just pray” and partly by the misunderstanding of the activity of prayer.
  2. We continue to have a meeting because we’ve been doing it for so long. It has to be on Wednesday evening because it’s always been on Wednesday evening.

Even though we have a tendency to botch things up, there’s still something about prayer. I know this because I am seeing a resurgent emphasis on prayer. Even more than in general terms, prayer seems to be the focus of the day. Listening to Christian radio this morning I heard back-to-back Bible teachers preaching sermons on prayer. One of my blogging friends’ post today is on prayer. And this weekend the International Mission Board is encouraging believers to join them in a day of prayer and fasting in behalf of the Udmurt people of Russia. So, there must be something about prayer.

I would encourage you to pray. Don’t go looking for a prayer list today, just pray. I know that there are any number of needs that you can lift to the Lord, but what if . . . just, what if today, Christ-followers everywhere simply paused to have a visit with the Maker? That’s what I encourage you to do today. Renew your acquaintance with the Master. Sit at His table and sip coffee, just shooting the breeze. We might all discover that He has a word for us, an encouragement, a challenge that we can’t refuse.

Take a few minutes today and converse with the Father. Tell Him your heart, and listen for His response. Listen with your eyes, your ears, and with your heart. Then tomorrow, do it again. Because there’s something about prayer.

            So what do you do when you are ready to stop shopping and decide to join in what God is doing at church? In Stop Dating the Church, Joshua Harris has some suggestions for the non-negotiables. Certainly there are different things you want to look for as you begin your search for a local church to join. Harris is fairly astute in bringing forward the questions to ask about a potential church to join. Here are his questions:

 

1.      Is this a church where God’s Word is faithfully taught?

2.      Is this a church where sound doctrine matters?

3.      Is this a church in which the gospel is cherished and clearly proclaimed?

4.      Is this a church committed to reaching non-Christians with the gospel?

5.      Is this a church whose leaders are characterized by humility and integrity?

6.      Is this a church where people strive to live by God’s Word?

7.      Is this a church where I can find and cultivate godly relationships?

8.      Is this a church where members are challenged to serve?

9.      Is this a church that is willing to kick me out?

10.  Is this a church I’m willing to join “as is” with enthusiasm and faith in God?

 

For those who are overwhelmed by laundry lists of things to ask or things to discover, Harris boils the list down to an easily digestible three-point plan for finding the right church. He says that you want a church that teaches God’s Word, values God’s Word, and lives God’s Word.

In this I see some truths for those who are looking for the right local church. Don’t be caught up in what a church has to offer you: Do they have the right children’s, youth, or singles program? Are they willing to accommodate my needs? Or are they already doing so (this is even better)? What you should be seeking is more an atmosphere where the people are living and doing the things that promote God’s kingdom and kingdom living. Certainly no church will be achieving perfection in any of these vital areas. But look for a church where Kingdom Living is the focus. Look also for a place where you will be challenged to use your talents or expertise to further that kingdom work. Remember, serving God is about God and not about you. Your place in worship is to bring glory to God and His work, not build a name for yourself.

At the same time, I see a call to the church and especially the earthly leaders: retrain your focus on godliness and Kingdom issues. Our role as the church is to build up the Kingdom of God, not to build up our own kingdom.

[I am revisiting an old topic today, which you may see me do from time to time.] 

            About halfway through Stop Dating the Church Joshua Harris has finished his argument to convince disenchanted, disappointed, and dissatisfied believers of the necessity of membership and calls for commitment. He even describes commitment with simple characteristics. He states that if something is important to you, you want to commit to it. When you decide to commit . . .

1.      You join.

2.      You make the local church a priority.

3.      You try to make your pastor’s job a joy.

4.      You find ways to serve.

5.      You give.

6.      You connect with people.

7.      You share your passion.

Until a Christ-follower has reached a point of commitment that will lead them to this kind of active involvement, I would be concerned about the level of commitment to Christ Himself. I could echo the list by saying that when Christ becomes the priority in your life you: Join Him; make Him a priority; make the lives of fellow believers joyful; find ways to serve; give to Him; connect with people; and share your passion. This includes finding the right church for you and applying the commitment there.

Finding the right church is not based what you can receive from the church. People who look for a church based on the programs offered, the personalities present, and the prestige connected to attendance at that particular church are still driven by the consumer mentality that is a danger to the health of believers and churches everywhere. Instead look for the place where God is directing you to become involved and join. More on finding the right church later.

            Famous speakers and pundits in the world of Christian America have encouraged us to support films that have included positive messages about the Church, belief in Christ, and family values (often as defined by these speakers and pundits). I can jump on this bandwagon rather readily—if we want movies that we can take our children to, or let our older children go to, we must encourage the movie-makers to offer something worth seeing. The move has worked well, at least in one respect: Fox has developed their “Fox Faith” brand to market movies that would appeal to the vocal group of Christians. As a result we have been able to view adaptations of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The End of the Spear, and other worthy writings on the silver screen. No longer are Christian movies (or movies with a faith bent at any rate) relegated to the shelf containing bad scripting, bad acting, and low budgets. I say, “Keep it up,
Hollywood.”

            And now to the question of mainstreaming: in an effort to reach a video age, we may be over videoing our worship. Fox Faith, while addressing the need for positive messages encased in a viewable format, has also begun releasing Bible study guides to used when viewing these treasures. Curriculum publishers have turned to the art of producing movies as the basis for our small group study. I’m not opposed to using technology for the best purposes, but I am concerned that instead of training people to prepare and lead Bible study, we are expecting them simply to be a discussion facilitator based on someone else’s teaching.

            Another trend is to use video in worship—for the sake of video. Again, use video. Use it to make a point, to illustrate a point, to enhance a point. But for the sake of true worship, make sure that the video you use fits the point you are making in presenting the gospel. It may be my developing crotchetiness, but I lean toward removing some of the flash and glitz of
Hollywood from our worship so that we can return to worship: worship that is about entering the presence of God, not entertaining the masses.

            So, is the trend to incorporate Hollywood-style productions in our worship a mistake? A great idea (upon which we need to expand)? Or a flash in the pan that will soon have run its course (so why are you talking about it?)?

 

 

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