Monday, September 29, 2014

Name Calling, Hosea, Part 3

Hosea depicts Israel’s unfaithfulness with a number of images from family and nature. Israel is like: a promiscuous wife, an indifferent mother, an illegitimate child, an ungrateful son, a stubborn heifer, a silly dove, a luxuriant vine and grapes in the wilderness. Hosea’s major concern was the worship of Baal—an apostasy that he understood to be the reason for Israel’s dilemma. Baal was the weather-god worshiped in Syria-Palestine, who had control over agriculture and fertility, rainfall and productivity. Since ancient Israel was always an agricultural society, Baal worship was of unrivaled importance.
However, Baal religion’s major appeal to human sexuality, drunkenness, bestiality, human sacrifice, mutilations, and incest are clearly discerned in the book. Hosea understood the strength of Baalism’s appeal to the sex drive by way of ritual prostitution. This amounted to sexual intimacy at one of the pagan shrines. Sexual behavior at these shrines was expected to cause the Baals to respond in like manner—to follow the worshipers by producing for them fertile seed and rain for a good crop. This intimacy took place with cult prostitutes.  It is likely that Gomer, Hosea’s wife was one of these sacred prostitutes. When a worshiper selected a prostitute, he prayed, “I beseech the goddess of Astarte to favor you and Baal to favor me.” There was also eating and drinking at shrines as an act of worship.
Hosea’s approach was to drive home the point that Israel as the people of God were to be joined to the Lord. Hosea makes a number of references to Israel’s past to remind them of that. Israel, like the church was to be the Lord’s bride, but Israel has instead become joined to the Baals. Worship of Baal is not just a violation of the first of the Ten Commandments but a betrayal of that intimate and endearing union that God made with his people. Idolatry, therefore, is depicted as spiritual adultery, transgression against the marriage between the Lord and Israel.
With the sexual revolution is full swing. Many of our culture’s beliefs concerning sexual relationships have come full bore into the church. More and more people are showing up in churches all across America who are living out of wedlock with their partners (notice I did not say husbands or wives given the nature of the homosexual movement) and who see absolutely nothing wrong with their choices. How archaic does Paul sound? How has the following truth been abrogated in our churches today?
[13] “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. [14] And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. [15] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! [16] Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:13-20 ESV)

There is so much more to this little book that is rich with repeated judgment warnings, but even greater is the powerful description of God’s broken heart and unending love for His people.  You can join me in my verse by verse exposition of this passion-packed story by accessing my current preaching at In His Grip on Lightsource.com

In His Grip,
Chuck
Digging Deeper: 1 Corinthians 6:13 - 20


Free Download at www.markinc.org


Monday, September 22, 2014

Redeeming Love, Hosea




Recently I read a book genre that I admit I had never read before – a romance novel -  Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. [For more info or to purchase]
For more info or to puchase



is based upon the book of Hosea though framed in the western movement in America. It is a book about the unconditional love of a man for his prostitute wife. Much of it takes into account Sara’s (the prostitute) horrible life as a child prostitute, a life she was introduced to at the age of eight. She was abused and victimized by one horrible person after another and could not see herself as anything but un-loveable and incapable of loving. She experienced one bitter betrayal after another, that is, until she met Mr. Hosea, a man who received from God a mandate to marry her and to love her with no strings attached. must say it grabbed me given the fact that I was in the throes of studies in Hosea for my new sermon series “The Marriage from Hell Made in Heaven.” As the novel unfolded I was struck by how conditional my love is for the unlovely. Could I do what Mr. Hosea did in the novel or better yet what the real Hosea did for his wife Gomer? Sadly, I had to conclude that I have a long way to go in the practice of that kind of love.
Yet, that is precisely how God has loved me – unconditional love based not upon my love for Him but upon Christ’s love for me. In John 21:15 and following Jesus confronts Peter on the breadth and depth of Peter’s love. Three times He asks Peter if he truly loved Him. On the third time Peter is distressed…

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 
(John 21:17 ESV)

Why did Jesus ask Peter the same question three different times? There can only be one logical answer to this question. Peter denied Jesus three times and three times Jesus would restore Peter. That is why Peter was “grieved” by the third question. He knew exactly what Jesus was doing – bringing out the depth of depravity in Peter’s sin in order to lavish upon Him that “agape” God-love that transcends human failure. How great is the love of God. You and I have never sunk so low that God’s grace and mercy hasn’t stooped lower to raise us up.
There is so much more to this little book in the Old Testament that is rich with repeated judgment warnings, but even greater is the powerful description of God’s broken heart and unending love for His people.  If the idea of marriage to a prostitute intrigues you,  join me in my verse by verse exposition of this passion-packed story by accessing the messages  at In His Grip at Lightsource.
In His grip,
Chuck
Digging Deeper: Hosea 1 – 2; John 17:15 - 17


Free Offer:  Adultery, Forgiveness and Redemption.  A two part interview, one with a couple who experienced the redemption of their marriage after adultery and one with a woman whose husband did not repent of adultery.  Free Download at MARKINC Ministries


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Marriage from Hell Made in Heaven - Part 1


Reading the Prophets in the Old Testament can become a very painful place if you are looking for hope and the sentimentalism of a God of love and mercy. As I began studies in Hosea I was quickly reminded at how the love of God can get lost in the muck and mire of His judgments upon a nation steeped in idolatry. Chapter after chapter reverberates with the message that God is ticked at the nation of Israel that had bowed its knee to Baal. Verse after verse, like a dripping faucet warns of the wrath of God where He says in essence, “Because you have done that I will do this.” Is there anything in this little book that gives hope?
Hosea was a northern prophet where he spent anywhere from 30 to 50 years preaching to a nation that only had a short time to live. In fact, at the close of Hosea’s ministry Assyria invaded Israel and deported most of them and then intermarried with the rest to dilute any vestiges of Israel’s monotheism. They became the Samaritans of the New Testament so despised by the Jews and were considered to be half-breeds and were called “the dogs.”
Hosea’s Israel can be described as Charles Dickens did in “The Tale of Two Cities” - It was the best of times…it was the worst of times. They had a booming economy, a powerful army and had secured many of the lands around them. But, they had a deadly flaw – they sought to merge their faith in Yahweh with the religions of their neighbors who worshipped Baal, the nature god who promised them good crops, bountiful food supplies and material prosperity. Israel bought into that lie and eventually melted into the slime of idolatry.
In order to preach his message Hosea was ordered to become a living sermon illustration of God’s infinite love by marrying a whore named Gomer. This woman would devastate Hosea’s life over and over again by rejecting his love and returning to her role as a sacred prostitute. She and Hosea conceived one child together while she and other men conceived two others. The names she gave them serves as a backdrop to the rest of the book, a son named “God will judge,” a daughter named, “no mercy,” and a son named “not my people. ”  Now that can be very depressing!
Loose living abounded. We read of drunkenness (7:3-7), armed robbery, adultery and murder. The leadership of the nation was corrupt (4:1-25:1-26:697:16-7). The underlying cause of all of this was corrupt religion. People worshipped the Baals. This meant sexual deviance cloaked in the worship of Yahweh. They consulted spirits (4:12) and imbibed drugs. The people must repent and turn to God (6:1-6), said Hosea, and live in mercy and righteousness (6:6). But they will never do so voluntarily. They must be chastised and then there will be a way of their returning and finding salvation (2:163:5; chapter 14).
The age was characterized by violent crime, religious compromise and hypocrisy, ungodly alliances with heathen nations, open acceptance of sexual sin that called evil good and good evil, social injustice, political division and selfish arrogance that marked them as a nation in love with idolatry, Social injustice where the faithful were the persecuted ones.
Can you see the parallels to our own nation today? How have we allowed the pagan culture around us via spiritual osmosis to slip into our churches? This is a warning to believers today. We must never allow the teachings of the Bible to pass through our minds without allowing them to change our lives. Otherwise, if we permit these teachings to hit against our hearts but not to change our lives, we develop spiritual calluses. The end would be as inevitable as Israel's. Our enemy — Satan — would soon sweep into our lives and entangle us in the chains of this world. As was true for Israel, we have a way of escape. It is through repentance and the applying of God's Word to our lives.
There is so much more to this little book that is rich with repeated judgment warnings, but even greater is the powerful description of God’s broken heart and unending love for His people.  You can join me in my verse by verse exposition of this passion-packed story by accessing my current preaching at In His Grip on Lightsource.com - In His Grip  
In His grip,
Chuck
Digging Deeper:  Hosea 1 – 3; Hosea 4:1-25:1-26:697:16-7
Special Offer:  Adultery, Forgiverness and Redemption  A two part interview on the power of the gospel to redeem broken hearts. One is with a couple who found healing in their marriage.  The other is with a woman who found healing even though her marriage broke apart.  Free download.





Friday, April 11, 2014

Noah, Son of God and God is Not Dead




We just finished visiting the 6th floor museum of the Texas Book Depository where the assassination of JFK was historically depicted. I stood next to the window where Lee Harvey Oswald shot the president. We stood on the infamous grassy knoll where conspiracy theorists believe a second shooter took aim and shot at the President. As I stood by that 6th floor window and on that grassy knoll, I was emotionally moved. After all, my generation lived through it.  But the theories still abound as to what really happened. Of course, we will never know. But it did make for another Oliver Stone movie.  Speaking of movies that create confusion through implication and conspiracy theories, Noah takes the spotlight this month.

Noah

I'm a little late to the party, blog posts on the movie “Noah,” abound and conspiracy theories are everywhere. For example, many Christians have taken offense at the liberties taken by Darren Aronofsky in the blockbuster “Noah.” Is he trying to change the way people view the Noah story or just taking innocent creative license with the biblical account? I am not a movie critic so my thoughts are pushed through the grid of my calling as a preacher.  The movie only resembles the Biblical account of the story of Noah in that there was a flood, Noah existed and God destroyed the world and saved Noah and his family. But what did you expect given the fact that Aronofsky is not a believer? Besides, how can one possibly portray this event given its magnitude without taking creative license when there is very little in the scripture about Noah? 
What disturbs me most about Noah is not that it took liberties with the Genesis account and pawned it off as the Biblical story of Noah. However, to my knowledge, Aronofsky never said it was a reenactment of the Genesis account. I would have been happier if he had included a disclaimer, as in, "Any similarity to real people or events is purely coincidental!"
What disturbs me most is Christian leaders were used as pawns to “get out the vote.” The foundational text for the movie was not the Bible but the 2nd Century apocryphal book 1 Enoch. In fairness to Aronofsky, he never said he used the Bible as his text. He implied it but he never said it. Enoch is (pure and simple) rooted in the theology of Gnosticism, one of the greatest threats to the theology of the early church and the theology of the modern church. A simplified outline of the tenets of Gnostics looks like this:

·                   Gnostics believe that all flesh is evil and the spirit is good. The flesh must be escaped via greater and greater levels knowledge (gnosis).
·      Since all flesh is evil, the “Creator” of the world, the god of the Old Testament was vindictive, harsh and judgmental. After all, he created this evil world of flesh. In the film this god is always referred to as the “Creator,” but never as the covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is why Noah felt a need to kill his grandchildren. This evil god, the Creator, must be appeased. With this as his premise, Noah concluded that ll flesh, including Noah and his offspring must die.
·      Redemption comes as one escapes the flesh via the acquisition of deeper and deeper spiritual knowledge. In the film the lava monsters, which are really the fallen angels or demons, actually are redeemed after serving their penance as lava monsters. Their spirits soar into heaven at the end because they aided and defended Noah. Noah chooses not to murder his grandkids and thus he too begins to escape the curse of the flesh with greater gnosis. This is the heresy of Gnosticism.
·      The early church had to combat Gnosticism (the root of Aronofsky’s movie). Two forms of Gnosticism as it pertains to the identity of Jesus emerged in the early church. The first taught that, since Jesus was God, and God is spirit, and the spirit is good and the flesh is evil Jesus could not have really died on the cross. His death was a mirage, an illusion. This meant that Jesus was not really a man since nothing good dwells in fleshly form,. The second taught Jesus was not really God but a sinner whose flesh had to be destroyed so that his spirit could be released to his Father. This is why the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 affirmed in their Creed (see http://www.creeds.net/ancient/nicene.htm) that Jesus was and is both God and man, that He lived a sinless life as a man and that He truly physically died and was buried and rose from the dead, thus affirming both His deity and His humanity.

If one were to carefully assess the various plots of “Noah” you will see that the film is rooted in the 2nd Century heresy of Gnosticism. As we sat in an Outback restaurant after visiting the JFK museum, I asked our 20-something waitress if she had seen Noah. Her response was that she had not seen it but wanted to. I asked her what she expected to find in the movie. She said, “I expect to see the account of the story in the Bible.” I then asked her if she thought that the movie would accurately represent the Bible and she responded, “Oh no.” And then she laughed. That is what you should expect when you see Noah. I highly recommend that you not waste your money UNLESS you attend in order to visit the themes of Gnosticism and thus to become better informed as to how the media truly sees our faith. If you go expecting a biblically based movie, you will be disappointed.
For those of you who are not afraid of some deep thought on the relationship between Noah and Gnosticism visit this blog. It is outstanding.


Son of God

Now lets move on to the “Son of God” movie. Producing any movie about Jesus is doomed to come up short. After all, Jesus is God. How can one accurately portray God? This movie is a two-hour edit of what the producers aired in eight hours on TV under the heading of “The Bible.” I am not a movie critic. Certainly, there were some good features and some bad ones. It would have been more realistic for this Jesus to be anything but the Euro image they made him out to be. Jesus was dark-skinned and spoke Aramaic or Hebrew. Sub-titles would have been nice. But a British Jesus with blue eyes and handsome as can be is not what Jesus looked like. Isaiah tells us he was ordinary (Isaiah 53:1-6). He would not have stuck out in a crowd. He was a carpenter, rough and rugged not weak and soft. Some other glitches include the Lazarus scene and the visit of the Magi. Other scenes were borderline Biblical as well.
The crucifixion scene is vivid and hard to watch. Although Pilate ordered 40 lashes, it is likely Jesus was beaten with more since Roman executioners whipped according to how long someone was to remain on the cross. They knew Jesus would be there until 3:00 PM to appease the protocol of the Passover. A body could not be on the cross once the Passover arrived at 3:00 PM. So Jesus would have literally been beaten to within a few hours of his life. Not a big point but please note it. Also, there is considerable Catholic tradition in this movie. The stations-of-the cross, although not specifically Biblical, are included. Thus, Jesus falls three times. Some woman, allegedly Veronica, wipes His face. He carries the entire cross and not just the cross bar. These are not major concerns but I found them interesting.
My greatest concern with the movie was this – the Jesus of the movie is never declared to be the Creator God of the universe. A Mormon and even a Jehovah’s Witness would be happy with this movie. In other words, it is not Christo-centric. In fact, the first half of John 14:6 is quoted no less than 3 times in the movie. That passage states…

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.

But, the second half of the verse, No one comes to the Father except through me is never quoted. That is problematic. Jesus is the ONLY way one can be saved.
  
I did appreciate that the movie did not sugar coat the miracles. It took them literally, such as the feeding of the 5000, the healing of the lame man, the miracle of fish catch and Jesus walking on water. The raising of Lazarus from the dead left out many pertinent Biblical details such as a decaying stinky embalmed body and the fact that Jesus did not work this miracle behind closed tomb doors. He shouted it so that everyone could hear. The Lazarus of the movie came out of the tomb looking like he just came out of GQ magazine.
All in all it is a movie that has to settle for mediocrity. After all, how does any movie accurately portray God?

God is not Dead

The “Answers in Genesis” organization has a great assessment of this movie and the apologetics used by the freshman. Take the time to read it. Here is the link.


While I am not a film critic, I found this movie at times over dramatized. The creators seem to go overboard to demonize the opponents of the Gospel. Some of the scenes rubbed me the wrong way. For example,

·      The main character’s girl friend comes off as snobby and unreasonable.  I was thinking he was well rid of her!
·      The profession of faith of the daughter of the Moslem while being hit by her dad is forced although I appreciated that the dad was portrayed as broken hearted over his daughter’s conversion.  A good reminder of the humanity of those who oppose the gospel.  They genuinely believe their faith.
·      The deathbed profession of faith by the professor is a little hokey although God can and does soften the hearts of His elect.
·      The rental car problem, although a little forced, does illustrate the sovereignty of God who orchestrated the many delays so that the pastor would be on the accident scene the moment the professor is hit by the car. 
·      The reporter with cancer is played very well. Her conversion via the News Boys is a little forced.
·      The cameo appearance of the Dynasty Duck dude and his gorgeous wife is totally unnecessary but entertaining.

Having said all of this, the absolute BEST part of this movie comes in the credits. That’s right, I said the credits. There is where the reality of what the movie intends to portray comes into vivid focus. The world does hate us for what we believe. I witnessed this first hand when I stood before the legislature and gave testimony of why I am opposed to same-sex marriages. The balcony was packed out with the Gay community and the legislators on the floor were laying for me. I could only smile as I thought about Jesus telling His disciples, “If they hate you, you know that they hated me before they hated you.” (John 15:18)
In the credits at the end are page after page of pending and settled lawsuits that involve universities from all over the country persecuting Christians for their faith. This movie encourages students to stand for their faith, rightly portraying the price they might have to pay. And for a student in this situation, it is a crisis.  However, I also thought about persecution around the world where the persecution of believers makes this American problem seem like Disney World. Believers are being hanged, imprisoned, beheaded and even crucified for knowing Jesus. God is Not Dead in our culture speaks to the educational crisis in America, but really in comparison, we should think twice about calling it persecution.  On the other hand, I'm grateful for the "watchers" who are standing guard over our liberties, those legal organizations that are ready and equipped to support and argue in court that our rights are trampled when professors and any educational institution tries to limit expression of our faith.  The right to speak freely must be protected.  And this movie demonstrates in the credits how critical it is to be on guard.
Supporters have touted all three movies as tools to engage the unbelieving world. They say we are to be thankful that Hollywood is hearing our cries. Really? Or, is Hollywood using believers as a means to an end – MONEY?  I wonder how many Christians will engage their unbelieving friends with these movies. Or, are we more interested with pontificating on FB or Twitter. After all, where have we been the other 11 months out of the year and where will we be when these movies go the way of “The Da Vinci Code” into the dust heap of memory?


In His grip, Chuck

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ten Bad Reasons for Leaving Your Church


Every month without fail, this article receives more hits than any other article on our website.  I wrote it years ago. Clearly, deciding when to leave a church is a difficult decision for most people, so much so that Julie Royes, host on Up for Debate, a talk show on MoodyRadio.com, invited Jeff Nelson, pastor of Grace United Church of Christ in Uniontown, Ohio, and myself to "debate" the issue.  You find listen to the live show today, March 29, 2014 at 9 a.m. EST, Moodyradio.com or check it out later.  


Ten Bad Reasons for Leaving Your Church

There are many good reasons why people decide to leave a church. 

But there are some very bad reasons as well that have the great potential for throwing a church family into a pit of discouragement. Consider the following as potentially invalid reasons for leaving a Bible believing evangelical church. 

1. The Church is a Volunteer Organization.  I can take it or leave it. Wrong! God calls His church a family, the bride of Christ, the Body of Christ.  When we join a local church, we take vows that move us from volunteer to family member.  Here is God’s view of vow-breakers:When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. [5] It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  “It is better not to vow and vow than to vow a vow and break it.”  Ecclesiastes 5:4-5To make church membership vows and then to un-biblically break them is a sin. There are valid reasons why one cannot keep their vows. Circumstances do change. But a casual “I can take it or leave it” attitude toward the local church is not one of them.

2. The preacher just doesn’t cut it. He is boring and drones on and on. Is the gift mix of the preacher a good enough reason to leave the church? Not necessarily. Unless that boring man is teaching heresy you can and must learn from him. Jonathan Edwards was a preacher without charisma. Yet, God used him as a channel of revival in the mid-1700’s. Preaching is a “prophetic event.”  In the corporate context of the worship of God the authoritative teaching of the Word must be central. Yes, preaching is fallible. Preachers make mistakes. We at times misinterpret the Word. Our theology matures. (There are some old tapes I would like to burn. They are hidden away in my attic). But whenever a man prepares his heart to preach and intensely studies the Word of God, insofar as he properly interprets the Word, there is a word from the Lord to you and you must receive it. Preaching is not entertainment. It is holy business. Insofar as a man preaches the truth of the scriptures a prophetic event takes place. There are three elements in the art of preaching. The “logos” is the doctrinal truth of God’s Word. “Ethos” is the practical application of that Word. And, “pathos” is the passion with which that Word is communicated. “Pathos” or passion is a wonderful means to a greater end – the proclamation of the Word of God. If that flare is not in your preacher that does not mean the Word is absent. People are often attracted to a preacher with strong communication skills with little regard for content.  The preacher’s ability to hold the congregation’s attention with entertaining stories becomes the measuring stick for effectiveness rather than the content of the message.  Perhaps the leaders should encourage the preacher to spend more time preparing to preach and studying the art of “pathos” preaching by removing other less important responsibilities from him. There is nothing he does more important than the preaching of the Word.A preacher’s effectiveness is measured by all three. But the weight must be placed upon “logos” and “ethos.” We must allow the man room to develop as an effective communicator.  Do not be a church hopper who constantly looks for the “best show in town.”  Instead, pray, pray, pray for your pastor to effectively communicate God’s Word. And also consider, you may have pulpit block because of sin in your own life or unresolved conflict.  Be slow to blame the preacher.

3. The church is not meeting my needs.  Wait a minute!  What is your definition of the church?  You are the church!  So when you say the church isn’t meeting your needs, you are saying, “I’m not meeting my needs”!  And who is responsible for meeting your needs?  Paul proclaims:And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19Before you leave your local church because your needs are not being met, consider how you can meet the needs of others.  If every member of your local church used their own skills and gifts to meet the needs of others the people of the church and community would be the greatest beneficiaries. I wonder how many early Christians left their local “church” because the programs were weak?  The Biblical model for effective ministry is spelled out in Ephesians 4:11-15. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, [12] to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up [13] until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. [14] Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. [15] Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.In other words, “Grow Up!”

4. I don’t like the way the church is spending our money.   Are tithes and offerings really YOUR money? Or is it God’s money?  When you enter the church building do the lights shine? Is the heat or AC working? Did you hand carry your own pew into the church? Who made sure the bathrooms were clean and there was soap and paper towels available? Who paid for all of this and more? The church – and hopefully that is you.
Instead of using your giving as a power tool (I will withhold my offering until you do things my way.) make your disagreements known to the right people in the right way. Perhaps you need a better understanding of the vision of the leadership or they could use some help in developing a better, more efficient budget. 

5. I disagree with the direction of the church. Rather than leaving the church try to understand the vision. If you leave with wrong information you leave under false and sinful pretenses. Change is always painful. But to not change is to stagnate. As the vision of the church changes or is modified you may not feel “called” to that vision.  Then it may be the right thing to change churches.  Before you do, be sure you understand the change. Ask questions. But ask them the right way. Respectfully and with an open mind say, “Pastor, I do not understand what is going on with these changes. Can you help me to fill in the blanks?” Before you walk away from your church family, take a year to work side by side with your leadership.  Be sure your disagreement is based in biblical reasons, not personal preference or fear of change (we’ve never done it this way before therefore it must be wrong).

6. We don’t need more buildings. We must focus on missions and outreach.   The local church is your training ground to prepare you to be a redemptive presence in your circles of influence. When you leave the church parking lot, then you have entered into your mission field. As you effectively engage your culture with the Gospel by being that redemptive presence it’s likely your local congregation will grow and space will be at a premium. It should not be an either or proposition but a both and.

7. The church is too focused on numbers.  Be honest with your reasons for being offended by a focus on growth.  Sometimes people are afraid their own needs won’t be met if too many new people come.  Or maybe a visitor sat in “your” pew or it’s hard for you to find a parking place or seat now. The Lord told us to go into the streets and lanes of the cities and the highways and hedges and compel them to come in so that my house may be full. Stats are critical for planning and adjusting plans. Small churches cannot do some of the things a large church can do. Why would you not want to grow? Ephesians 4:16 expects growth.From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.If you believe your family will flourish in a smaller church setting and that you can be more effective in ministering to others in a smaller church, that could be a good reason to change churches.  But be sure you do not condemn your former church for intentionally planning for growth.

8.  The church has wounded me.
 Someone wise once said, “The church is not a museum for saints. It is a hospital for sinners.” And sinners will hurt each other. Before walking away from your church family, you must attempt to reconcile your conflict Jesus anticipated that we will wound one another when He stated in Matthew 18:15-17. Matthew 18:15-17 "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. [16] But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' [17] If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.Conflict is to be handled at the most private level possible. But if resolution cannot happen then it must be told to the church. Even there the goal is the restoration of the conflicting parties. Sometimes it is not a sin issue but a philosophy of life or relational issue. We do not always have to agree. Sometimes it is wise to part company. But if you must leave, leave in peace, leave quietly, and leave on a positive note. Above all, do not lie about your reasons for leaving or change your tune after you are gone.

9.  The church is trying to be too much like the world.
 We live in a post-modern and even a post-Christian era. Much of what used to work no longer works. What we defined as “too much like the world” years ago doesn’t always apply today.  Even though it may feel more comfortable!  Be careful of how you define spiritual.  What would the Apostle Paul have done with the Internet? What did he mean when he said “I have become all things to all men… if I might win some…”? How can we reach children who are accustomed to visual imagery and high tech video games? Can we still hold fast to the Gospel AND address our relevance to our culture? Of course we can and of course we must. Creativity and genius is in your church. Don’t keep it in a box because to let it out requires risk.

10. I do not like the music. "I want the old hymns."  "I want worship music." Will the music wars ever end? Years ago, our sixteen-year-old son Mark, who died in a car accident in 1993, came to me and said, “Dad, I want to play my drums in church.” I said no. He asked for a reason and I said “Mark, we just do not do drums in church.” I felt like an idiot when he said, “Then where can I play my drums if I can’t play them in church?” “Because I said so” seemed irrelevant. So, I permitted Mark and his brothers to play a couple of praise songs in church.  In order to help fulfill our vision to reach the rising generation, the Session decided we would have a blend of traditional and contemporary worship music on Sunday mornings. I do not like all of the music in our worship services. But many love it and worship the Lord singing it. Am I so selfish that I cannot give up some of my tastes for the edification of the body? We lost key people who accused us of holding rock concerts on Sunday mornings.  Rather than give up their own preferences in order to use their training to mentor younger believers, they walked out.  But from that meager beginning our music ministry has exploded. Musicians who did not think they could ever use their skills in a worship service now help lead worship with their instruments. What I am saying is this – music is a matter of taste and preference. Every generation has its music wars. It is critical to teach our kids the old hymns that are rich in theology so we must discover ways to repackage them, create new ones, and move on. This war has been fought and has been over for a long time.

The above reasons for not leaving a church are certainly not exhaustive but I hope they start a debate about the biblical definition of church and how we must take seriously the privilege and responsibility of church membership.

In His grip,
Chuck

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Has God has given me more than I can bear?


Ask Dr. Betters

Question:  I have so much pain in my life, I am at the end of my rope and feel that God has given me so much more than I can bear.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to just die, to give up, than face one more day with such excruciating circumstances.  Has God given me more than I can bear?


It is likely that God has given you more than you can bear.  But hold on, don't accuse me of heresy yet. The promise we hold on to, is that in our helplessness, when we think we will not survive the pain, that it is more than we can bear, He is our help.  When He promises that He will not give you more than you can bear, it is not because you have within yourself the resources to bear the pain, it is because, if you are His child, He promises to never leave you alone in your brokenness, that in the brokenness, He will reflect His power and grace.

Again, don't turn me off. Please don't conclude that I'm offering you cliches that are fluff and superficial.  I speak from my own experiences in a place of despair.

When I was in the darkest place of my life, I sometimes cringed when well-meaning people offered me  cliches such as "trust God" or "have faith" or even "God is good all the time." When we lost our 16-year old son Mark (our youngest child) in a car accident in 1993 even the Scriptures and the hymns seemed to mock us. I KNEW that God had given me more than I could bear.  And yet, within cliches is often God's truth.

One day our congregation sang, "I surrender all, all to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all." I missed Mark so much and resented that he was gone. My heart cried out, "Do I really surrender all? I want my son back. Is that surrender?"

Years later, here I am, struggling to walk by faith trusting God by grace even though we have had to endure incredible pain, not only from the death of our son but cancer and numerous other forms of brokenness common to mankind. So, I understand the struggle of living by faith every day - but listen. God is sovereign and you can trust Him. He has entrusted this suffering to you. There are many nonbelievers who also suffer from extreme pain as you do. But one reason God has filtered this trial into your life is so that you might show the world the difference between how the Christian and the non-Christian responds to these trials.  And even more, this trial is designed to drive you to the Cross, into deeper intimacy with Jesus. Paul declared that he wanted to experience the fellowship of Jesus' sufferings - through the power of the Cross.  While our eyes are fixed on the end of the trial, God's are fixed on where we are right now, giving us the opportunity to know Him in a way that is unlikely when life is "good."  These trials are designed to pull us deeper into His heart, to open our eyes and hearts to the great love He has for us.  He calls on us to consider trials our friend - and why is that?  Because in them we have the opportunity to learn how to endure, to view life through the grid of how to glorify Him, how to reflect Him to a broken world.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine in his 30's learned he had a Stage 4 brain cancer. He had but a few months to live. One day he invited me to his home for lunch. He was nearly blind and growing more and more weary. As he sat across the table from me he said, "Chuck, I want to walk my girls (both preteens) down the aisle but I know I will not be able to do that. I need to ask you two questions." I assured him I would do my best to answer them. He looked me square in the eye through his sunglasses and with a sobering voice said, "Chuck, is God really Sovereign?" Not really stunned by this I responded, "Yes, you know He is." Then he raised an even more critical question. He said, "If God is sovereign, can I trust Him?"

He nailed the essence of true faith. God is sovereign and you can trust Him. The real question is, "Will you?" And the only way we can choose to trust God, is to get to know Him.  How can you trust someone you do not know?

Our God invites your questions. Tell Him you are claiming 1 Corinthians 10:13 and that He promised He will not give you more than you can bear. But keep in mind as you read that verse this truth - what God really promised was the grace to endure the trial. He never promised to take it away.  He doesn't promise to help those who help themselves, He promises that He is the only help for those who cannot help themselves.

Your trial, though it is for a season, cannot outweigh what God has reserved for you in glory. Until that day you must remain faithful in your pain.  But do not misunderstand what remaining faithful means.  I think that some of the most faithful people are those who are transparent in their struggles, who cry out to their Father, "Without You, I am hopelessly lost.  I need You to be Who You promise You are."   It is in the middle of our weariness and broken dreams and our pain we learn to trust. That is why I often say, "Pain is actually your friend since it teaches how to love and trust your God."

So rather than end your life, surrender it to the Master Who will surround you with His love and grace to endure.

In His grip,
Chuck

This question is really too big for a quick answer. For more on walking by faith when life is hard, check out
Treasures of Faith, Living Boldly in View of God's Promises 


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Excommunication


Dr. Betters,
I'm a 20 year old ministry student, and recently I have struggled with how church discipline should be executed. If a situation with a member should get to the point where they were to be excommunicated, how does the church actually do that? I suppose that since I have grown up in a church that wouldn't go that far in order to keep members accountable, it boggles my mind to think of how that would work out. I hope that I have articulated my question so that you can understand my confusion; any advice you can give is greatly appreciated.
Travis

  


Dr. Betters responds:

Travis,
In our church, and in most reformed churches, our members take the following vow publicly and sign it privately - "I will submit myself to the government and discipline of the church." This means that when and if discipline occurs they have already agreed to the process.
Discipline occurs in stages with two key principles in mind. First, it is done at the most private level possible. Second, it is done for the purpose of reconciliation not excommunication. But it does not always work out that way. Thus in our four stages of discipline they may become more and more public and more and more severe. Admonition is the first stage followed by rebuke, suspension from the sacraments, and then excommunication. The last stage is done either publicly before the membership of the church in executive session or less publicly depending upon the extent of the offense.
If someone were to be excommunicated notice would be given to the congregation of an executive meeting where only members could attend. In our constitution a two-week notice is required. At the meeting a statement would be read citing the offense, the individual's refusal to repent of the sin, and the imposition of the censure. The church would then be admonished that gossip is also a disciplinary offense. We then pray for the censured one and ask God to bring them back. No questions are permitted since our discipline process is conducted by the elders.
We do not shun them nor do we forbid them from any activities in the church unless their offense warrants them staying away from certain people such as is the case of a sexual offense. When the person repents we give them an audience in front of the church to read their statement of repentance, celebrate their return, and pray over them. All of this is done with broken hearts that are grieved at the fall, not with self-righteous judgmental spirits. For we know that we could fall into the same sins.
The offender also has a right to appeal the verdict to the presbytery and even beyond that to the general assembly of our denomination. This is done to preclude demagoguery on the session. Numerous scriptures guide this process, in particular Matthew 18 and Galatians 6. I hope this answers your question.
In His Grip,
Dr. Chuck Betters