Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Chapter 7: Preachers Preach And We should Just Listen. . . Right?

      Have you ever been in a service and was blown away by what was being said? The preaching was so great that we felt like it was just for us. Then we leave and nothing really changed. So the preacher should just preach and we just listen, right? Well, as always, I plan to break this subject up into two parts. In this first part I want to focus on the importance of how we treat the authority over us and the second will be on how we should respond. 
       The first thing I want to do is dispel a common thought toward pastors. Most people think that pastors only really work on Wednesday and Sunday. If you are one of the people who think like this I greatly encourage you to do one of two things. 1) Go take a week and follow your pastor around or 2) sit down with your pastor and ask him/her everything he/she does. See what most people do not understand that along with the many jobs a pastor has he/she still takes time to listen to the voice of God for the people that he/she is over. So a pastor does not just preach, if they are good at their job, they study and prepare to make sure every word spoken from stage is the words of God for their people. My main point here is that preachers do not just preach.
       Now that we know that there is a lot of work put into every message given on Sundays, possibly Wednesdays too, then how should we respond to our leaders? Well with respect, a thankful attitude, and a proper response. Like I said in the beginning, all of my chapters are in two parts so I will not be talking on the response part but more over the respect and thankful attitude. If you attended a church regularly you have chosen to allow the pastor to speak into your life and to be somewhat of your authority in spiritual matters. So by choosing this, you should treat your pastor and his/her words in a different way than most any other person. Most people will enjoy a sermon but simply enjoying what is being said is not the goal of a preacher. A good pastor works hard making sure his/her sermon is the word of God and that it is relevant to all the different groups of people in his congregation. So, we should not just sit and listen like it is some kind of entertainment.

       Respect! Well, the first thing we need to talk about is how to respect our pastors properly. It always amazes me how pastors, at times, get little to no respect from his/her congregation. This goes from when they preach all the way to how, at times, people talk to or about their pastor. I do know that not all pastors are respectable people but I am not talking about those kinds of pastors. The pastors I am talking about are the ones that do their position justice. So, let us tackle the first easy one, calling your pastor (be it youth, music, children, ect.) by pastor. If someone holds the position of pastor, and does the position justice, then we should, out of respect, call him/her pastor. Most people are probably saying duh but you would be surprised that there are people who do not do that, I see this a lot in the generation coming up now. Respect of that person in that position is not just proper but also biblical. How you perceive people is how you will ultimately receive people. With the story of the woman at the well, at first she sees Jesus as some Jewish guy until He began calling out her sins. At that time she says, "I see you are a prophet", then begins to treat him as such until she realizes that He is the Christ. If you do not call your pastor, pastor then this is how you see him/her. If he/she is just some person to you, you are not receiving him/her in the right light nor are you respecting him/her in the position that he/she holds in your life. Jesus was called rabbi by His followers because they respected Him as a teacher, so they called Him such. Next, respect your pastor as he/she speaks from the stage. You would not like someone talking, sending texts, or checking social media when you talk so we should not do it while the pastor is speaking either. Finally, how we talk to and about our pastor. We should always be respectful of our pastors and also build them up and support them when we talk to or about them. Do not even allow anyone to talk bad about your leadership; guard them and support them. If you disagree with your pastor go and talk to the pastor.  Do not be one of those people who gossip or talk behind the pastor's back.
       Thank your pastor! He/she works hard, we have already covered that, and just like how you like to hear "thank you" so do they. Pastor appreciation should not just be one day; it should always happen. Just as much as we should we respect our pastors, we should also thank them. You could drop them a note, send an email, or simply shake their hands and tell them how they are doing a good job. If your pastor has spoken a word to help change your life let them know it. I can promise you that pastors, at times, wonder if what they are saying is actually helping people. Go and tell them that it is. Telling them something as simple as, "Pastor what you have been speaking on is helping me so much", can bring so much encouragement. Simply appreciate your pastor! They are not doing this job to make their bank accounts big, at least not all of them. They do this job because they love God and want to help people. So, just let them know that they are helping you.
       So what does this have to do with making God look bad? Well, simply put, if we do not respect the people God has put in authority over us do we really respect God? We make God look bad by how we treat His leaders. If you went into a place of business and saw an employ disrespecting their boss you would either think that they do not like their job or they do not respect their boss at all. So, if we disrespect our leaders what kind of view are we giving the world? Respect is something we should give to everyone but respect for our leaders should be even more obvious. We need to stop making God look bad because we simply do not respect our leaders.
       Preachers do not just preach and we should not just simply listen. Next chapter will be co-authored again and will touch on our response to words spoken from the stage because pastors are not on stage just saying nice things, they are trying to help us grow in the Lord. Let me end, like I always do, with some questions. Do you REALLY respect your pastor? When is the last time you thanked your pastor? What are some things you can do to show your pastors you appreciate them? What message are your sending by how you treat your pastors, to their face or behind their back?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Chapter 6.5 Bring It On In

       When I used to play soccer, after every practice or game I remember the coach would always say, "Okay guys bring it on in." Now, if you have played any organized sport you might have heard this too, or something just like that. I remember no matter if we had won or lost, had a good practice or bad one, he would always "bring us all in" but why? Well, to go over what was good, what was bad, and what we could do about these things. He brought us all in so that we could see that we are still ONE team after ONE goal. Never do I remember, in these moments of the whole team being as one, the coach pointing fingers or blaming anyone. NO instead the talks were about US and how WE need to be a better TEAM. 
       Hopefully by now you can see where I am going with all of this. In the first part of the chapter, like always it is helpful to read it first, I touched on the subject of unity in the idea of embracing differences so that we do not become divided unnecessarily. In this next part I want to talk about coming together so that we can accomplish more and so we can look more like the followers of Christ. (John 13:35) Now, this subject has become a little more difficult to talk on as of recent for me. You may ask why and the answer is simple because recently the Catholic church is trying to fix some of the schisms of the past thus uniting all of the churches again. Some may think it involves only the Catholics and Protestants but actually the Catholics are trying to reconcile with two groups: the Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox Church. (If you do not know who the Eastern Orthodox Church is please go look them up.) There are two camps when it comes to this subject. The first are those who love this idea and think it is the will of God. The second are those who hate this idea and think that this is something of Satan; trying to bring about the one world religion talked about in Revelations. I will not be talking about this subject in this chapter, I would rather you go do your own research and decide for yourself what this may be, but instead do what I normally do and talk on this matter with more practical applications so that we can unite more on a local level.
       We can all see how on a local level that we have slowly become more and more divided.  Now I know that I come from "the Bible belt" of America and in other areas of this country it may not be as bad but, over all, the division is very obvious. So what are some things we can do to end this needless fighting within the body of Christ? As I said in the first part of this chapter the first thing is to embrace differences. The second is putting our money where our mouth is and unite. We can no longer say that we love each other and continue to not work together. It is far past time for us to "bring it on in". 
Bring it on in guys! First thing that we can do to cause unity is to find out what local churches are doing and see how we can help. If you are a part of a church and hear about another church doing an event for the community why not look into it and ask what you can do to help. A great simple way to help is to ask if they need someone to do clean up afterwards. Wouldn't it be great if you where part of an event and another church said, "we would love to serve by helping with set up and tear down"? Well instead of waiting for that why not just go and offer it first. Although this may not seem like a great thing to do trust me it is, this is coming from someone who has been a part of many kinds of events, and I can not imagine that anyone would say no. Showing that we are willing to serve no matter what capacity will help build bridges of unity.
       The next thing that we can do is try and plan events with other churches in mind. Instead of planning an event then trying to get others involved in any way, why not plan one with the other churches in mind first. I know that this sometimes can be hard, because they might say no, but what if by doing this you open up doors that have never been opened. Let me put it like this: If church A wants to do some kind of cook out outreach and instead of trying to do it all themselves then ask other churches if they want to join in church A plans the whole event with other churches already involved. So church A calls church B and says, "Hey would you like to do some outreach with us? We want to do a cook out. We have the food we just need help with the grills." Then church A goes to church C and says, "Hey would you like to do outreach with us? We are doing a cook out. We already have church B bringing the grills, we will bring the food, can you bring an outdoor sound system?" It sounds so simple and to be honest it is. Now, I know that not everyone may jump on the idea but if you do not ask at all the answer is always NO. If we did events more like this instead of the idea of we will do it all and invite people, maybe we would get a better response.
       Another way we can bring unity is a prayer night. We all pray, right? Well if we do then why not try to pray together? Now this one is a little more tricky. This is where embracing differences comes into play but also not forcing our differences on anyone. I know that there are many different styles of worship and prayer but to unite is to lay those aside so that we can come together. An open prayer night to pray for ones city is something that can cause unity if done proper. We must first invite everyone and create an atmosphere that is inviting to all types of people. We all know you can not please everyone all the time but you can try to become all things to all men, like Paul says we should be.
       Finally the best and easiest way is relationship. Why are you part of the church you go to? Well probably because you have a relationship with the people there. Relationship is the key and something that I think we do not do enough of when it comes to bringing unity to the body of Christ. Simply picking up the phone or emailing other churches to try and build relationship is really not all that hard. The reason we do not do this is for one of three reasons: 1) We think that we are sooooo right in our theology and the others are so wrong that we are unable to embrace differences, as long as someones theology is not heresy then it is okay, we simply just do not try. 2) We are afraid that by building relationship with other churches it may cause one church to "lose their people" to another church. The main problem I have with this is that no one is yours or theirs they are all Christ's. 3) We are too prideful to even try to build relationships because we simply think that we are better than others for some reason. We can no longer allow these things to happen. We must remember we are all after one thing: Bringing people into a relationship with God through Christ. If that is truly our goal then it is time to "bring it on in" and work on changing our cities together.
       I love the saying, "No man is an island", but along with that no church should be an island either. We must unite and if no one else is willing to take the first step then you should. You may not be a leader or a pastor but you can do things and try to get your church to come along too. If you are not a leader talk to your pastor about these things and see what you can do to be the change. The body of Christ is made up of many parts and that is okay but being a severed body is not. Embrace differences, build relationships, and work on unity. We know that no kingdom divided can stand so why are we arrogantly trying to divided the kingdom of God? What would it really look like if the world saw churches working together? What can you do to bring unity to the body of Christ?


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chapter 6: U.N.I.T.Y

       I grew up in Clinton, NC and in my early teenage years came to know Christ at Clinton PH Church. At that church I had many friends that were very talented. There were many bands at that church and one of those bands was called Combat Junkies. The Combat Junkies were an awesome christian punk band and had a song called U.N.I.T.Y. The chorus of this song went like this: UNITY, united we stand. UNITY divided we fall. Most people might not know the band or the song but it is a great song and what I thought about for this chapter. Unity in the body of Christ is a subject very close to my heart and something that we fail at so much. We make God look really bad on this subject almost more than any other. The world hears us preach love and unity but rarely sees either from us, especially toward each other.
       In this first part of this chapter I am going to take a little different spin than what you may think. I want to first affirm that it is okay to have different views as long as we do not allow ourselves to cross the line into heresy. Also I think it is fine to have different denominations and different ways to worship. We first must rid ourselves of the thoughts that to have unity we must all do the same things and be the same way. If that were true then we would just be one thing and not many parts in one body. I want to quote Ravi Zacharias again, "Unity does not mean uniformity".
       So, what exactly am I going to talk about with unity? Well, I want to talk about how we can be different without the need to seem like we have it completely right or without attacking anyone else. When I read the new testament I see many parts of a whole. The new testament highlights certain things by certain authors and because of this there is a wonderful rainbow of truths written that make up the whole truth. I am not saying that any of the new testament is not true but what I am pointing out is that where one book may focus on some specific subject another book completes it by talking on a different, but equally important, subject. For example, when Paul talks about how it is by grace through faith, not our works, that we are saved(Ephesians 2:8-9) and then James comes along to say that yes it is through faith alone but if you have no works than your faith is dead(James 2:17). Wonderful truth given to us by two different men of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Aw yes the Holy Spirit, the one who led the writers to write the new testament, works in this manner; taking many people and making one body.

       So, what does all of this boil down to? We need each other! We need each other's differences. We need each other's common ground. We make God look bad when we can not embrace each other in our differences and make God look good when we do. In my early 20's I use to think it would have been a good idea to just do away with denominations but now I look at it as something that is somewhat of a good thing, as long as no one takes the name of a denomination over the name of Christ. Unity and love is simply all of us excepting our differences and using that to our advantage. I look at the body of Christ sorta like a marriage in this manner. In a marriage you have two different people completing each other not competing against each other. If the body of Christ started acting in this manner we would be able to unite in ways that we have not done in a long time. Where one church in a given area may be good at one thing and another church may be good at another thing they can complete each other if they work together. I do not want to go too far with that because that is the subject of the next chapter.
       The main point I want to get across in this chapter is that unity does not mean that we all just try to be the same thing. Instead, unity is when we embrace the differences to become one body. No one would cut off their left hand because they are right handed nor would anyone cut out their eyes because they are weak. We must stop cutting on each other and do what we would do if one part of our own body was weak and that is to cover it so that it would become strong again. We are many parts of one whole and because of that we must act as such. Covering those who are weak and celebrating those who are strong, never elevating one over the other. Just imagine if the world saw a church that looked like that? Would that take some of the excuses away from people who say they will not go to church? We can and must become the body of Christ talked about in the Bible.
       Finally, I want to say that no where in the new testament do I see where one church looked down on another and if they did I am pretty sure that Paul, or whoever, would have rebuked them for that. As a matter of fact I can think of a story where that actually happened. (Galatians 2:11-21) See, it is okay to be different, as long as the differences are not sin or heresy, and we must stop killing each other over styles of music, preaching types, bible versions, etc. We must get back to the core of things and love one another as Christ loves us. When I think about all of this stuff the statement, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend", comes to mind. We all have but one enemy and that is the devil. So if he is your and my enemy, when we become enemies of each other, who then do we align ourselves with? 
       UNITY, united we stand. UNITY, divided we fall. Let that sink in one more time and ask yourself: Who is my enemy? What am I doing to unite the body of Christ? If unity is not uniformity then how can I help my brothers and sisters that are of different denominations than I? What would it truly look like if we treated the body of Christ the way we treat our own body? 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chapter 5.5 A Pathetic Apathy

This is another chapter where I have asked for help from a brother in Christ to write. This is a subject that is also close to my heart but thought it may be better touched upon by my brother Dwayne Dunning. So with further ado here we go...

As I sit here watching “The Walking Dead”, yes I watch this show; I can’t help but think upon the subject that I have been asked to write about.  That subject is spiritual apathy. What does this show have to do with apathy, you may ask. Well, if you are one of the 10 or so in America that has no idea what this show is, let me explain. In “The Walking Dead”, the dead have risen and are walking around as “walkers”. They seem alive, they move, they roam, they get together in groups, but they are dead. There has been an incident that has yet to be explained that has caused this phenomenon to occur. To put another twist on the story, (spoiler alert), everyone that is truly living is infected with this disease already. So, when they die, they will become just like the rest of the walkers on the planet. They will roam around with no purpose, no care, completely devoid of any actual life, dead yet walking around.
When I look at the church today, this is what I see. I can’t believe that I am actually saying this, but it is true. The majority of churches and so called “Christians”, which let me remind everyone means Christ follower, are like dead walking. We have no life or desire to truly see God move or the world to be changed. Sure, we say do. We send up prayers asking for a move of God and for change to take place. We sing songs and mutter words that say we have a desire for it. But what do our lives say? Our lives are saying that there is very little life in us, at least spiritually speaking. We are walkers. We may not be carrying an actual disease like those represented in the show, but there is a spiritual disease that we have allowed to creep in and begin to kill the church. This disease is apathy.
So what is apathy? Well, the definition is simple. It is the mindset of, I don’t care! It is having a lack of concern for others, ministry, spiritual growth, or what God wants of us. In a nutshell, it’s impassiveness about God. An attitude of, “God I really don’t care about you. I want all that you can give me and have for me. I want your blessings and definitely your salvation from hell, but don not ask me for anything. I have a life to live. I am too busy.” What are we thinking?
Spiritual apathy is perhaps one of the most ignored “diseases” in the Christian life. It’s a condition of the heart. It rarely, if ever, manifests itself in open rebellion. Instead it’s a secret thing, sometimes not even evident to those around us (although often evident to others before we even admit its presence in our lives). Spiritual apathy doesn't care; it’s an I-can-take-it-or-leave-it attitude toward spiritual things: Bible reading and study, prayer, worship, church, witnessing, our world-view, our mental and emotional filters, relationships, service etc.
The thing about spiritual apathy is that it rarely strikes like a bolt of lightning. Instead it sneaks up on you; it’s a process that you don’t see coming. Few Christians become apathetic overnight – but they do over years. We all know people who at one time were faithful but who over time stopped attending church, reading their bibles, praying, witnessing – in short, stopped living the Christian life in any meaningful way. It is a slow spreading disease that begins to infiltrate every fiber of our spiritual being.

“So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:16

Christians are becoming lukewarm, disinterested, and non-committal. I mean think about it, today there are many so called believers who do not participate in regular church attendance and bible studies. Fewer of us are serving and many of our talents go unused. Something is wrong with the church and it’s getting worse as each year passes.
The other day I was worshiping the Lord with a group of believers. I had my eyes closed and was meditating on the words of Jesus as I sang. All of a sudden the Lord brought to my mind a concert. I know this sounds cliché-ish. But think about it. The people were shouting, raising their hands, getting excited about the person singing and were excited about the concert itself. Then my mind seemed to wander to a football game. The people were yelling and engaged with what was going on. They were mesmerized and watched in utter anticipation at the next move of the ball players.

Then I opened my eyes and glanced around the room at the worshippers of Jesus. No one had their hands raised, no one was excited, people were fidgeting and talking over the music; mouths were singing but not with utter joy and anticipation as seen at the concert. Rather it was superficial and done merely out of obligation. There was a lack of real worship coming from the believers and little reverence was being shown. My heart broke! How can we cheer for people on a stage and players on a field which have done nothing but entertain us? Yet not cry out in complete worship to the Creator of the universe, the sustainer of our soul, the one that has given everything for us.  I don’t understand.
I couldn't help but cry and ask God for his forgiveness. Then it hit me, we have the disease of apathy. It has hit our worship, it has hit our homes, and it has invaded our relationship with Christ. We simply don’t care anymore. I've heard pastor after pastor talk about apathy from the pulpits, yet no change comes from the body. We don’t vote because we say, ‘ah our vote doesn't count anyhow.’ We don’t worship reverently because we say, ‘ah He loves us anyhow and I’m really tired.’ We don’t tell people about Christ because we say, ‘ah the Holy Spirit will tell Him or someone else will come along.’ We can’t get involved in the work of our churches because, ‘I just have to much going on.’ We are watching our children and teens wander away from God in droves, yet do nothing about it.  And the list goes on and on and on. My friend God says in his word not to be apathetic…

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Romans 12:11

“Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.” Revelation 3:2

This unseen, yet rampant disease is crippling us and it is a sin in the sight of the Lord. Apathy causes us to bear no fruit and brings no glory to God. Now is the time to wake up from our apathetic state, before we all become nothing more than “walkers” roaming around with the dead of the world.
Just take an honest look at yourself and your family. This can be very eye opening. That is why many of us do not want to truly self-evaluate our lives. But take a moment and do this. What does your life with Christ look like? Is there true life? What I mean, is Christ really there? Does your life show that you care about Him and His Kingdom? Where is your time spent? What are you doing for him right now? Is there always an excuse for why you can’t be a part of the work at your church? What is your attendance like? Just a side note, did you know that only about 27% of “regular” church attenders attend their church 75% of the time. Most are now calling every other Sunday regular attendance. This is a problem.
If we were to be honest with ourselves, we would admit that we have all become infected with “apathy”. But, like the characters on “The Walking Dead”, we just haven’t realized we are infected. If asked, we would say, “There is no way I am apathetic to God.” Let’s ask ourselves this, when was the last time I really made an impact for His kingdom?”
Being a youth and children’s pastor, I see the spread of this disease first hand. I watch it spread from parents to children all the time. I am guilty of passing the infection also. Think about this. We send our kids to school for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 36 weeks of the year, and for 13 years of their life. That is, if they don’t go to college. Trust me, I believe that is extremely important. Just follow me a second. Also, in that time frame, we get them involved in sports, pageants, dance, work, practices, you name it. Then we have the busyness of our lives as adults and our pass times. What time is left?
According to the God’s word, what does it matter if we gain the world, yet lose our souls? With all that we do, where is God and the spiritual growth and education of our children? As I said, the majority of so called “Christ followers” only attend 50% of Sundays and by no means are they involved on Wednesdays. Our children may be getting an average of 4 to 6 hours of spiritual teaching a month. Can we see the problem with this? Can we see how we are spreading this disease?  What do we expect children and teens to do, when we are teaching them that everything else is more important than God? They will leave the church. They will leave God. And this disease will spread even faster.     
So what can we do? What is the answer to this problem? What is the cure? It’s simple. It is more of God and less of this world. It is more of His word, more time with Him, more time with His followers, and more time in His teaching and works. As a church, as Christ followers, let’s end this rampant outbreak of apathy before it is too late. Let’s be cured of apathy by reading the word, spending time with Him, praying, being reverent, and getting right with God. A simple cure is to “Abide in Him.”

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:4).

The primary meaning of the word abide is to remain or to maintain a continual presence. The concept of abiding refers to maintaining an intimate, vital connection or relationship.  When it comes to grapevines (the illustration Christ used to represent the Christian’s relationship with Him) the only way that a branch can bear fruit is to maintain a vital relationship with the vine. Once that connection is damaged or broken the branch is no longer useful to the vine. It becomes sick or infected and withers away and dies. It has no purpose or use any longer. The only way that Christians can bear spiritual fruit is to maintain a vital relationship with Christ. Once that connection to Christ is damaged or broken our usefulness to God is adversely affected.
What are we going to do to stop the spread of apathy? I pray that this speaks to all of you that are reading, that God is blessed, and that His kingdom grows. Let’s work together and see that His people become spiritually alive once more. There is so much to be done and the time is now!

God bless all of you.

  Thanks Brother and as always lets ask ourselves: Does this touch us somewhere we are at in our own walk? Can we get back to a place of passion? Why have we allowed this kind of apathy to go on in the body of Christ?