Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unchurched People Like Jesus, but...

A few years back, Dan Kimball, pastor of Vintage Faith Church in California, wrote They Like Jesus But Not the Church. A few conversations with people in the South Georgia that do not regularly attend church continue to reveal the truth of Kimball's premise.

Here are 6 things I have learned about unchurched people in South Georgia. (This is a subjective list based on conversations.)

1. Unchurched people in SoGa have had some experience with the church.

Most of the adults I have talked with about spiritual matters have had experience with the church. Because of this fact, I believe many of them are more dechurched than unchurched. Most of the experiences came early with grandparents and often with Vacation Bible School and Summer Camps. The factor that stands out to them is that there were some good times in these experiences.

"The lady who told the Bible stories was so funny!"

"We had a blast putting shaving cream on the leaders!"

"I remember eating these green cupcakes!"

"The man who drove the bus was very kind to me."

In those times, the unchruched picked up some basic impressions about church and Jesus and the Bible. Their overwhelming impression of God is that He is loving. This idea of God loving people vaguely has something to do with Jesus showing us he loves us because he died on the cross. That has been the general vein of theology I have heard in these conversations.

2. Unchurched people in SoGa believe church people are judgmental.

Now that those young former-VBS attenders have grown up, they now have seen that most of the people (or one very specific person) in church are judgmental, not very nice and downright mean. Since the unchurched believe they just accept people as they are, they have trouble wondering why church people can not do the same.

For the record, I have certainly met some mean people at church.

Honestly, most unchurched people have just as many judgmental attitudes as the next person. However, they have certainly experienced that attitude and it is why they do not want to be involved with church and church people.

3. Unchurched people in SoGa are afraid to come to church.

Every week, regularly church attenders go to the congregation of their choice and never give it another thought. That is not the case with the unchurched. Because of some of their concerns about church people, even if they have an overwhelming desire to have some deep questions answered, the fear of what might happen inside is a giant obstacle.

This should not be too hard for us to understand. I have had Christians tell me the reason they do not go to church on vacations is because they don't know anyone! That is the feeling most unchurched people get even if they want to attend.

4. Unchurched people in SoGa believe it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church.

I have talke with many unchurched people that are quite certain of their relationship with God. They speak of praying many prayers. They speak of having times of worship alone with God. This is all part of a bigger issue of "Churchless Christianity" that is found all over the country.

Some of this has been created by bad church experiences, I am sure. Some of this is because of fear. The point is, many unchurched people have been stabbed in the back, judged and talked about and those experiences have led them to believe that the church is so broken that it must not be a part of God's plan.

5. Unchurched people in SoGa know they are sinners.

"I drink way too much. I know it's not right."
"I know I should be reading the Bible and going to church."
"I need to stop cussing and talking so mean to my wife."

"I don't know if God can forgive me for what I have done. I've made such a mess of my life."

That's just a couple of the many confessions I have heard from unchurched people. Some have told me that they are just as good as the people who go to church--they've done business with the church people! Yet, they know when they do wrong. Many of them feel guilty about it. Many of them want to change. Many of them just don't know if they can.

6. Unchurched people in SoGA have deep questions about life and God.

"I just don't know if Jesus is God's Son. Is He really God?"

"How can God forgive me?"

"If God is loving, how could he..."

"...let my sister die?" "...let my daddy die?" "...let my momma die?"

"...allow me to be raped?"

"...not stopped the accident?"

I have met so many unchurched people in South Georgia that are not raving atheists. They don't hate God. It's just that they have go some big questions and they don't know the answers. They have some vague ideas and impressions about God and they can not get them squared up in their minds.

What have you discovered about the unchurched people you know in South Georgia. How have you engaged with them? How will you engage with them? How will you pray to God for them?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Very Loose Paraphrase of Isaiah 58

Isaiah, shout as loud as you can that my people are rebels who do nothing but walk in sin. They go about looking really religious. They look like a people that are really concerned about me and my desires. It’s all pretend. They’re hypocrites. Do you hear them praying their false prayers? They want people to see them calling out to me—but I promise you. It’s not for me they call.

Listen to them. It’s a mockery.

“Oh God. Don’t you see us down here? We are fasting and praying! You don’t seem to see how good we are. You are ingnoring us God. Why?”

Listen people. The reason I am ignoring your kind of fasting and prayer is because you are only concerned with your own pleasure. That is number one for you. You go to all this trouble to appear spiritual and it is not even about me! You fast and pray and as fast as you can you just go out fighting, trying to get your own way. Your attitudes toward one another have not changed. You are selfish people looking out for no one but number one. Even worse, you want me to treat you with grace and kindness and favor and just look at how you treat your workers. You’re filled with injustice.

Listen people. I am not going to hear you! I am not listening to that! My desire for you this—humble yourself before me. Get into your heads that I am God. I am your creator. It is me that chose you to be my people. My greatest desire is for you to know me and my ways and walk in the joy of them all! No more pretending. Just humility and honesty before me. That is what I am calling for today.

When you are fasting in humility before me, I want you to see your putrid sin. I want you to confess and repent from it. I will gladly forgive you and set you free from the wickedness that is binding you down. I will lift your burden when you come to me in that kind of attitude. You will be clean. Then, when you experience the cleanness of forgivenss, I am going to help you see the problems of people around you. I am going to fill you with a heart of love—just like I have for you—in order that you might go and serve those in need.

See the hungry man? Then here’s the power to be compassionate. Go feed him.

See the homeless man? You sin is forgiven. Now you can see his burden. Invite him into your house.

See the naked man? You’re free. Go to the store and buy him a new outfit.

There will be great joy in this service. And your joy will increase as you continue to be honest before me about the condition of your heart. No need to pretend. No need to act all goody-too-shoes. You can be honest and repentant and continue to receive the refreshing of my forgiveness. I hate hypocrisy. I love honesty and humility. Here, let me lift you up!

Do you need hope? Here it is.

Do you need healing? Here it is.

I love to give good gifts to you. I love to give myself to you. There is no need to keep pointing out the sin that everyone else is doing. Honestly, aren’t you just doing that to make yourself feel better?

Just keep on doing the good work I show you. Keep on feeding the hungry. Help those that are suffering from injustice and pain and sorrow. Be their friend. Be their advocate. You can risk doing that for them because that is exactly what I do for you. It is for your joy and my glory that you do such kind things for the broken people in this broken word. You shine out as a real life example of how things can be. You show the world that God is real and that He can be known.

When you live the humble life, filled with honost fasting and repentance and doing the good work I show you, guess what? I will fill your life with light. Even in the times when you feel sad, your will overflow with joy and contentment. I am for you and with you. I am going to make you strong. I will care and water you life just like a master gardner cares for his most prized rose bushes. You are going to be like a flowing spring of fresh water that never stops flowing. All the sin has been forgiven. My spirit will flow unhindered in your life.

The places in your life that have been destroyed—I will rebuild them!

The generations that come from you—they will have a strong and godly foundation because of your humility before me!

Do you know what people will call you? That is the one who brings healing around here! People will say, “If it is broken, we can trust him! We can trust her! They are people of God! God is one there side! They make our neighborhood and city better! Because of them we know God!”
Oh precious people. Keep walking in honor before me. On the Lord’s Day, take time to forget what you want and remember what I want. Seek my face. Seek my word. Seek my ways. Do good. Serve and help people who need it. Here’s what is going to happen. Your delight in me will keep on growing and my delight in you will keep on growing.

You will go higher and farther and wider than you ever thought possible. My blessing will be so rich and heavy on you that even when you do sin, you will thirst for repentance that you might continue to walk in the goodness of my blessing. I will restore all that has been lost. I give you a faithful foundation on which to live and build generations to come.

Listen. I promise!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Marriage That Knocks Your Socks Off

(A doctor enters the examination with a grim look on his face.)

Mr. Jones: What is it doc? Your face is not giving me confidence!
Doctor: Mr. Jones, I’m sorry to tell you…
Mr. Jones: What is it? What is it?!!?
Doctor: If you don’t take your wife on a romantic date you’ll be dead by the end of the year!

[32 ] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that [marriage] refers to Christ and the church. [33 ] However, let each [husband] love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. -Ephesians 5 (ESV)

I have noticed something special happens when I talk with people who have accomplished a great goal in their life. It is usually something similar to this sentiment—“I am so glad I did it!”

Talk to the man or woman who has lost a significant amount of weight after being told by the doctor that failing to do so was going to lead to an earlier end of life expectancy. They battled and struggled to embrace a new lifestyle. I’ve met people who needed to make drastic changes in order to accomplish weight loss. Yes, they admit missing their old midnight snack of a frozen pizza or a bag of chips and eating dessert with every meal. However, when they get to the goal weight…THEY BEAM WITH ACCOMPLISHMENT AND PRIDE! THEY GO ON AND ON ABOUT HOW GREAT THEY FEEL. THERE IS CONFIDENCE IN BEING A PART OF NEW ACTIVITIES LIKE CYCLING OR SWIMMING LAPS OR WALKING AROUND THE MALL WITHOUT GETTING WINDED.

Think of the person who desires a college education after life had a way of throwing their dream off track and college was not a possibility until they were in their thirties or forites. Nothing better than hearing that person talk about getting that degree. Was it hard? You bet! It had been years since they were in school. Reading was something they did for their kids and the choices were Mickey Mouse or Snow White. Algebra! Western Civilization! Philosophy! The struggle was great but the accomplishment was better.

Most people who have done these things take a look at their life or circumstances and recognize that something needs to be different. Sometimes it is something internal driving them for a change. Sometimes it is external from a proclamation by a doctor or manager. Some folks take a long time to finally make THE decision to go for it. Dieters have many missteps until they finally get the big weight loss. Some adults have some misfires until they finally get the degree.

Honestly, if they new it would have felt so great, they would have done it sooner. "I don't know why I waited so long1"

I think that is true of how we look at our marriages. It is easy to get content with the way things are but honestly, things never stay the same. There always tends to be a drift away from health. Couples wake up and wonder what happened to that person they were so in love with years ago. Sometimes it is habit. Sometimes it is a difficult circumstance. Sometimes it has been a series of heartbreaks or lost dreams. Sometimes it began with one night of not making things right after a fight. Sometimes it started with turning on the television rather than asking, “How was your day?”

One question: How would it feel to have the kind of marriage that blew your socks off? To think to yourself, “I can’t wait to get home tonight and be with my spouse!”

Another question: is there one thing you could do or say today that might take you on that journey?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Raising Godly Generations

This past week, we considered raising up godly generations from Deuteronomy 6 in our morning worship gathering. No doubt, those believers who are growing in their relationship with Christ most assuredly desire their children and grandchildren to experience the same. Let me encourage you to be intentional in this activity.

In your godly action, here are a few first steps you can be taking:

1. Pray for your children and grandchildren.
Use the prayers in the Bible to pray for your children. One such example is Ephesians 1:15-22 and how you might use it to pray…

[15] For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
>if they are not Christians, pray that God will save them, for them to recognize their sin and that Jesus paid the penalty for their sin on the cross and through the power of his resurrection, for them to become followers of Jesus
>if they are Christians, thank God for it and ask God to keep them growing in faith and in love for other Christians

[16] I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
>continue to ask God to help you be the chief intercessor for your children and grandchildren. Ask God to help you labor in prayer over the life of your children and grandchildren. (It might be good to set aside specific and prolonged time for this, not just “bless ‘em Lord on the way to work!)

[17] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the
knowledge of him,

>ask God to fill them with spiritual wisdom (Proverbs 1:7) and with the knowledge of God (for us, this is knowing God through His Word)

[18] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
>that their hearts will be enlightened/opened to the hope that God has called us

[19] and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
>to realize that great power which God has directed toward us

[20] that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
>that they will understand the might work of God through Jesus on their behalf
[21] far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

>for them to know that Jesus is the ruler of all and that his name is about all names
>for them to becoming more and more submissive to the rule of Jesus in their own lives
>that they will come to have an increasing eternal vision of things

[22] And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, [23] which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
>for them to be full participants in the life of the church
>that they will be the kind of people who are deeply concerned with Jesus being honored in their church
>for them to be filled with Jesus (i.e. full of the Spirit)
>for them to be surrounded by other believers who are concerned about the glory of Jesus

2. Pray for them, if they are in your home, while putting them to bed at night or before they go to school or, if they are grown and gone, before they leave to go back home or before you get off the phone talking with them.

>for the children in your home:

“Father, I am thankful that you have saved ______ and that she is a follower of Jesus. Today, as she goes to school, remind her they are greatly loved by you. Help her to love you more and more and recognize that Jesus is in control of all things. Amen.”

>for you grown children:

Before they leave from a visit or before you get off the phone “Son, before you leave, I want to pray for you. Will that be o.k.?” It can be meaningful to hold their hand or place your hand on their shoulder.

“Father, I pray for my son today and ask you to be glorified in his life and his family. Give him godly wisdom and insight to raise his children in a way that pleases you. Help his relationship with you to be growing and dynamic. May many people come to know you because of his relationship with you. Amen.”

3. Read the Bible to Them

A short passage before bedtime or at the breakfast table. If your children are young, read the Gospels. Read passages appropriate to their life circumstance. The Proverbs give practical insight. Paul’s letters give explanation to faith and certain specific situations in life. A short explanation can be helpful. “What we learn about Jesus in this passage is…”

If your children and gone, write them encouraging notes with a bible verse or two written out. A child facing a difficult circumstance might be more encouraged by reading Psalm 23 written in your hand rather than you simply saying, “It’ll work out.” Isn’t amazing how vague we can be when giving advice!

4. Sing Together
Worship at church will mean more when your children sing together at home with you. Songs can teach us and our children and grandchildren about the greatness of God. The songs of Keith Urban are catchy but the songs of Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts and Chris Tomlin will help them love Jesus more.

May God greatly empower you as you practice Deuteronomy 6 among the children and grandchildren that God has given you. He uses people that feel inadequate and fearful everyday!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Jesus Enough in the Midst of Frustration?

Frustration. Joy. Anger. Wonder. Disappointment. Excitement.

All of these things are profound realities in our lives. We live in this world that is filled with extreme pain and failure as well as moments of such ecstasy that we can hardly contain them. Being that our world is “fallen” because of sin, we live with these polar opposites. All is not as it should be in the world. However, by the power of the cross, we have/and are: been made into new creatures, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit and will one day meet Christ in the complete fulfillment of His glory.

Yet, we are left with these opposites in the now.

Sunday evening in our Adult Disciple Group, we watched an interesting discussion with best-selling author Donald Miller and theology professors Dan Allender and Tremper Longman. Honestly, I must admit that the discussion created more “discussion” among our group of 13 than I would have thought. It was candid and challenging to hear what was happening in our midst. A few of the highlights (at least the ones that really stood out to me) were:

-God works in the desert places of our life. In fact, it is often in the desert that the Gospel
is most fulfilled in our lives

-There is no hope for ultimate fulfillment in this life (we live "east of Eden")

-The struggle we have in this life is that “we” want to be in control and we will go along with God's plans as long as they meet what I want

-We are tempted to misread the Bible as, merely, a self-help book

-If we are not careful we become the very thing that God hates – legalists. Believing that if we do certain things, then God is obligated to bless us.

-The life of Job and so many other faithful followers of God leave us with many unanswered questions about living in this life

-It is frustrating when we encounter folks that have “false expectations” of God and we have met them in those times where they have asked us, “If God is good, why did He let that happen?!” (We struggle with how to answer)

-We struggle over the fact that we believe that if we can get those we care about to church (we tell people, “If you come it will help you.”) then maybe they will get fixed

-We mourn over those same people when they finally come to church and their lives do not get better and they leave. (They must be thinking: “I tried God and he didn't work.”)

-We fear that perhaps we are the ones causing people to have false expectations and it even causes us to not want to say anything at all!

Whew! These are some big issues that we kicked around last night. The discussion did not leave us with merely being depressed because our “discussers” turned the conversation in reminding us that we are called to “fear God” and to understand that our hope is in the resurrection of Christ.

Yes, we have many unanswered questions. Yes, we struggle when things are difficult. Yes, we fail to have the “right” answers when asked tough questions. Yet, it seems to me that many in the room Sunday night have come to learn in the midst of all those realities that Jesus and His Grace are sufficient.

Why? Because we have come to understand the perspective we must have about our lives as shared by Dan Allender. The starting point of our lives is to understand that we are not the creator but the creature. We live “east of Eden” because of sin and left in that sin, we will continue to be apart from God. In that condition, the might, loving God acts on our behalf to justify us through His Son.

Practically speaking, we have to remind ourselves to what are we inviting people. Yes, we want them to come and be apart of Arabi Baptist Church. However, what we really want is for them to come and follow Jesus in the forgiveness of sin. We know that anything the people we care about substitute for Jesus will fail them. We are not always completely sure that what we think or have to say to them will be right. However, Peter, James, John, Stephen, Irenaeus, Caedmon, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight Moody, Lottie Moon, Billy Graham, and generation after generation of followers of Christ have been convinced that the Gospel is enough and it is worth going to great lengths in order to communicate in this painful, joyful, frustrating and wonderful world!

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23