Re-educating the Church

Back in the early ’80’s when I attended high school,  one of our required classes was “AVC”, otherwise known as Americanism vs. Communism. Far more than just a class on governments, the course outlined the philosophical differences between the two ideologies.  One of the stark differences I remember was that in countries like North Korea, Soviet Russia and others, political and religious dissidents and advocates were routinely sent to re-education (through labor) camps. These were a highly effective way of ensuring group think and keeping the powers that be in control.

Fast forward 30 years to present day America.  More and more of our citizens are being sentenced to re-education classes, facing fines and/or jail time for not “evolving” on social issues such as abortion, gay rights, marriage equality and other issues. We have seen heavy handed government enforced re-education philosophies at work in Houston, Idaho and Minnesota recently. Private organizations, churches, even football teams are being pressured to adhere to the new social norm. Anyone who resists must be a Neanderthal in need of re-education to get with the program.

Christians have two choices in froont of them: acquiesce and lose all resemblance to Christ we profess to be like or push back, stand for our beliefs and take any and all punishment meted out by the state as Christ and the Apostles did. America is no longer a safe haven for Christiandom. Declare your allegiance because now it is Americanism vs. Christianity. Teach your children now how to stand in the faith so they can rise up in your place and carry the legacy of the cross forward. Stand and be counted. Now is the time to choose who you will serve.

Quit moaning and wringing your hands wondering what you can do. Live your life according to Biblical principles, engage the culture, vote for moral values – not for party or union dogma and pray for those in power over you that the Holy Spirit would transform their lives. Please, stop lying to yourself that you can just “live your witness” and that will be enough. You must speak, must verbally proclaim the life changing gospel while backing it up with your lifestyle. It isn’t one or the other but both in harmony that provides an effective witness.

When I was young I heard over and over, “When we get together we can talk about anything but religion or politics.” We have reaped what we have sown; masses that cannot think critically about the long term implications of policies and a muddled, confused and impotent church that is irrelevant to mainstream America. Now is the time to declare your true intentions – are you ready to stand up for Jesus no matter the personal cost or are you going to shrink away and continue to compromise? Stand up for Jesus. Stand with your brothers and sisters facing persecution. Get involved and be a force for the advancement of God’s Kingdom.

Unexpected Lessons and Blessings

Its funny how “unintended” decisions can teach valuable lessons and become sources of blessings. This morning, my wife and I had the unexpected luxury of having date time, thanks to the generosity of our adult children. We decided to go to a larger city some 30 miles away for church and lunch and spend some quality time together. We had heard that the 1st Baptist Church in this town had great preaching and good music so we decided to attend there. Imagine our disappointment when we arrived at 10:55 only to see on their sign that the service had started at 10:20. Not knowing the city (and not having enough time to drive anywhere else) we walked across the street to the 1st Methodist Church to worship with them.

What an unexpected blessing. From the genuine greetings by the members there to the well exegeted and biblical sermon, the whole service was enjoyable. The blessing and the lesson, though, can from something different altogether. The recitation of the Apostle’s Creed, the Gloria Patri and the Lord’s Prayer brought a deep sense of comfort and companionship with the rest of the congregation who were affirming what I was affirming. So often, I believe we subconsciously start to feel that only people in our congregation, our denomination, are saved; forgetting that we don’t know everything and God has His people scattered everywhere.

The sermon was from Mark 8:22-28, the healing of the blind man by Jesus. The title was “Seeing people as people” and the lesson for me was pointed. Here I was, an outsider to this church, welcomed by them and worshiping with them because they saw me as a fellow believer. How did I view them, before walking into their service? How did I view their denomination before worshiping with them? Did I see them as brothers and sisters or misguided individuals? Did I see them as 2nd class Christians because they didn’t believe just as I did or as fellow believers from a different tradition who affirmed the same basic truths about the Triune God?

If you get the chance, visit the church across the street. Take in what they do, how they worship. Ask them, why do you do things this way, why do you not do things a certain way. Ask yourself – why does our church do things a certain way and not another. You just might find new believers to fellowship with. You might find an unexpected blessing in worshiping in a slightly different way. You might find an unexpected lesson in a familiar Scripture. Funny how God directs our steps to be where He wants us to be, even when we think we are the ones choosing the path.

Rules of Engagement: Faith in The Classroom Endorsement

It is my pleasure to endorse a book designed to help Christian educators who work within the public school system. Rules of Engagement will help strengthen your resolve to become a more visible and vocal witness for Christ in your role as an educator. We all know that teachers have a great opportunity to mentor and mold young minds. For many children, a Christian teacher may be the only witness for Jesus they encounter. What a golden opportunity to use your platform to ensure they encounter Him through your words and actions. My nephew, Hugh Herndon, has written this book from his heart as both a teacher and a follower of Jesus Christ. Grab a copy for yourself, teachers from your church, or friends who teach.

 http://www.amazon.com/Rules-Engagement-Faith-Classroom-Herndon-ebook/dp/B00KP1H24G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=undefined&sr=8-1&keywords=rules+of+engagement+herndon

rules

Sabbath Modes and Refrigerators

Recently our old refrigerator bit the dust, forcing us to shop for a new one. The most interesting thing about the new model we purchased was a function called “Sabbath mode.” Sabbath mode apparently turns off the interior lights, temperature control and advanced features. The compressor runs only on a timed defrost as well when in this mode. This unique feature got me thinking — do we have a Sabbath mode?

I understand that we are no longer under the Law of Moses. In fact, as Gentiles we never were. The Sabbath, though, was a gift of God to mankind. The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. It was a day to cease from ordinary labor and use the time to ponder, reflect and communicate with our Creator. It allows us to become refreshed in both spirit and body, giving us much needed rest and strength to handle an increasingly busy life.

If my refrigerator can have a Sabbath mode — why can’t I? Why can’t I take a day and cease from all the ordinary busyness of my life to focus on my relationship with my Savior? I know, I know, we have church on Sundays, our “day of rest.” Except it isn’t for far too many of us, especially those of us in full time ministry or who are leaders in our church. Sunday for us is the busiest day of the week. We need a real Sabbath. Maybe even a Sabbatical, which I would encourage all churches to give to their pastors.

Some years ago I read a wonderful pamphlet called, “The Tyranny of the Urgent by IVP.” You can read it online at https://bible.org/seriespage/appendix-tyranny-urgent. I would encourage you to take the time to read this and to begin to institute a Sabbath mode into your own life. Not out of duty, guilt or to try and keep the Mosaic Law. I would love to see you enter a Sabbath mode just because you desire to spend time with your Lord Jesus Christ. Let Him refresh you, let Him restore you in both body and soul.

An Interesting and Thought-Provoking Article on Hell

I recently read a very interesting and thought-provoking article on hell. You can read the article at https://medium.com/batman-theology/we-all-believe-god-sends-people-to-hell-86f21f479e57  While the subject of hell is never a pleasant one to address, it is a doctrine that must be taught. Many people have such skewed ideas of what hell is, who will go there or why it exists, that Christian leaders must help them come to understand the Bible’s teaching on this subject. I am afraid that many churches have abandoned this subject and that is a shame. It is my opinion that they are embarrassed by hell and so they just ignore it altogether.

In my current role role as a hospice chaplain, almost all my patients ask me about hell. They are coming to a realization that there life is almost over and the concept of where they will spend the afterlife is forefront in their mind. I spend much of my time correcting wrong beliefs and showing from Scripture what hell is and why God uses it. Take a look at this article and let it sink in. We need more Christian writers and thinkers who are not afraid to address the unpopular subjects of Scripture.

The Power of Biblical Repentance

Yes, The 180º Project has been delayed for a few months now. Good news is that it is headed into the final stretches and will be ready for editing by the end of July. To whet your appetite, here is an excerpt from the book — Enjoy.

Riding on a carousel is great fun for thousands of children. Brightly painted horses, enchanting music and shining lights all add to the experience. One can climb on a gaily decorated pony and go up and down while revolving around and around or sit upon a horse transfixed on a pole, forgoing the vertical movement. No matter which one you ride upon, when the carousel stops its spinning you are back where you started. It is a pleasant ride, but one that takes you nowhere.

For many people, a carousel ride is an apt description of their spiritual life. If you have attended the same church regularly for a long time, you have probably observed such people. As a pastor, I have lost track of the number of people caught up on a spiritual carousel, a merry-go-round of misery that they cannot stop.

Week after week, the same individuals are at the altar pouring out the same confessions. “God, I’m sorry I got drunk again Friday night. I won’t do it anymore.” “Lord, I am ashamed of looking at pornography. I promise to never watch it again.” “God, I’m going to clean up my language this week.” “Lord, I’m sorry for…”

There they kneel, pouring out tears Sunday after Sunday, and yet their lifestyle never changes. At the altar they seem so sincere, so broken-hearted but there is no different in their life after they walk out the doors of the church. For many people, coming to the altar only has a placebo effect, the spiritual equivalent to a sugar pill. Their sincerity is short lived because it is emotion based and emotions change mercurially.

They have confessed, but not repented. The difference between the two is enormous, as we shall see in more detail in chapter three, when we break down the elements of biblical repentance. Confession is the first step; it is necessary but it is not biblical repentance.

They are sorry, to an extent. They are sorry that their sin has been exposed, sorry for the repercussions that are following them, the consequences they must now face. They may even want to reform, to stop their destructive habits, but not so much that any real effort is expended. Should God take away their desires for their sinful habits they would be well pleased. For them to exercise self discipline and take responsibility for their actions – well, why should they do that?

If God really cared, they reason, He could heal them, cleanse them, make them strong enough to conquer their demons. God is entreated as a magic genie or cosmic vending machine instead of a holy, righteous, jealous God who expects His followers to grow and mature in faith.

While God can pick you up off the spinning horse and throw you off the carousel the simple reality is that He rarely does. Never in Scripture is complete victory over every temptation instantly granted to anyone. Instead, we are required to submit daily to His Lordship, learning how His grace is sufficient, how His power is more than adequate for any battle we face. One is more likely to hear God say, “Go, and sin no more,” putting the responsibility back on us.

Mankind is called upon to endure as a soldier of the cross, not to ask for wings to fly over the troubles of the world. We are to pick up our cross and follow Jesus daily, not to ask for the cross’ removal.

What we desire is instant sanctification, not on-going reformation. God is at work transforming us day by day into the likeness of His Son. What we want is a short cut devoid of any hard work on our part. Scripture teaches us that God works in us and through us, as well as for us. Until we decide to come aboard the process His way, we will remain frustrated by our lack of spiritual progress.

For far too long, churches have taught a false definition of repentance. As a result, whole generations have grown up without the slightest clue as to what biblical repentance truly is.

 

Richard Blackaby once made this astute observation:

 

The problem with (an altar call for rededication) is that it is not biblical. The crux of the gospel message is not a call to rededication, but a call to repentance. John the Baptist preached repentance (Matt. 3:2). Jesus preached repentance, both in His earthly ministry and as the resurrected Lord (Matt. 4:17; Rev. 3:19). If one’s previous commitment did not keep him walking in obedience, a re-commitment is no more likely to make him faithful. The proper response to disobedience is not a commitment to try harder, but brokenness and repentance for rejecting the will of Almighty God. God looks for surrender to His will, not commitment to carry it out. Rather than asking church members to repeatedly promise to try harder, churches must call their people to repent before Holy God.”

The concept of repentance gets muddled up with sorrow, regret, remorse and penance. While elements of each of these things can be present in biblical repentance, there is much more to this concept.

Saying one is sorry (showing remorse) and promising to never do an action again is commendable, but it falls 90̊ short of biblical repentance. Feeling sorrow or regret over the pain or loss one has caused by their actions is a necessary component of biblical repentance, but by themselves they fall completely short of the biblical idea. Doing penance, or making restitution for a wrong is commendable but it doesn’t necessarily include the elements of sorrow or regret. By the same token, one may be sorry they were caught or sorry for the consequences of an action and yet make no attempt to give restitution to the one injured or stolen from. They may also have no remorse over the action itself.

Biblical repentance is a 180̊ change. Not only is one regretful over causing the grievance and ceased the offensive action, but they will replace that action with doing good in its place. Even beyond that, this good will have at its core the desire to serve God through that action.

For example, Scripture tells us not to have coarse or vulgar language coming out of our lips but to speak those things which are edifying or that build one another up in the Lord.

 

 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 NASB

 

Merely cleaning up one’s language isn’t enough, that is only a 90̊ change. A change for the better, to be sure, but far from the 180̊ change which includes uplifting and encouraging words that the Bible commands us to do.

Another example would be the command to refrain from stealing. Not only are we told not to do this in Ephesians 4:28, but we are told to go to work and provide for others so that others will not be tempted to steal.

 

He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. NASB

 

In our two examples, then, biblical repentance looks like this:

Old Habit: Replaced By: For this Purpose:
Vulgar Language Edifying Language Building up others
Stealing Work Helping others

 

Biblical repentance has, at its end goal, a purpose that God uses to witness of His saving power to a watching world. As people see a transformation take place in a life, a metamorphosis of character and lifestyle, God is glorified. The Bible verse, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NASB) comes to mind as we explore the heart of Biblical repentance. The good works are not done for recognition. They are not done out of pride. They stem from a heart so completely changed a person cannot help but to do them. They flow from gratitude for God’s grace. They flow from love that channels through them from God to their fellow man. Biblical repentance paves the way for the life-changing power of the Holy Spirit to be manifested in the world.

A person is no longer a thief and more than a reformed thief – he is now a philanthropist. Another person is no longer a foul-mouthed shrew, but an encouraging, uplifting motivator of those in distress. A third is no longer an abuser and manipulator of people but a champion for the oppressed, spending their time and energy in providing justice for those with no voice.

All of these things begin with a broken, repentant heart that is open to receiving the transforming power of God’s Spirit. What makes the transformation different is the purpose and motive behind the new behavior that is occurring. Everything is now done so that the recipients of the changed behavior do not just enjoy the benefits, but that they are actively being drawn towards the love of God (if an unbeliever) or deeper into the love of God (if they are already a Christian).

God doesn’t just change a heart so a person becomes better but so that he or she becomes an instrument drawing all mankind to Himself so His power is displayed. One word, above all others, captures this transformation. That word is metamorphosis.

The phenomenal transformations of a caterpillar into a butterfly and a tadpole into a frog may be the best illustrations of the 180̊ shift biblical repentance brings about in a person. This metamorphosis is spoken of several times in Scripture.

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NASB

 

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  Titus 3:5-6 NASB

 

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2 NASB

 

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.       2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB

 

These verses, among others, show us the glorious reality of a life that is now completely different than what it used to be. They show us the delightful possibility of what a life can become, if only one allows the Holy Spirit to rule and reign. The Apostle Paul himself is an excellent example of a transformed life. From a brutal persecutor of the Christian faith, Paul is metamorphosized into a tireless champion and propagator of the Gospel. The very institution he was trying to destroy finds much of its foundational beliefs expounded and clarified by Paul. Such a remarkable transformation is evidence of a changed life.

This type of story is repeated over and over throughout the Scriptures. Jacob transforms from a liar and a cheat into a patriarch of great faith. Manassah goes from being one of the most wicked kings Israel ever knew to instituting religious reform. Peter, who cowardly denies knowing the Lord on the night of His arrest, boldly becomes the leader of the fledgling church and goes to his own martyrdom proclaiming his faith.

At the heart of every Biblical story of a transformed life is a repentant attitude. There is a conviction of wrong-doing, a remorse for causing pain and suffering, a crying out to God for forgiveness and an empowerment by the Holy Spirit to do wonderful works in His name.

Biblical repentance is more than sorrow and more than regret. It is more than remorse and more than penance. It is more than a sincere person crying out of distress over a ruinous lifestyle, powerless to keep from falling back into sinful habits. It is more than a penitent crying out, week after week at the altar over the same mistakes, trapped in a merry-go-round of deceit. Biblical repentance leads to a changed life that is fundamentally different in character than what it used to be. It has been transformed by the power of God. The old has passed away, it is no longer there, haunting a person. The new has come, filled with the joy of the Lord’s salvation.