Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ready For The Next Reformation?

Dear Friends,

“THE CHURCH IS DYING!” scream the headlines. Secular publications are quoting statistics and touting the demise of Christianity in our Nation. Atheists are smirking over the recent Newsweek cover story, “The End of Christian America.” A commentary, “The Coming Evangelical Collapse” went viral after being picked up by a religious news agency. Even church growth “experts” have jumped on the bandwagon of doom because hand-wringing and hysteria sell books and pack seminars with worried church leaders.

Every shout of hyperbole contains a quiet nugget of truth and when we look closely at the mountain we do see the molehill. In the last four years, six million adults have left the American Catholic Church as decades of child abuse were revealed. The mainline churches (Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopal) are reportedly stuck or in a state of decline. Some losses are particularly disturbing. As a result of changing church doctrine to better reflect the worldview of current secular culture, the progressive Episcopal church lost well over a million members. Once the largest church in America, the Episcopal Church will cease to exist by 2026 unless their rate of decline is halted. The liberal Lutheran denomination has been tagged as the fastest declining church in America with a loss of over 600,000 after changing their church doctrine. It too is expected to cease to exist in less than two decades. A church consultant characterized the demise of some denominations by saying, “The more progressive and liberal they become, the greater the rate of decline.” While that has so far proven to be true, it only looks at one piece of the story. It’s like taking the statistic that 2.5 million people die each year in America and the headlines screaming “AMERICA IS DYING!” That’ll sell newspapers but it’s just not true.

The truth is that the church in America is not dying at all. It's alive and well. It's just become more.. well.. (close your ears, Baptists) more Pentecostal. The Pentecostal movement has experienced explosive growth in our Nation and in the world today and 27% of all Christians are Pentecostal. The Pope laments that in Latin America one-third of the people have left the Catholic Church in recent years. What is not said is that nearly all of those once-Catholics left to seek a personal relationship with God and became Pentecostals. What's going on here? 

In America, those in mainline congregations have traditionally labeled Pentecostals as excessive, fanatical heretics. And many  thousands of those finger-pointers are now filling Pentecostal churches, coming into the presence of God for the first time in worship, and seeing their lives changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Are we seeing a Spirit-led breakthrough in America? 

A sociologist has written, “With an estimated 500 million followers, Pentecostalism is more analogous to the rising of Protestantism in Christianity than the birth of a new denomination. It's an example of the restructuring of Christianity.” The sociologist explains: “The Pentecostal worldview holds that ours is a world of miracles and mystery, where healings, prophecy and divine serendipity are woven into the fabric of everyday life.”

The reason for this explosive growth of Pentecostalism is that its adherents have the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and the same spiritual power that Jesus gave those first 120 men and women disciples. Acts 1:4-5; Acts 1:8. It’s impossible to be filled with the Holy Spirit and then go back to sleep in your pew! Statistics show that denominations heavily populated by nominal Christians are in a state of decline. The Pentecostal church grows because nominal Christians tend to not join churches where one’s spiritual growth is expected and is an imperative. And, Pentecostalism is not led by the Spirit of God to change the historic church to reflect current culture but to lead a lost culture back to God's Word. The Pentecostal church is growing because there is no such thing as a “Progressive Pentecostal” or a “Nominal Pentecostal.”

All denominations that de-emphasize the personhood of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural work of God are in a decline. The Pentecostal church emphasizes Spirit-filled living and engagement with the world. Our worship takes us into the presence of God and we want everyone to have that same opportunity to fully experience the Holy Spirit in their lives. The Pentecostal has had his/her life changed by the Holy Spirit and thinks that everyone should have what God has to offer. The Pentecostal is not asleep in their faith, they are passionate about their faith. That’s why the church is alive and well. And, that’s why the Pentecostal movement may be Christianity’s next reformation!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Antidote For Hypocrisy

Dear Friends,

I had cooked up a large pot of Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup for a group of church folks one night. Sensitive to the fact that some people do have food allergies, I made a sign that carefully listed all the ingredients. Organic chicken broth, flour added as a thickener, and the five different vegetables. A woman read the sign, stared fiercely in my direction and rushed on over. She looked up at me and declared in a cigarette-thickened voice, “I'm lactose intolerant and can't have any gluten, sulfites, msg, nitrates, nuts or potassium. Can I eat this?” I repeated the list of ingredients that she had just read off the sign and she gave me an accusatory look as if she had just caught me in a murder plot most foul. She glared at me and said, “This soup will make me deathly ill.” Later on, I noticed she was enjoying my “toxic” soup so much that she had gone back for thirds...

We were inviting Bill and Sally over for dinner and she informed me that she was strictly vegan. She went on to tell me that she never eats anything that “has a face” and told me that all animals have souls just like people do. I didn't have time to get into that theological discussion but did want to clarify the menu I was planning. “Okay, so you never eat anything but vegetables?” I asked. “Well, I love Sushi,” she replied. She saw the smile on my face and quickly explained, “Well that's only a fish but animals should never be killed.” I looked at her standing there in her red leather Nocona boots with her leather Coach purse and sequined leather Brighton belt, and wondered if she had given any thought to those “faceless” cows who gave their lives for her outfit...

When our walk doesn’t match our talk – when we claim to have moral standards or beliefs and our behavior doesn’t conform to those standards and beliefs we are a hypocrite. The word “Hypocrite” comes from a Greek word that means to “pretend” and in the Gospels, few sins are denounced as strongly as hypocrisy.

Non-believers ask, “How can I trust Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites?” I know what they're talking about because honestly, a lot of the time Christians are embarrassing to me. They give Jesus a bad name. I don't blame people who look at Christians and decide to not follow Jesus. It should be disturbing for us to realize that a major cause of atheism is Christians who preach the life-saving, life-changing Gospel of Jesus while flaunting their own unchanged, unchristlike behavior.

Like I said, Christians are embarrassing to me and I have no tolerance for their hypocritical behavior. Then I catch myself standing in front of the mirror. I see the guy who has been negative and critical. The guy who has been angry, impatient and rude. The one who’s too often inconsiderate and unkind. I see the guy who has been aloof and judgmental. I look at the guy who has not always practiced what he preached. And I want to point my finger at the image in the mirror and yell accusingly at him, “And you call yourself a Christian!” So the hypocritical guy in the mirror is an embarrassment to me also. And then God reminds me that the guy in the mirror is just another sinner saved by grace.

So what do we tell the skeptics? The late wife of Billy Graham, told a story about a young woman from India who had said, “We of India would like to believe in Christ but we have never seen a Christian who was like Christ.” Ruth Graham told the young lady, “I'm not offering you Christians. I'm offering you Christ.” That needs to be our answer to those put off by the hypocrisy of Christians. We are not asking skeptical family and friends to follow Christians and do what they do. We are asking them to follow Jesus and to do what He would do.

Here's the one important thing for a skeptic to understand about why there are so many hypocrites in church. It's because all humans are hypocrites. There are times for all of us when our behavior does not match up with our values and beliefs. A recent PEW Survey even found that 5% of Atheists pray to God when they get into a real jam and 2% have said that those prayers had been answered. Think about that for a moment...

The antidote for hypocrisy is authenticity, and it’s only when we lead repentant lives that we can become authentic Christians. Authentic followers of Jesus will describe themselves as “works in progress” so it should be no surprise to anyone that at times we fail to live up to what we know is the right thing to do. The evidence of a Christian life is not when they see our perfect saintly behavior, but when they see us constantly striving to live like Jesus despite our occasional failures to do so. That’s authentic Christianity.  Amen?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Are You A Prude?

Dear Friends,

The stereotype of the old prude makes us laugh and our first thought might be there but for the grace of God go I... But as I look around at the moral problems in our current culture, I wonder if perhaps we might want to rethink our own prudishness. In fact, I wonder if becoming a prude is the answer...

A few years ago, someone called me a prude. I thanked them for the compliment. One definition of a prude is: “a person who is concerned with decorum or propriety, significantly in excess of normal prevailing community standards.” A prude is concerned with decorum which is simply defined as proper and polite behavior. Displaying decorum is engaging in appropriate behavior for the time and place. For example: wearing provocative clothing in church is not proper decorum. A prude is also concerned with propriety which is defined as conforming to what current culture considers to be proper. Take a moment to think about what is normal in today’s culture. A “prude” is a person who thinks that the things we say and do should be more proper and polite than what is considered to be normal today. Yeah. I confess. I’m a prude.

For awhile, San Francisco allowed public nudity. “Proper decorum” in San Francisco society was to bring a towel to sit on when dining naked at a restaurant. Call me a prude but deviant behavior shouldn’t become an accepted cultural standard.  

Years ago, I was watching a movie with my then wife. SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE had won the Academy Award for Best Picture. But when the Oscar-winning lead actress had a long and detailed sex scene showing her fully naked, I left the room and didn’t return. Okay. I’m a prude. Jesus says not to lust with our eyes and I’m thinking that staring at a beautiful, naked actress may have been what He was talking about. “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matt 5:28

A couple of years ago, I was having a conversation with a pastor in a church sanctuary. She used the “S” word to describe someone she didn’t like. She saw me wince but later on, in another conversation, again in the sanctuary, she purposely used that obscenity again. A sanctuary in a church is a sacred and holy place. Maybe I’m just being a prude, but using that word only moments after ending a service with a priestly blessing just didn’t seem proper. “And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” James 3:10 NLT So call me a conservative, Evangelical prude for saying this, but I think that we Christians need to watch our mouth. Eph 5:3-4; Col 3:8.

Within our prevailing community standards today, many have no problem with hearing and using the “F” word. It’s especially disturbing that children freely use this word at school. A “prude” thinks that  children should be taught a higher standard of behavior than what prevails in today’s culture.

The Christian characteristics and values taught in the Bible have always been in excess of prevailing community standards. What was rampant two thousand years ago was sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, filthiness, greed, coarse (dirty) jokes, lewdness, idolatry, angry outbursts, sorcery, hatred, jealousies, selfishness, envy, drunkenness. Eph 5:3-4; Gal 5:19-21; 1 Cor 6:9-10. Those same sins are still rampant today. In fact, every one of those have become the popular thematic elements in current films oriented toward teenagers and young adults. The Apostle Paul says “Such sins have no place among God’s people” and if you do these things “ will not inherit the Kingdom of God.” If you find yourself agreeing with Paul that those sinful behaviors are wrong, then in today’s worldview, you are a prude. Welcome to the club.

Being a prude doesn’t imply a “Goody Two-Shoes” perfection on our part. Romans 3:23 says, “..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that means both you and me, Bubba. Our prudishness comes not from pride but from humility because when it comes to sin, we’ve been there. Done that. Still do. We have all wallowed in sinful behavior and God lifted us by grace from that pit of darkness. During a time in my life, I was happily swimming in the sewer of cultural crassness and it was the Holy Spirit who showed me a better way and made me the prude I am today. In fact we can redefine a “prude” as being a sinner who has been changed and called by God to model biblical values and Christian behavior to a fallen world.

My prayer for you is that you will be even more of a prude than me. That the Holy Spirit will bring you to a place in your journey where you hate sin, model godly behavior in what you say and do, and that your own decorum and conduct is well above what general society considers to be “normal.” And if someone calls you a prude, consider that as evidence of the Holy Spirit transforming you into the likeness of Christ. Take that as the ultimate compliment and say, “Thank You!” Amen?