Friday, November 17, 2017

Sexual Immorality disqualifies leadership

The harsh reality of the pervasiveness of sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation throughout society has been brought out of the shadows (where it, like much sin, hides) and into the light of public scrutiny following numerous accusations against powerful men in business, politics, and entertainment.  In many of these cases the person (almost universally male) accused of sexual deviancy has been fired or forced to resign, and in some of the more recent episodes, criminal charges may follow.

What then is the attitude of the Word of God, and hence hopefully the Church, regarding such things?  The N.T. is clear that among the people of God, "there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." (Ephesians 5:3)  Rather than give sexual temptation a foothold, the people of God are told to "flee from sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18)

From a Christian leadership perspective, any sort of sexual immorality is disqualifying, it need not be any issue of force or coercion.  Consensual immorality, that is sexual conduct not between a husband and wife, is impermissible for those who would lead the people of God (and for the people themselves).  And while the Church recognizes that forgiveness for past sins will be granted to those who repent of them, and that sins committed before a person becomes a Christian are not disqualifying regarding future leadership once that person has matured in his/her faith, the Church ought to hold firm against any notion that ongoing unrepentant sexual immorality can be in any way overlooked or excused, especially by those in leadership positions.

Do Christian men and women in leadership still sin?  Of course they do, they are only sinners saved by grace, only imperfect vessels of the Holy Spirit striving to live righteously in this present age, just like those in the Church whom they minister to.  Are all types of sin disqualifying of Christian leaders?  Obviously not, or there would be nobody in leadership, for all of us who lead the Church remain sinners, none are perfect.  But there are a number of sins which do require the local church (if not the denominational leadership) to take immediate action (with due process), and on that list certainly ought to be sexual assault, harassment, and exploitation, along with adultery (for the married) and fornication (for the unmarried). 

What will happen to the various entertainers, business leaders, and politicians who have been accused of sexual immorality?  Time will tell, but within the Church we already know what the answer ought to be.  Am I afraid that such a message might boomerang back at me?  No, because there isn't a hint of sexual immorality in my life, nor will there be in the future, my vows to my wife are sacred, and she is the only person with whom anything sexual will happen in my life, as long as we both shall live.  I am fully aware that a failure in this venue would end my time here as the pastor of my church, but that's the way it should be for God's people answer to a higher standard and the leadership of the Church to a higher standard still.  The people of God have been called to be holy, and we must honor God.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Our Christmas Gift from God

Christmas is the time that we give gifts to others, our children in particular, more than any other time of the year.  At Christmas many of us give gifts to people beyond our family, and devote more to charity as well.  This enthusiasm for giving gits is appropriate at Christmas, for it was at the original advent that our Heavenly Father gave to humanity the beginning of a gift that would surpass all others, even our gifts of life.  That gift was the redemption of our souls, and the renewal of our relationship with Almighty God, given to humanity by grace through faith in the person of the child born of the Virgin Mary, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Having recently passed the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, it is also appropriate for us to remember that God's gift was given to humanity: Sola scriptura ("by Scripture alone"), Sola fide ("by faith alone"), Sola gratia ("by grace alone"), Solus Christus or Solo Christo ("Christ alone" or "through Christ alone"), and Soli Deo gloria ("glory to God alone")  What God gave to us, beginning at Bethlehem and culminating at Calvary and the Empty Tomb, is a truly free gift.  It can be no other, for it was a work solely of the trinity, with God the Father planning/directing it, the Holy Spirit assisting in it, and Jesus carrying it out in the flesh.

A gift is not a gift if you pay for it, nor is it a gift if you earn it.  Our salvation in Jesus Christ, is and always will be, a gift from God.  As Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-9 "For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast."

This Christmas, as you give and receive gifts, remember to thank God not only for the material blessings which we have received, but primarily for the far more important spiritual redemption which has been offered to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.  The gift of God is available to all, may the Spirit of God call those who have not yet received it to accept this one of a kind gift, and may those who have already received it always remain grateful for the bountiful love of God.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

In praise of a gentle spirit - Philippians 4:5

There are a couple of popular phrases used by Christians either among themselves or when trying to explain their attitudes to others regarding how confrontational they choose to be: "Hate the sin, but love the sinner" and "speaking the truth in love".  The first phrase is pretty popular, although it is not Biblical, the second is a quote of Paul from Ephesians where he urges it as a mark of Christian maturity in response to false teaching.  It has become apparent, however, especially in the realms of social media and politics, that many Christians (and/or those claiming the name of Christ) struggle mightily with actually loving the sinner and with combing love with truth.  It has been the experience of many that hatred of sin spills quickly over onto the sinner and that zeal for the Truth drowns out love in an effort to "win" the debate.  A mature and balanced Christian will avoid both of those mistakes, thus their prevalence is a sign that many within the Church lack the maturity which they ought to be striving for through the power of the Spirit.
Which brings me to Paul's words in Philippians 4:5, "Let your gentleness be evident to all."  Of the Christians you know, how many would you describe as gentle?  How many would you describe as disagreeable, harsh, or irritable?  In a healthy Church, the answer to those two questions would result in a 90/10 split or higher, with only a few immature people who display angry and rude behavior.  In the Church today, at least here in America, that ratio has slipped, too far, tarnishing the reputation of Christ's Church and imperiling the message of the Gospel of Peace.
How has this happened, what factors are pushing/pulling so many Christians toward confrontational attitudes where the unsaved have become the enemy rather than the mission field?  One of the most obvious negatively contributing factors has been the increasing presence in politics within the Church, as well as the over-identification of political goals and parties with Christian goals and Churches.  This has resulted in an us vs. them attitude, where those who disagree politically about everything from immigration to tax policy, let alone things like abortion or homosexuality, are viewed through a political prism as the enemy to be conquered and destroyed rather than the lost to be invited home to our Father's forgiveness. 
A second factor which has negatively impacted the gentleness that Christians are supposed to be displaying is the pseudo-anonymity of social media.  Things a Christian would not say to someone's face are somehow acceptable when responding to a post in your Facebook feed.  This phenomenon is not particular to Christians, online rudeness is rampant throughout society, but it ought not be among a people called by God to make their gentleness evident to all.  As a Christian, are you displaying gentleness both in person and online, are have you decided that the battles you think you must fight give you an excuse to ignore God's Word?  Is your gentleness evident to all?  It should be.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sermon Video: Is it futile to serve God? Malachi 3:13-15

Why do the people of God, disciples of Jesus Christ, serve God?  Is it for the rewards and blessings, in this life or the next, that we sacrifice in this life?  Or do we serve God out of gratitude for what he has done for us, and out of respect for the majesty and holiness of God?
The prophet Malachi encountered grumblers among his own people who complained by asking, "What did we gain by carrying out his requirements...?"  They were upset that serving God had not benefited them sufficiently in their view.  Whenever the people of God base their service to him on promised or assumed rewards they will end up disappointed and disillusioned, especially when they see the unrighteous/wicked "prospering" in this life as they gain power, wealth, and fame through their misdeeds.  Jesus did not promise his followers material gain, quite the opposite, he promised them "troubles" and told them that to follow him they must bear their own cross as well.

To watch the video, click on the link below:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

A Consumer Friendly Church? - What we can, and can't learn from the business world.

An important trait for businesses, of all kinds, is to be consumer friendly.  If those intended to purchase the goods or services provided by the company are turned off by their interactions with the company, especially those unrelated to the product itself, they will be less likely to continue to be consumers of that company's products even if they like the goods/services provided by the company.  For example: If the place that makes a decent burger down the street is habitually unclean with rude employees, won't you go someplace else?  If your doctor's office is conveniently located, staffed by friendly people, and appointments take place on time, as long as your doctor is competent, won't you continue to go to that doctor?
In business, these things are obvious, and companies that ignore them do so at their own peril, if competition exists in their market, they will lose customers until they make the experience of their customers more user friendly.  Those who fail to take customer relations seriously end up in bankruptcy sooner or later.
But what about the Church?  Is the Church supposed to be user friendly?  That really depends on what you mean by that.  It is important for a church to have a decent website, convenient parking, handicap accessibility, competent and safe childcare, proper lighting and sound in the sanctuary, service times that work for the community they are in, and other such similar things which are positive, not negative, factors in the relationship between a church and its congregation and potential new members.  Are there churches that ignore these things, making it more difficult than it has to be for people to be a part of that church?  Certainly, and everything else being equal, they will lose congregants to similar "competing" churches, and tragically some people who experienced that less than friendly interaction with a church will cease to go to church anywhere.
Where the discussion gets sticky, and controversial, is when the desire to make church user friendly spills over into the core functions of the church itself: worship, proclamation of God's Word, discipleship, and outreach to the unsaved and those in need.  If the church in question molds these areas into what their consumers (congregants) want, are at least the church thinks that they want, they risk creating a man-centered experience that puts the emphasis on pleasing people not God.  Whatever they build, even if it is wildly popular, won't stand the test of time nor will it please our Heavenly Father, for the Church gathers together to honor God, not please ourselves.  On the other hand, if the church in question sticks rigidly to their way of doing things, ignoring what their consumers (congregants) want, or even purposefully working against it, they risk emptying out the place and leaving themselves with a remnant who actually like the way things are, but no real potential for bringing in anybody new.  Both extremes are not hard to find in the wider Church today.  There are plenty of churches whose ministry feels an awful lot like they're trying to entertain people more than they are to transform people, and there are a lot of churches where the "its our way or the highway" approach has them on life-support.
This is, like so many things in society, a modern phenomenon.  Our ancestors by and large went to the local parish church that was nearest to their home (transportation being so much of a bigger deal back then).  That church was in almost every aspect a mirror image of its neighboring churches in how they did things, thus the experience for the consumer (congregant) would have been almost the same even if they had traveled further.  Today, it is not uncommon for most people who attend church to drive past a few, if not dozens, of churches on their way to the one they attend.  With denominational loyalty at all-time lows, churches feel pressured to be "attractive" to potential new members.
What is needed, as in so many things in our lives as Christians and as the Church, is balance.  Balance between what the people want and what they need, between doing things the same old way, and following the latest trends.  A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, perhaps, but not a cup full, and not a "eat it, its good for you!!" approach.  If we remain in balance, we can focus upon doing what we do, as a church, in a way that honors and pleases God, and we can do so knowing that it is ok to tweak how we do what we do, as long as we keep honoring and pleasing God as the reason why we do what we do.
Should your church update its music to be more user friendly?  Perhaps, music changes over time, we're not still using Gregorian Chant are we?  Should your church consider using a translation of the Bible that is easier for people to understand?  It might help, as long as the preaching remains centered in God's Word no matter which translation is used.  Should your church start a new poverty relief program, update the way it does discipleship, or consider a new approach to evangelism?  If things are not working well now, it is certainly worth studying to see what else you could do, there isn't any virtue in continuing to do things in a way that is failing.
In the end, the Church exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ, it is our one "product" our one indispensable "service", something that we must always do with honor, truthfulness, integrity, and dedication to serving others.  How we do that very thing is open to change, different approaches work better in different locations, and at different times, but we have nothing else to offer, so if we aren't doing that, whatever else we're doing won't make up for it.
Should the Church be friendly?  Absolutely.  Easy to approach and join?  You'd better believe it.  More concerned with what the people think than what God requires?  Not at all.  Willing to compromise our core beliefs to give people what they want?  Sorry, no.  We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, regardless of whatever else may change over time, that must always remain the same.  So go ahead, be more user friendly, just do so in a way that is in balance, that honorably maintains the Gospel of the Apostles, no matter how it is packaged.