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Stay on Target

Posted: June 28, 2011 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

A JEDI CAN SUCCEED IF HE STAYS FOCUSED ON THE TARGET
Remember the scene from the 1977 Star Wars movie, Episode IV: A New Hope, where the X-Wing fighters are attacking the Death Star? One of the Y-Wing fighter pilots is being attacked by an enemy fighter as he tries to launch missiles to destroy the Death Star. His comrade calmly reminds him, “Stay on target.” He again yells for help. The response is, “Stay on target.” Good guys are getting wiped out by the enemy, and the enemy is getting closer to destroying the good guys and all their fleet of ships. The phrase “Stay on target,” that target being the destruction of the Death Star and salvation of their comrades, is repeated. Finally Luke Skywalker flies in his X-Wing fighter and is attacked by enemies too. He hears his Jedi Master’s voice telling him, “Use the force, Luke,” and “let go.” Luke, in the face of enemies attacking him, time running out, and losing his wingmen, focuses on the target and succeeds in destroying it, thus defeating the enemy while saving his comrades.

Today we also need to stay on target, not wavering, in the face of very hard times. There are two commands in this passage, both warning us as Christians how not to let things of our culture knock us off target.

The first command is in Colossians 2:16. Paul commanded the Colossians not to let anyone judge them by what they ate or drank, their festivals (or lack thereof), New Moons, or Sabbaths. One person’s rules on eating and drinking do not necessarily apply to another’s. One person’s rules on festivals, celebrations, keeping the Sabbath do not necessarily apply to another’s. Max Lucado wrote “Legalism has no pity on people. Legalism makes my opinion your burden, makes my opinion your boundary, makes my opinion your obligation.”

We learn in 2:17 that those things were a mere shadow of the things to come, but “the substance belongs to Christ,” (NASB). Jesus Christ is the “body,” of the shadow that was cast in the Old Testament, and in the traditions of the Jewish people. He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He said in Matthew 5, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.” When you see a shadow, shadows never stand alone. There is always a body casting that shadow. The 2 dimensional shadow is nothing compared to the 3 D body that casts it. The shadow changes, varies, depending on the direction and angle of the light. The body never does, whether a tree, rock, chair, building, car, animal, or person. The nature of that body is the same.

So the good human ideas for applying what the Bible says are good for a specific time, place, and people group. But the main thing remains the main thing. The Bible remains the Bible, Gospel remains the Gospel, sinners still need to repent or risk Hell, and people who are saved by Jesus Christ are still saved by Jesus Christ.

YOU CAN SUCCEED IF YOU STAY FOCUSED ON THE TARGET

 F. B. Meyer, famous preacher 100 years ago, once said that when we see a brother or sister in sin, there are two things we do not know: First, we do not know how hard he or she tried not to sin. And second, we do not know the power of the forces that assailed him or her. We also do not know what we would have done in the same circumstances.[1]

At a pastor’s conference in Spokane, Chuck Swindoll told of being at a California Christian camp. The first day there a man approached him and said how greatly he had looked forward to hearing Dr. Swindoll speak and his delight at now finally being able to realize that desire. That evening Swindoll noticed the man sitting near the front. But only a few minutes into the message the man was sound asleep. Swindoll thought to himself that perhaps he was tired after a long day’s drive and couldn’t help himself. But the same thing happened the next few nights, and Dr. Swindoll found his exasperation with the man growing. On the last night the man’s wife came up and apologized for her husband’s inattention to the messages. She then explained that he had recently been diagnosed as having terminal cancer and the medication he was taking to ease the pain made him extremely sleepy. But it had been one of his life-long ambitions to hear Dr. Swindoll speak before he died, and now he had fulfilled that goal.[2]

John Walvoord, last sermon at Dallas Theological Seminary. Teacher and president of the seminary for over 50 years, one of the people responsible for the great reputation that Dallas has today all over the world. He said to us, in his last chapel, “Whatever you do when you preach a sermon, include the Gospel. The Bible says the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but many churches today have great oratory messages without including the gospel.

If you want to hear the one message that will never change, and always reach deep into the heart of every listener, it is this story of Jesus Christ, the God who became man, the One who offered His perfect body for our sinful souls, so we might rise one day in perfect bodies with Him and spend eternity with Almighty God. You need to meet that truth and teach that truth whenever you teach the Bible, or you are teaching the shadow. Teach the Body–Jesus Christ, not the shadow.

You need to stop right now and make sure you have this salvation in Jesus Christ. It is NOT Jesus and baptism, Jesus and communion/eucharist, Jesus and confession, Jesus and giving, Jesus and penance, Jesus and hard work, Jesus starts it and I finish it, or Jesus plus anything added, or Jesus minus whatever you don’t like about Him. Colossians 2:6 says, “so then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.”

It is all about Jesus Christ, accepting His life through accepting His death, and accepting His deity through accepting His resurrection. That is the target. Living like Jesus Christ.

So, are you on target?

YOU CAN SUCCEED IF YOU STAY FOCUSED ON THE TARGET

Another disqualifier for the Colossian Christians were those who believed they were more spiritual than others. In 2:18, the Bible tells us the second command of this passage. They were not to let those in Colossae according to the false teaching disqualify them (strong word for an umpire or official to rob an athlete of the prize), which is the same as to condemn them. In John Calvin’s commentary on Colossians, he translates this “let no one take from you the palm.” There was a custom in races of that day that the winner would receive the prize, but there was a palm that was also given, for everyone who completed the race. If you got injured or distracted, and could not complete the race, you were deprived of that palm. So the Bible warns us, let no one rob you of the Lord’s reward for running the race to the end.

Characteristics of the false teachers in Colossae, according to this passage:

First, “humility” in this case “false humility” Paul writing tongue-in-cheek. The people believed they were actually humble. They looked down on others in their “humility.”

Second, “worship of angels” worship of angels. This means focusing on creatures of heaven is not worshipping God.

Third, “vision entering into” entering into a tale at length of what one has seen in a vision.

In Colossae and other cities, some people were depriving themselves of food and sleep in order to induce visions. This is why they emphasized fasting so much. Modern medicine shows us a lack of sleep combined with a lack of protein will increase your chances of hallucinating. People were doing this in order to see either the true God or have some experience that would give them the same authority as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, or the prophets who saw visions.

Those who practiced these things were not connected to the Head, Who is Christ. So on the one hand, the Bible warns us here not to be knocked off course by those who worship the acts of godliness over God, and on the other hand, not to be knocked off course by those seeking spirituality on their own, disconnected from the Head.

What else? Fourth, these people were “having an exaggerated self-conception” by their “mind of the flesh.”

The difference is, the prophets did not seek visions, they sought God Himself. Once again, the shadow of God is not what you should look for. You should seek God Himself—seeking Jesus Christ!

This means that even if you find someone at some other church, in some other ministry, who does or has something you admire, don’t compare that to where God has you now. Don’t get discouraged. I met a man for lunch who is a minister in the circles that practice the manifestations of the spiritual gifts more than my circles of Christianity. I felt the condescension from him, so I asked him, “Do you think you are more spiritual than me because you practice these manifestations of the Spirit–as you call them–and I do not?” He paused, and said, “I would never say that.” But he did feel that, as he nodded his head yes. I didn’t let that man rob me of my palm. Neither should you. Continue in Jesus Christ. I asked that man “Can you prove from the Bible that you are more spiritual?” He said, “I don’t know.”

If it can’t be found in the Bible, it isn’t true. We who stay on target follow Jesus, and live according to the Word of God. If you have a great, popular church growth idea but it goes against Scripture, it is not a great church growth idea at all. Stay on the target–Jesus Christ.

YOU CAN SUCCEED IF YOU STAY FOCUSED ON THE TARGET

Are you on target? Have you gotten off target? The same thing Karl Barth had said decades earlier, when asked what his greatest theological thought was, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

What is the target we need to stay focused on? Go back to v. 6, “so then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, so live in Him.”

Review: Jesus Christ is not the shadow of Jesus Christ, and He is not a teaching that sounds kind of like Jesus Christ, and He is not the man-made buildings, programs, or books that are tools to worship Jesus Christ. Jesus is not the angels who adore Him, or the visions people have of Him. He is a real person who dwells within all of us who receive Him as Savior.

Some of you have given up. Your X-Wing is out of fuel, you don’t feel like a Jedi. You don’t even know why you get up in the morning. Life has let you down.

Read this encouraging poem, if you feel like you’ve been knocked off course.

“I’ve dreamed many dreams that never came true. I’ve seen them vanish at dawn,

But I’ve realized enough of my dreams, thank God, to make me want to dream on,

I’ve prayed many prayers when no answer came, I’ve waited patient and long;

But answers have come to enough of my prayers, to make me keep praying on.

I’ve trusted many a friend who failed, and left me to weep alone;

But I’ve found enough of my friends true-blue, to make me keep trusting on.

I’ve sown many seeds that fell by the way, for the birds to feed upon;

But I’ve held enough golden sheaves in my hand, to make me keep sowing on.

I’ve drained the cup of disappointment and pain, I’ve gone many days without song;

But I’ve sipped enough nectar from the rose of life, to make me want to live on.”

Charles Allen, The Secret of Abundant Living.

Spend time with Jesus Christ, not His shadows that fill religion. Stay in the race, on target.

[1] Taken from http://www.bible.org/illus.php?topic_id=843, at 2:09pm on 2/10/07.

[2] Bible.org

Our love for one another is a witness

Posted: February 7, 2011 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

In Johnny Cash’s song, “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” he sings, “You can run on for a long time, run on for a long time, run on for a long time, sooner or later God’ll cut you down, sooner or later God’ll cut you down . . . Go tell that long tongue liar, go tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler, the gambler, the backbiter, tell them that God’s gonna cut ‘em down, tell ‘em that God’s gonna cut ‘em down . . .”

He gives a testimony, “O my goodness gracious let me tell ya the news, my head’s been wet with the midnight dew, I’ve been down on bended knee, talkin’ to the man from Galilee, He spoke to me in a voice so sweet, i thought I heard a shuffle of angels’ feet, He spoke to me and my heart stood still, when He said ‘Man, go do My will,’ . . . You can throw your rock, and hide your hand, workin’ in the dark against your fellow man, But sure as God made black and white, what is done in the dark will be brought to the light . . .”

This song speaks about people who do not follow God, and think they are getting away with it. In the trailer for the new movie “True Grit,” based on the 1968 book by Charles Portis, True Grit, this song is played. The message of that book is a similar message, where a man murders another man in the old west, and the story is of bringing him to justice. It is a great book, but that’s not the point.

The point has to do with what Paul wrote about in Galatians 5:13-26, where he urged the Galatians to “walk by the Spirit, and you will not satisfy the desires of the flesh,” or “live by the Spirit,” (NIV) (for JC Smith :)) Hold onto that thought . . .

. . . John 13:34-35, Jesus said “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Picture Jesus in the upper room, talking to His disciples, and he tells them a new commandment. (Sorry, couldn’t find a more manly Jesus picture–not one that was reverent. Got a better one? Send it to nswhiteside@gmail.com). He’s not replacing the First and Great Commandment, “Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength;” He’s not replacing the 2nd Great Commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” but He’s giving them a new commandment like the other two. This should flow out of your life. This command is the new bumper sticker He wants them to wear, that marks them as people trying to be like Him. The rabbi is telling His students the school mascot: Love one another.

Go back to Galatians. Paul writes to a people much like our churches today. Whether or not you believe they were in Northern or Southern Galatia, they had the same problems we have. On one hand, they struggled with legalism, where Christians believe that if they act perfectly it is the most important part of their walk with Christ. Usually these are people who define themselves by who they’re against or what they don’t believe in, or what they don’t do. You’ve heard, “We don’t smoke, drink, chew, or hang around those that do.” Who wants to be a part of an amoeba that constantly defines itself by what others do, that it does not?

Then Galatia had the other extreme, which were the libertines, or the eccentrics carrying out their Christian liberty. A good word to describe them is irresponsible. You can spot these Christians because they believe that they prayed a prayer and now can live however they want. They do not feel guilty when they sin, or express remorse, because they think that because all sin was paid for on the cross, Jesus doesn’t care. Kind of like a multi-billionaire handing us hundreds of dollars every month and not caring how we spend it because the supply seems limitless. That is also wrong.

In this context, speaking of living their lives like Christ, Paul incorporates Jesus’ command in the sermon on the Mount and John 13 in the Upper Room discourse: Love your neighbor as yourself! Paul says it sums up the entire law! “So then, live by the Spirit . . .” In other words, “Because of this . . .” or “Having said that, I say to you . . .” In light of your need to stop biting and devouring each other, you need to live by the Spirit, and you will not satisfy the desires of the flesh. The two, he explains, are like oil and water and cannot co-exist. You must choose, and it isn’t legalism, and it isn’t irresponsible Christian hedonism, it is in the middle like Jesus. Live by the Spirit, communion with God and letting Him lead you.

Our witness is loudest in our relationships that are closest. We should be so living by the Holy Spirit that we can open our home and let people watch us argue with our spouse and see that even in our disagreements, the Holy Spirit is there and our resolution is in accordance with God the Holy Spirit. Same with our churches, so that unbelievers are awed at our love for one another. Disciples of Jesus have this. Do you? If not, are you working on it? This is something you can’t put off.

Dr. Criswell, long time pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX, described this as if we all owned two dogs, one called the sinful nature and the other represented walking by the Spirit. Whichever dog you feed is going to grow stronger. So the question is “Which of your two dogs is healthy and growing, and which of your two dogs is starving?”

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in his book, He That is Spiritual, hits this nail on the head. He said that the problem is never God’s fault (I’m paraphrasing), it is ours. It isn’t that the Spirit isn’t filling us enough, because the Holy Spirit comes into our lives completely when we are saved. The problem is us not giving Him enough of ourselves.

Don’t miss this: Paul told Christians in Galatians 5 that in order to love one another, you must be living by the Spirit. You must be godly, because you can try to love someone completely like Jesus did (remember, it is “as I have loved you,”), but unless you depend on Him, your nature is not able to love others like Jesus did. The Spirit in you–Jesus who said He would be with you always, even to the end of the age–the Spirit of Christ which is the Holy Spirit–He alone gives us the power we need to love one another. In order to love one another, we have to live by the Holy Spirit.

So, then, how does what Paul is saying relate to what Jesus said in John 13? Jesus said loving one another is our ID. Paul explained that can’t happen unless we are trying to be Godly. Godliness can’t happen unless we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit. So then, how do we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit? Read Galatians 5:22 and following, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

What Paul describes is like two people walking up the ladder of Godliness. As long as both people continue to climb upwards, they continue to get closer together. However, if one person decides to go down and give into the sinful nature, the two naturally grow farther apart.

Followers of the rabbi from Galilee, let’s be people of love, an inner joy, people of peace, people who have patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness in our relationships and to our call, people of gentleness, and people who demonstrate to the world what self-control looks like. Ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to do this. Focus on this, on what we do. Love one another greatly.

Lastly, my friend from India grew up a Hindu and now is a Christ-follower. It is interesting that He said the one thing that got him, that he could not stop thinking about when he met Christians, was their love for one another. It was their treatment of each other better than family, that got him. That eventually led him to investigate and discover the Gospel, and follow Jesus. Keep reading in Galatians and chapter 6 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” Let’s risk our lives for one another, help restore the fallen followers of Jesus, help the poor brothers and sisters (as well as the poor unbelievers), and that will be a loud witness to the world who thinks we’re irrelevant. Let’s be disciples who show love for one another.

Knowing Jesus Means Having Compassion on Others

Posted: January 19, 2011 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

Matthew 14:13-33

Picture a tired and grieving Jesus with His disciples, looking for seclusion, and finally finding it. He had just heard about John the Baptist’s death, and needed a moment alone. He and His disciples boarded a boat on Lake Galilee, pushed off the shore, and at last they would find seclusion.
When they reached the other side of the lake, crowds had anticipated their arrival. Was He disappointed? He had compassion on them. He began to heal their sick.
When evening came, which was 3pm for Jewish people, His disciples said to Him (Paraphrase) “this is our secluded spot we were looking for. We found it first. Send them away so they can buy themselves some food.”
Don’t you love it when people try to get you to do something by suggesting you do something else? The disciples didn’t care about them being fed as much as they cared about themselves resting.
Jesus wanted them to have the same compassion on the crowds, and He replied,
14:16, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
“We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.
“Bring them here to me,” he said.
Jesus directed the people to sit down. Luke tells us He divided them into groups of 50.
Jesus took the food, looked up, gave thanks, and broke the loaves of bread.
One of the most common Jewish blessings for food was, “Blessed art Thou, o Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”
Jesus possibly said that common blessing, thanking God publicly. Then Jesus gave the food to the disciples, until they were passing out food. They would return several times each and Jesus never ran out of food. He made the five loaves and two fish last for 5,000 men, and above that many women and children.
Notice: How many people did Jesus hand the food to in the crowd? None. Jesus handed the food to His disciples, and they handed food to the people.
Jesus wants to work through you to show HIS compassion through your life.
They didn’t just have enough; they had 12 baskets full. One basket for each disciple.
When you commit yourself to serve God by having compassion on people, God will take care of your needs in His way and in His time.

Jesus then sent the disciples in a boat away from that part of the lake, and then He sent the crowds away. He finally had time to rest.
If you’re available to God and watching for peoples’ needs, God will provide times of rest for you. If you avoid peoples’ needs and force times of rest, you will miss the miraculous work that God wants to do through you.
If you’re thinking right now, listening to this, “I don’t have any spare time now. How will I have any free time if I let people interrupt my schedule?”
If you do it to minister to them, God will take care of you and give you a season of rest in His way and in His time.

Jesus isn’t finished showing compassion. He doesn’t just require you to show compassion as His disciple.
He was by Himself, up on a mountainside praying. 14:23 tells us “when evening came,” possibly meaning the 4th watch of the night (3am-6am). Jesus was alone still in a time or resting and or prayer.
The boat was far from shore, and being “buffeted” by the waves; the wind was against it.
During the fourth watch Jesus came to them, walking on water, having compassion for His disciples caught in a storm.
Peter goes out after Jesus calls him, and Peter takes his focus off Jesus and puts it on the problems.
He cries out “Lord, save me!”
Jesus saved him, then Jesus rebuked him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
It is awesome to arrive in the safety of Jesus’ hand, but it is terribly uncomfortable to leave the place of security like the boat. It is also terribly difficult sometimes to walk that space between the place of safety and where Jesus commands us to go. Yet, if Peter had stayed focused on Jesus, the story would have ended without Jesus rebuking him. Would you have succeeded?
Not even the greatest of the OT prophets walked on water. Not even deities of other cultures walked on or controlled water. They had religious texts where their gods saved sailors, but none of the other nations’ gods dealt with the sea. The sea in ancient near eastern culture was a symbol for chaos and evil.
The only God immune to its appetite of swallowing people, and the only God able to calm it, is Jesus Christ God Almighty!
Matt 14:33, “Those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’”
Something else to notice here, that Jesus not only tells you to show others compassion, but He is standing there showing you compassion when you fail.
Knowing Jesus means showing compassion to people. God wants you to do that. He wants YOU to get involved.
What did Jesus say? Matthew 28 records that He told us to make disciples by going into all the world, baptizing them, and teaching them to obey all He has commanded. As we do that He is with us always.
Right now as I write, and later as you read, people are dying and going to hell.
Jesus talked about hell, and how our showing them compassion fits into their eternal destiny. He said in Matthew 16, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not stand against it.”
In some Jewish writings, Sheol (Gehenna, Hell) is portrayed as a place with many, many gates and layers of gates as you go further in, to keep the damned inside.
Jesus is saying that though their destiny is to be trapped in the painful consequences of their sin forever, My church will liberate them from hell.
That is awesome! He wants you to be a liberator. It starts with having compassion on people.

Dear caretaker of God,

I’m just checking in, as a good American does, with the caretaker of the God who founded this nation and our churches. Is He responsive today? We’re not sure, but we think we’re doing what the last people did who checked in with you. I think it was you. You’re a pastor, right? Don’t pastors talk to God for us? We voted to hire a pastor at our church, and think he should do all the “ministry,” while we make the decisions. Same with you, right? No, we’d rather not talk directly to God, because we don’t have enough time to stop by. Let him know we’ll stop by and visit when we get a break from doing church work. How’s the Alzheimer’s doing? You asked in your last message what makes us think that you’re His caretaker. Doesn’t someone need to take care of someone with Alzheimer’s? You asked what made us think He has Alzheimer’s, and again I say it’s because we haven’t seen or heard anything. You understand that’s also why we don’t try to communicate too much with Him. During the Enlightenment Era, people discovered God was old and getting older, and humans were getting smarter, and we’ve been told we’re climbing the evolutionary ladder. Some believe we’ve outgrown God.

I know you say that’s because we aren’t listening, or we aren’t reading the Bible, but honestly, we’ve perfected church. I think you’re saying this because you have a personal axe to grind. I mean we had church perfected in the Enlightenment Era, then the PostModern Era took it to a whole new level. We’re so nice we don’t expect anything from anyone, and agree with everyone who has any kind of opinion whatsoever. We’ve perfected positive thinking. Truthfully, we’re getting pretty hammered and pressured by everyone around us and their agendas. They have a lot of sway. Some of them  have high political offices and others have a lot of money. Some have even lived in this area all their lives, and are the fourth generation in their family! Since we haven’t listened (strike that) heard from God, it must be the sender, not the receiver, thus many have assumed silence is concession.

Besides, trying to talk to political leaders is getting us only on a watch list, and we don’t want to rock the boat. You understand, we care about safety first, as a good Christian should. So what do we do? We’re pretty sure we’ve got God figured out based on what He wrote (and our smart interpretation of it), so we’ll go with that. We are convinced (everyone agrees) that we only need to pray a prayer once and can live how we want. So by doing all this travelling to get people to pray prayers, and building bigger buildings, and having more people in our gatherings who pray prayers, and paying the best musicians, we’re doing above and beyond what’s required. Some people even give 8% tithe. In the age of Grace! We will just do things the way they’ve always been done, taking parts of Scripture that are relevant (though no one knows that that means in a postmodern world where structure is irrelevant, thus when you strategize to become relevant you are irrelevant. Don’t try to become unirrelevent or you definitely aren’t relevant. Don’t try to figure it out, or you most definitely are no longer relevant. Head in the clouds, no demands, come as you think you are, and you might be relevant). I mean taking parts of Scripture that we have been told are relevant in the new books we’ve read. Other parts were cultural, such as verses against premarital sex, gossip, homosexual behavior, male leadership and headship, talking about Jesus’ death on the cross (is He there with you and God still? Some doubt it).

Please pass all this onto God. Thanks for doing what your people hired you to do. It sounds like you’re going to stay longer than our pastor. He doesn’t pass our complaints (strike that) messages on as well, and spends too much time visiting people. He can’t get it that he’s supposed to just do what we tell him. I’m sure you do, because you’re close to God. Write back soon.

(Response)

Dear writer,

Your irreverence is astounding, but I’ll pray God understands. You are a product of American church religion that used to be Christian. God has already spoken about this, in Isaiah 57 (NASB) “The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, He enters into peace; they rest in their beds, Each one who walked in his upright way. But come here, you sons of a sorceress, offspring of an adulterer and a prostitute. Against whom do you jest? Against whom do you open wide your mouth and stick out your tongue? Are you not children of rebellion, offspring of deceit, who inflame yourselves among the oaks, under every luxuriant tree, who slaughter the children in the ravines, under the clefts of the crags? Among the smooth stones of the ravine is your portion, they are your lot; even to them you have poured out a drink offering, you have made a grain offering. Shall I relent concerning these things? Upon a high and lofty mountain you have made your bed. You also went up there to offer sacrifice. Behind the door and the doorpost you have set up your sign; indeed, far removed from Me you have uncovered yourself, and have gone up and made your bed wide. And you have made an agreement for yourself with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked on their manhood. You have journeyed to the king with oil and increased your perfumes; you have sent your envoys a great distance and made them go down to Sheol. You were tired out by the length of your road, yet you did not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewed strength, therefore you did not faint. Of whom were you worried and fearful when you lied, and did not remember Me? Nor give Me a thought? Was I not silent even for a long time, so you do not fear Me? I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry all of them up, and a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in Me shall inherit the land and shall possess My holy mountain.”

So you see, writer, you are in a dangerous place. You see, American Christian, you cannot use the excuse of God being silent. You cannot use the excuse of God being still. It is not God who has changed, but you. I am not His caretaker, and to think so is blasphemous. Yet in your heart, you believe He does have Alzheimer’s, and is not responsive, otherwise you would be afraid of Him instead of fearing men, money, and monarchs. You are walking down a well worn path that Jesus called the wide gate of destruction, and your good company cannot see the green meadows giving way to fire and refuse. Turn back your life to once again walk the narrow road towards the narrow gate. Dig in the ground behind you and pick up your dropped cross, then carry it. But until you do that, do not write back! Do not include me in your failure! I don’t want any part of the American church that has cut off her ears and gouged out her own eyes, sniffing in the wind for the nearest scent of an idol to mate with. It is apparent by the choosing of large crowds over finding lost sheep that you have lost your first love. Do lovers who cheat on their beloved blame the faithful spouse? Yet you have blamed God when it was you who had the affair. God has already spoken, and the Almighty need not repeat Himself for your sake. He owes no one an explanation, and, contrary to what you have been led to believe, He is not silent.

God is moving in the hearts of those who are faithful to Him, raising up a new generation of people who will obey Him and not excuse His commands. Jesus’ voice rings in the ears of His sheep and they desire more, not less. Against the juggernaut of selfishness, dehumanizing others and yourselves, and atheistic political movement, the ancient Rock of Ages is not afraid. He has always and will always have a remnant of faithful ones. He can do more with one than 7 billion can do without Him.

I urge you, writer, to examine yourself for the answer to your problems, not God. After you have discovered your weaknesses, see if you can hear Him better. See if you can see Him then. If you do this, and only after you do this, write me back. As to me talking with God on your behalf? God decided (written in the Bible) that you could talk directly to Him yourself. You should enjoy this.

With Concern,

Servant of the Lord

ps Please leave your pastor alone before you turn your prophet into a professional.

The Naaman principle: that if God’s people stop following Him, He will find another people who are obedient to Him.

In this entry we’re taking a look at the ministry of one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, Elisha. God used Elisha to accomplish more miracles than anyone else in the Old Testament; in fact, anyone else in Scripture next to Jesus. Elisha was used to perform fourteen miracles, but our focus is not on him. Our focus is on a non-Israelite, foreign, ungodly man named Naaman. How does this relate to our need to get back on track? You’ve probably figured out the thesis, but read on just to make sure.

The story unfolds in 2 Kings 5. His name means “beautiful or handsome one.” He was the commander of the army of Aram (also called Syria), under king Ben-Hadad I or II.

He was mighty in battle, and God had used him already (whether he knew it or not, we are not told). He came to Israel because he had heard from his servant girl that there was a prophet in Samaria who could cure him of his leprosy.

We’re told that the Lord granted Naaman success in battle. During one of those campaigns, Naaman capture this Israelite slave girl. Sometimes God places His people in positions of lowliness, suffering, humiliation, or forced meekness for His greater purpose. I wonder how many times the slave girl doubted God’s sovereignty. If you’re in a position like this, God still has a purpose for you, just like He intended this unnamed slave girl to direct Naaman towards His prophet, Elisha.

Naaman came from Aram, to Israel, with the blessings of his king. He brought a small treasure to pay to the king of Israel for healing him. King Joram didn’t didn’t see any way for him to be healed, and tore his clothes in distress. Elisha heard of it, and sent word that Naaman should come to Elisha and he would know there was a prophet of God in Israel.

The leader of God’s people, the king, should have known where to find the prophet of God. Instead, he saw Naaman’s approach through his own personal values, namely as a threat to his power. So Elisha texted King Joram just in time, telling him he’d take care of it.

Naaman arrived at the doorway of Elisha’s house with his entourage. Elisha didn’t go out to meet him, but sent a servant telling him to dip in the Jordan River 7 times.

Naaman, expecting to speak with Elisha himself, and expecting more ritual, was furious. His pride was wounded.

(vv. 11-12) “He turned and went off in a rage.”

Sometimes people are upset at God or God’s mouthpiece because they were expecting something different. You probably have faced this as a Christian before. When I was an Associate Pastor in Dallas, TX, one Sunday morning a lady called our church and asked, “Are women allowed to wear pants there?” We were a Baptist church, but not that kind. One of the greatest compliments I’ve heard was a friend telling me, “Nate, when I’m with you, I can’t imagine you as a pastor.” He goes to our church and is an active leader there. He further explained that he had a preconceived idea of pastor as an aloof, anti-social, stoic fossil who loved crowds but hated people.

I hope I don’t ever see one more briefcase-toting, coat and tie wearing, professional occupying his dust-free office, operating a 9-5 workday, preoccupied with programs and ministries as the solutions for sin. We need no more professionals writing how-to books. We need prophets of God, who will tell people not to promote a mosque at ground zero, or to be ashamed of themselves if they’ve never helped the poor while never missing their favorite TV show. We need people who are willing to be slandered as “friend of tax-collectors and sinners,” not excusing Jesus-style ministry in the name of “above reproach” or avoiding “slippery slope” lifestyles.

Naaman didn’t expect to be talked to by a servant, dismissed to wash on what he considered a dirty river. Sometimes the simple message of “believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” is insulting to your pride. Sometimes you expect God to acknowledge your physical, mental, or spiritual eliteness. Sometimes you expect God to come to you on your terms, at your time, in your place, and do things your way.

Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than  your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Today one of the weaknesses of our churches is trying too hard to meet sinners on their terms. God doesn’t even try hard to meet sinners on their terms and offer compromise. All people must meet God on His terms, which necessitates thinking less of self and more of Him.

We must meet God on His terms. Today He says to you, your best righteous works are not valuable to Him. Only the righteous work of Jesus on the cross, Jesus in the tomb, and Jesus resurrected in the air!

Some people have been disappointed in the church because they believe the church needs to come to them and be more seeker sensitive. That is not God’s plan for His church. I recently read a great list of reasons people don’t attend sports events, if the same excuses applied as are used for leaving church. So here are reasons people leave churches applied to sporting events:

1. Every time I went, they asked me for money.

2. The people with whom I had to sit didn’t seem very friendly.

3. The seats were too hard and uncomfortable.

4. The coach never came to see me.

5. The referee made a decision with which I could not agree.

6. I was sitting with some hypocrites–they only came to see what others were wearing.

7. Some games went into overtime, and I was late getting home.

8. The band played numbers I had never heard before.

9. The games are scheduled when I want to do other things.

10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.

11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches anyway.

12. I don’t want to take my children, because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best (Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, s.v. “excuses.”).

God doesn’t want to make a deal with you regarding your cleansing. He doesn’t take bribes, accept acts of penance, or need our offerings in order for us to be healed. It is only by God’s grace—His giving us what we didn’t earn and should not have—that we receive healing.

It is only by God overlooking Naaman’s status as outside the covenant people, that Naaman received God’s mercy. It is only by God overlooking our status as sinful people that we receive God’s mercy. It is only God giving good works, God giving righteousness, God giving all that we are healed. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only good works that can pay for ultimate healing, and God did that for you. Free of cost!

God has a storehouse of treasure and He wants you to withdraw out of His account, freely!

What happens next with Naaman?

For the second time, his healing is influenced by his servants. It was an Israelite servant girl who gave him the idea of going to Elisha, and now God again used the humble to influence the mighty.

Notice what Elisha did and did not do:

He left Naaman alone for God to deal with him. Too many times, when we tell someone about Jesus and the need to follow Him, we break out our spiritual first aid kit and rush like a paranoid field medic to the scene. We believe we will be the influencing force for their salvation. God is the only influence for salvation.

Elisha did not chase Naaman. God did. Pastors, church leaders, those who have family members who reject Christ, and all who have told the Gospel while being mocked and jeered: God is still able to save, and He’s the only one who ever could in the first place. Don’t chase. Let God chase.

As this applies to winnowing out the wheat of our churches and making disciples like Jesus Christ, there will be seed that falls by the wayside, on thorns, on rocky soil, and on fertile soil. The fertile soil seed is what we must focus on. If some drop off and decide to reject the tightening of the screws, and the harder practice so that the chance of winning the game is greater, then we must let God chase them.

Naaman put his pride aside and followed Elisha’s advice.

What was his response? After seeing the results he praised God!

5:15, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

Gehazi, witnessing God work, could only think of the money Elisha was passing up. Gehazi desired the money, and snuck later and lied, taking the money. Gehazi then lied to Elisha about taking the money. God cursed Gehazi with leprosy and all his descendants.

Note: Sometimes the people on the outside understand more about God than the people on the inside

What does this have to do with following Jesus? Jesus gave a commentary on this passage, saying it applied to Himself.

Turn to Luke 4. Jesus told us why God healed Naaman and Naaman came to recognize the One True God, about how God chose to heal a foreigner and be glorified through that man’s healing rather than healing one of the many leprous Israelites. Why did God choose to do this? Jesus said it was because of the very reason Nazareth rejected Him.

Luke 4:22–27 (READ IT)

Part 1 of what Jesus said is this:

If God’s people reject Him, God will go outside and find those who are faithful.

If you tell God “No,” God will find another to take your place who is willing to say, “Yes.”

Romans 11 tells us about this happening to Israel, God’s chosen people:

Romans 11:7–12 (READ IT)

Today we stand at a crossroads, where we have the decision Naaman had.

Are we similar today to the Israel Elisha lived in? Are God’s people today giving into idols and derailed from the mission of the church?

Jesus said to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation. Are you doing that?

America used to be the most involved in training and sending people for the Kingdom work. Now God is doing that work in Asian churches, and African churches, and South American churches. Before America, it was England who birthed William Carey, Hudson Taylor, and the 1800’s missionary movement that sent thousands all over the world.

Today South Korea has the largest church the Yoida Full Gospel Church which averages 800,000 people in attendance every Sunday. That means nothing, unless there is more. And there is. They purchased a mountain called Prayer Mountain, where anyone can come and pray. They send out missionaries all over the world and send out church planters all over the world.

In China, the underground church is training missionaries to go into Muslim countries that are closed. This is a closed country where Christians are persecuted, sending missionaries to countries where Christians are persecuted.

What are you doing with all the comforts and freedom you have?

We can:

1)      throw away the words of God Who is saying to do something different and possibly uncomfortable

2)      accept what is an unexpected word from God in an unexpected way

We can trust that God really does want you to take seriously Jesus’ requirements for following Him.

Part 2 of what Jesus said about Naaman is this:

Jesus had a habit of stirring the pot. He could have walked out of Nazareth with their lipservice approval. But he knew they were telling him what he wanted to hear. Like where we live sometimes. You and I would have to be foolish to believe everything people say about us, especially what people say to me.

#1 question you need to ask is not “What will people think about me?” but “Am I converted?” If you’re saved, then from what? Do you do those old sinful things? If you do, can you really say God saved you from it? John Wesley wrote after years of ministry, that he was not a Christian, but he desperately hoped to become one. Where are the ones who will consider that part of their salvation is their cross?

Prosthetic Christianity, part 2

Posted: August 25, 2010 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside
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Prosthetic Christianity defines much of church life in the western world. It is prosthetic because of two reasons:

1) it replaces the original

2) it is not as effective as that which it replaces

That may be a really hard pill to swallow. It was for me, as a pastor leading a healthy church in rural America. I understand if you reject it right away because I did. Yet, at some point we have to admit when something isn’t working. We aren’t seeing churches make disciples. We’re seeing crowds and entertainment, activities and recreation, concerts and monuments, but few churches making disciples . (pause while tomoatoes are thrown)

Reading this blog, someone likely will say what many Godly people have said in my conversations with them, “I recognize there is a problem, but don’t want to change.” Or perhaps another comment is like your thoughts, “What change? Everything you’re saying is everything the church is already doing?” The first comment reflects knowledge of the problem, and the need to do the difficult work of change. The second reflects a deeper problem: ignorance of one’s shortcomings. I know that may offend, but anyone who claims to arrive has to deal with pride. I deal with it as a part of my nature being changed to transform towards the image of Christ, and so must every Christian everyday. Yet, someone may still be saying, “I’ve done enough. I just got comfy with Church on Sundays. Haven’t I done enough? I give money, time, head committees, mow grass, serve, cook, clean, and all that for God. Isn’t it enough?”

Augustine wrote, “The interior life, like love, is destined to grow. If you say ‘enough’ you are already dead.” The thing is, we’re not suggesting someone  do more of the same. We’re suggesting changing and doing the same amount with more. How can a busy Christian afford to do more for God? If you change to a higher quality of discipleship, it takes less effort to accomplish more spiritually. This is part of the solution to getting back to the original, which is more effective.

I have heard concerns about whether or not the Holy Spirit is involved. It is the Holy Spirit who authored this, and I believe He authored this very blog entry. How can I say that? I have never felt such a push and drive from God. No matter the response, I cannot divert. It is affirmed through the Bible, and through other men and women of God who also see God speaking in this way. Everywhere I turn, pastors from all over the U.S. are recognizing that the way we do church isn’t working. We’re concerned, and instead of doing the typical route of finding a new program, we’ve had enough. We want to see disciples for Jesus Christ.

The churches who open in the Name of Jesus Christ will dwindle as we watch the economic and political collapse continue in the western world, unless there is reform. Unless we return to Jesus’ teachings and take them seriously (not say, “what He meant was _______, because taking it literally was a cultural thing, you see.”) we are doomed to see inflated numbers of church membership transfers causing increase in attendees on Sundays at certain churches, yet without fruit. Church growth because of transfer will grow and church growth because of conversion will shrink, but we will not react soon enough because we have mistakenly placed too much value on the numerical growth. We equate numbers with spiritual growth, therefore we won’t see the problem. The trend right now shows mega churches growing and some smaller churches, emphasizing numbers, and the leaders are happy with numbers going up. As a pastor I know that is a secondary sign of spiritual growth and only sometimes. New members or converts usually do not give at first, so financially it doesn’t equal growth. New members take time to get to know and get involved. In desperation, I think churches will seek to continue operating under the numbers paradigm and do desperate things that don’t offend unbelievers, compromising the teachings of Jesus. I wish this wasn’t true, but I have seen example of this in actual churches who will remain anonymous (because we are promoting the growth, not demise of the Bride of Christ).

What should we do? It isn’t enough to see a wolf coming, or to see the flock of sheep wandering. A shepherd must intervene. As the Holy Spirit leads us, we must examine ourselves individually. We must read the Gospels and ask if we are doing those things Jesus taught and modeled. We must resist the urge to dismiss things as cultural. We must then look to the application of those things in the early church, from the time of Jesus through the 4th Century before it was westernized (which was good for that time, but no longer).

As an example, I’ve paraphrased the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. I would encourage you to read those chapters first before reading my paraphrase, so I don’t unnecessarily influence you. Seek the Holy Spirit’s illumination as you read what He inspired for your growth before seeking any man or woman’s opinion. Then consider what you should do. All of these things are challenging and some extremely difficult, but it is a start. I am examining my life in light of this and urge you to do the same:

Here is my short summary, paraphrased, of Jesus’ teachings from His Sermon on the Mount

  1. You should be happy with Jesus (not emotional, but inner joy, at very least contentment) when you are poor, grieving, being taken advantage of, searching for truth, when you have to forgive someone, when you work hard to stay pure, when you make peace, and when you are mistreated because you follow Jesus
  2. Your identity should be Jesus Christ, or else you cease to be a Christian
  3. Your good works that you do because of Jesus Christ cause people to glorify God, so boldly do them
  4. Your righteousness should be better than a Pharisee’s (legalist’s)
  5. If you hate it is murder; if you lust it is adultery, if you divorce without infidelity it is adultery
  6. Keep your word
  7. Do not take revenge. Leave that for God
  8. Don’t do good deeds to get the praise of people; only the praise of God
  9. Pray like the Lord’s prayer

10.  Pray, give, and fast in a way so that only you and God know, not to be seen by others

11.  If you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you

12.  Replace worldly treasures with heavenly ones, so that your heart is in the right place

13.  Serve only one Master

14.  Do not worry or give into anxiety

15.  Search for God’s Kingdom (“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”)

16.  Judge other people when they sin as if you were being recorded, and it will be played back the next time you do something wrong; That’s exactly what will happen

17.  Don’t waste your time investing heavenly things in people who don’t take it seriously or are looking to hurt you

18.  Ask, seek, knock, because God is a loving Father who wants to give you great things

19.  Love everyone around you like you want to be loved by them. This sums up the Law and the Prophets which you must do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven (ch 5 and 7)

20.  Enter through the narrow gate (Jesus showing you the way)

21.  Watch out for false prophets. How do you recognize them? They say the right things, but they don’t have any fruit. They don’t have any fruit. They don’t have any fruit. False prophets have this mark—they don’t have any fruit!

May God keep us so we are not like Ephesus in Revelation 2 losing her first love, or Pergamum who tolerate offerings to false gods, abundance of sexual immorality, and the heresy of the Nicolatians, or Thyatira who tolerate Jezebel, or Sardis who are checked out snoozing, or Laodicea who have gone room temperature. Let us be like Smyrna, even though there is persecution, knowing God will be with us. Let us be like Philadelphia, who God will keep from the hour of trial if we continue to endure patiently. Like Smyrna and Philadelphia, let us even endure the synagogue of Satan and the slanders of Satan.

May we look like Jesus,

Nate

Prosthetic Christianity

Posted: August 19, 2010 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

I am reading Solomon as I write, in 1 Kings, and it is an amazing story. God gave this brother everything, because he asked God for wisdom and understanding when God offered him a blank check. We’re told in 1 Kings 3 that God said, because he didn’t seek long life, wealth for himself, or the death of his enemies, God gave him what he asked for so that “there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.” Also, God gave him riches and honor, and more greatness than any other king in his lifetime.

I Kings demonstrates Solomon’s wisdom right away, as 3:16-28 tells of two prostitutes who came to him and one of their babies had died, and Solomon brilliantly discovered the true mother. The Bible continues and tells of how God made Solomon and Israel (including Judah at this time) so prosperous that “from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree,” (1 Kings 4:25). v. 26 tells of his accumulation of chariots and horses. 1 Kings 5-9 is all about Solomon building the first ever Temple to God, and the dedication (and Solomon’s own palace, of course), and then God’s blessing Solomon with a reinstatement of the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Samuel 7). In other words, Solomon was living the high life, Israel was because of him, and God was very pleased, to the extent that Solomon was blessed in exceedingly better ways than he could imagine.

Don’t forget the horses and chariots, though. That small root grew in Solomon. You ask “What’s wrong with that?” In Deuteronomy 17, when Moses was instructing Israel, he warned them that one day they would seek a king. The king was to write his own copy of God’s law and not accumulate 3 things for himself:  horses, wives, or gold and silver.

We already mentioned the horses, and chapter 10 tells of the gold and silver he accumulated. God promised to bless him with it, but he horded it. Queen of Sheba came to see him because of his wisdom and wealth. Strike three came in chapter 11, when we are told Solomon married foreign wives, and he had a few of them–700. He also had 300 concubines. The reason God didn’t want this was because, besides God’s design of one man with one woman for life, the many wives would lead him into greater sin (see 1 Kings 11:2). Sure enough, they did. 1 Kings 11 tells of how he was influenced by his harem to sacrifice to Chemosh, god of the Moabites and Molech, god of the Ammonites.

What does this have to do with Fresh Water from Ancient Wells? The whole time Solomon was accumulating horses, wives, gold and silver, his applause was getting higher. His fame was so great that we are told in 1 Kings 4:34, “Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.”

Solomon had success because he followed the world’s system of success as a king did in his day. Instead of clinging to God’s way, Solomon caved and took God’s blessings for granted. It was just a matter of time before he started serving another god.

Today, Jesus Christ’s assembly, our church, uses the measuring rod of numerical growth, applause, money, decisions, and many man-made, sales-oriented, “do-it-yourself,” “how-to,” “I’ve got the power” ways of doing church because that’s all we’ve known. God is warning us, through pastors all over the country who have risen up with a fire in our bones like Jeremiah 20:9, and we cannot help but speak that the church has stopped behaving like the church and is about to crash.

What do you mean, Nate? You sure you’re not just upset because of criticism or lack of results? As I said in the last entry, I’m speaking from a ministry that has seen results, and I don’t see enough decisions becoming disciples.

Here are some specific problems with the way we do church today, and most churches will identify with at least one of these, probably more. We’ve put our pens together to come up with a few and accompanying solutions. Please add solutions if they are from Scripture:

  1. Lack of prayer and following the Bible as absolute truth for life and all decisions. Instead, spend at least 30 minutes each day divided into praying and reading the Bible.  Then go to 1 hour. Early morning or late night, or afternoon. The point is to spend the time. Discipline. If you’re not doing this, you can’t expect God’s guidance or to know when you are in God’s favor. You can’t expect much from your Christian life.
  2. More emphasis on the worship service than scripture gives it – worshipping the worship service. Instead, you need to come having prepared your heart, and leave with immediate fruit in your life—this is your responsibility. There is too much of the Entertainment industry values placed on Sunday morning worship. If someone leaves happy, they say, “that was a good worship service.” If they don’t, they say, “it wasn’t good. It didn’t move me.” Instead, focus when we gather on what we say, the words we sing, the Bible we read, the sermon that is spoken, the confession of sin and prayers, and the truth God reveals. You should be able to worship regardless of how everything is presented. The early church stayed as long as they could every Sunday.
  3. Programmed to make programs. Instead of creating our own methods and programs for every problem or opportunity, go and do simple acts of obedience (like take food to hungry, clothes to poor, old toys to kids without). There is a treasure there that you only understand if you go and do without over analyzing. So go now. Go now.
  4. Lack of remorse for sin. Instead of saying your sin is okay, believe that your sin cost Jesus His life and don’t add to what was nailed to the cross. Allow other Christians to know where you struggle. Start anonymous if you must, and move towards confiding with an accountable person.
  5. Capitalist mindset, which fundamentally departs from Jesus’ teachings on the important role of spiritual poverty. Believe me, I’ve grown up and loved capitalism. I know how to work it when necessary. This one pains me, but as I read Jesus, it contrasts Him. Instead of valuing money in our possession, value money by how much we give. God will certainly outgive you.
  6. Breeding ground for pride and cultural pollution because of the overemphasis on majority. Instead, think of how you can submit yourself to one another. Give in instead of gossip and lobbying. No pride.
  7. Lack of concern for the lost. Instead, pray for and spend time with the ungodly each week. Ask God to save the lost people you know. It wasn’t long ago someone prayed for you when you were lost.
  8. Lack of passion to hear the Bible read or preached. The early church didn’t each have their own copy of Scripture, so they only heard it on Sundays, and therefore stayed from Sunrise until they absolutely had to leave. We need that kind of passion for hearing God’s word, this “lamp unto your feet” and light unto your path.
  9. Neglect of Jesus’ teachings on the following and more (highlights, too little space here):
    1. Obeying the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets
    2. Behaving like a citizen of the heavenly Kingdom
    3. Enjoying hope of a future 2nd coming of Christ
    4. Maintaining happiness during suffering
    5. Sacrifice in order for God to gain at our loss
    6. Making disciples instead of decisions
    7. Importance of actions over words
    8. Importance of widows, orphans, and those who cannot help themselves

10.  Lack of submission to one another and to authority (Pastor, elders, deacons). I’m sorry, but if you’re reading this and believe you don’t have to submit to the pastor of your church, you’re wrong. If you don’t believe you have to submit to the elders of your church, you’re wrong. If you don’t have leaders because your church has done away with them in order not to have authority, you’re also wrong. Go to Hebrews 13, and if you can explain away that passage, I’m all ears.

See how far we’ve removed ourselves from Scripture? (There are more that my co-author came up with) If you read this and disagree, check the Bible and then comment. But after years of praying and seeking God for why our methods aren’t working, I believe we have a problem:

Prosthetic Christianity. There is indeed a problem, and it isn’t what we’re doing so much as what we’re not doing. The teachings of Jesus are extinct. They have been substituted by prosthetic slogans, such as “take up your cross” replaced by “the sinner’s prayer,” “whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it” is replaced with “your life of prosperity now,” “if you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all,” is replaced with “build your church and they will come.” I am tired of the game, where people leave church Sundays and don’t owe God anything else; where we forgot the Proverb, “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be answered,” (Prov 21:13).

Pray for us to find solutions to get back to the roots of our faith.

I urge you finally, to ask if you are like Solomon. Have you taken God for granted? Have you created your own church out of God’s blessing of Jesus’ assembly? If so, get off. Get back to the basics. Fewer things well. Small things. Simple things. Jesus’ things.

in Jesus,

Nate

At the new beginning

Posted: August 17, 2010 by natewhiteside in Nate Whiteside

Have you recently questioned the way we do church? You’ve probably heard “Here at _________ church, we’re a place for people who love God but hate church,” or something like that (probably more tame). You’ve probably heard of a small group of Christians who have stopped going to church, but love God passionately and are chasing their tails to try and find “true religion.” Here is a testimony of how I arrived at a potentially explosive conclusion regarding this subject (and I’m not the only one). This dialogue we’re having is something God is doing all over the nation and the world. The bus we’re riding on called “church” has developed some problems. It’s not taking us to church as the early church experienced it. I’m writing as one of the bus drivers, saying we need to get off. Off the bus, but not off church.

Story: For 10 years I have served as a pastor to adults, 5 years as youth pastor before that. I attended an internationally recognized school for missions and graduated with that degree. I attended an internationally recognized seminary for teaching the Bible accurately and graduated with that degree. Over the years, it seems that while we have been trying to do everything with excellence for God’s glory and reach our world for Christ, our best efforts aren’t having effect. We spent money and years training in homiletics for preaching, systematic theology, Hebrew, Greek, and other languages, and somehow the church is a square peg in a round hole. Along with many other people, I have had trouble balancing the words of Jesus with the capitalist, consumer-oriented ways of doing church. I learned how to captivate and draw crowds, have people pray prayers, count their decision cards after they left, and celebrate our spiritual victory. Then we never heard from those people again. I’ve experienced what many pastors have, in that ugly, scary, revolving back door at times. How do you market, compel, appease, and “sell” people not to use the back door?

It finally came to a head when I had a time of spiritual refreshment and prayer in July this year, and couldn’t sleep one night. If you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep, talk to the Shepherd (thanks Harv). So I talked to the Shepherd. That was at 11pm. At 3:30am my wife woke up (we have an infant who woke up first) and told me what time it was. I still wasn’t tired, prayed a little more and then prayed to fall asleep. God spoke to me about answers to questions our church (and especially me) has been asking for the last couple years. Mainly, “why do we do what we do?” and “Why do we emphasize the perfect worship service so much?” Why do we have fast songs first in our worship services, then slow contemplative songs, then announcements, then prayer, then offering, then a sermon, then a song, possible altar call, then dismiss? That’s church. When we say “Did you go to church?” or “Where do you go to church?” everyone knows we mean, “Did you go to a worship service?” or “Where do you attend worship services?” The word church, used by Jesus to mean “assembly” (used in Matthew 16 of Jesus’ assembly, and later in Acts of an angry mob), is a group of people He said He would build, and the gates of Hell would not stand against. He didn’t talk a lot about worship services, as much as relationships and changing the world.

Point: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes the character of a person who is a citizen of His Kingdom. It doesn’t say anything about worship services. Go outside the Sermon on the Mount and what do you find? He was asked how people should treat one another, what the Kingdom of Heaven was like, and what the greatest commandments were like. He was presented with sick, lame, deaf, blind, leprous persons, and never emphasized worship services as priority. When we meet someone from a new church, or a new pastor, we always ask, “Where do you attend church?” and the second question is always either “how big is it?” or “is it growing,” or “how many people attend there?” Didn’t Jesus preach until He lost disciples in John 6? (Oh, Nate, you’re just a holy huddle guy whose upset because he doesn’t have the numbers–actually our average attendance is rising and has been rising since I came 3 years ago by God’s grace. So I write this having seen “success” but not satisfaction). Where is the success in filling a building so full of people that you have to build another one, just to talk about numbers? What if you lose accountability and as a pastor give account one day for the “very souls” of your people (Hebrews 13), and don’t have an answer as God Almighty looks you in the eye? Will Jesus ask how many were in your worship services?

Remember how the Gospel of John ends? Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. Peter replies, “Yes,” and Jesus says, “have a better worship service.” Right. Read it (John 21).

Today, we worship the worship service. I haven’t seen a church that is exempt from this. I have been guilty of it, and if you’re a Christian reading this, you probably have too. When the worship service is just right, you walk away saying, “that was a good worship service,” and what you mean is “It made me feel good,” or “the music was good,” or “the speaker was good.” Define good.

Jesus didn’t teach that church life revolves around worship, especially the entertainment driven, consumer oriented version we stress today. With critical eyes I have participated in evaluations of worship services more than I care to admit, all to be a better church. I have failed to excel, and succeeded in excelling, and failed, and succeeded. I have a background in music, experience in small acting/theater, have been in public speaking since I was a teenager, and thought I was helping the church by making it more excellent. Currently I lead worship and preach every Sunday morning, and that has taken up much of my time every week as a Senior Pastor. We have used the standards of Western civilization and coporation models to gauge the health of the local church. Leadership books in corporate America (even the ones influenced by Christians) have come to influence the churches more than the church influences corporate leadership. Even within the last few years, with great excitement, the good people of our church where I serve as Senior Pastor have labored with me to enhance the quality of everything we do, with some success. Yet, at every turn when we try to improve, why doesn’t it satisfy?

Here’s the scary part. The bus we’re riding called church left the station, aimed at very good objectives for God’s Kingdom, developed purpose-seeker-radio-tv-podcast-powerpoint-rockstar church, reached people successfuly for Christ, and a generation later the process and method are as valued as the Word of God. That’s why we’re screaming all of a sudden “Stop the bus! Let us off! I don’t like where you’re taking me!” Phrases like “You can’t tell people about sanctification in our church,” are spoken by pastors to their congregations, “because it will offend an unbeliever.” (I wish I made that one up, but that is a quote). Some churches (again, I have specifics in mind) prohibit reading Bibles or using Bibles to varying degrees. I’m talking about evangelical churches, all conservative.

This peaked for me a year ago when I visited a church I’ll leave unnamed, in Michigan, and I brought my staff to learn from them about how to improve our Christ-likeness; no, I wish. I brought my staff to improve our worship service. Why? Because we believed that if we did that we’d attract more people, they’d get saved, they’d grow spiritually, keep the ministries going, tithe, increase chances for captial campaigns, etc. The service had excellent music, but I wasn’t able to worship because I didn’t know the songs (I think others did worship). However, the teaching time was about sex. It was definitely rated R, as the pastor and his wife sat up front and talked about (this is for adults) types of sex, even most popular ways to have sex, and when Scripture was quoted, it was used out of context and cropped for sexual jokes that I won’t repeat. I was so embarrassed and apologized to our staff, who were also embarrassed. Sadly, many people who were at that service enjoyed it and laughed (especially a group of elderly across the aisle), and left saying that they had church.

Our Journey from the bus stop, stepping off into the unknown: How do we reclaim our ancient roots of this faith that Jesus handed to the Apostles, who handed it to the early church? What did worship services look like in the early church?

First, they were a launching pad, not a landing pad as they are today. Keeping it simple, doing fewer things well, and focusing on what happens immediately afterwards. According to Pliny the Younger, who persecuted our ancient brothers and sisters, the believers would gather at sunrise, sing songs responsively to Christ as their God, pledge themselves by an oath (sacramentum) not to do any evil work, to commit no theft, robbery, nor adultery, not to break their word, nor sacrifice property entrusted to them (meaning not sacrifice it to the false Roman gods). Afterwards, (at evening) they assembled again, to eat ordinary and innocent food (the agape). Justin Martyr recorded in his First Apology, chapter sixty-seven, “And on the day called Sunday,all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability,and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given,and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration. (Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (1997). The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.I : Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325. The apostolic fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. (186). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems).

We’re starting here, before the eastern faith of our ancestors was westernized. We’re reclaiming our worship gatherings as a launching pad, instead of a landing pad and the extent of our church life. We’re thanking those who developed this model for its effectiveness in the 20th Century and before, and recognizing that the 21st Century doesn’t run on the same fuel, use the same bus routes, or some of the drivers weren’t trained properly on the route. Do you know what? Each individual I’ve explained this to is so excited about it. God is doing something. Please pray and consider what I’ve written, and keep an open mind, asking God what we can do to focus on being transformed into the image of His Son, being true worshippers, in the ways of our God Jesus Christ.