Friday, December 21, 2007

Immanuel, God With Us

A preacher told the six year old Sunday school class that they were to re-enact the story of the birth of Jesus for the congregation for him that morning. The teacher wanted them to stage it themselves based one their own made up script, so it was certainly interesting. They had three Marys, two Josephs, six shepherds, two wise guys, and one boy who want to be a cow. Another boy decided he would be the doctor who would deliver the baby. The teacher consented, so the little doctor went back behind the manger and picked up the doll, carefully wrapped him in a blanket. Then with a big smile on his face, he turned to the Marys and Josephs and said, "Congratulations, it's a God!"

Stories like this are cute to hear around Christmas.

But, the birth of Jesus is amazing because God did become human. He became Immanuel. God with us. Wow. Think about that for a moment. God with us.

I hope that we will stop and think during this Christmas time with friends and family that God is with us. Slow down and thank God for becoming Immanuel.

Where would we be if he didn't become Immanuel God with us? Is it just at Christmas that we remember Immanuel? Why? Should we remember all year? How does it help our faith as Christians knowing that he became Immanuel, God with us?

I hope you have a blessed Christmas and Happy New Year.

What do you think?
Share your thoughts.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rule Book or Love Letter?

I have talked with people who think that the Bible is a rule book for Christians to follow. I want to challenge you to have an open mind to the entire Bible being something totally different than a rule book by which one lives.

Yes, we see in Exudos 20 Moses was handed the Ten Commandments. We know and understand that the first 8 verses are about putting God first and then the other verses are about how to treat others.

We go into the Levitical laws, the first part about serving God, the second part health codes, the third part is about how to treat one another. God gives man these rules not for us to be hardened, rigid and legalistic. He gives them to us so we won't get hurt. Like a child who wants to touch a hot stove, we as loving parents tell our child, "Don't touch that stove or your going to get burned!" So, God gave us the law out of love for us.

So, many of the laws in the Old Testament are just plain common sense. I remember my wife telling the girls in the youth group, "You don't have to experience something to know it's stupid." The same goes for the rest of us. We don't have to experience it and thus are free from the negative consequences.

If fact, we are more free than the world because we do have that freedom from the negative consequesnces of the sins that we don't commit and the freedom from the ultimate negative consequence from any sin we do commit.

In Ecclessiastes, we see Solomon declare in 12: 13, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

It is a respectful fear that I have towards God as he is my Father who loves me unconditionally. Listen to what Paul tells us in Romans 8:38-39, "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come nor height or depth, nor any thing else in all creation shall seperate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

In the New Testament, Jesus gives us a command to love. In John 13:34, "A new commandment I give you , that you love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another." As children of God, he wants us to love each other, just like every parent wants their children to love each other and not fight, but it goes way deeper.

1 John tells us, that He is love in Ch. 3:7. In verse 20, it tells us, "If someone says, 'I love God.' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen." God want us to love each other, because God is love.

I know that we cannot keep all the commandments in the Bible. It just can't be done as Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." I John tells us in chapter 1:10, "If we say that we have not sinned , we make Him a liar, and the truth is not in us."

I believe that if you read the Bible from cover to cover, it is God love letter to us rather than a set of rules.
In the beginning, we have God creating man in his likeness. Instead of destroying man after the fall, he takes care of man. Gen. 3:21, "Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin and clothed them."
After the fall, he saves Noah and his family. God shows his love for man by redeeming man again and again. He leads the Hebrews out of Egypt and feeds them. He is with them through battles.
"For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son," John 3:16. Jesus loves us so much that he was willing to die for our sins. As you read through the pages, it is inspiried with love. Going into Revelation, we find the final victory is available for those who love Him and take hold of the grace offered (Ephs 2:8-10, Acts 2:28, Gal. 5:22-25, 1 John 5:13).

The Bible is a wondrous love story of hope, forgiveness and salvation, of a God who would go to extreme measures to have a relationship with you.

So how do you view the Bible? A rule book to live by? A love letter? What is the benefit of seeing either way? why or why not? Is it wrong to see it one way or the other? Are the two mutually exclusive?

What do you think?
Share you thoughts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Who Are We To Judge?

I love the Church of Christ. I was born and raised in the Church of Christ. I remember being at church every time we had something whether it was a gospel meeting that lasted 2 weeks or ACU Lectureship. Historically, the Church of Christ has been known for being judgemental. I do believe that we are working to get rid of being judgemental, which I think is a great thing.

I find it very interesting how people are quick to judge. In society it may be based on race, gender, age and how in shape a person is. Judgementalism finds itself in our churches as well. In the church, we go to church as christians who should be the least judgemental people of all, but we seem to be the most judgemental of all. In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus says, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

I would like to say that not all churches of Christ are like this. Many are are doing the will of God and are encouraging one another, "spuring one another on towards love and good works". They are building up the body of Chrirst by doing whatever needs to be done-period. Each one praises each other for what they are doing and build one another up. They love each other. They take care of each other physically and spiritually. So, again, not every church is like the ones mentioned. If you aren't praising God for what he is doing in your church, you are not functioning the way God is wanting; doing His good, pleasing and perfect will.

I think it is something that we look at our brothers and sisters sitting across from each other and judge them for not being there on Wed. night. We sit and spend the entire service judging others, making ourselves more righteous, more holy than the other people whom we judge.

Lately, we are seeing some christians judging other congregations. They Point fingers, writing nasty bulletin articles and even books about those churches with whom they don't agree. I take the Bible to be the total authority upon which I base my faith. I don't see the Roman church writing letters, nasty bulletin articles (if they had a bulletin :-) back then), or books to address the problems that the Corinthians were having and we know they were having lots of problems way beyond what some churches have today.

Many preachers are now preaching messages of love, grace, and how we need to manifest the life of Jesus Christ within our hearts-making our church's "grace oriented." When people come inside many of our churches, they feel welcomed, loved, they sense God's presence. I am excited about those who are preaching applicable sermons on how to live the disciplined life outside the church. Yet there are some within the church who judge the way the minister is preaching and the church is changing. The judgementalism and criticism eats away and discourages our ministers to the point we are seeing them leaving the Church of Christ to other Christian Churches or other denominations that hold similar beliefs.

I do understand that the Church of Christ is not the only church that has problems. Every church has problems of judgementalism. We look at our lives and try to be self-righteous. Look at the Pharasees and teachers of the law that wanted to be seen by men for their good deeds and were always looking at others and comparing themselves to others. So, I do understand this just doesn't impact the Church of Christ. It impacts every church because "We are all sin and have ALL FALLEN SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD."
I understand that in every denomination you are going to find those who criticize. I know if I was to call Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or Joel Osteen, and ask them if everyone likes their sermons on Sunday morning, I bet you that they will tell me that they can't please everyone.

As for the Church of Christ, I believe that we need to to strive for love.
We need to strive to be Christ like in all we do.
I believe this one thing that the Church of Christ needs to address.
We need to address the way our churches and Christians are acting and functioning. Is it positive? Is it negative? Is itt really authorized in scripture? Are we going to let the negative people in our congregation run off the young preachers to Christian Churches or denominational churches with similar beliefs?
Again, I say, lets strive for love, grace, and unity.

Not all Churches of Christ are this way. Praise God for those congregations who are doing the will of God and striving to be open and grace oriented and to have the heart of Christ.

Another thing that amazes me is that each congregation is non-denominational and autonomous of each other, having its own elders and leadership, yet some congregations think it is their right and okay for them to tell those other congregations what to do and how to worship God. Isn't that taking scripture out of context? I don't see the Roman church telling the Corinthian church how to worship and vice versa. So, where is the authority in scripture?

I hope and pray that as years go on that the churches that do accuse becomes less judgemental , having a spirit of grace and love. I hope that the world when they hear the words Church of Christ will say we are gracious and loving.

The questions for discussion: How have you see judgementalism in our society? In the Church of Christ? Do you think this will change? Is there hope? Or do you see more minister's leaving and going to Christian churches because of the judgementalism and not excepting the grace of God? How can the church of Christ stop judging other Christians within their local congregations? How can churches of Christ stop judging other Churches for what they do and understand they are under elderships, autonomous from their own? Why do people judge? Do they not know the severity of it?

Oh, by the way, my wife, the grammar nazi, had finals this week and couldn't correct my English. I have always had learning problems and find it difficult to write, so I hope you'll forgive me for not being the best writer.

What do you think?
Share your thoughts.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Church - A Support Group For Sinners

I have heard, and I am sure you have, the excuse of why many don't go to church. "I'm not going to church because they are a bunch of sinners and hypocrites." My response would be yes, yes we are a group of sinners and hypocrites. Why not speak the truth that church is a support group for sinners?

We hurt each other and say ugly things and even catch ourselves speaking judgment upon someone. We tend to equate the sin with the person doing the sinning as if they are one in the same. It makes them seem "dirty" when the real "dirtiness" is thinking that we are above them somehow and maybe that is where churches have gone wrong.

I am honest with my congregation. I told them as they were hiring me, that if you are looking for a perfect person, then I am not your man. I told them I am a sinner. You are a sinner. We all are sinners. "For all have sinned fallen short of the glory of God,"(Rom.3:23).

After I told the congregation that I was a sinner, they treated me as approachable and normal. Why would telling them that I am a sinner do that? Have you ever said that? Share it with us.

As any support group, we try to better ourselves. The church strives to encourage each other to good, (Heb10:24). We strive to walk in the light doing good to all men, (1 John 1:1-8). We understand that we are going to sin and make mistakes, but we are covered by the grace of God, (Eph 2:1-10). We support each and love each other, (Col. 3).

Everyday we sin. You sin. I sin. The difference is the Christian is covered by the grace of God and we ideally have a support group of people who are encouraging us, helping us when are in need, praying for us, studying the word of God with us as we strive to get to our final destination - heaven.

This support group is better than AA, NA, or OA because it is a support group that is eternal. It should be helping sinners get to their final destination.

The questions I have are:
Have you ever thought of the Church as a support group for sinners? Do we see ourselves as sinner when we go to Church? As I did, would your church be okay with your minister saying he is a sinner, just like you? If we haven't seen ourselves as a support group for sinners what can we do change it by getting more sinners in our churches so we can help them? Do you have a hard time seeing the church as a support group for sinners, why? How does the world see us? Do the see us as a place where they can come without judgement? Do the see the church as a support group for sinners? What can change their view?

What do you think?
Share your thoughts.