Glad I'm Not a Betting Man

As I mentioned in my announcement to the church this past Sunday, I don't come across as a huge risk taker. I'm pretty conservative, averse to much risk, and afraid of much change. But here I am at a point in life where I'm either crazy, going through some personal crisis, or actually trusting God to do something amazing in this season of my life and ministry. There's actually some evidence that maybe I'm going crazy or experiencing some personal crisis ... I now own a Toy Poodle! If you would have bet me a million dollars a year ago that I'd have a Toy Poodle I would have taken that bet, and lost! And If a couple of years ago you would have bet me that I would really enjoy doing evangelism with the unchurched, even to the point of being a regular at a local bar (which, btw, I didn't even do in college) I would have taken that bet! And now here I am on the brink of stepping down from what is the best and most desirable job in the entire denomination (Sr. Pastor at Community Presbyterian in Moody) and pushing deeply into the messy, unpredictable, uncomfortable, and vulgar world of unbelievers.  Yes, I'll still be here in Moody and involved at CPC, but my focus will be evangelism and mission ... yet another move I'd have lost money on had I been a betting man.

Let me say I am NOT making this change in ministry focus because I'm weary of ministry nor because I'm wanting to disconnect from CPC. In fact, I'm guessing this new emphasis will be more emotionally and physically exhausting than I can even imagine. And, as I hope is clear, I'll continue to be involved in the life and ministry of CPC for years to come. So why am I wanting to do this? A couple of weeks ago I shared a statistic from 2010 that 52% of people in St. Clair County identity their religious affiliation as "none." That means they don't go to church buildings, they're not really interested in going into church buildings, and if all we do is try to get people in our church buildings then we're effectively saying "the hell with you" to the growing majority of our population. I'm not okay with that and want to be in a position to help not only CPC but other churches and pastors to grasp the joy and excitement of exploring the world of unbelievers, building relationships with them, and seeing some come to know Christ.

My work with Evangelize Today has pushed me into places I'd have never expected yet has also allowed me to see the amazing beauty and power of the Gospel in ways I never expected. I've discovered that unbelievers are not nearly as scary and wicked as I thought. Here's where we have theology on our side ... as image bearers of God these unbelievers actually have great worth and are typically willing to engage in relationship with me, even as a pastor, as I show them respect and treat them with the dignity they deserve as an image bearer. Sure, they're often initially suspicious and curious why I, a pastor, would enter into their world. But when they realize they can trust me, that I genuinely want to hear what they have to say, that I am theirs and they are mine, the doors to ministry and conversations about the Gospel just seem to happen. 

Know that I am scared about all this! I often come across as confident, sure, full of faith, and not worried about anything, but inwardly I'm nervous as a cat about pursuing this new venture. The prospect of leaving something so comfortable, dealing with the messy lives of unbelievers, training other pastors who are much sharper than me, and raising financial support is overwhelming and intimating to say the least! But by God's grace I press on. Please pray for me and my family, for CPC as our church enters a new season, for the number of unbelievers in this community who I'm already in relationship with, for the work of Evangelize Today, and for the glory of Christ to be primary in all of this. I will continue to keep you updated on things as they progress.


Why Jude?

This little New Testament book, right before Revelation at the end of the Bible, may seem like an odd choice for a sermon series. But the more I speak with people in the community, both Christian and non-Christian, I sense a similar urgency that Jude (actually Judas, half-brother of Jesus) must have felt. Back in his day Christianity was under severe attack, not just the external attack of Rome, but inwardly from the infiltration of false teachers who sowed abundant seed for a huge harvest of doctrinal error. Jude's letter is a call to arms, a battle cry, an urgent call for the church to deal with apostasy and false teaching, calling for Christians to be discerning and to defend true, Biblical doctrine. 

This is why I find Jude so relevant for us today! While the church is under attack from outside sources, we are also in grave danger of attacks from within ... false teachers and teachings have infiltrated the church and weakened us almost to the point where any teaching is deemed acceptable as long as the name Jesus is sprinkled on it a few times (though perhaps a "Jesus" defined differently than the orthodox teaching of Scripture), a Bible verse or two is referenced (but not exegeted or explained and probably not used in context), it's taught by a gifted communicator with much charisma (though perhaps not adequately trained nor under the authority of church leadership), and it makes us "feel" something (though similar feelings can come from sporting events, watching kitten videos on Facebook, opening a fortune cookie, or eating a bad burrito bowl at Chipotle). Though the evangelical community would be very nervous about "tolerance" when it comes to who goes in what restroom at the local Target, we are incredibly "tolerant" of any and every doctrine that comes our way with a Christian label. We've lowered our commitment to sound theology to the point where we're willing to feel good about our brother or sister in Christ "as long as they're going to church somewhere." While there are lots of really good churches around, there are also a lot of bad ones!

Please DO NOT hear me saying that diversity in the church is a bad thing or that in order to be a true Christian you must be in the PCA tribe. I actually welcome varying perspectives on many theological matters ... I like the fact that different denominations exist and help us see things with a different emphasis ... I'm excited to learn Biblical truth from other cultures and ethnicities. And I'm definitely not saying that we're to be theological snobs, waving our particular theological credentials around in self-righteous ways ... but we must take seriously the responsibility to contend for the faith and rigorously defend orthodox theology.  This is Jude's call to the church in his day and it's the cry to Community Presbyterian Church today!

Let's take this responsibility seriously by doing a few things.

  • Study the Scripture. We're not going to be discerning apart from a knowledge of the Bible. Read it, learn it, come to Sunday School and worship, get involved in a small group study, be discipled by someone mature in their faith.
  • Read good book on theology. Don't let Google decide for you how to pursue true teaching on a particular matter. There are many good resources. If you need help, ask us.
  • Be willing to teach our children and youth. A strong foundation in the early years goes a long way to help guard against heresy taking root. 
  • Pursue your friends who have strayed into false teaching. Again, the church in America has been infiltrated with much heresy and we need to love fellow believers enough to help them discover this error.
  • Pray for the church ... for Community, for the PCA, for the church in America, for the church around the world ... to be discerning and not afraid to exercise discipline when needed. None of us are immune from error and we need God's grace to preserve us. 

When Parishes Collide

We don't use the term parish a whole lot, and though it may technically be defined by geography, it also refers to the people who would identify one man as their pastor. In a sense Community Presbyterian Church could be described as a parish with me as the pastor. But a large part and purpose in my evangelism work is to build a parish of around 200 non-Community folks who would eventually call me pastor. These are those unchurched, non-Christian, non-church-going people who have no intent to set foot in our, or any other, church building ... hopefully some eventually might, but most never will. This is a hard work in a field that has been largely ignored by the church over several generations. We (the evangelical churches in America) have focused our efforts on attracting those who are already converted, who are looking for a church to attend, and trying to convince them that we're the best show in town. But that group is rapidly disappearing. I trust you saw the statistics I distributed last week that even here in St. Clair County Alabama 52% of the population defines themselves as "none" when it comes to religious affiliation. No longer can we self-righteously shake our heads in disgust at ungodly places like Europe, Arabic nations, Indonesia, etc. ... people in our own neighborhoods are not attending church.

My great desire is to see my two parishes collide on a regular basis. By definition, the not-interested-in-church parish isn't going to seek out the church-going crowd, so the challenge is to motivate and facilitate ways for us church-goers to explore the other parish. A couple of days ago I had the privilege and joy with two other CPC guys to get dirty with some from my other parish. We helped clean up an old cemetery owned by one of my friends who's too old to adequately maintain it. We mowed, cut weeds, raked, bagged trash, and whatever else needed doing for several hours. Our being there did not result in any immediate conversions, no one spoke any prophesies, no tongues of fire descended from heaven, nobody gave their life to Christ, and no one asked to be baptized. But there were some new relationships built, some friendships strengthened, some questions asked, some doors opened ... we inched our way into the lives of some men who desperately need the Gospel, and we hope to press in deeper as the Lord allows.

Please pray for my parishes ... for Community Church and for the 200 other non-church folks I'm hoping will call me "pastor" as our friendship grows.  And if you ever want to explore the world of the unbeliever, give me a shout. I truly want CPC to be a church family who loves unbelievers and lives out the Gospel in front of them. It's a beautiful thing when these two parishes collide!

Hard to Make People Happy

I've told people for many years that the hardest thing we do as a church is weekly worship! How do we as sinners rightfully enter into the presence of a holy God and offer Him any sort of suitable worship? It boggles the mind to consider what a privilege this is ... and also the responsibility we have to do it rightly and in accord with God's Word. Surely not something to be taken lightly.

But other than this primary and fundamental difficulty of worship, there are other matters that make it tough! We have to consider the style of music, song selection, elements of liturgy, seating, room temperature, dress, logistics, childcare, opening and closing the building, and a host of other things. How do we manage all these things when folks have so many differing opinions, preferences, likes, dislikes, traditions, and backgrounds? Again, these are nothing when compared to the seriousness of entering into God's presence, but nevertheless are matters we must consider.

Here's another thing that makes Sunday worship hard ... how are we to treat the guests who come and worship with us? I just read an article by church researcher Thom Rainer and he listed the "Top Ten Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Guests." Want to guess what the top two were? ... the first is essentially the church is trying to be too friendly (specifically he identified the "stand up and greet one another" during worship time). The second reason is the church isn't friendly enough (in his terms "unfriendly church members"). So should we be friendly? How friendly should we be? We'll offend folks if we come on too strong ... we'll offend folks if we don't come on strong enough ... where's the balance? How should we welcome the Sunday morning guest? How can we make everyone happy? Of course, I know that we can be very welcoming without having the awkward "stand and greet" time. Though there are some exceptions and slip ups, I think for the most part Community does a pretty good job with this.

But know that I'm not writing about a welcoming strategy. I'm actually thinking more of the way we worship ... our mindset, perspective, focus, posture, etc. before and during worship. If our focus is on "how to make everyone happy" then we're going to fail miserably at the whole deal. Both our worship to our Father and our relationship to guests will be seriously hindered and flawed. Perhaps our focus needs to be on Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the church, our Redeemer, Sovereign Lord, and Savior. When our gaze is fully on Him we will most certainly treat others, including our guests, with great respect and love. The more pure our worship to Christ, the better will be our "welcoming" posture toward one another. How can it not? The more enamored we are with God's love for us in Christ the more loving we'll be toward one another.

I'm not saying we shouldn't be intentional and welcome our Sunday morning guests ... we most definitely should ... so please do! But most importantly, fix your eyes on Christ and insure that your encounters with others are the natural outgrowth of a heart saturated with the Gospel. I suspect that when this occurs our guests will neither feel overwhelmed by artificial friendliness nor put off by a lack of friendliness! 

Precious in Life ... Precious in Death

In His infinite wisdom, God chose this past week to call Adria Ellis home to glory. I can't imagine anyone would disagree when I say that she was one of the godliest, kindest, strongest, most faithful, most humble people ever created. When I think of my own life I can fairly easily pick it apart and highlight a myriad of flaws, inadequacies, sins, and inconsistencies. But as I reflect on Adria's I come up pretty empty trying to find some glaring deficiency. Not that she wasn't a sinner ... she was, and in humility would be the first to run to the cross for forgiveness, grace, strength, and life. I would say the same about Joe ... a true man of God, full of faith, humble, godly character. 

So why didn't God answer their many prayers for Adria's healing? And not just their prayers but those of the entire CPC family and of the Ellis family's many friends and relatives. Why didn't God take away the cancer that eventually took her life? That's a question many of us ask, but knowing Adria I suspect we wrestle with it much more than she did. Adria's faith was real and she had total confidence in the sovereignty and goodness of God. She knew God had numbered her days and that she was in no position to argue with His perfect and gracious will. Adria's faith was and will continue to be a model for me and so many others. 

Psalm 116:115 says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." It doesn't always seem very precious at first, but as we reflect on this truth perhaps it can begin to make sense. I borrow some thoughts from A.W. Pink as he comments on this verse. We tend to process everything in life from our own perspective rather than God's and most certainly we view death from our own point of view. But this verse gives us a tiny glimpse from God's perspective. He says that the death of His children is precious to Him ... how can this be? How can Adria's death be precious to the Lord when it seems so hideous to us?

First of all, Adria herself was precious to God. She was one on whom His love was set upon even before the foundation of the world. She was one for whom Jesus willingly left heaven for and who lived and died. She was one for whom Jesus shed His precious blood. Thus, everything about Adria, the number of her hairs that eventually fell out, her every breath, her life, and even her death are precious to Him.

Secondly, her death terminates her sorrows and sufferings. Scripture affirms that we will suffer in this life and that we must go through much of it as we move toward glory. Yet God is never unmindful of or indifferent to our sufferings. In fact, Scripture reminds us that Jesus is familiar with our suffering and that Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. So in Adria's death, God brought an end to her pain and suffering. 

The death of His children also gives the Lord the opportunity to display His sufficiency. To quote Pink, "Love is never so happy as when ministering to the needs of its cherished object, and never is the Christian so needy and so helpless as in the hour of death." Our extremity is God's opportunity to display His amazing grace. As our shepherd, He carries us as helpless sheep in His arms. His strength is made perfect in our weakness. Adria's untimely death will force us to rest more securely in God's sufficiency.

Lastly, at death His saints enter into God's presence and He delights in having His children with Him. Jesus enjoyed having the disciples accompany Him on His journeys and as He left them He gave the assurance that He was going to prepare a place for them so that they would eventually be with Him forever. 2 Corinthians 5:8 instructs us that being absent from the body means we are present with the Lord. "Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord." As precious as it would be for Joe and the rest of us to enjoy many more years of life with Adria, her presence with the Lord is even more precious. 

None of this makes death easy for any of us. We will still mourn and grieve over Adria's death, and rightly so as death is a hideous enemy. But while we from our perspective experience sorrow, Christ is rejoicing! Remember His prayer in John 17:24 - "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."


An Amazing Rescue

What seemed essentially impossible only a few days ago has been accomplished. People around the world are celebrating the rescue of the 12 Thai soccer players and their coach who were trapped more than a mile deep in a flooded cave for 18 days. Divers and rescue workers from around the world worked together to pull off this stunning feat. After divers actually found this lost group there was a team of 3 divers and 1 doctor who spent a week with them in the dark, cramped cave. Others were able to bring them food, blankets, and other needed supplies while the boys waited. Hundreds of other workers were frantically working outside the cave - figuring out plans, pumping out water, assembling gear, prepping for medical care, etc. 

Apparently none of the boys, ages 11-16, knew how to swim. After getting them dressed in diving gear somehow the rescuers had to get them back out through very narrow, flooded sections of the oxygen-depleted cave, filled with razor sharp rocks, fighting against strong currents of cold water. But against all these odds, the boys and coach have all been saved. As I watched television coverage just after the last boys and coach were brought out, I heard an interview with a cave diving rescue expert. When asked what he thought was the key to this rescue being pulled off, he confidently said it was the installation of the rope that guided the rescuers and the boys back out. Each boy was tethered to a rescuer and was able to use the rope for his security and safety.

I try to imagine what that cave experience might be like, especially what it would be like having to get out. I know how to swim, but water scares me and I definitely would panic if I had to swim for a long distance under water in a cold, dark, flooded cave ... not sure I could do it! But the prospect of being tethered to an expert holding my air tank / life support and being able to hold on to a rope makes it a bit more possible in my mind. 

None of us are presently trapped in a dark, flooded cave deep underground. But nonetheless, many of us feel trapped in something ... addictions, fears, relationships, sinful patterns, isolation, depression, jobs, etc. We'd love to get out of these "caves," we've been told we need to get out, yet we feel absolutely trapped and know we can no more escape our situations than could those Thai boys trapped in their cave. We wish God would provide a rope ... something literal, material, and tangible to hold on to and lead us out. But that never materializes. So what are we to hold on to? What does God provide?

God gives us Himself ... Jesus is the "rope" provided for us to hold on to, to get us out of the deep, cold, dark place we find ourselves in. Yet we can only hold on to Him by faith. Yes, that's frustrating ... why couldn't God just give me the thing, the money, the circumstance, the stuff, etc. I want to fix my problem?  Because He knows our real need isn't stuff ... it's Jesus. And while we can only grab hold of Him by faith, God even gives us this needed faith as a gift as we read His precious covenant promises in Scripture, commune with Him in prayer, and feast at His table. And all this is done in community and fellowship with other believers who are struggling with the same matters of faith. 

Brothers and sisters, what cave do you find yourself in today? Do you realize you need to be rescued? Do you know that Jesus is the only way out? Are you aware that He is the secure, unchanging, and promised means of salvation? Are you availing yourself of the precious means of grace? Are you in community with other believers? Is your problem a matter of faith? Let's repent of vainly grabbing hold of other things for rescue and pray for that faith so we may cling tightly to Christ.

"I believe; help my unbelief." - Mark 9:24

"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and unearth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God." - Ephesians 3:14-19

The Old, Old Story

I realize I've recently been watching several TV shows that feature old car restorations ... shows such as Fast n' Loud, Graveyard Cars, FantomWorks, WheelerDealers, etc. fascinate me. It's amazing to see these folks take old, beat-up, rusted-out, non-working, piles of junk and transform them into working cars, often even into show car quality! They'll go into old barns, junkyards, or granddad's garage to find these cars. Sometimes people just bring them a project and the car guys then do their thing. And by the end of the episode we see the result ... something worthless transformed into a thing of beauty.

But for many of us, cars aren't that interesting. So maybe we watch shows like Fixer Upper, This Old House, Extreme Makeover, or Property Brothers. Here the same principle applies ... old houses with lots of problems transformed into something new. Or maybe your thing is fashion. Shows like What Not to Wear, How Do I Look?, Guide to Style, or Style by Jury catch your interest. All of us could probably use some degree of a fashion makeover. And, of course, we have this fascination with body transformation ... workouts, diets, body-sculpting, etc. 

I suspect most of our interest in the world of make-overs and transformation is simply rooted in God's image in us working itself out in our longing to see things made right. In a sense, these TV shows are just a retelling of the old, old story of the Gospel ... how God Himself takes dead, worthless, run-down, abandoned, junk people like us and transforms us in holiness, righteousness, and knowledge, all in and through His Son Jesus Christ. 

So while we probably all watch a bit too much TV maybe our obsession with transformation, renovation, make-over, conversion, etc. is just a reminder to us of our longing for the good news and hope of the Gospel. God has converted us by giving us a new heart that trusts in Christ ... He is transforming us as we behold the glory of Christ ... and He will transform us completely when Christ comes again in glory. Let's be thankful for the many glimpses and re-telling of this story in various ways. And let's thank God for the hope, assurance, confidence, and joy this Gospel story gives us as we live our daily lives. 

But I Had Good Intentions

We were having some folks over for supper this past Tuesday night so there was a list of things we wanted to get done prior to their arrival. Anita's focus was on cooking and straightening up the house a bit. My intent was to get home a bit early and do some long overdue grass cutting. Well, I wasn't able to leave work quite as early as I wanted but still figured I had ample time to get some grass cut. I get home, change into some work clothes, go out to the mower to get started and notice it's almost out of gas. And, of course, we didn't have any at the house so off I went with the gas can to get some. I get back and fill up the mower, ready to get going! Click ... click .... click. Nothing. Dead battery. No worries, I'll just jump it off. Where are the jumper cables that I know were here this morning? They've apparently disappeared into thin air. Time is rapidly slipping away and marching on toward the arrival of our guests snd I still needed to grill the chicken and take a shower.

Looks like the grass is going to have to wait until another day. But I really did have good intentions and wanted to get it cut ... it just didn't work out this time! But guess what still needs to be done? The grass didn't shrink or cut itself just because I had good intentions. The need to mow the grass is still there ... in fact, with each passing day the need becomes greater and more urgent. 

While this is a story about my yard it could just as easily be a story about my heart and life. I have all sort of good intentions every day ... but things just don't always work out the way I thought they would. Something else comes up, something is broken, other stuff presses hard on me, etc. and I simply can't do what I intended to do. But I really did have good intentions ... surely that should be all that matters ... right? But here's the reality - the project still needs to be completed, the phone call needs to be made, the bill still needs to be paid, dishes still need to be washed, etc. "Anita, sorry those checks bounced. I really wanted to drop off that deposit at the bank but just got so busy I wasn't able. But my intentions really were good."

How often do our "good intentions" thwart real action and obedience in the church? How often do we say, "I really meant to do that, but you know how it is." And in the meantime ... that class still needs a teacher, that sick or lonely person still needs an encouraging visit or phone call, that struggling parent still needs help with his/her child, our hearts still need the encouragement we find in corporate worship and personal devotion, those church bills still need to be paid, that struggling married couple still needs the hospitality and friendship of more mature believers, that teenage student still needs a mentor, those work projects still need to be done, etc. We all have good intentions and "really mean" to call that person, attend worship/small group, go to the next work day, daily read the Bible and pray, serve in some capacity, etc. But the hard truth is our good intentions don't get the work done. 

How about next time we "really, really mean it" and try even harder? That's not going to work either ... we know that from experience. So what are we to do? I suggest the answer rests in repentance and believing the Gospel. For one, the Gospel assures us there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ. There truly are times when we can't get done the things we want to get done. For whatever reason, even when it's due to our own sinful neglect, we are convinced that our right standing before God isn't a result of our own righteousness but rather is due to the finished work of Jesus Christ. Thus, we are free to own up to our sin, repent of it, and then move forward with the assurance of forgiveness and grace. Then also, when we are immersed in the Gospel, we are more compelled to live out our lives in conformity with that Gospel. 

While we do have a "doing" problem and often use good intentions as a cloaking device to hide our disobedience, our root problem is a "believing" problem. Today, seriously reflect again on the amazing love of God expressed to you in Christ and see what the Spirit will do with that in your life. 


The Unbelieving World

As most of you probably know I've been involved with the ministry of Evangelize Today for the past couple of years. This ministry aims to encourage Christians, especially pastors, to intentionally get involved with unbelievers, listen to them, hear and understand what they are saying, value them as actual people, identify with their hurts and questions, and look for opportunities to share with them the hope and good news of Jesus.  One of the reasons we target pastors is because it is incredibly easy for the average pastor to get so overwhelmed with the responsibilities of leading his flock and doing administrative tasks that he has little time, energy, or even desire to get into the messiness of the world of unbelievers. We know from Scripture and I affirm from my experience that the unbelieving world is very ugly, vulgar, and dishonoring to God. My evangelism trainer is incredibly bold in the mess he willingly ventures into - he speaks at Atheist Society meetings, gets invited to Tattoo conventions, is investigating the cross-dressing community, soon to head to Sturgis, SD for the yearly motorcycle rally, and other such stuff.  (Of course, the scariest group he works with is a bunch of PCA pastors like me!)

So if that world is so ugly and profane, why then would any God-fearing, Bible-believing, holiness-seeking, faithful Christian even want to get involved in it? Well, here's my answer to that ... it is precisely because we DO want to fear God, believe the Bible, seek after holiness, and be faithful to what God has called us to do. We're instructed by Jesus to "make disciples" of all peoples; our desire is to be more like Jesus who said He didn't come for the righteous but rather for the sinner; we even know that sanctification and growth in holiness will absolutely happen as we have greater trust in and reliance upon Jesus while engaging in the front line battle for the souls of men and women. 

There are some amazing theological truths that we have on our side as we engage with unbelievers. We know that every one of them bears the image of God and that image will show itself in various ways if we're patient and observant enough. We know that God's Spirit is continuing to draw sinners to Christ, giving them life, and granting them repentance and faith; thus, we are confident the Lord will continue to grow His church and give her ultimate success in mission and evangelism. We share many of the same hurts, disappointments, questions, fears, and problems with unbelievers; we have the same "back-narrative" - the unbeliever asks, "If your God is so good, why is my life so hard?" while our back-narrative is, "If God is so good, why is my life so hard?" Yes, unbelievers are messy,  but so are we!  Many of the unbelievers I'm encountering are stunned when they discover that my life is also hard, that I have unanswered questions, that I share many of their same fears and hurts, that I'm a real person just like them. I contend most unbelievers are hungry for Christians who are simply real people and honest about life. 

I recently asked an alternative-lifestyle, non church attending bartender what advice she would give for church-going folks like me. Her answer was simple - "Just get out and get to know people." So let me leave you with that same advice. And while my bartender friend's counsel may be given for a different reason, my reason in passing it along is for the sake of growing the Kingdom of God. Let's be intentional in building relationships with unbelievers for the sake of the Gospel ... let's seek ways to present the Gospel in word and deed ... let's not be afraid to get involved in the messiness of the unbelieving world ... let's pray that God would use us in our weakness, fear, inadequacy, and brokenness to build His church. He has used folks such as us for generations past ... He is using folks like us now ... He will use us in the days, weeks, months, and years to come! Believe it. 

Survey Says ...

If you've ever watched Family Feud you're familiar with the phrase, "survey says." The producers of that show survey audiences and rank the answers to some often rather ridiculous questions. So let's play a little "Church Family Feud" for just a minute. Here's the question - "Why are church members attending worship less frequently?"  Unfortunately, I don't have the answers ranked in any particular order, but here are the top 6 answers according to research done by Thom Rainer.  

  1. they are more mobile
  2. they are more affluent
  3. they have more options
  4. they consider church optional
  5. they have not been challenged
  6. they are likely not active in a small group

Obviously some of these answers run together ... the more affluent are much more mobile and have more options of things to do other than attend worship on Sunday mornings. But other answers reflect the condition of the heart ... often the heart of the leadership of the church itself! If a church member hasn't been challenged, considers church involvement to be optional, and isn't active in building relationships and studying God's Word in a small group then it says something fairly negative about the leadership of the church. (Yes, I realize I'm speaking of my own inadequate leadership here.) I suspect few believers would actually say that involvement in the body is optional, but it sure plays out that way in practice doesn't it? And yes, this lack of participation often is a fruit of the lack of personal commitment to the Gospel, but in many ways it also likely reflects the commitment and passion of the church leadership. 

Why am I writing this and pointing out a potential flaw in both the membership and leadership of the church? Refer to #4 above ... "they have not been challenged." Though a blog post such as this can't be considered sufficient to challenge believers in their walk with Christ, it's certainly a part of the process. I certainly need to do a better job of personally challenging the leadership of CPC to be more active and aggressive in ministry. The leaders (elders, deacons, ministry heads, etc.) need to be more active and aggressive in their roles. And all of us must take more seriously the implications of what it means to be identified as a follower of Jesus Christ.

But what's our motivation to do this? What will move us toward greater and more passionate involvement in the body of Christ? It's the Gospel ... the fact that Jesus lived the life we should have lived, that He died the death we should have died, that He rose again from the grave to secure for His people a home in heaven with Him for eternity. It's the amazing truth that though we are far greater sinners than we think we are, we are simultaneously far more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we could ever dare imagine. So perhaps Rainer gathered the answers that people gave, but I think he missed the bottom line answer = we no longer believe the Gospel. Morality, commitment, zeal, programming, dedication, re-dedication, being serious, proper scheduling, being challenged, etc. isn't enough ... Jesus is!

Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 - "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." This is the Gospel ... this is our motivation ... this is what should propel and motivate and move us to be an active part of His family and regularly worship Him. Have you bathed yourself in the Gospel today?