29 March 2017

Lost People Come First

We all know that in church work that our purpose is defined by the Great Commission.  We know that making disciples is what Jesus has called us to do, which starts with the evangelization of those who do not know him. 
This past Sunday in my "sermon is a sack" time with the younger kids my goal was to help them appreciate how much God loves and seeks those who are lost.  I asked the group gathered on the steps of the stage if they understood what it meant when the Bible referred to a person as lost, or when we sang songs that referred to being lost.  A seven-year-old girl spoke up and said, "Those are people who are running from God."  My heart leaped.  Perfect.

We know the right answer, but we also know if we are honest, that we have a tendency to make church about everything but seeking the lost.  We get preoccupied with either matters of corporate institutionalization or individual consumerism.
It seems that as a church progresses over a longer period of time, it will turn inward toward maintaining the status quo and preserving the institution.  Programs that have existed for a long time become ends unto themselves, and the goal is simply to keep the organization afloat and financially solvent.  And as long as this is achieved we believe that the church is healthy, even if none of it truly involves any real effectiveness in reaching the lost.  This is when the deacons or elders along with the pastors fall into seeing their role as managing the institution instead of leading people to be on mission.
On the individual level, people have come overwhelmingly to see a church as something that serves them.  They want their church to be a good, comfortable fit for them and their family.  They size up its amenities (the preaching, the music, the children and youth programs, the facilities, the small group experiences, the kind of people who go there, etc.), deciding if the church serves them well.  And we have bought into this.  We become preoccupied with making people happy.  We should strive for excellent worship and great discipleship opportunities, but we shouldn't be doing what we do to sell people on our church.  But let's be honest, that's exactly how we are thinking about it much of the time.
The biblical truth is that God wants us to go and seek the lost as our primary passion.  Our joy should be to put lost people at the top of our priorities.  This was the passion Jesus expressed to his disciples after conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well.  The soul satisfaction of doing the Father's will in seeking the lost and revealing himself was his spiritual food.  He told his disciples to lift up their eyes and look at the harvest already ripe.  He pushed them out of their comfort zone and instilled in them a sense of urgency in regards to the lost. 
We must stop exhausting ourselves running after disgruntled or absentee church members, and use that energy to go after the lost and unchurched no matter who they are in our community. 
Jesus told a parable of one who invited certain people to a big dinner.  All those he originally invited gave some lame excuses of why they couldn't come when the time approached.  The man (representing God) grew angry at their response and instructed his servant to go out and invite the unexpected ones - "the poor, crippled, blind and lame."  He would waste no more time on those who had been invited and refused.  There were always others who would respond. 
We need to get over people who are chronically unfaithful and uninvolved.  We need to stop strategizing how to get them back.  We need to care for these folks as well, but at some point we need to cut them loose and go invite others.  The lost are all around us.  They need to always be our first and greatest passion.   
If the lost are running from God - and they are - then we have to be running in the same direction after them.  We need to run along side them, confront them with the gospel and compel them to follow Christ.  We know that they will not all come when invited, but we are promised that some will.  God calls the church to go after the lost.  Jesus did this and taught us that this should be our passion too.  If the church is truly going to be the church, then we are going to have to get a whole lot more comfortable with being uncomfortable.  We must allow God to break our hearts for the lost, and trust God to use us to bring the same Good News that came to us to others who don’t know yet that they even need it.  

23 March 2017

The Real Fantasy of Star Trek

I grew up watching reruns of the original Star Trek from the late 60s.  I was immediately hooked!  I was delighted when The Next Generation came along in the late 80s when I was an older teen.  The further spin-offs didn't really get me all that charged up. But I still enjoy the movies even now.

I've had a natural attraction to science fiction and Star Trek certainly helped pioneer and popularize the genre on the small screen.  Although it went over my head when I was young, the Star Trek universe was built on a vision of a 24th century humanistic worldview with plenty of 20th century social commentary.  It was not overtly hostile to theism; it simply preferred humanism.  In the Star Trek universe humanity was bettering itself through technology and good will - nothing more.

The Star Trek fantasy world may have foreshadowed some technologies, like smart devices and talking computers, but I think it missed the mark in regards to human nature.  As we have watched advances in technology improve the physical human condition, I believe we have also experienced an erosion of a Christian worldview that has been detrimental to our American culture. Mr. Spock's customary salutation, "live long and prosper", prompts me to ask this: Just because we are living longer, are we truly prospering?

It seems to me that we are more adrift in moral relativism than ever while steadily rejecting the divine design of human relationships and being.  We've taken much of what God declares good and turned it on its head and celebrated our liberation.  And as we continue on this course, it appears we are losing a strong sense of purpose and significance.  Pragmatism is the mode of operation.  Expediency is the deciding factor.  Pleasure and comfort are the chief goals.  Individualism is god. 

We have technology that connects us unlike any time in human history and has made us more prosperous, healthier, and more comfortable in general.  And like an adolescent rebelliously pushing his parents' boundaries, we seem to be telling our Creator to take a hike, while saying to Him, "we've got this now."  However, the more people claim that the time has passed for the Christian faith and the church, the more I'm convinced that the church is more imperative than ever. 
People will find convenience and comfort in technology, but they will not find hope.  People will live longer and many will have a better physical quality of life because of scientific advances, but they will not find purpose and meaning in that improved physical life.  And everyone will still die one way or another.

Technology has made us more comfortable, but it has not made us better like the fantasy world of Star Trek imagined.  If anything, all of our gadgets and widgets have turned us more inward, led us to be hyper critical, created more confusion, and made us less trusting, more cynical, more desensitized, more indulging, and more selfish.  We have come to feel less dependent on God and terribly preoccupied with self.  We have become our own little gods.

But here is the rub for me as a Christian and a pastor: the more the culture moves away from God the more distinct, vibrant, and caring the church must be.  These are the imperative qualities the church has always been entrusted with and must not surrender now through either capitulation or complacency. 

The church must not shrink from declaring the full content of God's Word on any given issue and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity, conviction and consistency.  It is this distinctive message coming from a distinct revelation that defines Christianity.  A so-called Christianity not driven by the Word of God is not Christianity. 

The church must have a joy and vibrancy that is evident to any who care to observe.  People should see undeniable, authentic families of faith living lifestyles conforming to the instruction of the Word of God.  And even if they don't like what we proclaim and affirm, they cannot legitimately question our love for one another and them.

The church must be observed touching people in the community.  People of faith must be engaged with the hurting and the most vulnerable among us, leveraging resources and finding ways to relieve pain and suffering while sharing the Gospel.  And this caring must be done with an unselfish love.
Jesus told His followers to be light in the darkness.  And I think the spiritual darkness is growing darker in America.  He told us also to be salt in a spiritually and morally flavorless world.  And he warned us not to be contaminated and become useless.

But it typically does little good to point out the darkness to people who love the darkness.  America needs a positive and faithful church now that declares the truth of God's Word and provides real hope in a high tech but spiritually dark culture. People need to see the contrast of light and darkness.  They need to be able to compare the fruit of the Holy Spirit with the fruit of ungodliness. 

A great opportunity to be a faithful witness stands before the church in this generation.  Will we be faithful? 

Will you walk with integrity before the Lord and obey His Word? Will you make a difference in the ministry of your church through your participation?  Will you seek ways to bring the hope of the Gospel to those around you?  Will you be light in the darkness?  Or, will you be caught thumbing your smart phone, making that all-important status update, while desensitized to God's standards and the people in the flesh right next to you?

The greatest mission has always been and will continue to be to point people to Christ, who can provide them with peace with God, a purpose for their existence, and a real hope for now and eternity.

The Star Trek worldview or any humanistic version of it can't provide soul satisfaction because it's presumption of the goodness of human nature is the true fantasy.  Technology can improve the human physical condition, but it will never change the reality of human depravity and the need for reconciliation with our Creator.  We'll just find ways to exploit technology with more sin.  Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ provides our deepest and greatest need in any century.  Who knows where technology and advances will take us next?  That still fires up my imagination.  However, we know the need for the Gospel for people's souls will remain the constant and the most important thing. 

Let's go boldly into our darkening culture with the light of the Gospel unashamed and unapologetic. Expect some push back, but also expect a harvest of souls and the satisfaction of honoring God and being on a mission with eternal significance.

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