Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Lying People of God

"But then they [God's people] would flatter him [God] with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant."  (Psalm 78:36-37)

It is Sunday.  Morning worship has ended.  Lunch was satisfying and now I find myself in my office with a freshly brewed cup of hot coffee.  Nothing frees my mind to commune on the mysteries and teachings of God more than a cup of coffee.  I sip it when I pray and talk to Him, and I sip it when I study his Word.  If I thought I could get by with it, I would sip it when I preach - I am certain I would preach better!

As I read these two verses, I find myself wondering how many lies filled the ears of our God today, lies spoken, not by rebellious heathens, but by God's own people.  Churches are filled with liars, people who sing "I surrender all" but who have surrendered nothing to God.  I remember reflected on this some years ago when I noticed John was not singing as we lifted our voices in this hymn. "All to Jesus I surrender, All to Him I freely give; I will ever love and trust Him, In His presence daily live."  John loved to sing.  He sung solos.  He sung on the worship team.  He sung in his pickup truck - John loved to sing!  After service I spoke with John and told him I had noticed he was not singing.  John said, "Pastor, I can't sing that song, because I know I haven't surrendered everything to Jesus." 

Many Christians mouth the words without considering what they are singing to God.  If Christians sing to the Triune God, we should mean every word we sing.  If we pray to the Triune God, we should mean every word we pray.  It is better not to say or sing it that to do so and not mean it.

The Psalmist speaks of God's people flattering God.  It seems so natural to so many people because it is the normal way so many people speak to each other.  I am most sure you have heard people use flattery, perhaps you have been guilty of obsequiousness yourself.  "I like that dress you have on; it is so attractive on you."  Which interpreted means, "that is an ugly dress and you would never catch me wearing it."  Words of flattery from lying tongues.

The Psalmist speaks of the hearts of God's people being disloyal and isolated from God.  While singing "Trust and Obey" these people neither trusted God not obeyed Him. I stood in a church today that is dying.  Unless hearts and minds change, it will soon be one of the 4,000 churches that close their doors each year in America.  Why?  I believe this passage tells us exactly why so many churches close.

The Psalmist speaks of God's people not being steadfast and dedicated to His Covenant.  I have  learned that I cannot make other people be trusted.  I cannot make others people live in total obedience to Jesus.  However, I can work on myself.  Just talk to the people that really know me, I have many flaws to work on.

Most of your know that I write an Urban Ministry blog and consider myself to some extent knowledgeable on the subject. Churches across America are dying for lack of change, but the change is not so much in worship, preaching, or music styles, churches are dying of like of changed hearts and lives.  Do not talk to me about bad locations, bad buildings, or bad styles, talk with me about disobedient people.  That's right!  Let's get real and discuss the disobedience of God's people, His lying people.

So how about it?  Is the Psalmist describing what you did today?  Have you muttered lying words of commitment and love to Jesus?  Have you prayed words to God in prayer today that are untrue? 

In funerals I have often spoken of living our lives in "the dash" between birth and death.  This "dash" can be found on almost every gravestone.  Will your dash read: "Here lies one who flattered God with his mouth, lied to God with his tongue; he was not loyal to God, nor faithful to God's Word." 

"Father God, forgive this reader and me for those times we have failed You.  You are so faithful to us, having never let us down.  Please help us to be faithful and true to You.  May our words and meditations always be pleasing to You.  When we fail You, please forgive us and reveal our failure to us.  Help us always to be truthful to others in the Church, and never use sycophancy and lies.  Help us always to be faithful and intertwined with You, never disloyal and isolated.  Help us to study Your Holy Scripture that we might gain a deeper understanding of You, and that we remain steadfast to Your covenant.  Amen" 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Learning to be Obsolete

“Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” (First Corinthians 15:51, NIV)

Obsolesce occurs with an alarming rate, especially in urban arenas. It happens every year in individuals, organizations, and even with one's faith. Carnality resists change, but God demands it. Obsolesce is unnatural, so contrary to the nature of God. God created us to move, to grow, to change, and yet our carnality resists God's design with a fierce determination to become obsolete. Perhaps this is why I have always enjoyed the more whimsical translation of First Corinthians 15:51 first triggered in me by a sign hanging in a church nursery. I surmise its placement by a person who knew the challenges of carry for babies and who had a sense of humor.

Why is it that we resist changing?  God created us with a temporary body.  Scripture often refers to as a “tent.”  God speaks of the brevity of life as grass that springs up in the summer rains and soon withers or dies in the heat of the day or the cold of winter.  Change means that we are a living organism; we are either changing or dying, and even in death, the remains change until there is nothing left but the earth.  God created humankind to change, to be renewed, and to become more like Him, so there is no wonder that our old nature resists change.  The new person we become in Christ seeks and requires change.  God tells us that we are to experience the renewing of our minds on our way to becoming “new” creatures; this involves change.

For those who do not like change, who do not seek change, and who resists change, I thought it appropriate to give you some ideas on how to become obsolete, so that you can have no relative purpose.

First, you must resist God’s living breathing power within your life.  No matter how much God wants you to become like Him you must resist.  This will require you to not study and accept Scripture as authoritative.  It will require you to withdraw from fellowship from the faith community.  This means that you must resist learning new songs of praise and adoration.  Furthermore, you will need to cease being a person of prayer. You cannot resist change if you are strongly into the Word and the worship of God.

Second, you must develop a mental resistance to adaptation required for change. Just make up your mind that you are not going to learn new stuff! Fight against all new ideas. If you have never done it that way before, be determined not to do it. You do not really need innovative technology, latest comforts, and up-to-the-minute gadgets. Be a trooper and draw your water from the well, or better still dip it straight out of the creek. Resist the temptation to buy a cell phone or iPad, stop learning new-fangled things, and turn off this computer as it represents that which is innovative and ever changing!

Third, you must develop an unwillingness to grow and develop. Recently, in a simple survey, I selected a group of men and women involved in a particular field and asked what books they had read in the past year to help them develop and stay current in their field of employment. Less than ten percent said they had read a single book in last twelve months related to their professional development. The other ninety percent is among the bold individuals resisting change and seeking obsolescence through unwillingness to grow and develop.

Fourth, you must resist being incarnational.  Just because God chose to put on human flesh and dwell among humanity, does not mean that you must interact with humanity.  Be an isolationist, a loner, uninvolved in society.  Give no thought to trying to make your community and world better for having lived on this planet.  Wrap yourself up in your cell phone, your iPads, and your computers and ignore the human loneliness around you.  Text people so that you do not have to talk to them.  Go through the self-checkout line in the grocery store so that you do not have to speak to a cashier.  Order everything online so that you do not have to talk to salespeople.  When you do have to deal with people, be rude and crass so that you do not represent the love and forgiveness of Jesus.

Any one of these four steps will move you toward obsolesce, and the more steps you follow the quicker you can obtain the lofty goal of being obsolete.  God wants you to “be changed” and to become a little more like Jesus every day.  So how are you doing?  Are you daily becoming more like Jesus or allowing your carnal nature to resist the power of God’s change in your life?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Five Distinct Stages of Child-to-Parent Relationship

 The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. (Proverbs 23:24)

When I was young, I read the Bible with eyes of a young man, but as I have grown older, I find myself looking at Scripture more through the eyes of a father and grandfather.  Such is a disturbing read as wiser eyes sees the mistakes of one’s own youth, and lives with the fruit of one’s own past.   It is with older more mature eyes that the Lord has helped me to see five distinct stages of child-to-parent relationship through which most children grow, although some seem to become stuck in or between one or two stages, seemingly unable to develop and progress.

Young children are a parent’s delight.  These are the years when children “idolize” their parents.  In this stage, children see their parents are perfect, right, and better than every other parent is.  The little boys say, “My daddy can beat up your daddy.”  While we do not want our children to idolize us, I must admit that this is a wonderful stage and one that is short lived. 

Children soon grow to older childhood and tire of having parents tell them what to do.  It is in this stage that children begin to “demonize” their parents.  Parents become the reason for all the child’s unhappiness, disappointments, and failures.   Almost overnight parents become worse the Satan and the child begins to lash out at the parent with tongues worse than Satan’s own pitchfork and devastatingly painful.  This is stage of loss of innocence for the child, marking a need for repentance and salvation – both now under the child’s control.

Most children move on to “utilize” their parents, making effective use of parents for self-gain.  This is the stage where children exploit parents for both material and immaterial things that bring a greater joy and pleasure to their young life, even if it is temporal and shallow

Eventually spiritually and emotionally healthy children understand that their parents are not gods, nor are they demons, and they begin to value their parents for more just exploits for self-gain.  In this stage, children “humanize” their parent.  Children see their parent’s imperfections and failure, and through their own life experiences come to better understand the difficulties of parenthood and more closely identify with the parents.  Children also begin to have a greater understanding of life and its brevity.

Righteous children, out of loyalty, honor, and love, seek to “memorialize” their parents.  This may be anything from a tombstone on a grave to naming a scholarship or building in the parent’s memory. Wise and righteous children see virtue in their parents and want to memorialize those virtues for both the family and future generations.  Children who do not want to memorialize the parents are generally unhealthy emotionally, centered on self, or fail to forgive the parent’s imperfections.  These children continue to demonize their parents transposing their own emotional instability to cope with life; in short, they choose to blame the parents for all of their own failures rather than to deal with them.

The writer of Proverbs understood both the heart of God and the heart of man.  He knew that a person could be righteous and not wise, but that man could not be wise without being righteous.  It was, and is, my goal as a parent and grandparent to work to shape and mold my descendents to be men and women of faith who are both wise and righteous, and to do all within my ability to memorialize my parents and parent-in-laws, as I have learned much for each of them.

As a parent, you can have no greater goal for your children that that they grow to be wise and righteous, men and women of faith.  As a child, you can have no greater goal than to seek wisdom and righteousness.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Infidelity Is a Two-sided Coin

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.  But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. (John8:4-7)

Pour a cup of coffee and let’s think for a moment about the adulteress that caused Jesus to stoop over and write in the sand.  Jesus knew that the bedrock of trust can be broken in a marriage by infidelity and adultery.  He gave us this story in recorded history so that we might better understand the difference and the seriousness of each in marriage.

Infidelity is emotional unfaithfulness, disloyalty, or betrayal to one’s spouse.  Emotional infidelity varies in degree and over time affect emotions and feelings of one’s mate.  It can be observed in terms of verbal and non-verbal communication and deals with disclosing thoughts, feelings, and emotions in order to reach an understanding, offer mutual support, or build a sense of family.  In sexual infidelity, the impact is said to be not only about sex outside the relationship, but also about trust, betrayal, lying and disloyalty. What makes infidelity so painful is the fact that it involves someone deliberately using deception to violate established expectations within a relationship. Some married adults commit this sin of infidelity although they would never commit adultery, yet this sin is equally as wrong and damaging to a relationship.  Infidelity is as difficult to repair as adultery, and only the most foolish person thinks nothing is wrong with committing emotional betrayal of one’s spouse.

Scripturally, adultery is when a man has illicit sexual intercourse with a “married” woman who is not his wife - the woman was then called an “adulteress.”  This is physical infidelity and remains a great sin and socially wrong.  Fornication was the intercourse between a married man and an unmarried woman.  Jesus highlighted how common adultery was when he stooped to right in the sand.  Not much has changed in two thousand years.  Adultery remains extremely common, as does a host of sexual abnormalities and misconduct in our present day society.  It seems we live in a society where sexual intercourse outside of marriage has become more acceptable than holding hands in public, and definitely thought of as less intimate than kissing.

Trust is the bedrock of marriage and couples should be on guard against emotional infidelity.  It is the first foot out the door to a broken marriage, and adultery is the second foot out the door.  Both are equally difficult to unravel and both are equally wrong to commit.  So examine your own life and see if there is any hint of emotional infidelity or physical infidelity in it, and if there is – repent and turn to God for forgiveness, cleansing, and empowerment.