Podcast 261:  Down with the “D” Word!

Podcast 261: Down with the “D” Word!

In the latter half of Malachi 2 God employs some strong words to convey His feelings about His people and their attitude towards Him.  He uses treacherously five times in 8 verses.  We also find profane or profaning, abomination, and God saying He literally hates something.

Those two words alone, God and hate, should get our attention.

But what does God hate?  Ah, that’s where the “D” word comes in.

Want to hear more?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Malachi 2:10-17.

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Podcast 260:  Go and Sin No More

Podcast 260: Go and Sin No More

Sometimes we accept the forgiveness of Jesus and assume it’s simply a one-sided act.  He does all the work and we reap all the benefits.

It’s like changing the lyrics to the old song that goes: “Jesus paid it all.”  And with this we agree.  “All to Him I owe.”  Uh, not so fast.  I’d rather just take the forgiveness and go home.

But that’s not how it works in the Kingdom of God.  In John 8 we see a woman forgiven by Jesus and left with the following command: “Go and sin no more.”  Did you ever wonder why He said that to her?

To find out more, keep listening.

The following is a study on John 7:53-8:12.

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Podcast 259:  Believers with Dirty Faces

Podcast 259: Believers with Dirty Faces

One of the most sobering and frightening statements by God to the priests, clergy, and believers just like you and me is found in Malachi 2:3.  There God says:

“Behold, I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it.”

Just so you know, refuse means dung, fecal matter, excrement.  That’s right.  God is saying He will spread or smear excrement on the faces of His priests or clergy or you and me.

Do you want to know why God would do something as drastic as this?  Then keep listening.

The following is a study on Malachi 2:1-9.

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Acts 2:42 – What Does it Mean to be “Devoted” to Anything?

Acts 2:42 – What Does it Mean to be “Devoted” to Anything?

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, Acts 2:42 reads:

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

The early church, the faithful group of 120 (Acts 1:15) which instantaneously swelled to over 3,000 after just one sermon (Acts 2:41), now had a logistical problem on their hands.  How were they to disciple all those people from all those different nationalities, backgrounds and languages?” (Acts 1:9-11).  What was their course of action?

We, today, would spend hours upon hours bringing them through our Membership Class which would primarily focus on, well, us— our church, our vision, our mission statement, our history, our beliefs, our values, our ministries, our affiliation and, of course, our pastor.  In fact, if they were lucky, our celebrity pastor might even show up at the end of the last session, say a few parting words, shake a few hands, and work the room, much like a politician on one of his election year fundraisers.  We would leave them some literature, maybe a tote bag with the church logo embossed on it, and we would be sure they understood their responsibility to the church.  They were to (1) support the vision, (2) support the leadership and, most important (3) support the ongoing ministry of the church with their tithes and offerings.

But the early church was different.  They had been with Jesus and had heard Him speak.  They had first-hand knowledge of the Sermon on the Mount and had seen, with their own eyes, the loaves and fishes, Lazarus’ discarded grave clothes, and the incredible wine made from simple water.  The early church clearly understood that the best way to mature a believer is to bring them to Jesus and let them learn from Him.  Therefore the focus of all their discipleship was love and loyalty and obedience to Jesus, not the church, nor the institution or the denomination, not even the apostles— but simply to Jesus.  And to Him alone.

Instinctively, and without any formal theological training, the apostles directed the church to focus on four things, four disciplines.  And they did more than just direct them.  The word for “continued steadfast” means to be “continually devoted.”  It’s more than Sunday morning, maybe Sunday evening, but seldom Wednesday night.  It’s to fully embrace something, to be immersed in something, almost to the point of being a fanatic.  In other words, the early church totally and completely devoted and fully immersed themselves, even to the point of the exclusion of everything else, to (1) the apostles’ doctrine, (2) fellowship, (3) in the breaking of bread, (4) and in prayers (Acts 2:42).

And why not, the simple fact that they had met the Messiah and had been forgiven all their sins, by definition, would require a realignment of their priorities.  It would seem that what had been important to them before Christ— possessions, family, money, retirement, prestige, entertainment, popularity, land, security, and the like— would seem like nothing to them after Christ.  Why?  Because they had just met the Son of God!  And what does the creation have that compares with the Creator?

So what are we “devoted” to?  What do we, as the church, “continue steadfast” in?  Is it the things of the Lord?  Or, are we still wallowing around in the stuff of this world, the stuff of today, the stuff that centers around us?

I have found that one of the easiest ways to figure out our priorities is to look closely at what we pray for.  You know, to examine the content, time and frequency of our prayers.  After all, Jesus said it was what comes out of a man that defiles him.  Remember?  He said that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” and it was these things that defile a man (Matt. 15:18-20).  And defiling words can also come out of our lips in prayer.

Think about it.  How much time do you spend in declaring the beauty, majesty and holiness of the name of God?

“Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name” (Matt. 6:9).

How much time do you spend praising Him for His sovereignty, for the fact that He see the “end from the beginning” (Isa. 46:10) and that “our God is in the heavens, and He does what He pleases” (Ps. 115:3)?

“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

Or do you spend most of your prayer time fixated on the me, on the here and now, on the common, day to day needs that He has already promised to take care of (Matt. 6:33)?

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).

If you find you spend more time in prayer on Matt. 6:11 than you do on Matt. 6:9-10, then you also appear to need some re-adjusting of your priorities and learn how to be “devoted” to something more than you and your life.  Maybe the selfish, narcissistic words you pray are actually an act of defilement to a pure and holy God.  If you spend little time praising the One Who created you but spend all your time with a selfish grocery list of the things you want and need, much like a child’s letter to Santa, maybe those very words show the condition of our own heart.  Maybe they reveal more about your priorities than you would dare to admit.  Maybe you need to take a lesson from the early church.  In fact, maybe we all need to take a lesson from the heroes of old.

We’ll look more into that tomorrow.

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Megachurch Madness

Megachurch Madness

The early church had a problem.  Peter had just preached a scathing sermon that was sure to rile the ranks of those who rejected the message of personal responsibility for the death of Christ.  His climactic statement is found in Acts 2:36:

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know (and that includes you) that God has made this Jesus, (here it comes) whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Now the crowd was split.  There were some who rejected Peter’s message as vehemently as they had rejected Jesus some 2 months earlier.  But the Scriptures don’t tell us much about this crowd.  Then there was the other group, the ones who were “cut to the heart” in guilt and conviction and cried out in desperation, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

The message to them was simple and direct. “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  And they did— 3,000 of them in one day!  They had grown from the faithful 120 (Acts 1:15) to what we would now call a mega-church after one sermon.

So what was the church to do now?

I know, they would probably do what all large churches do today.  They would form a committee and try to determine the best way to keep the crowds coming.  They would:

•  Immediately move into a building plan for new facilities.  After all, “you can’t have a church without a church building.”

•  They would segregate their congregation by age and then hire paid professionals to take care of their needs.  They would employ young youth pastors, with tight fitting shirts, fledging facial hair and NY Yankees flat bill ball caps, to take care of the teenagers.  They would need children’s pastors, with exaggerated expressions and over-the-top mannerisms, to babysit the children while their parents worshiped in “big church” on Sunday.  Oh, and they also had to be pretty good at puppets.  Music?  Well, that’s a category all by itself.

•  They would send out questionnaires to determine what kind of secular music the congregation was listening to before they came to Christ and, instead of trying to direct them to music that glorified the Lord and edified each of them, they would just mimic the world’s music but change a few of the lyrics so they could sleep well at night and still call it Christian.  You know, go with the rock band theme: long hair, skinny jeans, pulsating lights, loud music designed to elicit an emotional or physical response and then try to pass it off as something spiritual.  “Wow.  Sure felt the spirit today. Our worship band rocks!”  Ahem.

•  They would come up with a Mission Statement.  “All organizations need a Mission statement, right?  I mean, that’s what they taught us in Marketing Class.”  Exactly.  Marketing Class.  Ahem, again.  And the Mission Statement needs to be broad in order to cast a large net, broad to press all the hot buttons of those believers they want to attract, and broad so as not to exclude anyone.  The Mission Statement is their sales pitch, it tells their prospective clients, their new members, what they want to hear about the church, whether they actually live by their statement or not.  It tends to be the statement that helps them perform their mission:  which is to get you to come and stay loyal to their church… uh, er… I mean Christ, in order to help them grow.

•  They would develop a Statement of Faith.  And this, for the most part, needs to be simple.  The statement of faith in a megachurch has a tendency to drive people away rather than draw them in.  So, let’s keep it simple, something that no one can disagree with.

Our Statement of Faith:  We Love Jesus, and We Love You.  Aw, how sweet.

•  They would then need to come up with a logo and a brand and a website.  They would have to hire professionals who would design the best color schematics for their church brand.  And then they would need to take their logo and brand and build identity and loyalty to the church…again, uh… I mean loyalty to Christ.  They would print their logo and website on their t-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, flash drives, hats, tote bags, chip clips, key rings, refrigerator magnets and on and on ad nauseum.  Why?  “Because we want our people to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to recognize who we are, to market our church to their friends, you know, to become repeat customers.  We want our church to have brand recognition like Starbucks.”

•  Also, they would need to promote their pastor as a celebrity.  It’s his picture and his blog and his books that they prominently display on their website.  They need him to become bigger than life so the crowds would continue to come, week after week, to hear him speak, to dress like he dresses, to drink the coffee he drinks, to think and look and act just like him.  After all, they are a personally driven church and it’s the pastor’s personality, and not Jesus, that “keeps ’em coming” each Sunday.

•  Finally, because no one can do it better than their celebrity pastor, they would need to franchise their church, their brand, their pastor, out to other locations.  They would set up satellite campuses all over the city and park their people in front of a HD, 1080p image of their celebrity pastor “doing his thing” on a flat, two dimensional video screen.  And they proudly call that community, fellowship, koinonia.  But in reality, it’s not about the people who will never meet the pastor let alone actually talk with him when they have a problem in their life.  No, it’s about the church, the institution, the brand and the budget, and how they can grow their business bigger.  It’s spiritual entrepreneurialism at its worst.

That’s how we do it today.  But the early church did things different, completely different.

Listen to what they devoted themselves to (and it’s not the church or the brand):

And they continued steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers (Acts 2:42).

In addition, they sold their possessions so they could take care of others.  There was no sermon on tithing “because we are short on the budget this year.”  Acts 2:44-45 states:

Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.

Sounds like us today, doesn’t it?

They also didn’t just show up for the Sunday service once a week and feel like they had done their duty to God.  No, they met together daily in the temple for worship and they took their meals together in each others’ homes (Acts 2:46).  They simply loved being with each other.  In other words, church was not something they did, but something they were.  They wanted to look each other in the eye, they wanted to share each others’ burdens (Gal. 6:2), they wanted to get their hands dirty together in ministry for their Lord.  And they wanted to do that together.  Fact is, you can’t do any of this sitting in an auditorium watching a well-rehearsed 60 minute show on Sunday morning.  Especially when you view that show on a video screen sitting cheek-to-cheek with people you have never met before nor will probably ever see again.

So what appeals to you?  The early church or the megachurch?

I guess that all depends on what you’re looking for in church.  If you crave the show, the feel-good messages, celebrity pastors, Madison Avenue branding, and the like— I think you’d better check the megachurch box on your church preference form.  But if you’re looking for true intimacy, a church family, a pastor that you can invite over to your home for a meal (and he will actually come), life-long friends you worship with each Sunday and hang out with the rest of the week— then you’d better check the box for the church that only has as many members as you can personally know.  And if the church you attend grows to the point that you can’t possibly know all the people, well, it’s probably time for a church strategic split and the birth of a new church with a new pastor.

I think it’s called growth by getting smaller.

Something to consider.  It’s the Acts 2 way.

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