A Hope That Doesn’t Disappoint

Mar 01

A Hope That Doesn’t Disappoint

Awhile back, several of us from our church made a group decision to invest heavily into a certain segment of our church. We believed that if we presented the truth of the Gospel not just in words only, but also in an extreme sacrifice of ministry to them…that there would be fruit from that–that lives would be forever changed by God’s Spirit. That isn’t what seemed to happen, and several people from the ministry team have shared their feelings of disappointment. I, too, was disappointed. What does it take for people to see the light of the Gospel, and be forever changed?? Over time, though, there have been other people in the church who have “caught the flame” of what it means to follow, serve, and love Jesus. It has been awesome to see the beginnings of this work of God in the lives of people within our church. But I keep coming back to those whom we attempted to heavily invest in. We had such great hope. And now there is a great disappointment there. Paul says in Romans 5:5, “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Although Paul says that this hope doesn’t disappoint, we might beg to differ. And sometimes, this disappointment makes you want to give up. Why? Because we all know that only God can change someone’s heart–we can’t do it. So when you give it your all, and strive to depend on God for the results, not your own abilities, and then still nothing happens…well, if God’s not going to come through on His end of things, why should we try anything on our end? Awhile back, I had a conversation with a friend about my struggles to understand why it seems that so many people who go to church regularly just never seem to “get it,” no matter how many times you preach the message, no matter in what ways you present the message, no matter how well you live the message. It really makes you feel like, “God–what else can I do? It has to be You who does it. And yet it...

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Once-And-Done Salvation Is No Salvation

Oct 19

Once-And-Done Salvation Is No Salvation

Let me preface what I’m about to say by stating that I believe salvation does indeed come in a moment of time, when a person repents and believes in Christ. At that very moment, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside of them, and as a result they are made holy and have become a new creation. It isn’t based on works, but it comes by faith on the basis of God’s grace. However, we have often taken this core teaching of the Gospel to an end that really is an end. And that end is destruction; not salvation. We often teach that if you come down the altar, say a prayer of repentance, and profess Christ, you are saved. Not necessarily true. We all know that to become a Christian, one needs to do two things: repent and believe in Jesus. Yet are those things “once-and-done”? Clearly not. By definition, to repent means that you change directions. To say that you turn around toward God at one instant in time, and then turn back to the world for the rest of your life–how is that repentance? That is fake repentance. Or to say that at one moment in time, you decided to trust Jesus to save you, but you don’t trust Him with your day-to-day life–how is that really trusting Jesus? To put it another way, 1 John 3:23 says, “This is His commandment, that we 1) believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and 2) love one another, just as He commanded us.” Does that mean that we can simply, at one moment in time, love some given individual, and then go on living selfishly, and thus say we have fulfilled this obligation? Surely not! If that is the case, how can we say that we can “believe in Jesus” in such a way? The problem with once-and-done salvation isn’t that it leaves out works–it actually promotes works! It turns salvation into merely a momentary human decision (works!) instead of salvation being a genuine, inward change that is brought about by God. Salvation happens when a person’s heart is gripped by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they must let go of the life...

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Awake, Sleeper, And Rise Up From The Dead

Aug 21

Awake, Sleeper, And Rise Up From The Dead

And Christ will shine on you! What a promise from Ephesians 5:14! I don’t know if any denominations use this verse in their liturgies, but if not, they should! I’ve already got a tune written out on how it would be sung by the congregation every Sunday. And who knows, perhaps people would heed the words and listen to the sermon! 🙂 While the American church is largely in a comatose state, there is the magnificent exception. Those small pockets of people in our congregations who are alive and well! Ah, what a breath of fresh air! These are the people who prove that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit is a real gift to the church! It seems most churches, no matter how dead or decaying they may be, have one or two people like this. It’s probably the biggest reason why those churches have not yet closed their doors. These people are like God’s best-kept secret agents in His kingdom. Every church I’ve attended has had at least one of these people. I’ve often imagined…what would it look like to assemble all of these people together in worship, in evangelism, in discipleship, in fellowship…? Of course, the answer to that question is easy: it would look like the bride of Christ! Not just by name only, but in truth. Sometimes it is hard to be such a person in the midst of a comatose church. You easily become discouraged by what you see around you. Or more accurately, what you don’t see around you. You wonder, “Where is the passion for Jesus here? Why is no one else jumping in with both feet into Christ’s mission?” Discouragement turns to resentment. “Why do I give my life for Christ–for His church–for His mission, and those to whom I serve just eat it all up and want to consume more, yet they are unwilling to serve others themselves?” No, I’m not talking from personal experience, ha! The problem is, when we get into this kind of mindset, we have been derailed. Now we are feeling pride by comparing ourselves to others. Pride is not attractive. It is butt ugly. So we are no...

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Hope For A Comatose Church

Aug 18

Hope For A Comatose Church

When a patient is in ICU, what family and friends want more than anything else is hope. With that in mind, there IS hope for the comatose church. But that hope isn’t in better models for doing church. Or improved leadership training. Or more money for hiring better-talented staff and starting up new programs/ministries. None of those things can revive what is almost dead. The only thing that can revive us isn’t a thing, but a Person. In Ezekiel 37, God shows the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dry, dead bones and asks him if they can be made alive again. A person with no hope would say, “Nope.” An idiot, or a person who doesn’t fully understand the circumstances would say, “Sure, just give them some medicine!” But Ezekiel answers smartly, “God, only you know the answer to that question.” Truth is, outside of God doing anything, there is absolutely no hope for those bones. Can/will God do anything with those bones? Well, we can’t speak or make promises for God, but here’s what we CAN do: we can trust and obey God. The only hope for a comatose church is for its leaders to stop pretending things are better than they are, to stop denying the reality of the situation by trying this program or that program, or seeking answers from church leadership summits or growth seminars, but to also not give up hope and throw in the towel when they see the magnitude of the situation–but instead for these leaders to be willing to earnestly seek God, and then to trust God and obey Him. Because our only hope is for God to do something miraculous. And it’s very risky/scary to trust God for a miracle. We leaders want to be able to do something to fix the situation. It’s scary to place things into God’s hands and trust/hope in Him. But when your loved one is in ICU, you have no other options. Even the strongest skeptics are earnestly praying to God in that moment. God tells Ezekiel to do a bold thing: preach to the dry bones. Can you imagine following these orders? “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry...

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Falling Skies: The Demise of a Comatose Church

Aug 16

Falling Skies: The Demise of a Comatose Church

Audra and I are watching the TV show “Falling Skies,” and it really hasn’t been too interesting to me until the most recent episode. SPOILER ALERT!!! If you don’t watch the show, it’s about an alien invasion on earth. The overlord aliens are trying to take control of our planet. They are doing this partly by harvesting children, and turning them into an alien slave race (nicknamed “Skitters” by humans) to destroy the rest of humanity. The overlords also utilize powerful mechanical robots to destroy our civilization. Basically, the situation is hopeless. But one small regiment of humans is fighting to save and rescue the children, and to take our planet back–dealing blows here and there to the aliens. From week to week, humans are fighting against the odds, and sacrificing greatly. It’s a bleak picture, with little hope at all. But the most recent episode tells about how this regiment finds a pocket of humans who have survived underground, undetected by the invading aliens. They have actually been able to adapt to underground living very well! They grow fresh produce, sleep in comfortable beds, and are even starting to form a new democracy, since the US government has been completely wiped out. To this regiment that has just arrived, it is paradise! Utopia! Unbelievable! Peace at last. Community. Kids are going to school. Adults are working to build this new way of life. It seems perfect. That is, until the regiment tries to encourage these people to not forget about all the devastation and destruction happening on the surface. Children are being removed from their families and transformed into a slave alien race. Cities are being wiped out. Suffering and devastation is everywhere. But this community has invested too much in itself to risk exposure to the aliens by joining in the fight. They want to remain under the radar and continue enjoying their new-found life. Meanwhile, out in the real world, the skies are falling. What a perfect analogy for today’s church. As the late Christian songwriter Keith Green wrote and sang, “The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight, cuz it’s asleep in the light.” I am feeling more and more...

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Why Do We Fear The Gifts Of The Spirit?

Oct 27

I think the short answer to that question is that we fear the supernatural. We fear having to confront the possibility that God actually does something. I don’t know how many times I’ve been in a church prayer meeting where people pray for someone who is sick or in the hospital, etc. We all pray that God would “heal” them. We all pray that God would guide the hands of the doctors, etc. We are comfortable with those kinds of prayers. And we are comfortable to attribute to God the success of the surgery: He answered our prayers–He guided that surgeon’s hands! The problem with the gifts of the Spirit, or anything else that is supernatural, is that it removes a comfortable, ambiguous faith in God. For example, when surgery is successful, some attribute the success to the doctor, but we “believers” attribute it to God. Those who believe in God see the situation differently than those who don’t. Yet, nothing circumstantially can be attributed as a miracle. The surgery was anticipated by doctors to be successful. The matter is convoluted more, however, when the surgery has 50/50 chance of success. If the person comes through, we say it’s because of a miracle of God! Was it? For a believer, yes. For a non-believer, no. After all, things turn out favorably 50% of the time. If they don’t pull through, however, we believers still affirm God was working there just the same. In other words, with all of these things, it’s all very muddy. To what extent was God actively involved in the process? It is very hard to tell, and we are comfortable in such ambiguity. Whether God was working in the situation is a matter of personal interpretation. It makes us believers comfortable to believe God was involved when He couldn’t be seen. But what about believing God to do something more demonstrative? Many Christians believe that praying for such things is inappropriate. God should remain in the shadows. He should be a matter of interpretation. The idea of God revealing specific information to someone, or healing someone instantaneously, or causing someone to speak in a language they do not understand…now we get nervous. “God doesn’t work...

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