The Church and Politics: What We Haven’t Learned

As we explore how the history of the Church affects the practice of the Church today, we need to take a look at culture. No congregation is immune from cultural influence, and indeed it needs to be influenced to some degree in order to reach the lost. But at various times in the history of the Church, culture has ruled the day. I frequently tell people when politics and Church combine, the Church always suffers. This is the case with the examples contained in this article.

In 1054 AD an event historians refer to as “The Great Schism” occurred in Constantinople, forever changing the Church, and creating a wound that took until the 20th century to begin to heal. The “West” division of the church, based in Rome, began to be viewed as the seat of power in the Church. This political position, in many ways, led to the Roman Church passing edicts that affected the church as a whole. For the purposes of this writing we don’t need to dive too deeply into specifics, but many of these were received negatively by the East from a cultural standpoint.

In the book Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll summarizes the cultural divide between the East and West.

“As early as the end of the first century, it was possible to perceive pointed differences between major representatives of what would one day be called West and East. Thus, historian Henry Bettenson thinks that the Epistle of Clement sent from Rome to Corinth about the year 96 displays ‘the emergence of the characteristic Roman Christianity. Here we find no ecstasies, no miraculous ‘gifts of the Spirit,’ no demonology, no preoccupation with an imminent ‘Second Coming.’ The Church has settled down in the world, and is going about its task ‘soberly, discreetly, and advisedly.” By the end of the second century, such ‘Roman’ characteristics were thoroughly matched by ‘Greek’ tendencies arising from the other end of the Mediterranean.”

Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, Mark Noll

As you can clearly see, cultural differences influenced the beliefs and practice within the two branches of the Christian Church. At this meeting in 1054 representatives from both groups excommunicated the other which lead to the body of Christ, the Church, being divided. This was exacerbated by the Crusades which indiscriminately killed Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians because they looked different than the invading Europeans. European Christians were killing Middle Eastern Christians because they looked and sounded different.

Sadly this was not the only time in Church history that we see cultural differences affecting the unity of the Church. We’ll return to history next week, but I want to end with a modern look. What cultural issues are causing division in the church today? We are on the heels of one of the largest denominations wrestling with homosexuality in part because culture has become combined with the Church.

But let’s get personal. What cultural issue is in play in your congregation that is, or could cause division? Is it who someone votes for? Is it cultural stereotypes placed on people groups? And here’s the real question: How do you go about addressing the problem?

Do I Have To?

I remember asking that question when I was a kid. Do I have to clean my room? Do I have to take my medicine? Do I have to do my homework?

Sounds a bit childish doesn’t it?

Yet it seems many questions are wrestling with a similar type of question.

According to a recent Barna Research poll, “…a growing number of Christians don’t see sharing the good news as a personal responsibility.”

According to the study, only 64% of professed Christians saw any need in sharing their faith with others. Is this really what followers of Christ believe?

And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:47 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. 

Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

Colossians 4:5-6 ESV

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3:15 ESV

It would seem those polled would do better reading their Bibles than answering poll questions.

Question:

How often do you share your faith with others?

Assured Salvation

Our Gospel reading this week comes from John 5 – 6:21. In this article I would like to focus on the words of Jesus that address a struggle many people seem to face: “Can I really know that I am saved?”

John’s Gospel shows more than any other gospel writer that true believers in submission to Jesus are saved now. It’s not something we have to wring our hands over, and worry that if we’re “good enough” God might save us. That type of teaching borders on heresy because Scripture is full of clear statements concerning this (Rom. 8:1, Col. 3:3, 1 John 5:13, etc.) But here, John includes language by Jesus himself that contradicts this misguided teaching.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

What’s important about 5:24, as well as several other texts in John, is that we do not have to wait until judgement day to know how we stand with the Lord. You can know in the present that you are saved! Notice how Jesus uses present tense language in describing this: “..has eternal life…”, not will have…HAS!

Far too many live in doubt of their salvation instead of living confidently and victoriously in the present time. Some believe we can never know about our salvation until the final judgement. But think about that belief for a moment. Can you know that you are lost? If so, why can’t you know you are saved? How can you know one and not know the other?

In one of his letters, John puts it this way:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13

Is that clear? “…you may know that you have eternal life.” Not “you will know someday.” You may know now! John is very clear on this. The use of present tense in 1 John, as well as John 5:24 clearly shows that salvation in Christ can be known and experienced now, not just in the future. Does that mean that there’s nothing left to experience in the future? Absolutely not. Salvation is experienced both now, and in the future. The fullness of our salvation will only be experienced at the return of Jesus, but rest assured that you can know that you are saved, and that knowledge and freedom should affect how you live now!

Saved people don’t sit and worry about their salvation. Instead, they tell others about their salvation, what Christ has done in their life, how it has freed them from evil, and how others can experience the same blessing in Christ. Perhaps this is why we struggle so much with evangelism…we’re not sure anyone else wants what we have because we’re not sure we have it ourselves! To use the metaphor from recent sermons, if you’ve been through the water then you’re God’s child. Start living like it!

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” – John 5:24

Regaining the search for the Search – 2018 Blog Tour

I’m excited to share with you a guest post from John Dobbs as part of our 2018 Blog Tour. Our theme for this year is “What are you seeking?” 

John Dobbs is the preaching minister for the Forsythe Church of Christ (http://facoc.org) in Monroe, Louisiana. He can be found on Facebook, followed on Twitter (@johndobbs) and read on his blog (http://johndobbs.com). He’s been married for 31 years to the lovely Maggy. He has two children and two grandchildren. I hope you enjoy this article as much as I do!

God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes. – Ecclesiastes 7:29

In one respect I think we can say that people are always searching for something. There’s some unmet need, some empty place that needs to be filled, some missing component that has left our hearts lacking. Epic poems and long novels have been written about the search for that unidentifiable something. So I do stipulate that this is a realistic expectation for many. Most? I don’t know.

“Overstimulated and Overwhelmed” is how one article describes the condition so many are facing today. “This overstimulation can come from a variety of sources including excessive noise, multitasking, and cluttered surroundings.  Overuse of electronic media is a modern phenomena particularly linked to issues of anxiety, depression, and isolation.  This is unfortunately wide-reaching, as the average American spends most of their waking hours (about 11) on electronic media and internet.” Can we make the case that we are so intent on searching for meaning and connection with God that we’ve exhausted ourselves? Or could we make the case that we’ve exhausted ourselves and the search is no longer interesting to us. We’ve given up.

…There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. – Romans 3:11

Maybe it’s just me, but American Christians (some? most?) are suffering a slump of sorts. Any search we can identify seems to be on hold while we explore some of those ‘many schemes’ the wise man wrote about in Ecclesiastes. Sometimes I feel that the spiritual search has fallen off of our radar while we seek fulfillment and excitement elsewhere.  If that’s true, why is this? Could it be that we have taken our eye off of the Savior? Instead of intentionally being committed disciples of Jesus, we sought to have bigger, better, brighter experiences in life, in relationships, in worship. Something to make us feel something.  Have we chased after the experience but forgotten to love and serve the people around us in the name of Jesus?

“I began to wonder if what we were doing in evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.” ― Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

God has promised that if we search for HIM, He will be found. Jesus said that if we seek the Kingdom first, our other needs would be met.

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.- Jeremiah 29:13

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. – Matthew 6:33

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. -Hebrews 11:6 

For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. – Luke 11:10

If you are feeling empty these days, look in the mirror and ask that person if they have been searching for God with their whole heart. I can’t prove it, but I think there are many people suffering from a spiritual emptiness they cannot identify. It’s not that they do not desire God. It’s more than that. It is that somehow the noise and distraction of life has kept them from desiring to desire God. The search for the Search has been put on hold. Indefinitely? How do we break out of spiritual disenchantment and renew the search for the Search? How do I learn once again to be captivated by the beauty of the Savior and in awe of the power of the Father and feel the fire of the Holy Spirit?

I hope you’re not looking for something to dazzle you here. I can’t offer you more of the stuff that has us numbed to the Spirit’s call. I can only think we must go back to basics. Have I been spending time in the Word? I’m going to suggest paper, not screen. Too many distractions and temptations when we’re staring at the glow. Break free. Have I asked God to reignite the passion for Kingdom living in my heart? Am I talking to Abba about the distance between us? What have I done for someone else lately? Not for pay, not for recognition, not for anything except the opportunity to serve. Have I been quiet? No tv, no small screens, just me and God and… no words. (It’s ok if you fall asleep… fall asleep in His presence… He loves you. You can grow in this area of listening prayer.) Am I walking alone or do I have fellow disciples to serve, study, pray and love alongside? Contemporary Christian group Building 429 sang a song about The Space In Between Us. That’s what we’re trying to bridge. Regaining the search for the Search is my desire for us.

God, for the days when I’m so distracted by the world around me and in front of me, give me the energy and strength to turn it off, turn away, and turn toward you. Grow within me the burning desire to know you more completely and serve you more faithfully. I not only desire to seek you, I desire to desire to seek you. Thank you for knowing what that means. Amen.

 Resources:
Overstimulated And Overwhelmed: Sensory Overload, Anxiety, And Depression http://www.yoursunshine.org/overstimulated-and-overwhelmed-sensory-overload-anxiety-and-depression/

Follower or Fan?

“The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren’t actually interested in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.” – Kyle Idleman, not a fan.

That quote from Idleman really makes me think about why I follow Jesus. What motivates me to follow Him, and am I actually following Jesus, or do I simply stay close enough to get some sort of benefit?

I used to travel I-35 quite a bit between North Texas and San Antonio. Along that highway used to be a church that advertised a “Sunday Morning 20 Minute Worship Service.” Their hope was by keeping everything extremely short and compact that more people would be interested in attending their services. But if our entire motivation in going to a service is that it will require very little of me, can we really call it worship? By the way, the sign and the church have since disappeared.

In Revelation we see Jesus sending a message to several churches. To the church in Ephesus he writes this: But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. – Revelation 2:4-5

To the church in Sardis: I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. – Revelation 3:1

To the church in Laodicea: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:15-16

If Jesus were to look at our level of commitment (follower vs. fan), would he say we had abandoned our love of him? Are we putting something else first? Do we look alive by playing the part, while we’re actually spiritually dead? Is our lack of commitment enough to make him want to vomit?

What does your life say about your commitment to Jesus? Do we actually follow him, or are we simply a fan? Does our schedule, our habits, our finances, our actions truly show that we are committed to following him, even when it costs us? Or are we fans that worship him only when it’s convenient, hang on to bad habits that dishonor him because we like them more than him, and give as long as we don’t have something we want to spend our money on at the moment?

2017 is all but gone. Let’s make it a priority in 2018 to honor Jesus in every aspect of our lives! Commit to truly follow Jesus. Commit to spending time with him regularly in prayer, in Bible reading, and in worship at every opportunity. Be radical! Do what the Bible actually teaches! Commit to giving both financially and physically in the service of the Kingdom. Make following Jesus your first priority above anything else!

But seek first the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” – Matthew 6:33

The Problem with Parenting

There’s a wealth of wisdom to be gleaned when it comes to being a good parent, but there’s something we tend to overlook.  When it comes to kids making poor choices, often the finger is pointed at the parents. “If they had taught that kid better…” has been said so many times, and for no other reason than to cast blame on an already hurtful situation. But what exactly does the Bible say about parenting? Let’s look at a few examples.

Ephesians 6 tells us: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise, so that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

I think we would all agree that children should obey parents, and parents should train up their children to know and honor God. And let me add that if you are a parent and not teaching your children about God, you’re ignoring one of the key commands of parents in Scripture. Teach your children! Let the church help! Bring them to Bible classes, youth events, and small group. Don’t teach them about life and neglect teaching them about God in the process. Teach your children!

But every good teacher will tell you that teaching only goes so far. In the end, it is entirely up to the student what they will choose to do. So do we blame the teacher/parent if they are doing their part? Surely if they were a good parent their kids would turn out perfect, right? Scripture tells us that King David was a man after God’s own heart. You would assume everything he did as a parent would go well. It didn’t. One child turned out ok. His name was Solomon and he was the wisest man to ever live. You would assume everything he did as a parent would go well. It didn’t. Scripture shows his children didn’t inherit any of Solomon’s great wisdom, and even less of a relationship with God. In just a couple of generations we went from a man after God’s own heart to grandchildren who refused to obey God.

Maybe we should look back at the perfect Father. God is perfect in all of his ways. He is the perfect example, the perfect law, the perfect teacher, and surely His children would be perfect as well…after all He did say we are to be perfect as He is perfect. But God is another “parent” whose children fell into sin. God does everything perfectly, yet His children sin. Does this make God a bad parent? Absolutely not!

The problem, which is also a blessing, is a concept called free will. God created us with the ability to choose. We can be filled with all the information in the world as to right and wrong, wise and foolish, and yet we still have the choice of how to use that information in our actions. The Creator of the universe saw fit to let tiny, insignificant humans choose to do what we wish! And because we have that freedom we will make some bad choices, often as a result of letting the wrong voices influence us.

Parents, hang in there. When a child falls into sin, or unbelief it doesn’t mean a bad parent is behind that situation. It means the child may have made, or is continuing to make bad choices. Something is influencing the child more than their faithful parents. Keep speaking truth and wisdom into the situation, and continue to pray that the child will accept your influence, but know in the end that free will is in play. Being a lifelong influencer of another human is a difficult job. Bad decisions by a child shouldn’t immediately become a reflection on the parent, just as a sinful person isn’t a condemnation of God’s perfection.

We’re Losing the Battle!

1/168th. That’s the magic number. That tiny fraction is so small. You would feel cheated if we were talking about buying a slice of pie. Yet 1/168th is exactly what most people assume will fix all of their problems.

What is 1/168th? Pretty simple really. No matter how rich, how poor, what ethnicity, what background, what level of education…we all have 168 hours to live life each week. In general, church going people spend about 1 hour in church per week…1/168th of their week. That’s very little influence during the average week! Let’s look a little closer at what other things influence our average week.

The average American sleeps 6.8 hours (we’ll call it 7) per night. Not a whole lot of influence happens when we sleep, but it does consume 49/168ths or our week. Depending on your age or career, we average between 35-40 hours per week at school or work, meaning what we do during the day has between 35 and 40 times the amount of influence that church has on us in any given week! But there’s something that eats up our time even more than school or work.

Electronics. TV, cell phones, tablets, game systems, computers…you know, electronics. The average American spends between 45 and 50 hours a week on an electronic device. Some of that electronics time overlaps at work or school, but on average electronics usage influences us 45-50 times more than our worship service on Sunday. What are we doing with them? Growing in our faith, or watching cat videos and playing games?

If you’re good at math, you’re realizing this is somewhere between 130-140 hours per week. There’s more time, yet we’re really good at filling that time too. Time to worship (yes, worship) sports, hobbies, shopping, activities and fun of all types…and pretty soon, we’ve filled our 168 hours. What I find even more troubling than the 1/168th figure itself is that only 21% of adults spend any time to connect with God. Most aren’t even getting 1/168th!  Why don’t more people connect with God on a weekly basis? The response is simple really: “I don’t have time.”

If you’re a “super Christian” and go to church every time the doors are open, you’re still looking at only 4 or 5 hours of the 168 per week. Still not much influence is it? Yet everyone wants to come to church a few hours a week and magically everything else will fall into place. The truth is simply going to church won’t fix this problem. It’s going to take a complete refocus of our lives!

Matthew 6:33 – But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

If our entire hope for ourselves, our children, the lost of our world, and the future of the Kingdom hinges on 1/168th, we’re losing the battle. We must be intentional about pursuing God first. Does the way we spend our time truly mirror what our values are? Do we honor TV and sports more than our Savior? 1/168th is only a drop in the bucket of life. Followers of Christ have to be more intentional with every moment of our lives in order to survive, let alone thrive in our faith. Be more intentional!

  • The majority of these statistics, as well as many others can be found in The DNA of D6