Bridge Building in the Church

I often feel a stress about how infrequently I am blogging right now.  However, a couple of years ago I began to feel called to administrate a men’s retreat for affiliated churches in my area.  This has been where all my extra energy has been going. 

Today I have something on my mind in relation to church politics.  So, I am preparing to discuss it under my ‘Politics Monday’ category. 

One of the strongest choices a church can make is to find ways to build bridges to the community.

But what exactly does that mean? Simply put, it is finding ways to connect with people who do not have a church, and possibly would not normally consider setting foot on church grounds. If a congregation’s only chance to evangelize is to witness to those folks who happen to visit, they will be missing the entire point of the great commission.

When people talk about bridge building they will often center on whether an outreach event is on the grounds of the church or not.  And this does have a point to it. A lot of the people we should most want to reach would never attend an event on the church grounds.  Not in the fellowship hall, not in the parking lot and absolutely not in the sanctuary. But some will.

Those who would be willing to visit an outreach on the church grounds might well be the low hanging fruit of the great commission, but low hanging fruit needs to be picked too. For this reason, I am not in agreement with those who assert genuine outreach and evangelism cannot take place on church grounds.

However, doing events off the church grounds has tremendous value. Not only will you have a chance to meet people who you will not meet on the grounds, but you will also see the church’s faith stretched and the community’s hearts opened. The church that is seen by community involved people as also being community involved will be their most likely place to land. Furthermore, If you are always standing on the safe ground, were exactly is the faith in that?

But before you dismiss me as being a Pollyanna let me explain that both claims have another side.  When you see into the hearts of the community you might well have that tattooed biker chick who wears her pierced earrings everywhere except her ears dropping in on the senior ladies sewing circle.  It might mean having a perfectly normal looking teen boy bring his boyfriend on his first visit.

This is about the time when you begin to find that a congregation’s faith can crack or break when it is stretched too far too fast.

I suspect to many people it sounds a little bit like compromising with the world.  To others it sounds like polluting the purity of the church with the effluence of unregenerate souls.

So, bridge building is not for the faint of heart.  But then again, no part of faithful Christianity is. Real people have real problems and sometimes we get too accustomed to our view of the church as a trouble-free zone.  But it was real people for whom Christ died.  People with fears; people with flaws.  People like you and me.

Love and Free Will

One of the truisms I use every now and then is that love only means something when it is freely given.

If I were talking about how a man won his wife’s heart you would be relatively easy to convince. It might be true that a young man wants to believe he won his wife, that he found a way to make her love him. But as a man ages he will quickly admit, happily admit, that it is more important that she chooses to love him. In fact, a man who wants to force his wife to love him, regardless of her will, would be considered manipulative at best or more likely downright dangerous.

But since I am talking theology instead of romance I expect a little more resistance, especially from those who embrace Calvinism or reformed theology. This perspective believes that men can play no role in their own salvation, that men cannot make any choice whether they will love God.

For these individuals, God’s sovereignty answers every question. He has absolute authority and therefore he can choose in advance who will be saved apart from their personal choices or activities. His Sovereignty allows Him to have it all: He can choose for men to sin, He can condemn them for this same sin, and He can choose to redeem others. Under this system He would have it all, except He would not have anyone who willingly, freely chose to love Him. Love only means something when it is freely given.

This choice is what I believe we were made for. We were created to give us the opportunity to freely choose a relationship with God. In order to allow this possibility, to allow for this greatest good to be a potentiality, He gave us free will. He knew we would uniformly choose sin, but He allowed the rebellion of sin because it became the path to the greater good. This greater good, or even greatest good, I speak of is the freely given love of those who would also choose His gift of redemption from sin.

 

The Devil

There are some things that Christians believe about the devil. The Bible teaches that the devil was an angel, that led a rebellion, and with him one third of the angels became fallen.

The question that naturally arises is, how do you stage a rebellion attempting to overthrow an all-powerful and all-knowing God? God will know what you are up to, and absolutely nothing you do can harm Him. So how is rebellion even possible? Why didn’t God stop it before it ever got started?

As how rebellion is possible, the devil convinced himself that he could successfully rebel, being blinded by his own arrogance and vanity. He lied to himself to believe he could succeed.

But answering why God allowed it, has to come down to one reason. The devil’s rebellion served God’s purposes. Now for some people this is a hard pill to swallow. For them, thinking God allowed sin, for any reason, is reprehensible. I prefer to look at it that God is powerful enough, that every sin, is used by God to bring about positive results.

I believe God’s purpose, His positive result, is to create humanity as truly and completely free moral agents. We have been given the power of choice. However, the power to choose is meaningless without choices to choose from. Similarly, if all of the choices are right choices, then we are not truly free.

The devil creates for humanity the alternative to choosing right. Without this choice we would not be truly free, and therefore not truly human. The purpose of our humanity is the ability to choose God, choosing to love and serve Him instead of self. This human free will is what makes us the crown of creation, and without it we would be nothing more than fancy automaton.

The next question that arises is, does that mean God is responsible for sin? The answer is no. God creates angels and humans with a true power of choice, and with this power comes the responsibility for one’s own choices. God knew the wrong choices that would be made, but that does not make Him responsible for our sins. We choose them and we are responsible for them.

To help illustrate this point, think about a couple bringing a new baby home to a two year old. They can reasonably assume the older child will at some point mistreat the younger. So does that mean they forcibly separate the two and never let them meet? Of course not, to do so would be an unspeakable cruelty. These two are born to be siblings and to love each other. So over their growing up years the parents know there will be errors, but seek to teach them to love and grow together into healthy, non-murderous, siblings.

Similarly God is not responsible for our sins. He is simply allowing the situation which gives us the possibility of becoming fully what God has created us to be. He made us to be the crowning jewel of His creation, the ones who choose to love Him.

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret Flying (800x533)

This is a snowy egret. I know it is because of the yellow feet. Wading birds might have yellow, black, green, blue, or red legs. This is the only bird I know with just yellow feet.

I am not sure why it is that God gave this critter yellow feet. Many times I have heard birders describe him as the bird wearing little yellow socks, and my field guide refers to them as golden slippers. More than all the white wading birds out there, this bird has an easy point of identification to give to new birders.

But as great of a tool as this is, I remember being a new birder and being fooled. I have seen frustrated beginners looking for snowy egrets among a small flock, which were all snowy egrets. They were searching in vain for the yellow feet.

The reason they didn’t see them is that the egret is a wading bird. Commonly the feet are covered by water, or worse, by mud. When they are covered in mud they can appear the exact shade as the legs. The birds get their feet covered in mud because of a feeding pattern they use. They will rush around shuffling their feet in the muck to stir up food.

It might be wise if we slow down and consider if we can see any parallels here. Do Christians have any field marks that make for easy identification? 1 John 4:8 (HCSB) says the one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. There are other passages that concur with the idea our easy field mark is love.

But if that is the truth why is it we both know believers who seem to be anything other than loving? I suggest the primary cause is the same reason that people have trouble identifying snowy egrets. They have been stomping around in the mud. The difficulties of this world get us all down, but they aren’t necessarily going to defeat us. However if the mud, the mess we have been walking through, is the result of our own sinfulness then you can pretty much guess it’s going to win the battle and hide our love. Of course, there are struggles of life that are not the result of our sin, and these can be a source of rejoicing in the face of challenge. But perhaps that is for another devotional.

So why is it that we do this? Why do we get in the habit of stomping around in the mud? Most often it’s the same reason the birds do. It’s their feeding pattern. People also often mess themselves up the most, while trying to earn a living and provide for their families. The workplace often is the hardest place for adults to maintain their witness. But beyond that some people have been convinced that either by political correctness or the pressures of staying competitive, they must set aside their faith in the workplace. I don’t just mean not witnessing, praying, and reading their Bible, but also not living with the Biblical moral or ethical code.

It might be the subtlety of the salesman, profiting from addictive behaviors, or simply maintaining your social status by participating in idle talk. All of these are things the believer should not be involved in. While you are involved in them, it should be no surprise that your coworkers do not see the love of God at work in you. In this case you have been made useless for God’s Kingdom by what you considered to be ‘just business.’

Consider 2 Peter 1:5-9 (HCSB) focusing on the last sentence.

For this reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For these qualities are yours and are increasing, they will keep you from being useless or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. The person who lacks these things is blind and shortsighted and has forgotten the cleansing from his past sins.

The Repentance Paradox

Repentance is a paradox. The word describes a change of pattern based upon a change of direction.

The Christian use of the word describes turning away from sin in order to turn toward God. This change of direction is initiated by your human will, but empowered by God.

The change of pattern is another problem. We habitual creatures have a way of returning to our past patterns. And hence the reason why I call repentance a paradox. We make a commitment to God to turn from sin, knowing full well we will continue to sin despite our efforts.

But don’t take my statements as asserting there is a falsehood in repentance. It is a real and necessary part of the Christian experience. We make a decision to turn our lives over to God. God then gets a grip on us. His actions place us into His family and kingdom, but they do not remove our humanity. Our free will is a major ingredient in our humanity so removing it would be making us something less than human.

This paradox is necessary because it is God’s desire to have a relationship with humanity. Not creatures without free will, but real people with all their failings. For this reason the Christian life is more one of grace and forgiveness than the conquering of sin.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying sin all you want, or sin doesn’t matter. I want you to work hard to battle sin. In this battle you can expect to gain ground. You can expect to prevent sin from overtaking you and robbing you of your freedom or usefulness to God. But you cannot expect to gain absolute victory by never sinning again.

Doing What You Want

For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate. Romans 7:15

CoverThe above verse explains a constant battle Christians engage in with themselves. Sin is so much a part of the human condition that even though we have come to hate sin, we often find ourselves in the thick of it. We can improve, and should always endeavor to gain ground in the war with sin, but we will never celebrate an all out victory.

Fighting a battle we can never win is frustrating. But many believers live a reality that is even worse. They never even make progress.

The book, The Storeroom of the Heart, is for these individuals. It takes the storeroom principle, taught by Jesus in Matthew 12:34-35, and allows the contemporary Christian to explain why they get stranded in this manner. Understanding the storeroom principle can help the believer to begin gaining ground in the battle, shape their lives in such a way as to be useful to the kingdom, and allow them to see principles for successful living that are often overlooked in today’s culture.

The Storeroom of the Heart is available in electronic format, hardcover or softcover. You can order it anywhere books are sold or from the publisher, CrossBooks. If you are interested in obtaining a copy signed by the author contact me on one of the social media links to the right and I will be happy to work that out for you.

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

This is a house sparrow. 175 years ago this bird did not exist in the United States. In 1851 a group was imported from Europe by people who missed seeing the bird after moving to the Americas. By 1900 it had spread to the Rockies. Today, this bird has since become one of the most widespread bird on earth—it might even be the most widespread bird. It has covered all of North America, half of South America as well as the original range in Europe and Asia.

These birds are called house sparrows, because they love to build their nests in man-made structures. If you hear chirping in your attic; it’s probably these guys. If you see a bird darting in and out of your roof tiles; it’s probably these guys. If you discover a mob of birds sheltering in a shed; well, you know.

Birders look at house sparrows as junk birds. That is the term used for birds you see and list but don’t necessarily want to see as often as you do. Since they are not natural to our area, and they can displace normal birds. Since they are so prolific they compete for resources native species need. Some people are so adamantly opposed to the species that they put specialized food in their feeders to dissuade house sparrows.

I wonder if the original importers new what it was they were starting. It seems obvious their intent was for the birds to survive, but were they really expecting them to thrive as much as they have?

Believers might want to take a lesson from the house sparrow when they willingly introduce some types of sin into their lives. Like the sparrow, sin can spread and multiply in ways we do not expect. In some cases the sin not only takes on surprising proportion in your life, but also carinfects future generations after. Unfortunately we seldom think about these possibilities while making decisions. Hebrews 12 refers to sin as being able to easily entangle us. Never is this truer than when it has our open cooperation.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. Hebrews 12:1a (NLT)