Amazing Churches

Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God, Pokrovskaia Tserkov, 1764. Church of Transfiguration, Preobrajenskaia Tserkov, 1714. Tower clock, 1874. Kizhi Island. Onega lake, Karelia. Russia.

I just read an article entitled “Ten of the World’s Most Stunning Religious Buildings.” The article presented a list of ten architectural masterpieces that really are amazing edifices. For example, one of the structures (see the picture) was made entirely with wood, but the builders did not use a single nail. Here’s what troubles me about this article. Most of them were not used for Christian purposes, and only one of the buildings that was used for Christian services is still used for anything other than a museum. The one building that is still in use is a Greek monastery called Metéora, which means “middle of the sky.” This monastery was built on top of a sandstone pillar about 1200 feet off the ground. When originally built in the 1500’s, no stairs were included. Monks had to be pulled up into the structure by rope, and the old ropes were not replaced until God showed the monks they needed to be replaced. How did that happen? You guessed it. A rope would break. I would hate to be the monk on the lift that convinced the250px-Holy_Monastery_of_Rousanou guy in charge that they needed a new rope.

I have at least two problems with this whole concept. First, nine out of ten of these buildings are not being used for the purpose of making Christ known to the world. Even the ones originally built for this purpose (though most of them were constructed to honor a particular monarch) are now simply museums. The one remaining structure still in use is for the purpose of getting away from the world instead of being used to reach the world. The second problem I have with them is that a church is actually a living organism (not a building) that exists for the purpose of carrying out Christ’s mission in the world: making disciples. This involves evangelism and spiritual mentoring as new believers become more like Christ. Disciple making requires us to be busy and in the world (but not of it). I would enjoy visiting these buildings because I am fascinated with architecture – especially of old buildings. While these ten buildings are stunning indeed, they are also heart breaking. Maybe we should be stunned that something so beautiful is so ineffective. The real question is are we the church God wants us to be? Regardless of the place of our church membership, if we are Christians, then we are called to embrace the world (people), love the world (of course I’m speaking of loving the people of the world regardless of their background, beliefs, or life-styles), and lead the world to faith in Christ. If people looked at you or at the building you go to for church services, would they see something or someone who is passionately in love with Jesus Christ and working tirelessly for His cause or would they see a dusty museum? Just a thought.

Finishing Strong

“I don’t think I can hike another quarter of a mile.” I think I have this thought every time I complete a hike on the Appalachian Trail, and this time was no different. My two youngest daughters and I just completed a 3-day, 47 mile hike through the beautiful Virginia mountains, and it thrilled me to watch my girls drink in the beauty of God’s creation. I wasn’t as thrilled with how bad they made me look as they were constantly having to stop to wait on me to catch up. It was interesting for me to think about how badly my feet hurt after three days of hiking. I thought back to my last seven-day hike through the mountains and remember having the similar pains and blisters at the end of that one. The difference is that one was three days and the other was seven days. How did I manage to go for four more days last time when I was ready to collapse after three days this week? Somehow, I always have just what I need to make the hike – no more and no less. I think that life is that way. While God gives us a surplus of grace, He usually only gives us just what we need in many other departments. Think back to your own experiences. Do you find that you have just enough energy to go through a 3-day family crisis and a 3-month personal trauma? God always meets us where we are and takes us to where we need to be. The scriptural truth is found in Philippians 4:19 “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Whether it’s another day on the Appalachian Trail or the strength to go through another month barely making ends meet, God will be there to give you enough to finish strong. Do you trust Him?

 

Got A Second?

Last_Days_Clock“I just don’t have enough time in a day.” How many times have you repeated that mantra? Sadly that phrase seems to be the theme song for many of our lives. Well…you’re in luck. You got an extra second today, but the day is almost over. We had a rare event today in that we were given an extra second. Experts refer to this as being a “leap second.” The National Institute of Standards and Technology define a leap second as “a second added to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to keep it synchronized with astronomical time,” What in the world will you do with a second? Probably nothing. It does make me think, however, about what it would be like if we were suddenly given an extra hour or an extra day. What if I could hold up a rod (like Moses) and gain an extra few hours? Here’s a thought. Why did we need an extra hour today when there’s a good chance we wasted several of the ones we had? I think it would be a good idea for us to make note of something we would do tomorrow if we had an extra hour and go ahead and do it with one of the hours we already have.  If we work harder at managing our time, we might feel as if we’ve been given an extra hour a day, and with that extra time, we could change the world.

United States vs. God

Gavel_flagIf you had told me thirty years ago that our Supreme Court would be contemplating passing a law requiring Americans to disregard the Word of God, I probably would not have believed you. I would have thought that our leaders, who are given the responsibility of “interpreting the Constitution and federal law and exercising judicial review to ensure state and federal statutes and policies that come before the Court comply with constitutional principles” (answers.com), would never create a law that stands in contradiction to our revered Constitution. I am afraid, however, that this may happen before the week is over.

Newsweek Magazine reported yesterday, “Many legal experts predict the court will legalize gay marriage nationwide by finding that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal treatment under the law and due process prohibit states from banning same-sex nuptials.” If the court does legalize gay marriage, this will be the first time a law is passed that blatantly stands against the Bible. Roe vs. Wade certainly came close to such disregard of Scripture, but this issue puts the United States squarely in the camp of having no regard for God’s Truth

If this law passes, Christians will be told that they cannot act upon their belief that the Bible teaches marriage is to be between a man and a woman and that sexual acts between two people of the same sex is considered to be sin. I am burdened about this issue from several perspectives. The number one perspective is that our governing bodies will be legalizing immorality. This is dangerous ground for any nation. God says, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12). The Lord Jehovah cannot be the God of a nation who passes laws that stand so clearly against the teaching of the Bible. If America is not blessed, then we are cursed. God help us.

If gay marriage is legalized, I also have a problem in that my Constitutional rights are violated. I have the right to free speech and the free exercise of my religious beliefs. This right will be infringed upon because it will become illegal for me to speak about my beliefs that homosexuality is a sin. Before you decide to attack me by saying I am a “homophobe,” I am not. I believe homosexuality is a sin just like any other sin. Have I lost my right to believe the Bible? God calls us to forsake sin and follow him. God loves the homosexual, just like He loves anyone else. Just like I would urge someone committing adultery to flee their sin and follow Jesus, I would do the same with someone practicing homosexuality. As an American, it is my right to have this belief. I am amazed at how liberals in our country label me as being intolerant while they are intolerant of me and my belief in the Bible. If gay marriage is legalized, this means America has indeed become a nation without a Constitution. God help us.

Church Attendance in America

church_attendanceI’ve got bad news and bad news. According to a recent study done by Pew Research, 7 in 10 Americans identify with the Christian tradition. I know as a Christian, the idea of someone “identifying with the Christian tradition” does not lead me to think they necessarily are Christians. However, at least 70% of Americans have some connection to the Christian faith. The Associated Press article about the Pew survey stated that “the ranks of Christians have declined as the segment of people with no religion has grown.” In response to the lack of interest in religious affiliation by a growing number of Americans, researchers have created a category of people called “Nones.” The survey points out that in the last seven years, those who call themselves agnostic or having not particular faith grew frpom 16% to 23%. Christians dropped from 78% to under 71% of the population.

Here’s the other bad news. : “While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time.” In other words, we are finding that more and more younger adults are not only disinterested in church. They are not interested in Christianity at all. Another study showed that only 2 out of 10 Millennials (people who are 30 years old or younger) think church attendance is important. Thirty-five percent of them take an anti-church stance.

The good news is that God is still at work in the United States, and you and I can join Him in changing the world. If Christians will wake up and get to work, maybe the next Pew study will show these numbers in a different light.

Why do you think there is a decline in church attendance in America?

Fifty Shades of Shame

I know I’ve posted something already today on prayer, but I’ve got share some thoughts about this new movie.

shame2Fifty Shades of Grey opened up this weekend and has already been awarded the record of the highest earnings of any film ever that opened up during the month of February. The film that did hold this record was The Passion of the Christ. Maybe we should just let that sink in for a moment. I can’t help but feel that this fact alone reveals the spiritual warfare aspect of this movie. Box office receipts for this opening weekend of Fifty Shades could be as much as $100 million. Did you catch that? $100 million! So, who is going to see this movie? Evidently a lot of people. Here’s the interesting thing. I’ve read a few reviews about the movie, from both Christian and secular sources, and I haven’t found anyone yet who says the movie is a great movie. So, even with bad reviews, the theatres are full this weekend of people wanting to see a movie that glamorizes the abuse of women and promotes a perversion of sex.

I entitled this article Fifty Shades of Shame because first of all, shame on Christians for reading this book, and now, going to see the movie. While I can’t know for sure whether or not Christians have done this, I’m guessing that this movie is going to make nearly $100 million this weekend with the help of curious believers. Christians could make a huge statement to Hollywood if we refused to see movies that do not promote themes that are wholesome and promote healthy relationships.

It is also shameful because few people seem to be calling this lifestyle what it is – a perversion of what God intends. We live in a time when everyone seems to be saying that anything goes and everything is okay. Everything is NOT okay. Everything has consequences, and the consequence of perversion is never ultimate fulfillment. In a day where the abuse of women is recognized as wrong, Hollywood and our secular media seems to be having a hard time calling these producers out for creating such a film. This movie should be the greatest flop in the history of Hollywood because American people do not want to promote such outrageous behavior and organizations across the country, both secular and Christian, take a stand for women and healthy relationships. What happened to the character of our nation? Why are we going to reward the film maker and the author of such shameful material?

While I could say more, I would like to address one final area of shame. Shame on Christians for not willingly promoting a biblical view of relationships, marriage, and even sex through our conversations and practices. Marriage is a beautiful thing, and sex is a wonderful gift from our Creator who designed the whole thing. While we need to be circumspect in how we talk about this subject, there are places that the topic of sex and relationships should be talked about, and when we talk about it, it should be in glowing terms. The problem is that for many Christians, relationships and sex are not glowing because we do not have the kind of marriages we should have. God intends marriage to be a joyful experience filled with happiness, support, encouragement, and fun – yes fun. Maybe young people would not be drawn to this perversion if the model they see in their parents and in this culture was one that showed the fulfillment and joy that is experienced in healthy marriages. Let’s let this Hollywood perversion challenge us not to settle for anything less in our marriages than God’s best so that we can model for the world the true shade of love and commitment.

Communicating with God

communicationThere once was a time in my life when you wanted to communicate with someone, you could call them, and hope they were home. The invention of the answering machine was a marvel, and a caller could leave a message expecting a return phone call in a day or two. Even the pager was a great improvement, but the return phone call was still delayed at times. Today’s technology does open the door for instant access, but we all know that concept is not exactly accurate. The person you are calling may not be available, or his or her phone battery may have died. Voice mails can be left, but they may go unnoticed for a few days. I am so glad that in communicating with God, there is no delay. When we pray, we don’t have to leave a message and hope our Creator gets around to it in the next few days. Prayer is an instant line of communication with our Heavenly Father Who is waiting to hear from us. The prophet Jeremiah was reminded of God’s availability with this command from God found in Jeremiah 33:3: “Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” Do you see the command in this passage? God urges us, and commands us, to call out to Him through prayer. The promise of this passage is that He will answer and tell us things that we did not know. Our knowledge and understanding are limited but God’s is fathomless. Our perspective is fixed, but God’s is eternal. The SonRise Baptist Church family, of which I have the privilege of serving as pastor, is beginning a week of focused prayer. I invite anyone reading to join with us in calling out to God. Begin now making a list of things beyond your ability to either understand or resolve. Call to God. He will answer you and show you unimaginable things which you do not know.

Joy Ride

joyI would like to share a portion of my newsletter article I published for our congregation at SonRise Baptist Church in an effort to challenge you to find joy in the new year.

Michael Card is one of my favorite recording artists from years ago (he is actually still writing and recording), and he released a CD about twenty years ago entitled Joy in the Journey. It was actually a compilation of his greatest hits (El Shaddai, Celebrate the Child, etc.). The title of that CD has been on my mind lately as I prepare to start a new teaching series on January 11: Joy Ride. Most of us share a dreaded disease that has defeating consequences called Destination Disease. We spend our whole lives looking forward to destinations instead of realizing that life is lived in the journey. As a child, we anticipate the destination of first grade and then middle school, high school, and graduation. The destination of college, first jobs, marriage, and parenting becomes a consuming focus. We eventually focus on our empty nest and ultimately on heaven and eternity. We go out of town on vacation and can’t wait to get there, wherever “there” is. If we are not careful, we spend our whole lives looking forward to the end of a journey instead of realizing life is really more about journeys than destinations. Joy Ride is a teaching series about finding joy in the journey. God has made us for joy, yet many of us feel that we will find joy only after we “arrive.”

As you begin a new year of possibilities, blessings, struggle, and failure, it is my hope and prayer that you find joy in the journey. God has made us for joy, and He invites us to join Him for the ride of a lifetime.

Happy Holidays

Merry_ChristmasHappy Holidays. Really?? I heard it for the first time last week. It was actually a greeting between two people in a parking lot, so no employer was forcing an employee to remove Christ from Christmas. Was it political correctness or were the two people atheists? Who knows? A friend of mine just told me about someone he knows who was instructed by an employer not to say “Merry Christmas,” but rather “Happy Holidays.” Do you suppose this person works at a major retailer? Nope. She works at a hospital. My friend said that maybe employees should say, “Happy celebration of Jesus’ birthday.” Or maybe this one would be better, “Happy day when God set His redemption plan in motion that involved sending His Son to be born as a baby and then having Him grow to be a man, die on a cross for the sins of the world, and then rise again from the dead.” I suppose this last one would be pretty tough to fit on a Christmas card. It’s CHRISTmas. It is a day set in history, though we do not know exactly when Jesus was born. The fact of Jesus’ birth is a verifiable, historic event. Being we do not know the exact date, December 25 is as good a day as any other to celebrate the day God’s amazing plan for humanity was set into motion. “Thank you Jesus for coming into this world. We celebrate YOU this season!”

Absolute Truth

truthI recently shared some thoughts on Facebook and enjoyed various comments made by my friends. I thought I would carry the discussion on absolute truth over to my blog. Here’s some additional thoughts in response to some of the discussion.

 

Homophobia is not my problem. Sinophobia is. I am afraid of what sin can do in me, in you, in our culture, and in our world. I’ve seen it at work in my life for 52 years, and I see it unleashed in our culture. It is destroying us. One problem is our tendency to ignore sin in our lives. I’ve done it with the best of them. One way we try to ignore it is to justify our actions, ignore our actions or redefine our actions. We justify our actions often times by comparing ourselves to other people. I can always find someone worse than me; therefore, my sin doesn’t look so bad. The problem is that other people are not the standard – God is. Our culture is working to justify actions through talk or predispositions. Some scientists and media personnel are determined to justify an action that is contrary to the Bible by trying to show that a predisposition to a sinful lifestyle is pre-determined by an inborn quality. To say someone has a female brain in a male body justifies homosexual behavior. To say someone is naturally oversexed justifies a promiscuous lifestyle or an addiction to pornography. First of all, there has been no real evidence that someone is born with a predisposition toward homosexuality. The fact is; however, we are all born with a predisposition to sin. Homosexuality is not the only issue. Sin is the issue. The problem is that we do not want to call it sin. If we call our actions sinful, there must be a standard of righteousness. If sin exists, God must exist. If God exists, then we are accountable for our sins. It is easier for me to justify my behavior, whatever kind of sinful behavior that might be, than to be accountable for it.

 

I will hasten to say that Christians feel much better talking about someone else’s’ sinful behavior than their own. It feels more comfortable being critical of homosexuality while ignoring lust. The fact is that sin is sin. Jesus had to die for all of sin. I am grateful that God loves the sinner and meets us where we are, but if we are going to deal with our sin, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners. To acknowledge sin means that we must recognize a standard of moral truth. Is truth relative or absolute? Can something be wrong for me but not wrong for you?

 

There is a such thing as cultural truth. Cultural or geographical truth can be relative. For example, if you live in Great Britain, it is against the law for you to drive down the right side of the street. You are required to drive on the left. In the U.S., we are required to drive on the right. Obviously location is going to determine right and wrong in regard to that particular traffic law. I do believe there are some cultural issues addressed in the Bible, and for that matter, there are some cultural issues not addressed in the Bible. For example, God did not address the morality of slavery in the Bible. Though the practice of slavery was different in the N.T. times than it was in the 19th century, God doesn’t really address the moral issue of right and wrong regarding owning slaves. I have wondered if polygamy in the Old Testament fell into this category. Was it a cultural truth that was descriptive for that time but not prescriptive for all of time? There were more women in that culture than men. Is it possible that God allowed it as a means of taking care of women, but it was not His ideal? We do know that there were some cultural truths related to certain laws. The N.T. helps us to understand that there were some cultural laws that related to just the Jewish people in the O.T. that did not apply to N.T. believers. Peter had been taught not to eat unclean animals, but he then had a dream saying that all things were clean. Circumcision was required for Jewish males, but the N.T. makes it clear that it is not a law for every culture.

 

When I speak of absolute truth, I’m not talking about cultural issues but rather moral issues. Mistreating people is wrong for all people for all of time. Mistreating others is never justified. This is a moral absolute. In a recent Facebook note, I shared a statement about a transgender youth. Sadly, some people responded to her YouTube post with venom and hatred – even to the point where someone said they wanted to kill this youth. That is ridiculous and inexcusable. It is an absolute truth that mistreating people is always wrong. The Bible speaks to many moral truths, and the Bible sets a standard for absolute truth. Does this mean that Christians always have the right attitude about people and sin? No. Do Christians always act in a Christ-honoring way? Absolutely not! Just because a Christian acts ungodly does not mean that it is okay to ignore absolute truth. For that matter, just because a Christian acts wrongly toward you does not justify putting all Christians in the same category or dropping out of church or ignoring the teaching of the Bible. It’s funny that church is one of the few things in society we apply those standards to. For example, I’ve been treated badly at Walmart before by employees and customers. I still go to Walmart. When that happened, I acknowledged that a Walmart employee had a problem or a customer I confronted had issues (or maybe even I had issues), but I didn’t stop going to Walmart. Just because a Christian acts ungodly, I cannot write off the truth of God’s Word. The fact is a Christian’s misbehavior does not cause Romans 6:23 to be any less true for me or you: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

 

The real issue here has to do with whether or not moral truth is absolute. Regardless of what our culture says, I say that it is. I’ll share some more on this later, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts?