Thursday, May 31, 2007

Church Planting Gone Astray

We live in a consumer society. Eveything that is marketed today is basically 'junk' within five years. Consider your computer, your car, your clothes, and your cell phone. Do you still have the same one that you had a mere five years ago? Three years ago? One year ago? These are high dollar purchases for the most part, and it is a rarity that any would last ten years.

The trouble with a consumer society is that it isn't simply material things that get tossed. Everything tends to get thrown out with the rest of the outdated garbage. Things that ought not to be trashed; like the local church.

It seems that one of the most recent church planting strategies involves finding a 'dead' church and planting a 'new' one next door. It's sort of like the old "television killed the radio star" analogy, or the Wal-Mart that drives the Mom and Pop establishment into bankruptcy; if the "old" church doesn't have the goods and the flash at low cost, then it needs to be sent to the Vet and put to sleep to the tune of "The Old Rugged Cross" with organ accompaniment.

To me, this is absolutely scandolous. Perhaps this is because I tend to be a bit old school, and perhaps it is because I do not believe a church is truly "dead" until the gospel is no longer preached there (Where there is gospel, brother, there is hope!). But I believe that doing this sort of thing undermines the gospel itself, and it undermines our credibility as believers.

Let me begin with a couple of disclaimers, I'll put them in bold so you will not miss them:

1. I believe that we need more churches planted. Many, many more.

2. I strongly believe in local church co-operation and I believe in the co-operative program of the SBC.

I also understand the mentality that leads a group to plant a church next door to a church that they consider "dead." The list includes:

1. The dead church is mired in tradition and can't be budged.
2. The dead church is not effectively reaching her community for Christ.
3. The dead church's music is horrificly outdated and cannot appeal to a younger audience.

Numbers 1 and 2 can be legitimate concerns for the body of Christ. If you bring up reason number 3 to me, prepare yourself for a fight. Hopefully it will not come to fisticuffs but there will definitely be some verbal sparring going on.

In order to deal with these reasons for church planting next to a church of like faith and message, I'm going to examine the following reasons and definitions in the next few days:

1. What is a "dead" church?
2. How do you know that an old church can't be budged?
3. If a church isn't being evangelistic, is the best answer to ignore her?
4. What does "effectively reaching a community" look like?
5. Is there value in being old?

I hope that this will be a beneficial look at the Church and what it means to be a Church, and as always, I look forward to your input.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Turning Anxiety into Opportunity

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7).

Anxiety is the smothering death of spiritual joy. Anxiety is like a boa constrictor, it wraps itself around the lifeline of faith until it strangles the life out of you. It is a subtle, creepy, suffocating killer. Notice that this exhortation not to worry comes on the heels of the exhortation to "Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I say, rejoice!" Paul knew about this deadly stalker called anxiety, and he would have your faith loosen its terrible grasp over your soul.

The reason that anxiety is so deadly is because it betrays our faith in God. It is a manifestation of our inward distrust of God and of our pride. How is anxiety a mark of pride? It demonstrates the proud belief that we actually believed the well-being of someone or something rested in our control. Not that we are without responsibilities as stewards, but we must recognize that ultimately our stewardship is always upheld by the providence of God.

For example, I am given the magnificent privilege of having and raising a son. As a father, this means that I clothe, mentor, feed, discipline, reward, and lavish love upon my little boy. If danger comes, I will defend him to the death. I will try to teach him to be wise to keep him from and untimely end. But in all this, I recognize that if my Master does not oversee my labor, then I work in vain. While I worry that my beloved may be riding his bike in traffic, I forget that even if he is doing something so terribly stupid, the Lord sees him and gives him breath in that moment. Neither my worry nor my watchfulness can eliminate the necessity for divine providence.

Yet I confess to you, dear read, that I worry. I confess that this worry is born out of a deep love for my son and my wife and my church. One of my friends is a police officer, and when I heard recently that he arrested two armed robbers I felt a bit unnerved. Due to the fact that I've watched too many "COPS" shows, I knew that this was a dangerous situation that could have ended much worse. This caused me to contemplate on the fact that my friend is exposed to this sort of danger each and every time he goes out on patrol. Anxiety is the natural response to such thoughts if we truly care for our brothers and sisters. So what is a believer to do?

I believe that anxiety can be a healthy thing if we learn how to wield it. Fire can be deadly, but it can also be an indispensable tool. When I feel that choking feeling of anxiety coming on, I turn directly to my Father with whatever is bothering me. If I am anxious for my son's well-being, I ask my Father to care for him. When I am reminded of my friend's danger in the line of duty, I ask my Father to protect him. When I am anxious for my wife, I pray for her. When I fret over the church, I bring my concerns to God.

The promise of praying in such a manner is that the "peace of God" will guard our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. So I pray until I have peace. This peace has nothing to do with decision making, not in this context. This is the sort of peace that comes from knowing that God is in control and that He takes care of the precious things. The more precious it is to me, the more closely He guards it, for indeed the thing is precious to Him as well.

Think on what we do with our precious things. We stick our money in a bank behind a vault that a bomb wouldn't destroy. We buy expensive "lock boxes" in those vaults to guard our jewelry. Museums have laser security alarms, armed guards, and infrared cameras to deter thieves from pilfering our treasures. Only a fool would bury such a thing in his backyard or stuff it in a mattress. We trust others who are more qualified than we to watch them.

But look at us! We are clay pots; we are dust; we are the dew on the grass; we are a withering flower. If anything ever needed protecting, it is we. Our children are not hard like diamonds or enduring like jewels. For the sake of your faith, leave off the idea that you can protect such fragile things. Deep down, you know that you cannot. Do all that wisdom dictates, but wholly entrust your beloved things to your Father. His storehouse is never plundered; His fine things are never pilfered; He never leaves His guard post. He is a vigilant sentinel, never sleeping or slumbering, and He guards with fierce jealousy the things of His beloved. Woe to him, be he devil or man, who stretches out his hand to meddle with the treasure of God!

So do not be anxious, beloved. Our God is able to keep all the things which we commit to Him. When you feel the coils of worry dragging you down, let it be a kickstart for you to pray earnestly and specifically for whatever it is that is bothering you. Our God is faithful, and He will give you peace.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Walk in the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16).
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Col. 3:1-2).

I have spent the last few months walking through the book of Galatians with the church on Sunday nights. From it, the apostle Paul has taught us repeatedly that both justification and sanctification are ours through faith in Jesus Christ. Justification is immediate; sanctification is progressive as belief conquers unbelief.

Galatians 5:16 helps us to see the connection between walking in the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, and conversly, it teaches us what the fleshly, sinful walk will yield. But what does it mean to "walk in the Spirit?" It sounds good, but what does it mean? How does simple faith in Jesus win the battle against adultery, fornication, lewdness, outbursts of anger, and etc.? If we cannot answer this question for the struggling Christian, of whom I am one, then Paul's admonition is useless.

One thing that we know that cannot mean is that willpower will overcome sin. Willpower cannot conquer sin; only faith can. For example, one might believe that the "cure" for the young man ensared by internet pornography is to simply quit looking at pornography. Certainly, he should quit immediately! But this is not the cure that Paul wants. Paul wants the seemingly impossible; he wants you and I to kill lust at its source. Oogling naked women on the internet is the fever; lust is the true sickness. If we wish to be free from evil, then we must kill it at its root.

Jerome, one of the early church fathers, had a serious issue with lust. He lived in Rome, a veritable cesspool of temptation. Jerome decided that if he were to flee to the desert, then he would find some relief. To his dismay, he found that even though he was famished from fasting and chilled by the cool desert nights, his heart was aflame with lust, and in his mind the chorus girls of Rome still danced. Leaving Rome profited him nothing.

Paul writes, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Gal. 5:24). Great. How do you kill a desire or rid yourself of a passion? The computer I can turn off; my heart I am stuck with. What shall be my hammer and where will I turn for nails to kill the sin that lurks in my heart? This is a desperate question for me, for I wish to be rid of sin for good. I hope that you do as well.

I believe that the answer is found in Colossians 3:1-2. We must "set our minds" on heavenly things. By this, I believe that the Spirit would have us remember all the promises of God to us in Christ Jesus. The true enemy is unbelief, and the certain cure is the Word of God and all of the promises therein. Here's what it looks like for me.

Sometimes, even as I kneel to pray, the most ungodly thoughts will flit across the field of my mind. They are enticing, fleshly, appealing thoughts, sent out by the devil or my sinful heart. I don't know which and I don't care. At that moment when sin crouches to pounce, I take up the Word I have hidden in my heart, and I fight for faith. I remind myself that there is a King in Heaven who is coming to rule. I remind myself that one day, a King will sit on the throne in the New Jerusalem and He will judge in righteousness. I remind myself that He has eyes like fire and feet like bronze and a voice like the sound of rushing waters. I remind myself that this King loves me and lives for me and encourages me to seek Him and all the treasure of His kingdom. I remind myself that it is His delight to prepare a feast of righteousness for me in the presence of my enemies, and that they are helpless to hinder it.

So what does this have to do with killing lust? For one thing, I find that I cannot entertain thoughts about my glorious King and lust at the same time. I find that in the beauty of His grace, those fleeting pleasures of sin look utterly repulsive. Clinging to the promise of who He is and what He has done for me and what He has yet in store for me drives the darkness away like the noonday sun.

So take up the Word and treasure the promises of God. I believe that this is the bases for walking in the Spirit.