The Church and Politics-The Great Polarization

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Hello.  My name is Joe and I’m a former ditto-head (hello Joe).  I’ve been politically sober now for almost two years. (Applause, yada, yada).  I was a proud follower of all things Rush Limbaugh but I have since given away my personal copies of The Way Things Ought to Be and See, I Told You So.  However I still enjoy a good Arturo Fuente cigar, which Rush turned me on to.

It is that time again, you know the one, when many of the faith for whatever reason put aside all thy have learned, or should have learned about their eternal status in Christ and take up arms and soap boxes in support of their favorite candidate and make claims based on social media memes and the usual talking heads of the propaganda machine that is the American political system.  Yes, thank God for every brave man and woman who fought for or died that we might live in a country where we can openly campaign for and support the candidates of our choice-this is in no way a knock on our freedom to cast ballots and select leaders.  We are much more fortunate in that respect than most countries around the globe.  But I can’t help but feel that many of us play right into  the hands of those running for office who have little real concern for our religious affiliation or core beliefs, and why should they, when we leave them at the doors of our local balloting locations.

Yes, not long ago I was a devout ditto-head (that’s a supporter of Rush Limbaugh for those in Yorba Linda).  I couldn’t understand how my Christian brother or sister could call themselves Christian but vote for this person or that person. I dreaded what would happen to me if this person was elected or how my relationship with those of the other side of the aisle would be impacted once the elections were over.  But then an amazing thing happened at about age 52-I Grew Up!  I realized that I had lived through several Presidents that I didn’t support, but I was still the same-my personal situation had not been affected in any great means at all-amazing.  But I was so sure that the country would go to hell in a hand basket if this guy won office-what happened? I didn’t have to move to Canada, change churches or renounce my political views, and I was still here and not in a bread line-wow!

Here’s what I finally came to understand-I am a proud citizen of the USA, born in the State of Indiana.  However, my REAL citizenship as a follower of Christ is not of this world. While I need to understand and choose to take part in the political process, my fate is not held in the hands of a Republican or a Democrat, a socialist or a conservative, the red side or the blue side. I am constantly reminded through the Word that God is my protector and provider and He directs my path and dictates my future, not the Senate Majority.  Here are a few verses that we all quote but somehow disregard during campaign season:

“And My God (not the POTUS) will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”…Philippians 4:19

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?”. (or what if so and so wins office) . our Heavenly Father knows what you need”   Matthew 6:31

If you then who are (Dems or Repubs) know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give good things to those who ask him”…Matthew 7:11

“Consider the ravens; they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn and yet God feeds them.  Of how much more value are you than the birds!…Like 12:24

“I am Lord-Open your mouth wide and I will fill it”..Psalm 81:10

(parentheses mine)

And I could fill pages with such promises.  And yet there seems to be nothing that so greatly divides the church as a good political campaign during an election year.  I sit back now and read (without jumping in) the posts and heated debates that go back and forth on social media.  I hear stories about clergy surrendering their pulpits to candidates turning a worship service into a political town hall meeting. I read with my own eyes the names and sometimes visceral that comes from the posts between Christian siblings who share differing views and the worst of all, groups of clergy rallying behind the efforts and campaign of a chosen candidate and laying hands in agreement but demanding separation of church and state whenever the church tax-free status is questioned.

This I my newly enlightened approach-not saying it’s the only approach, just the process that I am comfortable with in making my ballot choice.  My number one criteria above all else-can I justify my vote before God?  I know exactly through His Word what He desires from my life, how I should live and the precepts I should espouse and support in voting.  My new motto, and unfortunately more true each election-a vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil. I can’t in good conscious cast a vote for anyone who believes anything contrary to God’s laws and desires-period!  If that means I have to write in a name not on the ballot, I will do so and not worry that it’s a “wasted” vote. Second, I don’t put much stock in what is said during a campaign-I follow the money and the voting records.  Who supports them-why-how did they vote on this issue-what bills have they sponsored on another issue?  And the big one for me, perhaps the hardest of all-I rarely comment on political posts and refrain from sharing baseless memes, unless they are too funny to ignore!!  I don’t even pray that God puts the “right” person (pun intended) in office.  Instead I ask God to help me cast the right vote for me.  I finally get it-I will be just fine if the other guy or gal wins.  My provisions, my security, my future don’t lie within the hands or policies of the current administration-I am a child of the eternal President, the supreme ruler and he is the one I need to please and rely on for my welfare, not whether the country remains red or blue for the next four-year term. Sure I will vote and encourage others to exercise the freedom to do so, a right bought with a high price. But I will no longer fret over who controls the House or Senate because neither control me, only my God.  It may not be popular, but I think I’ll stick with my new strategery! 

 

 

 

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The Progressive Evolution of the Church

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I have spent the last couple days configuring a new notebook computer.  May I insert here that Patience is not one of my spiritual gifts. I do not embrace advanced technological change. When everyone was singing the praises o this new phone called the IPhone I was perfectly happy with my antiquated Blackberry. When personal music media evolved I was still humming away with my Walkman. As people gather to worship with their electronic tablets I still like the look and feel and smell of my old leather bound Bible with its scribbles, crumpled pages and stretched cover.  I don’t consider myself as old fashioned necessarily but I am not eager to change things that work for me just because I’m told there are better ways of doing things. This new touch screen laptop with Windows 8.1 and Outlook 2013 is replacing my old desktop with Windows XP and Outlook 2003-you can see what I mean when I say I don’t embrace change.

We live in a progressive world. Everything around us is changing-faster, greener, leaner, smarter. Gadgets not in existence twenty years ago are now staples to our lifestyle that we can’t imagine living without. When is the last time you used a corded phone or played your favorite cassette? Can you even find a store that still accepts paper checks? Does anyone still own or use a phonebook or dictionary? Some change can be good even when it is forced upon us through advanced technology.  Some forced change however should not be so quickly embraced.

The face and identity of the twenty-first century church as we know it has certainly been caught up in change. Prayer chapels are now bookstores-greeting areas are being replaced with bistros. The only church organ you might here is an effect on the more modern Korg keyboard.  But more has changed than just the cosmetics.  Our theology and ideology has “evolved” to better fit into a more tolerant society that frowns upon uncomfortable Biblical tenets, rigid commandments and outdated creed. In many churches this more modern ideology has been incorporated to keep attendance numbers and giving in place.  In others the thought is to be more open and nonjudgmental for fear of being targeted as hateful or pious. The mega-churches in our country preach happiness, prosperity, kingdom privilege and favor over discipline, humility, sacrifice and suffering. After all, who wants to go to a church that teaches that following after Christ requires submission to the same sufferings as our Savior when just down the road we can hear the secrets to getting the best parking spot or that job promotion we are not qualified for. And Worship should make us feel good and sermons should be motivational speeches, not disciplinary lessons of faith.

Many in the faith are concerned with the modern day evolution of the church.  Even as I write this the courts of our country have made a decision on what was once a sacred cow to the church.  But we as believers must share the responsibility for the face of our church.  We have stepped away from sound doctrine. We have set up sermon courses like a TCBY bar-just pick those toppings you prefer. We have turned a blind eye to things going on right under our noses because we don’t want the world to see our imperfections. When I was a teen it was common knowledge that you go to church camp to lose your virginity. Famed televangelists are caught up in adultery, fraud and solicitation but reconciled back to their pulpits at the speed of the best computer processors. Fear of God, or more precisely fear of our individual actions before God has been MIA for decades and the fruits of our blindness are being seen today.

We should not be surprised at these events as Christ told us in the Word, that Book that many are trying to change to make more palatable, that there would be false teachers, bad teaching and a falling away from the Body, the church. I’m not an alarmist by nature but we were warned. But if the great apostasy that was foretold is a result of the lukewarm stance and disregard of traditional and Biblical church tenets by the church, then we are going to have some explaining to do before Christ when He will judge us all for how we handled, divided, represented and lived His words in our lives, our churches and our communities.

As an imperfect follow of Christ I have to conduct my thoughts, beliefs and affairs according to absolute, relevant and eternal truths, specifically those I find in scripture:

Psalm 33:4; For the Word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all He does.

Hebrews 4:12; The Word of the Lord is alive and active.

2 Timothy 316; All scripture is God breathed and to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Psalm 119:105; Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Isaiah 40:8; Grass dies and flowers fall but the Word of God lasts forever.

Psalm 18:30; Gods ways are perfect; The Lord’s word is flawless.

As a church we must united on the uncompromising Word, careful not to disregard the heart of the commands it contains for us in an effort to me more appealing to the world.  Yes we are to go out to the highways and biways to invite them all to come just as they are and we are to love them as Christ loved us and to show them the same mercy and compassion, allowing the Spirit of Christ to make the change.  But in doing so, the church still needs to be reflective of the true character of Christ, not the twenty-first century version we are presenting to them. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, we must forgive so that we may be forgiven, we must acknowledge injustice and take a stand-we must strive for peace whenever it is possible without compromising the very words and nature of our God.  The enemies and forces of this world are ramping up the intensity of the attack.  The weak will fall and the careless will be trapped. The unchanging, still relevant, unpopular Word of God is our only defense and our best offense. It should not be up for debate within the church but held as our eternal banner and standard for living a loving, caring and disciplined Christian life even in the twenty-first century.

Disclaimer; the thoughts above are my opinion and not directed toward any specific faith or denomination. Any resemblance to these allegations are coincidental (and should probably be addressed).

 

 

 

My Worship Music is Better Than Your Worship Music

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I know when a post is bound to get me into hot water with some.  This is one of those times. I am often amused, bewildered, confused and disappointed at the comments I hear or read about various styles of musical worship in the church. The common complaints are:

The music is too loud; The music is too contemporary; The music is too old; I wish they would sing hymns; We changed churches because we didn’t like the music; God doesn’t move through that kind of music.

We choose churches many times like we choose which concerts to attend, based solely on the quality and genre of the worship music.  We want to attend where we receive the best worship experience and where we feel God’s presence over other locations. Even worse than this, many still view the Worship time of a church service as simply a time to allow stragglers to get there before the sermon begins. Even while composing this I can’t believe the arrogance we display when we approach corporate worship. Are we really that self-centered a church that we use worship style as criteria for membership?

We are all products of our upbringing and exposure when it comes to church attendance.  Of course we naturally have certain preferences of music styles when given an opportunity to choose.  Many churches actually offer worship experiences either at different times or simultaneously to accommodate all preferences, but that can lead to separation within the church, or an Us vs. them mentality.  I only know the people who attend my specific worship service, about a third of the total church. The problem with this ongoing debate over worship preferences is that by definition, a preference is reflective of a personal, inward “what I desire” attitude vs. an outward expression and contribution to worship of an all inclusive God. That, in my opinion is where we miss the boat in this debate.  There are at least two big problems with the way in which we approach musical worship.

This is the first problem as I see it. I have been involved in heated discussions with some of my Christian siblings regarding which style is more conducive to the moving and freedom of the Holy Spirit of God.  It makes me want to scream and run naked King Davis style at how self-righteous we sound when trying to argue one style being more “spiritual” of “Godly” than another.  Lets take a look back at the history of music as we know it.

Western hymns began with the Homeric Hymns written around 700 BC in Greece and sung to ancient Greek Gods. Their origins are clearly founded in idolatry, not Christianity.

Byzantine or Chant music is an ancient traditional music style that involves a series of tones used to put poems and prayers to worship.  It is vocal only and can be traced as one of the original musical worship forms of the early church.

Gospel music, the basis for Black Gospel, Southern Gospel et al, can be traced no further back than the 17th century as a poetic call, response style set to rhythm with hand clapping and foot stomping.

Jazz is another African American style dated to late 19th century but hailed as an American Original art form.  It gain popularity in 1910 in the New Orleans area with heavy brass influence and has evolved into modern jazz, southern jazz, jazz fusion and the like.

Rhythm and Blues, or R & B, dates to 1940 and combined blues, jazz and urban influence into a new style. R & B bands might consist of piano, guitars, bass, drums, brass, and background vocalists.

Country and Western can be traced to Atlanta, GA in or about 1920 and is easily identified by its guitars, banjos, hillbilly lyrics and all things Apple Pie and Chevrolet. There is no need to further describe Country music.

Rock and Roll emerged in the 50’s as a style influenced by gospel, Jazz, Blues and Country.  It started with Bill Haley and others and now includes Heavy rock, garage or Seattle rock, alternative, rock, pop, grunge and more.

The 70’s introduced us to Contemporary Christian Music, banned on radio stations and picketed at church or concert events.  The list of pioneers who paid heavy prices is too long to list.  Some include Andre Crouch, Petra, Larry Norman, Barry McGuire and the Rez Band. They were booed and protested but they endured and we enjoy CCM as one of several worship styles today.

Here is my problem with arguing the effectiveness and spirituality of worship styles used in the church today.  All of these music genres have one glaring fact in common that can’t be debated.  It’s quite simple but so often overlooked in our arrogance.  Are you ready-wait for it-grab a seat!

THEY ARE ALL MAN MADE!

We are in essence arguing that the music my great-grandpa invented is better than the music your great-great-uncle invented.  We are speaking for God in saying He only moves through a hymn but not an urban rap song.  We are limiting the move and the power and the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit by suggesting this style is more worshipful than that style.  As it relates to corporate worship we are catering to the inward receiving attitude of worship and enabling divisions in the church over worship preferences. We are defining God by time signatures, instrument selection and tradition within styles that are still in their infancy in the great time table.

The second problem and perhaps the greater grievance is that somehow we have made worship all about us and not about God.  We have actually created denominations based on worship genres. We have adopted the attitude of coming to a worship service to receive from God, opposed to coming together to corporately join and offer our outward expressions of love, devotion and gratitude TO God. To put it simply, we paid for a good show when we should have been in the band! We have made it clear that we want to worship this way-we are only receptive to this style-we can only feel God with a 2/4 back beat or a Hammond organ and not with a fiddle, a harp or an acapella choir.

I researched all the verses pertaining to worship music that I could find in scripture and this is all I could determine:

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord: Praise him with songs, psalms and spiritual songs; praise him with drums, stringed instruments and cymbals; make merry melody from your heart; enter into His courts with praise!  Play skillfully with a loud noise; Sing your praises to Him.

i can’t determine a defining genre or style being suggested anywhere in the OT or NT. I can’t find where one man-made style is more honorable than another.  I can’t see where God’s spirit was moving until someone hit a bad note or plucked the bass too loud or used an out-of-tune piano as their only backup. I can’t find where the whisper of a shy child singing a song was any less received than the most beautiful operatic voice. In fact I find just the opposite. I’m no saint-please don’t presume otherwise. I have just come to adapt an attitude of grateful praise in whatever environment I am in.  I attend a service where Rock and Blues is the theme and love it.  When I visit my brother’s Greek Orthodox church I relish in the ancient and reverent tonal chants they use that date back centuries.  When I am alone on the weekend I show my age by singing along with the old quartet hymns. When I’m on the beach I listen to the incomparable praise of His created waves-something no man can duplicate, and am moved to awe in worship.

Don’t go to church to worship-bring the worship to church with you. Don’t attend to receive-attend to be part of the two or three gathered in His name.  Don’t go to church to play worship Simon Says-worship god in Spirit and truth from the heart whatever that looks like for you. And please, don’t get caught up in the arrogant self-centered debates over how God decides to respond to His people. Just go and join in a unified response to Him! It’s not about styles, instrument selection or volume levels-it’s about uncontainable and inexpressible reverence, fear and awe from forgiven sinful felons who have had their sentences commuted! But if you want to mic the drums that’s okay too!

Humbly We Bow-What Worship Should Be

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Of all the aspects of the Christian experience perhaps the act of corporate worship is the most misunderstood, misappropriated and most divisive of them all. In our arrogance we actually seek out the church that offers US the best worship experience, the one that WE can get the most out of.  We will actually change churches when we leave feeling like we didn’t get anything out of the worship service. How much more puffed up and ass backwards can we be?  This post will be using excerpts from a sermon or mine some years ago addressing the heart of Worship as I understand it.  It’s not about us or what we “get” out of it-it’s always about Christ and our sacrifice of praise to Him.

Consider this definition of worship as given by William Temple, one of the great Anglican Theologians.  He said, “Worship is the submission of all our nature to God.  It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by His beauty; the opening of our heart to His love; the surrender of will to his purpose”.

While we do come to church to worship, we should not feel that worship starts when we arrive.  As Christians, we should always be in a state of worship.   We do not come to church on Sunday to worship-we come to church already worshiping.  We are merely joining other believers in a spirit of communion to join our worship together as one united.  It’s like singing-you come to church as a soloist and join others at church to form a choir.  If you’re coming to church, hoping that a good worship service will suddenly break out, you probably aren’t worshiping when you come, and a worship experience will not happen for you. “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go unto the house of the Lord”

Corporate worship is not about you, nor is it for you.   It is all about the acknowledgement of our smallness compared to God’s bigness and the resulting epiphany of His never ending love and mercy for us in lieu of what our sinfulness rightly deserves. We bow as if pardoned from a death sentence and humbly surrender our whole and unworthy being to His sovereignty and goodness.  We sing the song Heart of Worship-consider the lyrics.

When the music fades, and all is stripped away, and I simply come, wanting just to bring something that’s of worth that will bless your heart-I’ll bring you more than a song, for a song in itself is not what you have required.  And the 2nd verse, King of endless worth, no one can express how much you deserve-though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours-every single breath-I’m coming to the heart of worship because it’s all about you. 

Worship is not an option for the Christian.  The Lord demands our worship.

1 Samuel 12:24 says “You must obey the Lord-you must worship Him with all your heart and remember the great things He has done for you”.  And again in Deut. 11:13, it says

“The Lord your God commands you to love him and to serve him with all your heart and soul”.

These are not suggestions or strong recommendations, nor should they be subject to your current frame of mind or emotional state.  As humans we tend to worship or ascribe worth to those we love-our kids, our parents, and our spouses.  In addition to showing our love, we speak it over them.  We say things like I love you, or I adore you, or you are special or precious to me.  These are natural expressions of love and worship.  How much more is our Heavenly Father deserving of even more adoration and worship, just for who He is and what He has already done for us!  Our worship of a loving God should be automatic and second nature-He doesn’t owe it to us-we owe it to Him!

There is a renewing strength in worship. 

David is a man who had many issues in his life; he was guilty of everything from adultery to murder, but he had an intimate relationship with God, and he knew where grace and forgiveness came from, and he knew what total worship was.  David knew that even in the worst of times when he was alone in a wilderness, he had power over his enemies because he had God on his side.  The more he was pursued, the more he worshipped and praised God for deliverance.

Another great example of the strength in worship is Paul and Silas.  They were ministering in Philippi and being harassed by a fortune teller who made lots of money for her employer.  Finally Paul and Silas rebuked the spirit that was in her so she would leave them alone.  This enraged her owners and they had Paul and Silas put in prison for disturbing the peace.  The story picks up in Acts 16, starting in Verse 22.

“A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods.  They were severely beaten and then thrown into prison.  The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape.  So he took no chances but put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet into stocks.  Around midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and all the other prisoners were listening.  Suddenly there was a great earthquake and the prison was shaken to its foundations.  All the doors flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off!  The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open.  He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself.  But Paul shouted to him, “Don’t do it-we are all here”. 

When you praise and worship the Lord, He hears and responds.  Scripture says the God inhabits, or takes His residence within the praises of His people. When Paul and Silas were praising God, they weren’t trying to bring God down to their level and circumstances; they were elevating themselves through worship to the Heavenly realms where God dwells.  Worship is an uplifting event.  Worshipping the Lord takes you far above sickness, doubt, problems with your family, problems with your marriage, problems with your finances, problems with the events of the day. 

THERE IS HEALING AND COMFORT IN GENUINE WORSHIP

Some of the greatest love songs ever written were inspired by tragic events in someone’s life.  There is something about tragedy that begets inspiration.  Just listen to the lyrics of any country song.  But for the Christian, tragedy turns our focus on God, which is the essence of worship.  Consider Job-he was one of the wealthiest men of his time.  Yet in a matter of hours, Job lost all his wealth and fortune, and eventually even his children.  As recorded in Job 1, “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came from across the desert and struck the four corners of the house and it fell on the young people, and they are all dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you”.  Then Job arose, tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped”.

There was a modern day Job-you probably won’t know the name of Horatio Spafford.  Horatio was an active and faithful member of the Presbyterian Church, and a successful attorney in Chicago in the late 1800s.  He was also a good friend and supporter of evangelist D.L. Moody.  Like Job, Horatio was quite wealthy, investing in commercial real estate in Chicago.  Horatio’s first tragedy came when he and his wife lost their only son at the young age of 4.  Not long after, the Great fire of Chicago occurred, and Horatio lost all his real estate holdings, and most of his wealth to that fire.  When Moody and his associate planned a series of church meetings in Great Britain, Horatio thought it might be a good opportunity to help Moody with the services, and at the same time lift the spirits of his family by taking them on vacation to Europe.  In November if 1873, Horatio was detained on business, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead to Europe on the SS Ville du Havre.  Horatio would catch up to them after they arrived in Europe.  Halfway across the Atlantic, their ship was struck by an English iron vessel, and in 12 minutes, the ship sank to the bottom of the ocean, killing 226 people, including all Horatio’s remaining children, his 4 precious daughters, just like Job.  Horatio’s wife survived, and when she arrived in Wales, she sent Horatio a telegram saying the girls were lost at sea and she alone survived.  Immediately a grieving Horatio boarded ship to meet his wife in Wales.  When the captain told him they were crossing over the coordinates of where the ship sank, Horatio, filled with both sorrow and inspiration, observing the rolling waves of the sea, penned these words, which we’re all probably familiar with:

When peace like a river attendeth my way-when sorrows like sea billows roll

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.

Only through inspired worship could Horatio truly be comforted at his tragic loss.  There is healing and comfort found in God when you open your hearts and worship him in your vulnerability.  It’s tremendously easy to worship and give thanks when you have a hefty bank account, your job’s going well, your kids aren’t in jail, your health is good and you still love your wife.  It’s much tougher to worship in the midst of chaos, confusion and doubt.  But raising yourself out of your despair to a higher level of awareness of God through worship, placing yourself in that Heavenly realm, brings a comfort and healing that nothing and no one on earth can offer.

Psalm 147:1 & 3 Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise him…. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

There is community in worship

Webster’s defines community as a unified body of individuals.

Another definition describes community as a kinship.  If you put these two together, I think you have the perfect definition of the body of Christ-a group of people of one mind with family ties-bound in blood by Christ.

 Galatians 3:26-“So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have been made like him.  There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for you are all Christians-you are one in Christ Jesus”.

I would imagine most of you have been to a concert sometime in your life.  But no matter how good a concert may be, there is no comparison to being in the midst of thousands of people gathered together for one purpose-to lift up the name of Jesus in praise and worship.   I’ll never forget witnessing 10,000 teens in Las Vegas experiencing something they can’t get from MTV, as they listened to Michael W. Smith and Third Day and Max Lucado speak and sing of God’s love and how it could change their life.  When you get a large number of people together and they begin to sing praises and worship, community happens-everyone seems to know everyone else because they are bound by love in Christ and by purpose to lift up His name.  And when you get people of faith truly worshiping together, it’s electrifying and highly contagious.

When community happens, it doesn’t matter what race you are, what religion you were brought up in, how big your house is, what kind of car you drive, whether you have a Masters degree or you dropped out of high school, single, married, divorced, clean record or police record-we are all God’s children, and co-heirs with Christ-we are kin. Our past is covered, our present is hopeful and our future is guaranteed!  If through worship we could develop that kind of atmosphere, we would never again have to worry about empty seats or church budget deficits!  We would not be able to contain those who wanted to come and experience what it’s like to be unified in God’s presence.

There’s a day coming when we will join literal millions of believers in a Heavenly place around God’s throne in an everlasting worship.  When John had his vision on the island of Patmos, he described his futuristic vision in Revelation. In Chapter 7, starting in verse 9, John describes a scene hard to fathom.

“After this, I saw a vast crowd too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before The Lamb.  They were clothed in white and held palm branches in their hands.  And they were shouting with a mighty shout, “Salvation comes from our God on the throne and from the lamb!”  And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings.  And they fell face down before the throne and worshiped God.

Wow-I can only imagine.  I guess the whole point of this message is this-if we really love our Lord even remotely the way he loves us, we shouldn’t have to wait until we are literally around His throne to worship him-we should be on our spiritual faces before him every time we have the opportunity.  There’s been a lot of preaching and books about blessings and prosperity and receiving all the good things from God-living your best life, keys to the kingdom and so forth-all benefits of being Christian.  For the most part, these are all well and good, and certainly popular teachings.  But, it’s high time we remember who God is and what he’s already done for us, and acknowledge his holiness, and turn our hearts and our focus for a change on what we can offer him-and the only thing he wants is our worship and devotion-that’s why he made us-that’s why we’re here!

State of the Church Union

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Last night the President gave his State of the union address.  When not used as a campaign platform this address is a disclosure speech to inform us of the current state of the things that matter to most of us, the economy, jobs creation, tax reform and the like.  Going back through the history of the address it tends to be more of a pep rally than a reality check.  If you really want to know how the country is doing you have to do some research beyond the political rhetoric.

So in keeping with the theme of the week I thought it appropriate to offer my version of the State of the Church address.  The health of the eternal church hits much more close to home with me than the state of a temporal country. I don’t wish to go into denominational statistics here but rather offer some general observations referencing some research data easily confirmed by personal research. The church is sick. Recent surveys (Gallup and Barna) show that 40% of People in the US claim to attend church, but when questioned further the truth is only 18% actually attend church at least two times per month, leaving over 80% as non or hardly ever church attenders. Further studies show that in recent years one thousand churches are planted in the U.S. but four thousand will close in the same amount of time for a net of 3000 less churches per year. Why is that?  Why are the faithful not being, well, faithful? The following are just my thoughts and not intended to be all inclusive as to some possible reasons church attendance is dropping.

TECHNOLOGY

With the advances of the smart phones, the Tablets and streaming services, many prefer to “get their religion” in the comfort of their home. If you miss a message you can always download it from the church website as if you were there. Some even make their worship services available online which is great for being able to listen, record and play over again, but does little for the encouraging and exhortation that results from personal fellowship with your sibling believers. Can the Lord bless through technology? Of course He can, but He designed us for fellowship and encourages us through Paul to “not forsake” the opportunity to gather.  It’s just not the same.

Radical Acceptance

In today’s society, this is huge. While the church teaches unconditional love, is it always expressed by those in the church or felt by those who desire it most? Does the man who struggles with attractions to other men feel at ease in any evangelical congregation? Is the young mother who is feeling the guilt and pain of a recent abortion ashamed to be seen in her community church?  Do people still whisper when a racially mixed couple comes through their doors?  While the church is founded on the tenets of sound and unwavering Biblical doctrine, we sometimes forget that the greatest commandment is to love one another even as Christ loves us!  If the church is to be a true refuge or hospital for the sick, as Christ eluded to, then we have to not only welcome but embrace those who are sick and love them to Christ.

Competing for our Time

Let’s be honest, especially us men-there are always things we would prefer to be doing on any Any Given Sunday than go to churchFootball or other televised sports, fishing, concerts, the all-you-can-eat- breakfast bar that closes at 11:00 AM-you get the picture. Even moms appreciate a day when they don’t have to bathe and dress the little ones and get them out early on Sunday morning.  Compared to many of our European counterparts American work entirely too many hours in a week, some 60 to 70 or more.  Sunday may be the one day to catch your breath or take a nap and get recharged.  It’s entirely understandable.  The informed churches make other weekly service times available for those who have alternative work schedules common to the times.

Lack of Man Time

Speaking of us men, it is no secret that the local church has somewhat forgotten about us-let me clarify. It is great for churches to sponsor men’s prayer breakfasts or Men’s fellowships like Promise Keepers attempted to do-opportunities for men to grow spiritually, to practice the art of iron sharpening iron.  But many men feel they have to check their man card when they come to church.  Sometime Christian men just want to go play golf together, or basketball or maybe enjoy a camping weekend or attend a sports event, and just kick back and, dare I say it, enjoy a beer or a good cigar with other Christian men being men.  The effemination of Christian men not only tends to isolate some from becoming or remaining regular church attenders-it does little to attract new men into the church.  Ladies I love you but we men need to fulfill our godly roles in our churches and the church needs to recognize ways to encourage fellowship without turning in our man cards.

Contemporary Church

I know this will get stick as many of us, me included, attend the local large contemporary church as shown in the image above. Again, technology has allowed us to create a modern interactive church experience complete with large screens, special lighting effects and yes, even fog.  While we embrace the freedom to worship God in this manner, for many it has the appearance of little more than your typical rock concert, void of any resemblance of a traditional church atmosphere. I participate in a Worship team on such a stage and I relish each week I’m privileged to be one of the Lead Worshippers.  That said, I am still in awe when I enter a traditional church with pews, stained glass windows, a cross, divine images and other things that resemble church. I can’t fully explain it but when I enter a chapel or a cathedral or hear a majestic pipe organ with a choir or chanters there is a feeling of humility and smallness before God that I don’t always sense in a contemporary sanctuary. In our attempt to reach out to a modern world we have in some cases left every visual reminder behind in our efforts, and the seeker looking for something other than what they find in the world doesn’t sense that they have entered into a holy place when they see the coffee shop before they see the doors to the sanctuary. Again, this is just my personal observation and experience.

Marketing

Yes, marketing. I’ve been in business for a long time and I know first hand from unfortunate experiences that if you don’t market yourself or your product you will fail and close up shop very quickly. Let’s be honest-some see this as commercialization and contend that the church having a marketing strategy equates to little more than being in the church business.  What a glaring misconception of the role and purpose of marketing!  What better “product” can one offer than Jesus? What more can the local church consumer be offered than forgiveness and hope and eternal life in Christ? We have something that no one else can offer-there is no competition for our product-no one can beat or undercut our price-no one else offers a legitimate Lifetime Guarantee that can compare to the message of salvation available each week in the local church. In the story of the marriage supper the servants were encouraged to go out into the highways and byways and to compel them to come in-MARKETING 101!  If no one knows your church exists, if no one knows what your church offers, if they haven’t been fully sold on the benefits of your product and retained as a local attender and participating contributor, your church will ultimately fail.

I’m sure there are other contributing factors to why church attendance is decreasing each year-who can fully know all the reasons many choose to stay home on the weekends. I’m certainly not the expert on the subject, just an observant bystander wanting to see a healthy local church and a healthy universal church. It should be of concern to all of us who see the empty seats and pews each week.  It shouldn’t take another 9/11 to get people in our churches if we are doing all we can to attract them through our lifestyle, to compel them through our marketing and to retain them through proper acknowledgement of individual and demographic needs and expectations.  I pray that we as the body of Christ seize the opportunities to reach and embrace our world in a time when they need us more than they might realize.

God help us to be Christ to the lost, love to the hurting and a beacon of light to those searching through darkness.

BACK TO THE ROCK-A Tribute to Petra

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This week I want to veer off course a bit from my usual topics to discuss the band who, in my humble opinion, broke all the barriers for the contemporary Christian Bands we enjoy today.  That band is none other than the incomparable, Petra. First formed in 1972 Petra endured the abuse of the would be Christian Music Police and holy music standard bearers as they incorporated “worldly” rock music into a ministry that reached tens of thousands and still touches lives today through the stamp of approval by the Holy Spirit.

I was blessed to see Petra live in 3 concert tours-More Power To Ya, Not of This World and Beat the System. I was blown away at their talent, the special effects uncommon to a “Christian” concert, but more importantly their passion for ministering the message of Christ through their music.  Though Petra has evolved and had many versions due to members coming and going, to me Petra will always be the founder, Bob Hartman on lead guitar, Mark Kelly on Bass, Louie Weaver on drums and the golden voice of Christian Rock, Greg X. Volz on lead vocals. These four men would be my Mount Rushmore of Christian Rock, and if we had our own CCM Hall of Fame, they would be the face of the brand.

In the late 60’s and early 70’s a movement out of Southern California emerged that would come to be known as Jesus Music.  To many this was just a bunch of Woodstock like young Christians playing soft rock/pop music to the likes of Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Love Song, Second Chapter of Acts (another of my all time favorites I’ve seen multiple times) Randy Stonehill and the late Keith Green.  They drew little attention because they created little controversy.  But out of this movement came a belief that there was a large demographic of young people who not being church attenders, were not hearing the Gospel through traditional methods but were responding to this new music movement. Out of this movement one of the bands formed was Petra. Most churches refused to allow Petra to playing in their churches, voicing strong opposition to using the world’s music in worship or ministry.  Christian radio stations refused to play their music on the air-only a select few campus stations dared to “Beat the System”.  Yet Petra moved forward unintimidated and their popularity began to grow through their work in local coffee houses and word of mouth.

But is was in the 80’s that the Petra I came to love exploded onto the scene. It was then that they introduced synthesizers and keyboards into their Guitar rock genre, and a custom designed stage that resembled one of the space ships on their album covers, as well as special effect lighting.  Imagine the convulsions the church police were having over a Christian band concert looking like an Aerosmith concert!  While wildly popular and well received by those the Lord had laid on their hearts, it was not unusual for the band to arrive at a venue and be greeted by protesters with signs telling them they were going to hell because of the music they played.  We may find it hard to believe that going to a typical Third Day experience would garner any such response, but this was the reality for a band breaking all traditional barriers at the time. Because of the theory that many rock groups were incorporating backward masking messages into their recordings (a message heard when an LP is played in reverse) there were actually “ministers” playing Petra albums backwards and suggesting to churches that there were demonic messages there if you listened closely.  This ridiculousness caused Petra to actually record a back masking message intro to one of their songs Judas’ Kiss.  Played forward it actually sounds demonic but the message played backwards says “why are you looking for demons when you should be looking for the Lord?” What a brilliant way to respond to their critics.  To Petra music fans that backward message is immediately recognized to the beginning of one of their greatest hits.

Petra went on to receive ten Dove Awards, the Christian alternative to the Grammys.  And they also received thirteen Grammy nominations, receiving four.  They released 20 albums with sales of over 10 million worldwide.  I can’t begin to elaborate on their discography but they will be forever known for such greats as The Coloring Song, Why Should the Father Bother, More Power To Ya, Not of This World, Grave Robber, Praise the Lord, Beat the System, Blinded Eyes, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Occupy, Second Wind and soooo many more! To me it is a shame that many of our young people today will never be exposed to such great music from a band instrumental (pun intended) in breaking through the ceiling for the bands they do listen to now. Mercy me, DC Talk, Newsboys, Third Day and the likes would not be here if it were not for bands like Sweet Comfort, Love Song, Resurrection and yes, my favorite, Petra. When I hear the mature Christians among us speak on how the Holy Spirit only moves through “church” music I want to regurgitate at their ignorance. Having played in Christian bands myself from High Schools to Prisons, I can testify that there is no such thing as unholy music when God and His agenda and will are involved and made welcomed.  Many of the pioneers of CCM have already gone to their reward.  How I would love to introduce the generation of my kids and grandkids to the music of Classic Petra so that they too can develop a love and appreciation for what the band endured and accomplished through their obedience and perseverance, and the call to accept their savior Jesus Christ at the end of every concert!

As I post this I join in celebration of the reward another of our great CCM Pioneers is finally receiving. Andrae Crouch suffered a heart attack this past weekend and has entered into his final rest.  I was privileged to see Andrae and the Disciples when I was younger.  As with this post volumes could be written on the ground-breaking contributions he too made to the Christian music scene. He will be greatly missed but his music will live on as one of the most re-recorded Christian artists of all time!  Eternal Memories Brother Andrae.

The Fall of the Divided Church

If a house is divided against itself the house can not stand

Mark 3:25

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I must state that my heart aches a bit as I write this because it involves family, the church.  All of us hold close ties to our families and we find our identity in the heritage and legacy of our family names.  This could not be more true for our universal and eternal church family.  To see us suffering is heart breaking.

Social media has afforded many of us a platform which can be used as a positive or negative influence. It is highly public and closely followed yet individually private so that one can speak freely without fear of anything more than a few critical comments or sad faced emoticons. This type of freedom has led many to spew forth previously held deep seeded opinions in the name of Christ that are hurtful and divisive. And there has been no lack of opportunity due to recent events to show the world just how divided the church family can be at times.  The Ferguson situation has shed light on the real and shameful racial divisions in the body.  The on going homosexual debate has revealed divides along theological and socially relevant factions. The upcoming elections are already showing forth the ugliness between brothers who differ in political opinions. And even seemingly harmless debates on social websites about church issues like tongues or the rapture or end times events can create hard line “us against them” sides that go from reasoning together to picking up verbal stones. To watch, read and at times be caught up in some of these inter-family battles is so disheartening and disturbing to me.  What’s worse is that when I choose to abstain for the sake of the body and my own self preservation in the faith I’m often reprimanded for not picking a side or being deemed guilty even in my silence.  What a horrible message we are sending the world who is ever watching us.  Yes, this is heart breaking on many levels.

I was involved in a local church split once. I’m not sure I can even recall what the issue was but it was great enough to cause some to leave the church and for the pastor to step away.  It was one of the most painful experiences I’ve endured as a believer. It was worse than my divorce. Friends and family I had worshiped with for so long were now pitted against each other in a silly dispute that caused us to go separate ways.  It took a long time for those relationships to be mended and restored.  Although highly painful it was localized.  But when the same thing happens on a much grander scale the impact and tremors are felt in the whole body and the damage is sometimes irreversible. And the whole world sees our dirty laundry and scratches their heads.

The scriptural concepts of iron sharpening iron and sitting in the counsel of the Godly imply and encourage a loving and open meeting of the minds, something that the church has done since the first church in Acts. We come from different backgrounds, different economic stations, different life circumstances and different maturity levels in our faith.  We are not expected to be the same and a body functions best when those differences are not only recognized but utilized for Hid glory and the health of the church.  As Paul compares the church body to the human body we all find our place even with differing strengths and ideals, doing all we do for the glory of God.  But when those differences become fed not by love but by pride or self-centered motives that taint the brotherly love we are exhorted to display, the hard human spirit with it’s vile, envy and hatred fights for our thoughts and hearts like a wild male animal fighting for mating rights. The battle is ugly, brutal and sometimes fatal. We are warned against this in several passages.

James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

Mark 7:21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Romans 16:17 I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.

Ephesians 4:3 Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Matt. 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire

When I’m caught in the midst of some of these harsh social debates I’m reminded of the words of Christ when he says that the world will know we are his followers when they see, hear and read our love for each other, and again His command that we love one another even as He loves us.  I can’t say with any conviction that I can read or see this love on social websites and God forgive me if I too have shown less than brotherly love in my responses to these recent issues.  If I am called an idiot for my beliefs I’m cool with that. But if that remark comes from a brother or sister in Christ then I become concerned not for me but for who might be reading these comments.  If we as a body and the Church can not be united in love and be able to discuss in peace our opinions on hot topics, then how can we expect to attract the unchurched. Back in the day Christian recording artist Carmen came out with a song entitled I Want Some of Dat, referring to the love and joy he found in Christians to the point of wanting some for his own. Can the world see our dysfunction as it stands and genuinely say I want what he’s having?  I doubt it.  God have mercy on your church and forgive us those things which cause us harm and which cause You dishonor.