March 9, 2007

Are Our Churches Stuck In The Old Testament?

Our church has been going through Spring Renewal Services this week. We have had a special emphasis on "lifestyle evangelism" this week as we have met together. It is our desire to see all of our people become part of God's movement in the community. During the course of these studies I learned something very profound, at least to me. Many of our churches have taken on an Old Testament model of evangelism. For much of the Old Testament the way the Jewish people shared God with the rest of the world was through the temple. Think about it, the Jews very rarely sent out missionaries. The one guy most of us have heard of who was sent out from Israel was Jonah, & he went kicking & screaming. Then he was used to bring a tremendous spiritual revival to a brutal, savage society & how did he react? He went outside the city & pouted! The primary way that non-Jews were introduced to a relationship with God was through worship at the temple in Jerusalem.

I'm afraid that many churches today have adopted the "if we build it, they will come" model of evangelism. Churches believe that if they build an amazing building & produce stellar worship services, then the lost will come. Now don't misunderstand me. I believe we should take pride in our places of worship & in our times of corporate worship. However, to think that is the key to reaching "all the nations" is a delusion. Jesus' command to His disciples was to "Go!". When the disciples of Christ received the Holy Spirit, they were mobilized to take the Gospel worldwide. That's really the only explanation for the way Christianity spread & has survived. The entire paradigm was shifted when Christ gave His "Great Commission". No longer did people have to come to the temple to encounter God. God's people were now going to go to the people. Interestingly enough, the first place they went was the temple because that's where the people were. From there they moved out through neighborhoods, villages, & ultimately into all the world.

However, today we have slipped back into expecting people to come to church just because it's there. Question: Why would a lost person come to church? Seriously, why would a lost person just independently decide to come to church? We like to think that it happens a lot but the fact is that many of the lost people who come into our churches either come because of a personal connection to one of our members or because our churches have a great reputation in the community in an area that appeals to them (divorce care, recovery/rehab ministries, etc.). If we want people to come to our churches, we must first go to the people! I have done my time in traditional outreach methods too. You know, the ones that have you knocking on some one's door on Monday night at 7pm. Most of the time no one was home. You know why? Because they were at the Little League field or at the soccer field! We have to realize that going to the people sometimes means going to unconventional "outreach outposts". It might mean enlisting a team to serve in the concession stand at your local Little League field so that those parents can watch their kids play ball rather that sweat it out in the concession stand. Let's go to the people, minister to them where they are with no strings attached. When we do, we gain the credibility that we need to actually reach out to them when they are in need or to reach out to them at some point with the Gospel of Christ.

If you are a church member or even a pastor, ask yourself if your evangelism model is actually going out to the people or is it over 2000 years behind the times. If you're behind, seek God's will as to how you can "go" to the people in the power of Christ. After all, "all power" has been given to Him. When we go out, we go in His power & authority.

February 28, 2007

The other day the news outlets were all buzzing over the discovery of a tomb in Israel which had been discovered. Actually it was discovered over 25 years ago. Anyway apparently through some "scientific" studies these documentarians make the claim that these are the remains of the family of Jesus of Nazareth, including Jesus Himself. Of course, if this were true then 2000 years of theology & church tradition have been nothing more than the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the human race. However, it doesn't take much to make me very skeptical of this "discovery".

First, this tomb & the contents were uncovered in 1980. In case you didn't know Israel & the entire area of Palestine is crawling with archaeologists. The findings would have been looked over, & the names Jesus, Mary, Mary, & Judah would have been noticed. Why did it take 27 years for someone to dig deeper? The answer is this. Those names were unbelievably common in that day & time. Don't let the filmmakers throw the weight of statistics around. We all know that statistics can prove just about anything we want them to prove. The names, even in this combination, would not be that surprising, especially the male names. Many male names find their roots all the way back to the 12 sons of Jacob. Linguistically they would have been linked. It would have been similar to Maria/Mary, Robert/Bob, etc. The names on their own are pretty weak as evidence.

Secondly, DNA is touted as the definitive piece of evidence. However, there is one huge flaw in the process. The scientific method says that in an experiment you have to have a control. If these people are trying to convince us this is the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified by the Romans, then we need a piece of his DNA. Hair, blood, bone, anything that could definitively be tied to Him. In order for us to say that this is the Jesus, we have to have that control sample. The test they ran is a mitochondrial DNA test which only determines whether or not there is a maternal link between two people. They tested the "Jesus" DNA with one of the "Marys". They didn't have a maternal link, so they jump automatically to the conclusion that this is Jesus of Nazareth & His wife Mary Magdalene. That seems like a big leap to make without some other evidence linking them. And why didn't they run the DNA of Judah, the supposed son. If his DNA linked him to "Jesus" & "Mary" that would have made a much more compelling argument, but that test is remarkably absent.

And finally the most problematic piece of this puzzle in my opinion. If this is where Jesus was buried after His crucifixion & He did not rise from the dead, why would the people who followed Him in life go to their deaths preaching the resurrection? Also, why would the Jewish & Roman officials not have pointed to this tomb in the days following His crucifixion. It was only 7 weeks after the crucifixion that Pentecost occurred. In those early days of Christianity when it was seen more as a sect that was perverting Judaism, why didn't the Jewish religious leaders kill this new sect with the most destructive evidence possible, Jesus' body?

It just doesn't add up. The science is suspect at best, but more shocking is the lack of logic. Just a couple of years ago, these same filmmakers did a film supporting the claims of the Bible by "proving" the exodus really happened. So which is it? Christians have a much tougher standard of Scripture than non-believers. We believe that it is ALL true, & if one part is disproved the rest is just good stories & maybe some good moral tales, but the heart of it is worthless. I believe there is something else at work here. Every year it seems that we have these specials air that claim to discredit some part of Scripture. In recent years it has been the resurrection itself because if the resurrection is shown to be a fraud, then Christianity collapses & 2 billion people are sent scrambling to redefine their purpose on earth & their worldview. That thought is a little scary now that I think of it. However, the last 2000 years have seen attack after attack discredited not because the resurrection can be proven 100% but because these attacks are usually very flashy, but there usually isn't much substance to it. This attack on the person of Jesus Christ is no different. Watch the special Sunday night, don't be afraid to listen to what these people have to say, but keep in mind that their research was flawed & that they started their research with a preconceived answer rather than allowing the research to actually provide an answer, & that is not science.

February 6, 2007

What Can We Learn From Radical Islam?

I'm sure when you saw the title for this posting you had some reaction. It almost has to spark your curiosity. A lot of people want to dismiss this movement within Islam as a very small sub-group within one of the world's biggest religions, but it seems to me that that idea is born out of ignorance & a desire to avoid the confrontation that will come.

If you saw the Fox News special this weekend on radical Islam, you had to have been affected by it. I know that many media outlets in the Middle East overtly support Bin Laden & other terror leaders, but to see some of the actual things they show on TV to even their youngest children was chilling. While our kids are watching Dora the Explorer or The Suite Life of Zach & Cody, Muslim children are watching cartoons & other programming that glorifies suicide bombers & actively encourages children to make martyrdom their life's objective. Consequently, Muslim leaders claim that there is a tremendous influx of youth into this radical, suicidal arm of Islam. They feel that this martyrdom movement is their greatest weapon against the "infidels" & "Zionists".

As a Christian & as a pastor to teenagers here in America I couldn't help but wonder what we could learn from these people who are so desperate to "defend their faith" that they'll strap on a belt of TNT. In their world becoming a suicide bomber is one of the highest if not the highest calling, but in our culture most believers schedule God into their busy social lives. When they have time & nothing that they would rather be doing, then they will be involved in the life of their local church. The sad thing about that is that being in church doesn't necessarily mean that the believer has encountered God. Their heart could be in a totally different place, but they're in church in order to fulfill what they perceive as their obligation to God.

Of course I'm not advocating the brainwashing of our children & youth to become suicidal maniacs, but why not encourage our people to become the radical kind of disciple that Jesus clearly wants. Jesus never called any of His disciples to a life of convenience & comfort. In fact, life got worse for some of His followers. When Saul became Paul, his life took a turn toward persecution & near death experiences. Once he was an elite religious figure. He had position & status, but when he encountered Christ, he was changed. His radical faith led him to do amazing things across Asia Minor & Europe. If believers today would take their faith & their relationship with Jesus as serious as Muslims, the Kingdom of God would be advancing at an unprecedented pace. Islam would no longer be the world's fastest growing faith. The Gospel would touch the hearts of millions & they would turn from a faith that "loves death more than we love life" & to a Savior who wants to give us abundant life here on this earth & even more on the other side of eternity.

The lesson we can learn from the so-called radicals of Islam is that their passion is raging. However, the fire has all but gone out for many Christians in the U.S. Only when we fan the flames of faith in Christ & follow Him boldly & radically will we see the advance of His kingdom.


January 23, 2007

What Reputation Precedes You?

Man, I've been going through the book of Jonah from the Old Testament lately for a teaching series that I'm doing. This book really has a lot to say to believers today. The question that I get from Jonah 3 is "what reputation precedes you?" If you know the story of Jonah, you know that he was inside a big fish for 3 days before being vomited out & sent on his way to the city of Nineveh. When he got there he finally began preaching the message that God called him to. What was the result? The Ninevites believed. I have to believe that as Jonah's message spread through the city, his reputation did as well. Jonah probably looked pretty weird. After all, he had been sitting inside the belly of a fish for a few days. I find it hard to believe that someone didn't ask Jonah privately about his story. When these people heard Jonah's own story of rebellion, repentance, & restoration, I believe that as much as Jonah's preaching moved them toward repentance. So the question I ask myself & I ask you is "what reputation precedes you?" Jonah's story surely spread throughout Nineveh as well as his preaching message. When he moved through Nineveh preaching his message of judgment & hope, the people knew it was real because Jonah had just lived it. His repentance restored him to his place with God. The people saw that Jonah's life supported the message that he brought. So do our lives support the message that we as believers are trying to communicate? Sometimes I'm afraid that for most of us, we are living double lives. We have a different reputation depending on the group that we're with at the moment. Jonah's story challenges me to make sure that the reputation that precedes me is one that reflects the story of God in my life. I was & occasionally am as rebellious anyone else in this world. The only real difference between me & the most miserable, evil person you can think of is the way God has moved in my life & accepted me in my repentance. So the challenge for you & for me is to make sure our reputations tell that story.

January 9, 2007

It's Great To Be A Florida Gator

Well, the main reason that this is on my blog is so that my wife doesn't have to listen to me go on & on about my beloved Gators! Last night was awesome. The Gators played their best game of the year in the biggest game of the year. Chris Leak looked more like a Heisman winner than Troy Smith did, but the Gators' defensive line had a lot to do with that. In a way I felt bad for Smith because from what I've seen & heard of him, he is a good kid who has worked so hard to achieve all that he has. The bottom line was that last night his offensive line had no chance to block the big, strong, & fast Gators. Smith & the rest of the team looked stunned. You could see they had never faced a defense like Florida, & they weren't really sure how to get back on track.

I think I was most happy for Chris Leak. The Gator QB has had an up & down career. He had to start as a true freshman. After his second season, his coach left, & he had to learn a new & highly complex system that didn't utilize his abilities. Then this year he was booed on his home field as he came in to replace the freshman who will fill his shoes next season. All the while Leak was the consumate professional. He said all the right things & did all the right things even though you know it had to weigh on him personally. Last night it all paid off. He managed that game flawlessly. He took what the defense gave him. He threw the ball away when he had to & even took sacks rather than do something reckless. Most people don't realize that he holds many of Florida's QB records, & there have been some great ones play there. His record against their biggest rivals is one of the best in school history, but it wasn't until last night that he finally got the love & respect from the media & even from Florida fans that he has deserved for 4 years. He will be missed next year. Tim Tebow is going to be great, but he probably won't be great immediately.

I'm already stoked about next season. Tebow is exciting even though he is inexperienced, but most of those defensive players will be back next year, along with many key offensive players. The Gators will surely have another stellar recruiting class on the heels of this championship, so the future is bright for the Gator Nation.

Go Gators!!!


January 5, 2007

Are We Running?

If anybody out there is reading my blog, it won't take them long to realize that most of what goes on here is overflow from whatever I've been studying in preparation for my speaking. Right now I'm working through the Old Testament book of Jonah. Jonah was the prophet with an attitude. He was called to go to a city called Ninevah that was home to some of the nastiest people of his era. They were ruthless warriors & sworn enemies of Jonah's Israel. However, God chose Jonah to bring a message of both judgment & hope to the people of Ninevah. Jonah however decided that he would really prefer not to do this thing that God was calling him to. I can hear him now saying, "God, that's really not for me. I mean the Ninevites are some scary people." In our modern terms, this was out of Jonah's "comfort zone". I heard an interesting definition of comfort zone the other day. It was defined as, "a place where God exists, but is not needed". That totally blew me away. Many Christians live & die in their comfort zones. They never obediently follow God out into the unknown, wild places that He so often leads. They are content sitting at church & being church people without really ever understanding what it means to truly follow Christ.

What does that mean for us today? Well, I guess we need to ask ourselves, "What is Ninevah in my life?" It may be that God is actually calling you to do something that most of us would call "big". You know something like becoming a missionary or a pastor, but the truth is that most of us aren't called to that kind of thing. Most of us are simply being called to something that the world would call "small". God is calling us to a real, intimate relationship with Him. For the Christian that means spending time with God through studying His word & going to Him in times of prayer & meditation. For the nonbeliever it means surrendering his or her life to God & accepting the gift of Christ on the cross. After we answer that first question, we have another that we need to answer: "Am I running toward or away from God's call?" Jonah took off in the opposite direction of Ninevah. The sad reality is that many of us do the same thing. We choose to go our way when we know that it is in rebellion to God's call & purpose for our lives.

Jonah is a strange book. Most of us would expect the Bible to portray God's prophets as holy, obedient men, but the truth is that many of their faults are put on display for all the world to see, & Jonah might be the most flawed. Many prophets were reluctant, but Jonah was downright rebellious. Ask yourselves the two questions that I discussed above. I know I have had to ask those questions to myself several times in the last few weeks. If we choose rebellion, we will be able to run, but we'll never be able to hide. However, if we choose obedience, we will see the blessings of God poured out on us as we follow Him.