Saturday, June 22, 2019

Hip Church or Deceived Church? Part II

I have been looking at false teachers in the Bible and how we are to avoid such teachers.  They are the wolves in sheep's clothing, and Jesus, along with the New Testament writers, have much to say on the subject.

But a false teacher does not always start out that way; many began a ministry with a genuine desire to do God's will.  But when the Tempter came along, and proposed alternatives to a ministry founded upon a pure heart, this person compromised, took the offer and over time, the ministry began to reflect the satanic toxin flowing through it.  It fell, taking the pastor, the church's trust and the name of Christianity with it. 

Too many pastors are falling these days.  Why?   

Jesus equally faced, at the start of His ministry, the Tempter and his offers that would compromise His ministry.  He showed us how to fight back, to save our calling. 

Sadly, the church today reflects much compromise, and the sad consequences that follow.   

Let's go back when Jesus began His public ministry. He came to John, who had been calling the people to repentance and baptizing them.  John's ministry was to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He had done so with zeal and people were flocking to him.  Then Jesus appeared on the shore of the Jordan.  John humbly tells Him that it is he who should be baptized; Jesus responds that all must be done according to the Scriptures.  Then comes the dove, and God's voice, confirming His calling.  God says that Jesus is His "dearly loved Son." 

Jesus did not go right to work right away. 

He was led by God's Spirit into the desert to be tempted. 

Jesus does not have us walk where He has not walked before:  He received His calling and then He was tempted.  He shows us how to proceed.  We are called to serve the Kingdom as God, and then here comes Satan.  Jesus shows us the way to deal with the offers that Satan makes.  His ministry was questioned, harassed and denigrated over the course of three years.  It was attacked at the very start.  Satan knew that the King of Glory had come to redeem mankind; Satan would not sit still for a moment.

We experience the same thing:  we will be questioned, harassed and denigrated over the course of our ministry.  We will be attacked from the very start.

Satan will not sit still for a moment. 

Satan has not changed his tactics; what he proposed to Jesus in that barren desert will be offered to us as well.  It doesn't matter whether we are called as pastors, teachers or any other kind of leader.  Our  ministry, whether it's focused on calling the lost and/or equipping the saints, will come under heavy fire. 

We will face the same satanic offers that Jesus was offered and that He rejected. The Word was His weapon.  Do we know ours well enough to do likewise? 

Let's set the stage: We see Jesus out in the desert, hungry, alone, focused on the Father.  Then comes the whisper.  It is the enemy.  He looks at Jesus.  He looks at us:

My Offer No. 1:  Publicly:  God's Time.  Privately:  Your Time. 

Yes, you ARE hungry, Son of God.  No one is around, Big Guy.  You have all this power--saving it up to save the world, huh?  Right.  But this is your time.  You'll do all the God stuff in the public eye:  blessing folks, healing, all that jazz.  You are indispensable to God's work.  I get that.  But when the lights are turned off, the door's locked and the crowds go home, it's just you.  Alone.  No eyes, no ears, no waggling fingers about how you should be.  You are now in your time.  So, now, what to do?  If you're hungry, zap up some bread.  If you thirsty, zap up a cup of cold water.  Hard ground? Zap up a soft bed.  No one will ever know.  Ignorance is bliss as you walk out in public--keep your followers stupid and happy.

Your future servants two millennia from now?  Yup: Same-o logic.  Lonely?  Click that mouse and wow, those images. Sure makes a man less lonely.  Hurting?  Checking-out is only a few sips away.  Angry?  Yes, those demands on you and your time are ridiculous.  Let those ugly thoughts swirl around your brain.  No one can see what you really think about those stupid sheep you minister to.  You are so indispensable to God's work.  Your time is your time, and there's always grace--God forgives over and over.  So, keep your sheep ignorantly blissful while you wow them with the God stuff, and all will be well. 

My Offer No. 2:  Use the Word To Glorify God and Yourself!

OK.  You put the Word into the mix with that "not live by bread alone" bit.  So, let's use the Word.  

You see, where I come from, we twist the Word to make folks believe and do all sorts of ugly things.  It's a bonus to add Scripture to a fleshly idea, thought or action.  It gives the flesh some street cred, as it were, to make people not question the garbage being taught.  I know Scripture so when I cherry-pick it, it has impact--oh, don't pardon the pun.  I want you to have impact:  jump off the Temple roof to an angelic landing, and wow those watching with a "God must really like this guy!" response.  

It's all good.  You won't be hurt (the Word promises that!) and you will walk away a megastar.  People will follow you all ga-ga, and everything you say, they will listen to.  They may wait impatiently for you to stop teaching and to get back up on the Temple roof--but hey!  At least you have their attention!  Right?

Your future servants?  Oh, this is rich.  Use the Word, for sure, and cherry-pickin' it is so 21st century.  Use it to entertain, psychoanalyze and life-coach the sheep who wander in Sunday after Sunday looking with a "What's in it for me?" attitude.  Then give them what they want:  rockin' worship shows, lights, cameras, action, fog machines and whatever else their flesh needs to keep focused.  

You will have impact.  People will think, "Wow!  God must really like this guy!  Look at his church!  Look at the worship band!  Programs!  Outreach!"  You will walk away the megachurch pastor, whose name is on every lip.  People will listen eagerly to what you say, kinda impatient though to hear the next story, joke or hip cultural reference.  You can lightly dust Scripture over your fleshy ideas and no one will be the wiser, 'cause the Word ain't center stage anymore.  You are.  

You won't get hurt 'cause it's all for His kingdom, right?  In the end, your flesh will revel in the shared glory with God.  If you're indulging in Offer No. 1 as well, you need not stress.  You got this.  Stand on the Word and jump!  He's got you!

Offer No. 3:  Health, Wealth, Prosperity:  It's All Mine...Want Some? 

I got the whole world in my hands!  Love that song.  Wrong "he" though.  Just sayin'. 

Look what I have to offer you:  all the kingdoms of the world, their glory, their money, their power, their influence to direct the course of events.  Whoa.  A lot to offer, but hey, it's me you are talking to.  I lost heaven, but I gained earth and all its goodies, and I want you to have them.  Why?  If you appeal to people's sin nature, that is a ministry on steroids.  Offer 'em what is so enticing about this planet:  lust of the eyes, lusts of the flesh and the pride of life.  Pride--love that word.  So what it got me kicked out of heaven?  

Anyway, build a ministry on the world's values and you won't fail.  Ever.  Make promises based on the assumption that God loves the values of the world too...He made this world, didn't He?  He made all these humans, didn't He?  He loves them JUST THE WAY THEY ARE? Right?

Use the world's values to build your church, Jesus.  Use the Word to serve up such promises as:  God always wants you well; prosperous; wealthy and happy.  Suffering?  Shhh.  Pain.  Double shhhh.  Don't even bring up Job.  Hate that guy.

Future servants?  The Bible is useful to build a church using the world's values, 'cause you cherry-pick and away you go.  If you using Offers 1 & 2, you are set to build a church that will cause others to admire and then want to emulate you.  No more measly little churches on the corner with loyal folks meeting to hear the Word.  No!  Use the world's methods: marketing surveys, demographic studies and asking people what they want in a church (I will be happy to whisper ideas into their little brains).  

Use the world's idea of entertainment: loud, proud, and overwhelming.  Redub that whole Sunday thing as a "Sunday experience"--"worship" implies people come to give.  Nah--"experience" says, "Hey!  You here to get and we are ready for you!"

Offers 1, 2 & 3 were rejected by you, Jesus, for reasons I don't get.  But I am happy to report a large number of your pastors today have taken me up on at least one offer; sometimes all three! 

Just because I failed with you, doesn't mean I will ever stop with those who call on your name.  

Excuse me.  I gotta go.  So much work to do. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Hip Church or Deceived Church? Part I

In Jeremiah 6, the prophet is prophesying to God's beloved people. The fall of Jerusalem is imminent. The reasons for its fall are many, but at the center is the adultery of God's people.  Their disregard of His true prophets (who speak for God); their coldness of heart; their willingness to compromise all that God has revealed as to belief and behavior and their unwillingness to repent, will cause Jerusalem to burn and its people to cry.

I am sure, as they heard Jeremiah calling out in God's holy city, they reasoned among themselves: If we have done nothing wrong, why should we repent?  

These words of Jeremiah resonate today.  Why?  Because humans beings don't change.  Our sin nature, bequeathed to us by Adam and Eve, still seeks out the dark corners and turns away from God.  

We still say,  If we have done nothing wrong, why should we repent?  

Let's stroll through Jeremiah 6, and see how we, like the people then, have traded in God's truth and His holy Word for what makes us feel good and makes us blend in with the current culture, so as to not offend.  

We have, in America, gathered around us teachers who promise us untold wealth; a perfectly healed body every time illness darkens our door; miracles, signs and wonders every time we show up; worship services that provide a "Sunday experience"; and laughter and stories that dominate the preaching, with a touch of Scripture here and there.  Not enough Scripture to offend us, but just enough to make us feel like we "did church." 

In Idaho, I drive by a certain church quite often.  The latest series boasted by it on its marquee is, "Why Church Sucks."  I know, I know.  They are probably lamenting how church is inadequate in meeting people's needs, and of course, because they have figured it all out, their church doesn't suck. 

But we are the church.  So we suck.  We are Christ's Body and we are His visible representatives on earth.  But we don't measure up to this church's definition, because the word, "church" is used in the broadest possible way, at least on the marquee.

What if a YMCA marquee said, "Why Fat People Suck"?

What if a school marquee said, "Why School Sucks"? 

Fill in the blank and no matter how you see it, "sucks" is utterly pejorative and has no redeeming value.  Especially not on a church marquee.   

We don't fix church issues by using cultural references and hip phrasing.  We use the Word.

How about, "How Church Could Be Better"? (Nah--not edgy enough)

How about, "The Word Only Is A Sure Foundation" (Nah--too old school)

How about "Jesus is Our Head and We Are His Body!" (Whoa--too obscure for the modern church consumer!) 

Let the Word teach us.  Walk with me through some verses in Jeremiah 6.  

"This is what the Lord Almighty says:
'Let them glean the remnant of Israel
as thoroughly as a vine;
pass your hand over the branches again,
like one gathering grapes.'"

(God's faithful remnant is always present.  Not every preacher, church nor Christian is walking their own way.  They want to follow their Savior and Lord to the fullest.  They are quietly doing Kingdom work as good and faithful servants.)

"To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the Lord is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
But I am full of the wrath of the Lord,
and I cannot hold it in."

(When people refuse to listen, the question has to be asked, "Why?" The consequences of spiritual deafness will be catastrophic for the Jewish people in Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day.  Our spiritual deafness to God and our willingness to listen to the culture for how we conduct church will be catastrophic as well.)

“Pour it out on the children in the street
and on the young men gathered together;
both husband and wife will be caught in it,
and the old, those weighed down with years.
Their houses will be turned over to others,
together with their fields and their wives,
when I stretch out my hand
against those who live in the land,”
declares the Lord.

(When we do not listen to the whole counsel of God, and listen only to what tickles our ears, we do not hear the warnings of Scripture.  Cause and effect are very evident in the Word; it is to our peril that we eschew it.  Our arrogance leads to the stumbling of the innocent, the unsaved and those who struggle.)

“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them,”
says the Lord.

(Wow.  The blame of these dire words is aimed at the teachers and their motives as they lead God's people.  They speak falsely, lulling the people of Jerusalem to disregard the truth of God's impending judgment, as Jeremiah cries out.  Today, big churches have big budgets and big budgets needs lots of tithes and offerings.  Expensive sound equipment, big screens and lights--which today are seen as indispensable--require full coffers.  To keep people in and giving money, preachers need to satisfy church consumers and keep them coming back.  They preach light, happy sermons and make people feel good.  God was not pleased then and I deeply worry He is not pleased now.)

"This is what the Lord says:
'Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’"

(Despite God's many efforts to cajole, warn and inform, the people ignore Him, satisfied with their false sense of security.  Move up in time and just look at the birth of the church in Acts.  No business plans.  No surveys. No demographic studies.  Just the Holy Spirit indwelling the hearts of  men and women who loved Jesus.  Wind preceded the Holy Spirit's coming:  a powerful, sweeping, new breath of new animation into old clay, to make a new Adam. Tongues of fire came and settled over their heads: passion, commitment and the power to burn away deception with the unifying language of love and truth had arrived.  The church was born.  Powerful day.  Powerful church.)  

"Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
What do I care about incense from Sheba
or sweet calamus from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;
your sacrifices do not please me.”  
                                                  (Jeremiah 6: 9-20) 

(Sobering words.  God does not brook deception, adultery and spiritual deafness endlessly.  His people felt His judging hand when Jerusalem burned and its occupants cried and died.  Their worship was deemed unworthy because deception rather than truth animated their behavior.  They, in essence, worshiped themselves.  A man-centered faith with man-centered standards and beliefs characterized their relationship with God.  Are we any different today?  I think not.)

Are we truly listening to His Word?  Or are we listening to our deceived culture (the one we should be transforming) as to what church should be?  If that church's marquee is any indication, we are in peril.    
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