Friday, August 10, 2007

What Bible Version...?

...does your church use? Especially in sermons?

Unfortunately, this appears to be the version of the Bible most frequently used in evangelical sermon preparation:

While it's not a new idea (Consider Thomas Jefferson's efforts in creating The Jefferson Bible), it's still a bad idea. We need to seek - and pastors need to preach - the WHOLE counsel of God.

And sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening in too many places these days. Too often, sermon series are designed to make the church "relevant" to "seekers" and center around their needs. The great need of our day - and every day - is for a clear, unfiltered, unedited proclamation of ALL of God's Word. I don't know how you can do that apart from a regular, systematic, verse-by-verse exposition of the text.

I know that most people would rather have a good, energetic, up-beat, practical, positive sermon (it goes well with the rest of the weekly show). God's children, however, long for the Word. All of it. ESPECIALLY where it points out our error - because we want to be like Jesus and we know we've got a long way to go. And those who are the children of the Devil (John 8, especially vs. 42-44) desperately need to hear the same thing - it is their only hope. After all,
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."(Romans 10:17)
Ironically, unless things change, the drive to be "relevant" and the avoidance of a pattern in the church of clear, searching exposition and application of the whole counsel of God will likely be the very thing that dooms America to the post-Christian, secular wasteland of History.

Do you study the "erasable bible?" Consider the question next time when we cover another of Jesus' ignored commandments.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Ignored Commandments of Jesus... Part 2

"...a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.'" (Matthew 17:5)

It is amazing to me that people claim to be in relationship with Jesus - and ignore His commandments. Jesus warned His followers about this phenomenon. The power of sin is so pervasive that, apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, all of us will rationalize away that which is clearly our responsibility. I take to heart personally the warning in Proverbs 14:12 that says:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."
Our problem, apart from God, is genuinely frightening! In a culture that values "following your own heart" as defensible, and maybe as the most common life strategy, the warning of the Bible in Jeremiah 17:9 is important to hear:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
So what seems like "the right way" to me may be totally wrong... and I may not see it at all. After all, Proverbs 12:15 says that "the way of a fool is right in his own eyes..." - I don't know about you, but I don't want that to be me.

So what hope do we have (and what does this have to do with Matthew 5)?

Well, here's the first "ignored commandment" of Jesus that I see: (Not first in priority, by the way - just the first in my little series!) When was the last time you did this?
"...if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24
What? This is more important that worship? Yes, it is!

We live in a performance-based, program-oriented sub-culture. And those programs and performances may be ok, but they are not what "church" is supposed to be. It is relatively easy to do... but the call of Jesus is not just to do, but to be. Church is supposed to be a community of people who love and serve Jesus together - and love and serve each other as well.

What penetrates the the blindness of our evil hearts, and helps us see wisdom apart from our own plans? Part (and only part) of the answer lies in community - real, authentic community. The church ought to be a place where people connect deeply in life, and out of that deep connection, are able to encourage each other when they are down, and exhort and rebuke each other when they are going astray.

Here's the rub: Both encouragement and rebuke are hard to receive apart from genuine community. The encouragement feels phony, and the rebuke feels harsh. Our nature rebels against both - but community makes both real and acceptable. The reality of ongoing relational involvement from others within the community of faith - that stands the test of time and repeated demonstrates that its goal is our best interest - is winsome... and it breaks through our defensiveness. It helps us see the truth. But it can't happen if community doesn't develop. And community doesn't develop if relationships stay broken.

That's why our ignoring this commandment is so tragic. It underscores the lack of authentic community that so many of us know as our practical experience. Have you heard the old line
To live above with the saints we love,
Oh that will be glory!
To live below with the ones we know, well -
That's a different story.
It would be funny if it weren't true.

Why is it that people - even within the church - can allow broken relationships to go on for any time at all? Why is it so hard for some people - even church leaders - to be fully aware of practical problems between people and yet come week after week to "worship" without addressing the relational problem? Isn't this in direct disobedience to a clear commandment of Jesus?

Do you know that someone in the church "has something against you"? Why would you wait at all before obeying the Lord and going to that person to be reconciled? What exception clauses do you see in Jesus' command? What do you say?

"The other person is wrong - I haven't done anything..."

"The other person is unreasonable - nothing I do will help..."

"I'm too busy..." "Too important..." "It's no big deal to me, it shouldn't be to them..."

Blah, blah, blah.
In all Christian love and tenderness (and I'm speaking to myself too - I've applied this to myself this week), here's my practical exhortation for you: "Shut up."

Stop defending yourself. Stop rationalizing. Stop excusing. Just shut up, leave church NOW and go make things right. If you think I'm wrong, take it up with Jesus. But I could be wrong, because didn't Jesus say that "the world would know we are his disciples because of the way we hold out until the bitter end, ignoring the feelings of others, pretending that everything is ok even when we know it isn't and holding on to our position until the bitter end?"

Whoops. That may not be the best translation of John 13:35. :) Anyway, what chance does real community have in growing and developing when we ignore the hard work of reconciliation? As people in the pews, what possible excuse would we allow for unresolved conflict? And as leaders, do we really have a biblical mandate to ignore people with issues? Too many churches focus on the front door in getting people to come, but pay no meaningful attention to the back door - with people leaving, forgotten at best or disparaged at worst when they leave.

I can hear the excuses already. "What if I go to them and they don't want to be reconciled?" What if it doesn't "work"? What if they are too stubborn and sinful?

Does it matter? Aren't those the wrong questions anyway?

If the Lord God Almighty, the Sovereign of Heaven and Earth demands that we do this, with all due respect, who are we to say "No"? If He has spoken, ought we not "Listen to Him"?

Here's my point: The person aware of the offense - whether they agree or not, whether they are confident in the result or not - without condition is obligated by this command to initiate reconciliation. Can you imagine what the church would look like if THAT was our pattern? Jesus could... and we should too.

So let's not be like Peter and say "No, Lord" to His command.
Let's put our pride aside and make the phone call - set up the meeting - reopen the conversation - what ever it takes to "be reconciled with [our] brother."