Friday, May 28, 2010

Sunday, April 25, 2010

I'm Only Going to Use Christian Electricity

I understand how it all started. We wanted to support our fellow Christians, so we decided to use symbols like the fish (Ichthus) or the cross to identify Christian business men and women. We wanted to make sure our money was used for the kingdom of God. Now, as a church history buff, I love the Ichthus and how it originated. And the cross: wow, any comment would be an understatement. But how far do we take this?

Like I said, I get the logic. If I use the services of the Christian plumber, then I'm helping my brother-in-the-Lord; then he'll be able to give a bigger tithe or offering in his church; who will send more money to the missionary; and so on (at least in theory). It is a great idea, and I hope that type of cycle happens. I'm just afraid that it leads to a mentality of exclusivity.

Is Christianity a club? Is it an exclusive group that you have to be invited into, by one of it's members, of course, then you get to share in the perks of the membership? And if you know the secret handshake, you get the special business deal. If that's the case, we're basically a variation of the Masons, or the Moose Lodge, or Elks. It's the club mentality that turns many people off. They don't want to join our club of Christianity because they don't want to go through the hazing process.

A wonderful Christian man named Keith Wheeler put it this way, "we should be insulated from the world, not isolated". I love that. So well put. When we as Christians separate ourselves from "the world" so we don't get tainted by evil and sin, we are actually isolating ourselves. That's not what Jesus taught us to do. Of course we are supposed to live Godly lives; and we should be different because of our walk with Christ. But we should stand out as being different because of our love, not because of our condescending snootiness. Remember when Jesus was eating dinner with the sinners, and the Pharisees gasped in horror? By eating with them, Jesus wasn't loosening up his holiness and saying to himself, "ah, what the hell, I might as well have fun while I'm down here". No, the Bible is very clear: Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life. So he was still holy, yet he did not shy away from sinful people (which was everyone). Insulated, not isolated.

You're not going to be able to buy products that only put money into Christian pockets. Probably 95% percent of everything you own or could own is putting money into the hands of selfish, greedy, evil, non-Christian, un-Christian, and anti-Christian people. But this isn't just about not shopping only from the Christian phone book. Far worse is when you separate yourSELF. If you are a sincere believer, then you have something to contribute to the world. But if you isolate yourself, then no one benefits. The world misses out on your influence, and you miss out on the amazing ways that everyone, good and bad, adds a dash of improvement to your life.

Many of the topics I've touched on could be expanded into their own book. But I hope you get the basic idea here. Go out into the world. Rub elbows with the world, hug it, let it get you dirty. Your mandate as a Christian is to stay clean on the inside. So it doesn't matter if you get some mud on the outside. That just means you're working. And don't worry about where your money goes. I look at it this way: when my secular, worldly company gives me a paycheck, I use THEIR money to spread the gospel of Jesus. So it goes both ways. And I don't think you can find Christian electricity.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Church of the Future

I have a dream. Perhaps even a vision. It's how church may look very soon. While the analysts are scrambling to gather data and statistics to see what is happening in the church and what we need to do to fix it, maybe we don't need to do anything. What if everything that is happening is by God's design? As we all ponder that question, here are some things I see.

I see a church where you feel the presence of God as soon as you approach the building, or at least when you enter the front door; not just hoping you may feel it later in the service after lights, video, music, and an entertaining orator give you an emotional buzz. I see people walking into whatever room they call the sanctuary and all you hear is the whispers and murmurings of prayer or worship; not the light-hearted chatter of people catching up with their friends' weekly events.

I see a church where only the humble are promoted to leadership while the proud and haughty are made to wait; a church where the body of believers are conditioned to respond to sincerity and honesty, not impressive cheerleading. I see believers who see through false spirituality and shun it; believers who can tell whether a Christian is looking at Jesus or himself.

I see a church where every coffee shop has been converted into a shelter for the homeless; and every bookstore into a wearhouse for clothes and food for the poor. Instead of youth recreation rooms with pool tables and ping-pong tables, I see teenagers praying at the altar for their friends and families. I see Sunday school teachers who don't feel obligated to fill up a forty-five minute class time with forty minutes of games and activities and a five-minute Bible lesson.

I see a church that spends less money on decorations if it means they could spend more on their missionaries. I see a church that refuses to spend thousands of dollars hosting a "conference", only to break even and over-work a lot of volunteers - all for the secret goal of promoting the church name and picking up a few new members.
I see a church that aggressively takes care of its own members like the church did in Acts 4:34 so that there would be "no needy persons among them."

I see a church that loves first, and asks questions later; where newcomers are presumed innocent and invited into the circle of fellowship without having to prove themselves. I see a church that loves the unlovely: a body of believers that gives the same attention to people who look vastly different than them, as to people who look like them.

When I hear about how church membership is dwindling and young people don't attend like they used to, I'm not surprised. I'm not even upset. The correct response is not, "what do we do about it?". WE can't do anything. We shouldn't do anything that we think would attract people back to church. If a church is dying, let it die. Jesus said every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Why would you want to spend time, money, and effort to keep a church on life-support? That's not a church that is truly alive. That's a church that is dead, but technically alive through false methods.

The only thing we can DO is to improve our relationship with the Lord. God is cleaning house. It's His house, let Him clean it. Don't hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. When the cleaning is done, then the churches that are bearing good fruit will be stronger than ever. People on the outside will know who the Christians are because they will see a believer as someone who belongs to that group of people who is full of the power and glory of the Almighty God.

I want to be a part of that church: the church that has less stuff but does more stuff. I want to be a part of a church that either draws you, or repulses you: one or the other - not a church that is so safe and sterile, it has no effect on you.
I pray that the church of the future is just around the corner. We need to become the church, the body, that Jesus commands us to be.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why I Can No Longer Be a Republican

Don't panic. It's not like I'm changing religions. My beliefs and positions haven't changed much. The party has. The people in the party have. I don't like them. They're mean. So I'm taking my toys and I'm playing somewhere else. I don't know where. I'm not joining the democrats either. I guess that means I'm an independent.

Does being an independent mean I can't decide? On the contrary: I have made a clear and firm decision that neither party is worthy of my company. So what's so bad about the GOP? Well, I'll tell you...(cue the music)...

First of all, it's not God's party. God couldn't care less about political parties. I know many serious, committed, conservative-minded Christians like me chose the republican party because of some top moral issues. But in case you haven't noticed, the repubs in office are almost daily demonstrating how un-Christian they are. Now I know "nobody's perfect" and "we all make mistakes". I'm not talking about various mistakes in speech or brief lapses of judgement. I mean blatant and constant behavior that is not Christian at all. I've tried to dismiss these over and over like many of us saying, "well, that was just him" or "that's an exception to the rest" But I've seen too many bonehead repubs in office to feel anymore like they're the exception.
The phrase goes, "you're known by the company you keep". I don't like the company I've been keeping. The kinds of hateful signs and bumper stickers and statements yelled by people who are republicans is embarrassing to me. I can't associate myself with such ugly behavior. It's even biblical to ditch bad influences. I'm following that advice. And this isn't because I'm buying into the "liberal media's" portrayal of repubs. First of all, there are too many scenes of hateful messages by hysterical crowds of republicans. Those aren't false images. It doesn't matter whose camera is pointing at them. Idiot repubs are definitely out there by the millions. And second, I see it in real life. People I meet at churches, online, etc. who claim to be Christians really do act like this. Act like what? Like uneducated, narrow-minded, unreasonable, immature people who are full of hatred. Have I made myself clear?
I'm passionate about my beliefs too. I can get on my soap-box like the best of 'em on lots of topics. But by God, I hope I never make some of the childish, asinine statements that I've seen and heard others make. Mind you, I'm sure there are many civil repubs out there who are mature about how they handle themselves. But there aren't enough to make me feel like I can say proudly, "I'm a republican". I'll still vote my conscience and promote my Christian beliefs, but I want a 32 and 1/2 foot pole distance between me and the hate-mongering buffoons.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Reverent or relevent?

Isn't it great that we've advanced in our church culture so much that we're not so stuffy about how we act in church? Forget the church of our parents and grandparents - I mean COME ON. Get with the times, man. You've got to be now, today, cutting edge, and (the buzz word today) relevent. Okay, opening sarcasm is finished.
The question is: are we still reverent? Do we still show respect while we are in the sanctuary? It is called a sanctuary no matter what it looks like. The root of that word is the Latin sanctus, which means "holy". Do we feel like we are in a holy place?
First, let's make a distinction between appearance and behavior. I'm not faulting any church for looking modern or contemporary. I'm glad we do not take the puritanical approach that being uncomfortable is to be equated with holiness. We are fortunate that we have air-conditioning, heat, comfortable pews or chairs; and that's just the basics. I won't even get into all the high-tech, state-of-the-art media, etc. that many churches have. Different discussion. And what about dress code? I'm glad I can wear jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers if I want. I think it's great to see people with piercings, tattoos, crazy hair, and the variety of slices of society coming into church. A church that is welcoming to the full spectrum of people is doing the right thing. So don't misunderstand me on those points.
Where I think we lose it is on how we behave in church. Do we need to walk in with our Starbucks? Is it not enough that churches provide coffee and snacks in the lobby or some room? We have to bring it in the sanctuary and act like we are at a baseball game. Although that does explain why many church-goers are merely spectators - but that's another subject also.
The cell phones. Come on people. We show more respect in a movie theater than we do in church. Seriously. A movie theater makes an effort to play the humorous clip to instruct the audience to be quiet and turn off their phones so that everyone has an enjoyable experience. What about experiencing the presence of God? Is that important? Are we afraid to ask people to turn their phones off for the next ninety minutes because we might offend their personal freedoms? And who are you getting a call from on Sunday morning anyway? Are you a brain surgeon on-call? Then set it to vibrate. Do you have friends who don't go to church on Sunday? That's fine, in fact that's great: I hope you have some non-Christian friends. Tell them you go to church Sunday morning (or whatever day you go - I realize alternative days are becoming popular). Texting? Don't even get me started. Just lump it in with having your phone ring during service. Let me make it plain: it is rude, disrespectful, irreverent, and shows a blatant disregard for the presence of God and His holiness. To go to church is to worship the Lord and focus on Him. When you are involved with your phone or whatever else, you are focusing on you. You don't need to get that phone call during church. You are not that important. If you think you are, then the wrong person is on the throne.
"But I meant to turn it off, I just forgot" you say? How about not bringing your phone to church at all? Inconceivable? Then how about having the ushers frisk everybody on their way into the sanctuary and taking everyone's tech junk, and only giving it back when the service is over? Simply hire some airport security and give them usher badges.
It's all of these careless actions together that do not paint a pretty picture of our view of God and His presence. Casual dress and modern conveniences are one thing; acting like you're at a coffee shop in the mall is another. Jesus made a whip and chased out money changers in the temple and knocked over their tables of doves and other religious items. I think if Jesus were here in the flesh today, He would do the same thing with our coffee shops, book stores, and all the Christian paraphernalia that is so rampant in our churches today.
I go to church to worship the Lord, not to be entertained or be pampered like I'm at a day spa. Maybe churches mean well when they provide over-the-top amenities, but it's back-firing. It sends the wrong signal about Christianity and teaches people an erroneous view of God. Whatever happened to fear and trembling? Awe? Bowing in reverence? "Take off your sandals, Moses, for you are standing on holy ground"?
We may be rightfully free from the bondage of religious "works", but God is just as holy as He has always been - He doesn't change. While it is good that we've grown to realize that trying to earn God's approval by performing religious duties to minute perfection is wrong, it is just as wrong to believe that we can appoach His throne with a non-chalant carelessness. God is King. The King of kings. You don't appoach a king with a latte in one hand, your laptop in the other your blue tooth attached to your head, and walk up and say,"Yo, whatup, dog?"
Let's bring back the spirit of holiness to church. I don't mean the kind of so-called "holiness" that worries about hair length, make-up, clothes, and other petty things. The spirit of holiness refers to an attitude, a mindset. We need to have a healthy understanding of things that are sacred. Having a proper perspective of our relationship with a Holy God will enhance our walk with Him. Let us all strive to bring back reverence to the house of the Lord.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Newsflash: Jesus Not into Politics - Prefers People

What would Jesus say about the Health Care Reform issue? I think He would stoop down and write in the dirt. There are higher priorities in the Kingdom of God. If you have a home and food to eat, be content. Focus on sharing the love of Jesus to a hurting world. Go on a missions trip and get some fresh perspective. Let's not get caught up on majoring in the minors.
I agree we as Christians need to be vigilant of things going on wherever we live. There are issues where our voice needs to be heard. I'm not suggesting we should stick our head in the sand about decisions our government is making that will affect us in some way. But I am suggesting that sometimes we get so caught up in getting involved with political things, that we inadvertently stick our head in the sand to the world we're supposed to be reaching. People aren't going to be drawn to the Lord by our rants and raves and bumper stickers on issues. They'll know we are Christians by our love (sing it with me).

Trust me, I've been guilty of this common fallacy in Christianity myself. But when I finally turned off Rush, Hannity, O'Reilly, or even my favorite preacher, and turned my eyes upon Jesus, the things of this world became strangely dim. That's how it's supposed to be.
The homeless person doesn't have health care either way. He's more interested in finding a hot meal, or a place to sleep (please don't assume that all of them just want drugs or alcohol). They would be more appreciative of you taking time to look them in the eyes and hold their dirty hands and treat them with respect and dignity, than they would about your position on the latest legislation. Or for that matter, your well-off boss whose family is falling apart would appreciate your prayers more than your well-thought-out debate methods.
I'm afraid that we want American Christianity to be seen as a political juggernaut. We should be seen as a tree full of the fruit of the spirit. You know: love, joy, patience, etc. (see Galatians 5:22). Let's throw the government a curve ball: let's say, "who cares" and move on with life - our really good, spoiled-rotten life in America. Let's show love to people who are sometimes called our enemy. That'll make their heads spin.
The Jews wanted the Messiah to be a political giant who would come in great power and "stick it" to their oppressors and enemies. He didn't come that way, he came as a baby, born in a barn, son of a carpenter. I don't think we learned the lesson yet. If we're still waiting for that perfect, "Christian" president, congress, judiciary: forget it. It ain't gonna happen. We don't need to look for a Christian hero. WE'VE ALREADY GOT ONE - his name is Jesus.

When you get to the point where you can say, "I don't care who is president, which party is in power, or what my local public school allows: I'm going to spend my time worshipping the Lord, and bringing glory to Him by sharing His love", then you will be an effective Christian. Until then, you are just going to be an angry Christian, mad at everybody and everything. And people will see that, and they won't even want to talk to you or listen to you.

"When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field'." Matthew 9:36

Neil Coates
Nashville, TN