Saturday, April 26, 2008

Churches and Nonprofits are under Attack!

“Remember, O Lord … look, and see our disgrace. Our inheritance has been turned over to aliens, our homes to foreigners….We must buy the water we drink….Slaves rule over us, and there is none to free us from their hands. We get our bread at the risk of our lives….Joy is gone from our hearts; our dancing has turned to mourning. The crown has fallen from our head. Woe to us, for we have sinned!” (Lamentations 5:1-16, NIV)

Federal and State governments have found a new entity to attack; it is the faith-based nonprofit community. The Supreme Court has upheld that local governments, unless restricted by state law, can condemn, take private property, and sell it to developers to increase the tax base for the good of the masses, ignoring personal property rights. Churches beware. This means that if North Carolina legislators change state law, churches in North Carolina (as in some other states) could have its property condemned and sold for commercial development to increase the city and county tax base.

Even the continual rise in the minimum wage is hurts faith-based nonprofits, not as much as those on minimum wage (but that is another Blog). Local governments have been unfriendly toward Christian ministries for some time. However, in recent years it is becoming more so as local governments look to line their coffers with gold and silver, while taking our precious freedoms from us. In our city, like countless others across our nation, local ordinances and fees are pulling ever-increasing revenues from the nonprofit sector, decreasing it’s capacity to relieve human suffering. The two faith-based nonprofits that I am most involved with pay a combined total of just over $2,400 yearly for a local storm water fee. If the average is $1,200 yearly for the 3,000 churches in the county, that’s $3,600,000 annually taken from churches, not to mention the hundreds of other faith and ministry based nonprofits in the county. How many meals could this provide for the 2,700 hundred homeless children and the 2,300 homeless adults in our county?

As governments have become increasingly unfriendly to nonprofits, churches and faith-based ministries continue moving outside the inner city. As this happens, cities are becoming more corrupt, crime rates rise, and the influence of faith-based ministries are erased from the urban landscape.

Now faith-based ministries face another growing threat. In growing numbers, Christian denominations are becoming less friendly toward faith-based ministries, even their own churches. Historic denominations are allowing the love of money to guide their decisions. Last week, as I viewed a local newspaper, The Rhino Times, I saw an ad that reminded me of this point. Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina, a 100-year old congregation is fighting to save their land and building from being sold by their denomination to a developer for condominiums. The advertisement placed by the church starts with the caption, “Build Christians, not Condominiums.” Oh how the great has fallen!

What is the solution? Christians need to run for public offices to serve others and bring an end to this dangerous trend of government intrusion on faith-based ministry. Christians also need to vote. Christians need to use their full understanding of God Word, His leadership revealed through prayer, and a desire to protect our historical freedom of faith and make their voice heard. So pour another cup of coffee and seek God in this ever-globalizing world. What does God want you to do to help restore His work in our cities?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Trust verses Betrayal

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

It is hard to trust God in one’s daily walk. Can you imagine all that was contained in Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is impossible fully to understand the mind of Christ as he fulfilled the Father’s will. Perhaps Spurgeon said it best, “There are seasons when the brightness of our Father's smile is eclipsed by clouds and darkness; but let us remember that God never does really forsake us. It is only a seeming forsaking with us, but in Christ's case it was a real forsaking.”

In our case, our cry is often dictated by unbelief; when, like Christ, we have been betrayed by the trust placed in another, whether person or entity, and been blindsided by actions contrary to promises and prior dealings. The spoken promises of human beings mean less and less to me as years pass by, and I find myself growing more accepting and trusting of even the unrevealed promises of God. Like with Christ, betrayal does not come from the pit of hell as much as the want for, and the greedy love of, money. As the religious establishment of Jesus’ day bought His betrayal for silver, money still rules religious establishments, lost in its self-serving power struggles, with only a fainthearted prayer for saintly appearances. Trust placed in these entities so created to help others in the endeavor of advancing the Kingdom is a misguided trust, a truth I sometimes forget.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might. Do not lean on understanding picked up from misguided trust in the words of men and women who say they want to help you fulfill God’s vision. There is a spiritual struggle that goes on, and it does appear there may be a Judas in each of us, if, and when, Satan’s temptation comes on us at our weakest point with our strongest desire. Is this not the lesson Peter learned? Is this not the lesson we must each learn? Is this not why the Bible cautions us to take heed lest we fall?

Today, as I have my coffee with God, I find Him asking questions that make me uncomfortable. Since my cup is almost empty, and I attempt to avoid that which makes me upcomfortable, I will end on this question: What is your price of betrayal? Be careful now, for the test is coming.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

True Fellowship

God and I have been discussing how people define that word “fellowship” differently, but we need to see it biblically. Like an aging tire on your car, it may be losing its true impression, becoming threadbare. So let us see if we can take a few steps to rescue the word “fellowship. After all, we want a high-quality biblical word like fellowship to stay in circulation as long as possible.

The word “fellowship” means "to have in common." However, proper Christian fellowship is a lot deeper than sharing coffee over a blog, or even in person. In most churches "fellowship" is no more than acquaintanceship or friendship. You see, a person cannot have fellowship with another person unless they have something in common. For true Christian fellowship to occur, each person engaging in the fellowship must be a born-again spiritual Christian. Unless a person has trusted Christ as his or her Savior, that person cannot know anything of "the fellowship of the Gospel." According to Romans Chapter 8, an unsaved or carnal person cannot experience this fellowship. In Philippians 2:1, Paul writes about fellowshipping “with of the Spirit," because when a person is born again he receives the gift of the Spirit (Rom 8:9). There is also "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10).

So, true Christian fellowship is much more than a church dinner. It is far more than having one’s name on a church roll or being present at a meeting. Many Christians want the church dinners, but how often do you hear church members asking for wanting to fellowship with the Spirit or experience the “fellowship” of the sufferings of Christ?

It is possible for a person to be close to others physically and still be miles away from them spiritually. One of the sources of Christian joy is this fellowship that believers have in Jesus Christ. Paul was in Rome, his friends were miles away in Philippi, but their spiritual fellowship was real and satisfying. When you have the single mind, you will not complain about circumstances because you know that difficult circumstances will result in strengthening the fellowship of the Gospel. It is the fellowship of the Gospel that is important. So, get another cup of coffee and join me in this fellowship of the Gospel.