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Archive for April, 2015

A character on comedian Flip Wilson’s television show several years ago was called “Reverend Leroy.” If you watched Wilson’s weekly television program, I suspect that you enjoyed these skits as much as I did. You may remember that Leroy’s congregation was called “The Church of What’s Happening Now.” His theology probably caused theological purists a lot of concern, but he was never dull.

One of the reasons the sermons preached by Reverend Leroy were so popular is that they dealt with current topics, problems, and issues. The church’s message for any generation is built on the foundation of what God has said and done within the context of history. But for a church to focus solely on what happened in the past would make it little more than a “church of what happened yesterday.”

A church should: (1) be aware of what God has said in the past, (2) be actively involved in what He wants done today, and (3) plan for what needs to accomplished in the future. It is the only way it can become a “Church of What’s Happening Now.” It preaches an old, old message, but it will have a fresh application that speaks to today’s culture. It will be concerned about people, about winning them to Christ, and about guiding them to grow in Christlikeness.

Jesus during his thirty-three years on earth was very much a “Now Preacher.” He refused to be contained within the binding restrictions of the stifling legalism prominent at the time. He refused to settle, either in His own lifestyle or in His demands of those He called to follow Him, for the kind of religiosity that had great outward show but no inner content. A “church of what’s happening now” must do the following:

Be genuinely concerned about people. Every phase of its ministry should have a people-centered purpose – its preaching, teaching, training, music ministry, counseling, outreach, and its various benevolent ministries. No church should ever lose sight of people. In today’s world it is so easy to lose sight of individuals and their needs. Jesus constantly stressed the value of the individual. He said that not even one sparrow falls without God knowing about it, and that each human is worth more than many sparrows.

Spell out clearly the demands of discipleship. The church that compromises what it preaches about the cost of discipleship will reach fewer people, not more people. It is almost impossible to attach any significance to that which costs nothing. A church that dilutes its message concerning what it costs to follow Jesus will lose its power to be a transforming influence on society. There ought never to be any doubt in what is involved in following Jesus. Churches do not succeed in fulfilling their mission by accident.

Not confine its activities to one day per week. The church is Christ in His people, not Christ’s people in a church building on Sunday morning. Football fans know that football teams before every play go back in a huddle to call the next play; they do not go back in a huddle to plan the next huddle. Some churches use gimmicks to get people to attend church. A church in Charleston, South Carolina a few years ago arranged for a Santa Claus to parachute out of a plane and land on the church parking lot following the benediction. The church achieved its goal that Sunday: drawing a crowd! Nowhere in the New Testament does it say that the primary goal of a church is to merely draw a crowd on Sunday morning.

Hopefully you worship in a “Church of What’s Happening Now.” If not, it could be like the church one five-year-old boy attended with his parents on a particular Sunday. In his prayers that night when he went to bed he said, “Dear Lord, we had a good time at church today. I sure wish you could have been there.”

 

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Beelzebub is one of the many interesting names found in the Bible. Just who is Beelzebub? In the Old Testament he is referred to as a Philistine god. In the New Testament he is called “the prince of devils.” In other words, Beelzebub is none other than Satan himself.

Matthew 12:22-27 records the time when Jesus encountered a man who was blind, unable to speak, and was possessed by a demon. Jesus healed him and cast the demon out. The Pharisees, who did not believe Jesus was the Son of God, and who had opposed Him on every occasion they could, were present. They said that Jesus healed the man by the power of Beelzebub, not by the power of God.

There are two non-biblical stories involving the prince of devils which I find very interesting. The first story tells of a time when Beelzebub scheduled a meeting with his junior devils – in other words, his “sub-bubs”. He asked for ideas on the best way to keep people constantly frustrated so they would never become all that God had created them to be. The sub-bubs proposed various kinds of physical and spiritual barriers, but Beelzebub rejected them all, citing examples of human beings overcoming one barrier after another.

Finally, one of the sub-bubs suggested an idea that would keep humans from knowing and serving God in an effective way – discouragement. It was such a new and innovative idea that Beelzebub put the sub-bub who suggested this in charge of strategic planning for his Turning People Away from God Committee.

The second non-biblical story tells of a later time when Beelzebub decided to put his tools up for sale. On the date of the sale the tools were displayed for public inspection. Each tool was marked with its sale price. They were a treacherous lot of implements – Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Lying, Greed, Lust, and many other dark and devious tools. Placed apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool, well-worn, and priced very high.

“What is the name of that tool?” asked one of the purchasers.

“Discouragement,” Beelzebub tersely replied.

“Why have you priced it so high?”

“Because it is more useful to me than all the others,” Beelzebub replied. “I can pry open and get inside the heart of people with that tool when I cannot get near them with any of the other tools I have. Once I get inside, I can make them do what I choose. It is a badly worn tool because I use it on almost everyone. One reason it is such an effective tool is that few people know it belongs to me.” The price for discouragement was so high it was never sold. In fact, it is so effective that Beelzebub, the Head-Bub, still uses it.

A pastor called me several years ago and asked if he might come by my office to talk about the problems he was facing in his church. I invited him to come, and for well over an hour he poured out his misery that was caused by the obstacles he was facing. When he had unburdened himself, I told him he was trying to do God’s work all by himself. He had forgotten that the God who had called him to mission had promised to go with him, guide him, strengthen him, use him, and give him victory in completing the mission. He had allowed Beelzebub’s favorite tool – discouragement – to take him off the main highway onto a detour.

If you ever find yourself down in the dumps, if you ever feel as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders, remember that the author of discouragement is Beelzebub. Remember also that the God who created you is able to take your discouragement away and give you joy and peace in its place!

 

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Usually by the time summer is over and schools across the country have opened their doors, the medical community begins to give out warnings concerning the strand of flu expected for the upcoming winter. This causes lots of people, particularly those of us who have reached the age to be called senior citizens, to begin making appointments with our family physicians to get a flu shot.

A few years ago there was much concern over what was called bird flu. The primary concern by those involved in disease control was that there was a huge shortage of bird flu vaccine. It was called bird flu because it came from a virus that was common to birds. It was first discovered in China. Then, as viruses frequently do, it mutated in such a way that it could be caught by humans, several of whom died.

Once the bird flu appeared in China, it quickly spread to other countries in Asia and Europe. Fortunately it never caused as much difficulty in the United States as was originally feared. For that Americans were tremendously grateful. Even though bird flu has been around for several years, it has not gone away. Bird flu still shows up almost annually somewhere in the world.

Throughout history humans have encountered one disease after another. Diseases annually cause millions of people to die. It often seems that by the time the cure is found for one disease, another arrives on the scene to take its place. Cholera, pneumonia, flu, polio, tuberculosis, and cancer are only a few.

On and on the list continues to grow. There is one disease, however, about which you have probably heard very little or nothing – even though it has been around for two thousand years.

The name of this disease is “Morbus Sabbaticus” (Latin for “Sunday sickness”). The strange thing about it is that it only affects church members. Here are its symptoms:

  • It never interferes with the appetite.
  • It never lasts more than 24 hours, and usually only until noon or soon thereafter.
  • It doesn’t keep you from doing any other thing you choose to do.
  • No physician is ever called.
  • It is contagious.
  • The disease control center in Atlanta has no cure for it.

Individuals and/or entire families who are affected by Morbus Sabbaticus feel totally normal and healthy on Saturday night. They awake on Sunday morning feeling fine and eat a hearty breakfast. Around 8 AM the disease attacks with a vengeance, and it lasts until noon. In the afternoon, however, those affected by it that morning are much improved They are able to read a Sunday newspaper, watch a football game, play a round of golf, go fishing, or ride down to the beach. They eat a hearty meal that evening and go to bed at their regular time feeling much better.

On Monday morning they awake feeling great, totally rested, and ready for a new week. They get out of bed, eat a hearty breakfast, dress, and drive to work feeling fine.

Morbus Sabbaticus has two characteristics that no other disease has: it strikes only on Sunday, and those who are not church members are immune. Fortunately, there is a cure. It is not found in a hospital or pharmacy; it is found in Psalm 122:1 – “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’”

A filled church validates Christianity; an empty church is a vote to close its doors.

 

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If your church has had no growth in the last five or ten years, or perhaps is even shrinking in size, would you like to see growth begin to take place? If so, you need to know that growth doesn’t automatically happen. It will not happen if your church is totally satisfied as it is. Growth happens only when the church as a whole wants it to happen and becomes actively involved in doing those things that make growth possible.

People choose the church they attend for many reasons: the capability and commitment of its church staff, the programs and ministries it offers, its friendliness, proximity to where they live, etc. Several different studies have shown that a majority of people initially chose the church they currently attend because they were invited by a neighbor or friend. If you want your church to grow you should begin by asking the following questions:

How much emphasis does it give to the Bible? In other words, does the pastor base his sermons on the Bible? Does he preach with both boldness and compassion? Is the Sunday school material adequately based on the Bible? A church that does not base everything it does on the truth found in God’s Word will not meet the spiritual needs of people. People in the twenty-first century are no less spiritually hungry than those in prior generations and centuries.

Is it concerned that people find salvation in Jesus Christ? Does it give an opportunity at the close of each worship service for persons to choose Christ as their Savior and Lord? If not, in what other way does it give those who are not Christians the opportunity to make a public profession of faith to become a disciple of Jesus Christ? A growing church will always have a visitation program that seeks to visit the people in its community who do not attend church – especially those who have visited its worship services.

Does it support missions? A church that is not concerned with sending out missionaries and in supporting missionary causes is itself a mission field. Your church will not grow, and cannot grow, if all of its members gather for worship on Sunday, then drive home past the homes of neighbors to whom they have never witnessed or invited to attend your church. It would be little more than a private religious club. Unfortunately, this description fits many churches.

Does it minister to every age group? People attend church where the spiritual needs of every member of the family are met. For example, young families with children will obviously attend the church that seeks to meet their children’s spiritual needs. If your church feels this is unimportant, it is only so many years away from extinction.

Do its members love one another? This is not true of many churches today. Divisions, cliques, personality conflicts, gossip, negativity, criticism, and other similar problems can transform any church into a battleground. To the degree that this is true of your church it will not grow, and cannot grow. How many times have you heard someone say, “I attended a certain church and nobody said a word to me?” Love for one another is how the world recognizes who we are. Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

If you will ask these questions concerning your church and can give it a positive grade, it will grow both spiritually and numerically. If, on the other hand, your church gets a failing grade, it needs to seriously reevaluate its priorities. You can become an instrument of positive change by doing these things: (1) Evaluate your own relationship with God and rededicate yourself to the goal of being a better church member; (2) Pray for your church and its ministry daily; (3) Ask God to help you share your faith with specific friends and neighbors who do not know the Lord.

When you have done these things, and get others in your church to do the same, watch what happens next!

 

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Throughout the entire world where people have lived you will find cemeteries. Underneath the tombstones found in these burial grounds are the earthly remains of individuals who once were alive but now are dead. Tombstones generally contain the names of deceased persons, the dates they were born and died, and perhaps a brief epitaph describing something about them.

How different the situation is in that ancient cemetery where Jesus Christ, following His crucifixion, was buried. No epitaph telling anything about Him was carved into the stone door of the sepulcher. Rather, the epitaph was spoken by an angel, “HE IS NOT HERE: FOR HE IS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID” (Matthew 28:6).

The Apostle Paul summed up for the Christians in Corinth the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in these powerful words, “If Christ be not raised from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).

What Paul is saying is that without Christ’s resurrection, the cross would be meaningless, a tragedy, and a defeat. Without the resurrection there would be no good news, the world’s darkness would be black, and life would hold no meaning. Without the resurrection the New Testament becomes a myth, Christianity becomes a fable, and millions of Christians are living under the delusion of the greatest hoax in history.

The great question of this age, and of every age, is the one asked by the Old Testament character Job many centuries ago, “IF A MAN DIE, SHALL HE LIVE AGAIN? Ask a scientist this question and he cannot give an answer. Ask the great writers of recent history – William Faulkner, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neil, and others – and they are filled with pessimism. Jesus answered Job’s question when He said to Martha following the death of her brother Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26).

The resurrection of Jesus is the hinge of history. The historical evidences of both His death and resurrection are many. It was validated by His enemies and experienced by His followers. When I was in Israel in 1973 I had the privilege to enter the tomb in which many Christians believe Christ was buried. It is nestled beneath a hill that bears the resemblance of a human skull. I rededicated my life to the One who died that I might have eternal life. I praised God for the resurrection of His Son. It was the day death died!

When the disciples saw the tomb on that first Easter morning they quickly saw that it was empty. Later, when Jesus appeared in their midst, they thought they had seen a spirit. But Jesus said to them, “A spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see me have” (Luke 24:39). Later, there were thirteen different appearances of Jesus under every conceivable condition and circumstance. These were definitely not hallucinations, for they usually continue to occur. The appearances of Jesus came to an end when He ascended into heaven.

Many years ago following the Bolshevik revolution, the local communist leader was sent to tell the people the virtues of communism and to take their minds away from religion – which Karl Marx had called “the opiate of the people.” After the Bolshevik had harangued them for a long time, he said to the local pastor rather contemptuously, “I will give you five minutes to reply. The pastor said, “I don’t need five minutes. I only need five seconds. He rose to the platform and gave the traditional Easter greeting: “THE LORD IS RISEN!” The villagers, as one man, thundered back, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!

 

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