Christianity 201

February 23, 2022

Removing Roadblocks for Earnest Seekers

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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Years ago I heard a response to people who were being overly-critical of “seeker sensitive” churches, saying they lacked depth and discipleship. The reply was, “The problem isn’t that some churches are seeker-sensitive, the problem is that a lot of churches are seeker-hostile.”

Many times we unwittingly do things which drive those away who were earnestly seeking after God. Years ago a pastor I knew well decided to rent some space in a high school gym and basically re-plant his aging church with a new look and new vision. But the “old guard” of the church wasn’t as passionate about it as he was, and after checking out the church, after a few weeks they would move on, as they got to know the people and, sad to say, saw their true colors.

Eventually, it was just the original group meeting in the school, and one of their number walked up to the pastor’s wife and said, “Isn’t it great! All the new people are gone.”

That’s one of the saddest lines I’ve ever heard.

A verse that sticks with me in recalling that story is contained in this passage in Acts 15: 12-19:

The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me.  Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:

 “‘After this I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
and I will restore it,
 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
even all the Gentiles who bear my name,
says the Lord, who does these things’–
 things known from long ago.

 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

It was Andy Stanley who drew my attention to verse 19. That last verse is one that Andy says he has posted on the wall of his office. He contrasted verse 19 with churches and organizations that try to put people in a box, or try to line people up with a specific church policy or regulation.

Or ask people to “clean up” first.

While we would never want to admit, in certain circumstances, most of us are Pharisees at heart.

The Message Bible renders verse 19 as:

We’re not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master.

Do I agree with Andy’s take in this particular sermon?

I think this is an issue where, like so many other things in scripture, there is a balance point to be found somewhere in the middle. The initial offer of grace is easy to process and accept. However, there is an equally compelling argument for calling people to weigh the price and realize they are about to launch out into something that is costly, or difficult. Consider John 6: 56-66:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit[e] and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

In Matthew 16, Mark 8 and Luke 9 we read these familiar words:

Luke 9: 23 (NLT) Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

And yet we are often so quickly reminded of Matthew 11:30

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Can both sets of verses be true at the same time? Or is each referring to something different?

I can’t help think that for those of us who are Christ-followers, we follow him even in these phases. Our Christian lives begin full of the experience of grace, of sins forgiven;  full of zeal to tell others; and full of God’s purpose and plan in our lives finally crystalizing. We meet new people, learn new songs, and divest ourselves of a way of life that was heading to destruction.

But then as we settle in, we discover that following Christ is both easy — “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” — and challenging — Jesus talks about leaving possessions and family — at the same time.

Stuart Briscoe summed this up a little differently once in a little booklet, This is Exciting. It’s since been re-written as The Impossible Christian Life. His stages were:

  1. This is Exciting
  2. This is Difficult
  3. This is Impossible

But then he experiences a rejuvenation and enters a 4th stage,

       4.  This is Exciting

While we certainly don’t want to “bait and switch” earnest seekers — we need to up-front about what it means to “take up your cross” — at the same time we don’t want to create roadblocks.

Let’s not make it difficult for those who are turning toward God.


Extra credit:

Here are some resources unrelated to today’s post I wanted you to be aware of:

Also, apologies to subscribers for the order and timing of some of our devotional articles in the last 72 hours. If you think you missed something, visit the website.

 

December 13, 2017

Where Seekers Find Love Without Judgment

Matthew 13.24-30.NIV Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.   Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’


Romans 5.8.NIV But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Today we’re returning to re|knew the blog of Greg Boyd. The emphasis in two paragraphs below was added.

A Cross-Like Church

When God’s church loves like God loves—which means valuing the other at cost to self—it will puzzle those outside the church. While such love might cause the religious to rail with outrage, it will cause the searching and the hungry to ask, “how can people love like this?” In God’s plan, this puzzle is what prepares people to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and to surrender their lives to him.

The evangelistic task of the Christian community, in other words, is to live and love in a way that draws people and cries out for explanation. Our proclamation only has as much credibility as our love requires explanation.

For too long the church has blamed the world for how ineffective it is at attracting people. Evidence that we have failed to love like God loves is found in the long-standing pattern of the church deflecting responsibility for its own sin and placing it on the world. If people are not being drawn to the Lord by the church’s love, this is the fault of the church. For Jesus taught us from the start that it is by our love, not just by our words, that people will know he is real and be drawn into a relationship with him. Christ convinced us of the love of God by demonstrating it on the cross while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). We are called to do the same toward others.

By God’s own design—a design that recaptures the purpose for which God created the world—hurting and hungry people are to be drawn into the reality of God’s cross-like love by seeing it demonstrated in his body. Christ did this in his earthly body, which is why sinners were attracted to him. And he longs to do this again through his church body.

To the extent that the church embodies the spirit of Jesus as ultimately displayed on the cross, it will be a magnet for the hurting and the outcast.

On the other hand, to the extent that the church embodies a judgmental, critical spirit that sets up a perimeter, it will repel them.

This means that the church must be freed from any obsession with determining or developing rules that assess who is “in” and who is “out.” It must be ok with wheat and weeds growing alongside each other (Matt 13). When a church is focused on defining the perimeter that establishes boundaries for who is right and who is wrong, it will to some extent be getting its fulfillment and life from what it is “against,” rather than what is it “for.”

Sadly, far too many churches acquire their sense of worth and identity by their religious self-identity, where there is constant judgment and assessment whether people believe the right things and act the right ways.

When we define Christianity as “standing up for God” or defending a specific version of orthodoxy, we are focusing on the perimeter, not the cross of Christ. And as a result, we fall short of loving like God loves.

Churches will only embody and demonstrate to the world the cruciform life of Christ when we are defined by the center of God’s cruciform love. This empowers them to let go of any attempt to get life from their perimeter. They don’t need to police the perimeter to ensure that everyone looks and believes exactly as they do.

As a result, a church that lives out of the center of the cross is willing to have their reckless love scorned by the religious rule-keepers as compromising, relativistic, liberal, soft on doctrine, or anti-religious. After all, what kind of church attracts and embraces those who are judged by the religious, i.e. prostitutes, drunkards, those from the LGBT community, and drug addicts? In such a church, the perimeter between those who are “in” and those who are “out” is blurred, as seekers find love without judgment, and they have a gnawing suspicion that this is that for which they were created.


Adapted from Repenting of Religion, pages 198-200

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

 

 

June 13, 2010

My Viritual Church Service

I keep forgetting to tune in to NorthPoint Ministries Online version of the morning service from the church in Atlanta pastored by Andy Stanley.   The service streams online at 11:00 AM and 6:00 PM EST Sundays and those are the only times you can catch the full service including the worship.

Tonight I missed everything but the last four bars of the last song, but decided to kick back and enjoy the sermon, a passionate study of the “Prodigal Son” story from Luke  (I think I got the name right.)

At the end of the online broadcast, they do something really cool, which I’m still part of even as I’m typing this.    You switch over to a “chat” mode and instantly, you’re in a group of people who are debriefing their responses to the sermon you’ve all just listened to.

I don’t normally do the chat thing online at all, but we’re not in a small group right now, and the two times I’ve caught the sermon, I’ve joined the chat after, and I think that, without doubt, the effectiveness of this particular medium is really big.

This is a church that is like a magnet for people who are spiritually seeking, and on this chat medium people are totally open and honest about their hurts and needs.   Tonight’s sermon was about the classic “Prodigal Son” parable, and afterwards people shared about the difficulty they have with the story because of the troubled relationships they have had or are having with their earthly father.

So tonight, instead of a devotional post here I’m going to ask you to pray for Larry and pray for ‘Joyful.’   And pray for North Point and all that they are doing, and that more churches will consider the creative possibilities available with online media.