Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bye Bye, Paganomics


Do you remember what it was like when God rescued you from paganometry? Was there a season when you noticed you no longer completely enjoyed romping and mixing with the things and ways of this world?

I don’t mean to say that you never sinned again, or never had some dark days where your behavior didn’t match up with your new birth. I mean that because something real had happened between God and you, it was just no longer possible to easily and fully enjoy what you might have back in the days when you were still a pagan. What was it like?

It had to be a shocker for the apostle Paul. He was such a nasty man—an aggressive, brutish, bull of a human, who chased down the sons of God and sometimes handed them over to death. It was his particular brand of paganomics—what fun. And then he became a son of God—how ironic. Imagine the change.

He describes some of that change in his letter to the Galatians:

“For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles,…” (Galatians 1:13-16)



I love that! Paul didn’t wake up one day and choose Christ, he woke up one day and knew God chose him! That changed everything. One moment Paul is an empty hellion on his way to hell, and the next he’s a modern day holy of holies, the dwelling place of God. What a shocker for Paul to realize! I wonder if he ever thought, “What happened?! What about my business of capturing Christians? Can I still do it? Maybe if I treat them a little nicer…” I don’t think so.

I believe that Paul was so transfixed by what had happened to him and by who did it—God—that he didn’t have to think much about what he could and couldn’t do anymore. The presence and influence of God in the formerly pagan Paul made life as it had been impossible. Even if one of his former partners in crime had offered an excellent opportunity to indulge in paganometry, Paul had only to think about what God had done to him, and where He now lived. Sorry, Charlie—Buh bye. Adios.

And I suggest that’s how it is for you and me. If you’ve grown weary in well-doing, how about taking a look at your beginning with God? I bet it will revive you. Reviewing how God came after you will help you see how He is still doing it today. If He is active concerning you, wouldn’t you like to know how? That kind of interest in God is healthy! That’s how Paul helps the Galatians in asking them:

“I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2-5)



In other words, wasn’t your beginning with God because He began with you? You didn’t start anything—He planned for you a long time ago (before He made the earth), woke you up to His plan, and hopped aboard. He still enjoys revealing His plans for people, and knowing what’s up with God is invigorating!

Your beginning was like Paul’s—what a shocker. And it was the beginning of the end of your pagan days.

Bye bye, paganomics.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Contagious Laughter

Ah, for the simple joys of life.

It's the weekend--have a great and encouraging time!

video

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Take 2 About The Anger of God


How are you?

Well, this week’s LifeNote is a doosie, a real barn-burner. It is sure to be a rigorous workout, as well, so I suggest you prepare to have your thinking challenged.

It’s about the anger of God, and it’s about you.

My hope is that you will be relieved of misconceptions and fear, two things that seem to be plaguing a lot of us today. We’ll take a close look at scripture, and it is my belief that you will know the love and security of God for you and for the future as a result of your reading adventure.

And would you pray for me and for my family? I leave tomorrow morning for Vancouver, Canada, to be the speaker at a Men’s Ministry retreat over the weekend. Unless the 8-15” of snow we’re supposed to get tonight and tomorrow delay my plans.

Thanks for your love and care,

Ralph

The Angry Rut of Adam & Eve


It's not difficult to imagine that God is displeased with how people behave, is it? When you consider all the wickedness, greed, murder, deception, heartlessness and arrogance going on today, is it a stretch to think that God is at least bothered?

He is. But with a twist: those things are the evidence of His displeasure. They are how He is showing His wrath today. I'll explain. (And this is going to be a bit thick, so hang in there.)

As I have written in chapter four of my book, when Adam and Eve left the perfect existence they enjoyed in union with God while in the Garden of Eden, they lost life. In the garden, God was their very life. But when they passed through the gates they were severed from life and left to walking "in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God. . ." (Ephesians 4:17,18 NAS) Outside of Eden, Adam and Eve were left to a quasi life of independence from God, an existence without real life. In other words, they had lots of stuff to do, like building shelter, gathering food, clothing themselves, etc., but they didn't have God's life working in them in order to do it. They had to muster up something else, which would never really work because it wasn't God.

That was the beginning of humanity's frustration and failure at living without God. He was around, but He wasn't within.

Fast-forward through the records of thousands of years of existence, and how has mankind done without God? It's not difficult to see. But what if we tried harder? What if, in light of the past, we developed better strategies for making life go better? How about we cook up some new reasons and ways to treat each other well? No more fighting. No more bullying. No more selfishness. Will we succeed? No. Why not? Because we'll still be stuck in Adam and Eve's rut of trying to navigate our days without the life of God working in us.

They didn't do real well--neither have we.

With 100% accuracy, history's track record shows that the attempt to live without God results in failure and frustration, and that God is displeased or angry that we make the attempt. The evidence of His anger, how we see it clearly in our lives, is not that He rains fire upon us nor that He inflicts us with various calamities; the evidence IS our ugly and ungodly behavior. The manifestation of God's wrath is that we do lousy.

Now let's get biblical so you can see it.

Romans 1:18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:18-20, italics mine.)

See it there in verse 18? God's wrath is already on display.

But because this LifeNote cannot be 63 pages long, let me venture to make my point in a summary manner in the hope that you will later read Romans 1:18 - 2:16. There is a sequence found through these verses that goes something like this:

1) All the way back to Adam and Eve, people have resisted God as God--sovereign and supreme. Because of it, they went sort of nuts, and exchanged what God would mean to them and do for them for something else--the delusion that, without God, they could make living work on their own, without life. (Romans 1:21-23)

2) So, long ago God essentially said, "Okay then. You're going to have lots of proof that your attempt at living without life won't work and makes me mad. Lots and lots of years with lots and lots of proof, like sexual impurity, wickedness, greed, envy, strife, deception, gossip, slander, disrespect, boastfulness, disobedience to your parents(!), and faithlessness. This is how you'll look and do without me. This is the obvious evidence that I am not in you doing what I alone am able to do. I'm all about sharing my glory with you and showing my glory through you to a wondering audience. But if you don't believe me and resist me, my anger will be apparent and on display in your ugliness and frustration." (Romans 1:24-32)

This is the wrath of God that is being revealed ever since Adam and Eve chose their rut--independence from God. Those of us who choose to navigate our days without Christ in us will feel and act like they did--ugly and frustrated. Look at history. Or look at mine.

When I use deception on a salesman so I can get a better deal, what is revealed? The wrath of God. I'm not living in Christ, I'm not giving Him anything to do with me or in me because I've chosen another way--deception. And I look awful. When I resist God and choose the leading of the flesh to get what I want, what's happening? The wrath of God is on display. It's being revealed. Ralph's not acting like a son of God.

This should both relieve you of the fear that God is in the business of causing calamities to show His wrath at you (He isn't), and it should explain what's happening when we attempt life without Him. Really, it's more simple than you may have thought. He doesn't break your car, get you fired from your job (or passed-over for one you want), make you sick, induce the IRS to audit you, or make your investment portfolio go south because He's mad at you. Those things might happen, but not because God wants to get His angry point across.

This is one of the main reasons why many Christians don't know and enjoy and count on the love of God. They believe He is still mad at them, and that He is actively working to punish them. Have a look at 1John 4:

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1John 4:16-18)

If you're still afraid of God's anger at you (and at times, I still am), then you and I can look forward to growing in God's love. That's not so bad, is it?

One more thing: there are primarily two kinds of anger that God has. One kind is a sort of long-term displeasure (Orge). It's just sort of there, simmering. It doesn't do very much. The other kind of anger (Thumos) is the kind that gets agitated and is quick to blaze. It does something.

Today, God's long-term wrath is evident in how we look and by how we're doing. It's simmering, but on the ultimate judgment day it will mean an eternity of failure and frustration for those who have rejected Christ entirely, just as it did in the short duration of this present life. (Romans 2:5) That's hell. The sons and daughters of God have not been appointed for this kind of anger (1 Thessalonians 5:9), but we can still feel the affects of it whenever we attempt to live apart from the life of God. For us, life is by the Spirit, and not by the flesh. We don't live by the principles, standards and strategies of this world, we live from Christ in us. Him! (Colossians 2, and Galatians 2:20) The strategies of this world do not work. They're not supposed to, and we're figuring that out.

Today, God's quick-to-blaze anger has been poured-out on Christ at the cross. In this age, we won't see it and we won't feel it. It's not for today since Jesus endured it on the cross already. That was last week's LifeNote.

I could write a lot more about all this, but you have already read the longest LifeNote in history. Congratulations! I got into this because I've heard so many false reasons for fear attributed to a supposed angry God concerning our present predicaments. That always bugs me. I hope I have assisted you with some clear reasons to rest and chill out--in Christ.

So that's that. Rant over.

We're better off than we think.

-Ralph

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Oh, Great

Perhaps by now you've heard of David Wilkerson's prophecy. In essence, he believes that God has told him a great, nationwide catastrophe is coming very soon because He is judging the sins of our nation.

As I wrote in my post a week ago (A Beautiful Stumbling), I have heard these kinds of things before. I always listen or read them with respect, but then pray and ask the Spirit "What gives?" or something like that. I mean, who knows?

But what really gets me is when people begin adding fanciful stories to them. That can really get us stirred up, and not only do we look dumb, we often grow disillusioned and calloused to any genuine word or revelation of the Spirit.

So when a good man and friend sent me the following story, which supposedly lends strength to Wilkerson's credibility, I checked it out on snopes.com. Sure enough, it is false.

I am including the story below so if you see it again, you can gently and confidently put a long knife to it. Besides, I'm sure Wilkerson doesn't like this kind of thing any more than I do.

Here's the link to the snopes report: http://www.snopes.com/rumors/soapbox/wilkerson.asp

Here's the story:

Heed Wilkerson's warning - World Net Daily
Janet Porter - March 10, 2009

When I was a kid, I read about David Wilkerson who took to Gospel to the gangs of New York. I even saw the movie "The Cross and the Switchblade" that was made about him. Many know about that, but most don't know what happened in his church just eight years ago.

In the fall of 2001, Pastor David Wilkerson, of Times Square Church in New York City, was warned by God that a calamity was coming. For six weeks they felt an intense burden and enormous heaviness. A critical need for intercession was so profound that Pastor Wilkerson canceled everything on the church calendar: mission's conferences, youth events and every guest speaker.

For six weeks, there wasn't a sermon. Instead, there was intercession for our nation with weeping and repentance. They knew something was coming and that something was bad. And that something was soon. So they prayed. And prayed and prayed.

Then Wilkerson felt God telling him something that seemed rather bizarre. He felt God telling him to make sandwiches ? lots of sandwiches. What were they for? Who would eat them? That part wasn't clear, but his church did what they believed God was telling them anyway.

And on the 10th of September they stayed up all night making hundreds and hundreds of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. By morning they had about 2,000 sandwiches. At 8:46 a.m. the first plane hit the World Trade Center and Times Square Church was ready to feed and minister to rescue workers and victims of our nation's worst attack.

Making sandwiches all night is a strange thing to do. If someone told me to stay up all night making sandwiches, I'd probably tell them they were crazy. But if David Wilkerson says he's heard something from God today, I think we'd be crazy not to listen.

He now says he feels the same thing he felt leading up to the attack by radical Islam.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Comments Re. A Beautiful Stumbling

(I received many comments (some via email) in response to last week's LifeNote, "A Beautiful Stumbling." One of those I want to include here, as well as my response. If you would like to weigh in on all this, you may post a comment or email me.)

The comment: I don’t know whether to be mad or scared at these kinds of things. How many times have we seen exclamations like these in newspapers from people “hearing” from God, saying the world is coming to an end on a certain date? Part of me throws this from Wilkerson in that bunch, but. . .

My response: Well, all I can say is what I said in my last LifeNote, A Beautiful Stumbling. Could I be wrong? Yes. Further, I am trying to factor out past doom-sayings that might have caused me to be instantly skeptical and, therefore, unable to discern properly.

I don't know a lot about David Wilkerson, but I respect him.

However, I have learned that, in addition to me, we're not infallible, no one is 100% correct when predicting the future or giving their opinion about what God is doing or is about to do. That makes it tough on us. We want to know what's going to happen. We bet our lives on it.

So that 's why I went biblical, particularly New Covenant, since it tells us what God is doing now regarding sin, not what He might have done during the former covenant. Because of Jesus, things simply are not the same now. For example, whereas sin and disobedience and lots of things used to separate us from God, nothing does now.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38,39)

It is my experience that many of us discount the difference between the covenants, particularly what Jesus accomplished on the cross and through the resurrection. This age, where the sins of the whole world are on Christ with whom the covenant was made, differs from the previous age when our sins were upon ourselves. In that age, God's covenant was dependent upon individuals, and how each one performed. In this age, God's covenant is dependent upon Christ because God made His agreement with Him, not with us. Because we are now in Christ, our sin has been judged already at the cross, and we have been seated with Him in the heavenly realms.

None of this was true under the former covenant. That's why I often use the term "Covenant" instead of "Testament," since it more clearly distinguishes the word and meaning.

Anyway, good comment. I will be writing more about this.

-Ralph

Friday, March 13, 2009

This Week's LifeNote

So how do you think God is doing these days? With all that’s going on, what kind of mood do you suppose He’s in? Considering all the foolishness and greed and lust and crime and cheating and injustice, what might He say if the two of you were to sit together for a little while?

Would it be doom and gloom?

Most of us are little bit fearful today. Maybe a lot. There are reasons enough. However, the incredible news of God’s grace and mercy to us in Christ will buoy your heart and settle your mind. The gospel is still the power of God, and it will preserve you in this day when the world trembles. You will be kept by it, and filled with the Spirit.

What follows just below is this week’s LifeNote, a once a week email blast to those who love God and His gospel. . .and who need both desperately. If you might like to receive them, go to http://lifecoure.org and click on LifeNotes. They're free.


A Beautiful Stumbling & The Wrath of God


Have you heard the news?

God is about to pour judgment upon us. A God-wrought calamity is drawing near. God’s patience has worn out, and He is about to smite the earth and all its inhabitants.

I think this is the third or fourth time I’ve heard this sort of chorus in my lifetime. There was the general agreement that because the 60’s and 70’s were so bad, God would bring harsh judgment and then return and be angry. There was the God-caused earthquake that was supposed to strike during the L.A. Olympics, and there was the presumed failure of all things computer as the clock changed from 1999 to 2000, throwing the world into darkened chaos. If we were to throw in various actual disasters, there are those that think tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, snowstorms and plane crashes are the judgmental actions of angry God. Wrath in hindsight.

Judgment. We deserve it. God is mad, so get ready, people, ’cause here it comes.

But I have always stumbled over scripture when it comes to running with the incoming judgment or hindsight wrath crowd. Like this one:

“. . .God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

What is our message to the world, to Christian and non-Christian alike? You have been put in good order with God; you’ve been reconciled to Him. Look what He has done! He’s not counting your sins, but calling you to believe Him and embrace Him through Christ. In this day even the enemies of God escape punishment because of Christ since they, too, have been reconciled. (Rom 5:9-11) It’s crazy, but that’s the gospel.

Here’s another stumbler on the road to judgment and wrath:

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

Well, I, for one, believe Him, though it is challenging at times. I mean, don’t the evil-doers deserve a whack? At least some sort of punishing wake up call? I think they deserve it. In a way, God does too. So He gave it to them two thousand years ago. He put their whack on Jesus. Think of it: murderers, idolators, molestors, pornographers and God-haters, all are reconciled to God, all go free today. It’s so unfair.

It has to be God.

There is a day when those who do not believe God’s message of reconciliation, who defiantly resist Him and are unrepentant, will be judged and incur the results presently held by Christ. (Rom 2:5) But this day is not that day. Today, God’s righteous judgment against sin has been carried out—those who believe will always be free and secure in Christ. Their account is forever reconciled. Those who do not yet believe are presently free from any accounting, free to believe in God’s grace at the cross and resurrection, free to receive Christ, then to be secure. When anyone believes in God’s stunning accomplishments in Christ, reconciliation is consummated—the deal is sealed! More accurately, the two are sealed; God and newly born son in union forever. And that’s our message. We ought to be yelling it from the rooftops, let alone proclaiming it from the pulpit.

Besides, God’s anger is primarily directed at sin, not at the sinner (Romans 1:18). His wrath has always been more cleansing than it is punishing.

Now, if the church is taken off the earth in the next few months, then it will be time for judgment. That will usher in a period known as The Tribulation. But if you and I are going to be around for a while yet, then in this day judgment is on Christ. God does not now base the withholding of His wrath, nor the giving of His grace and mercy depending upon how we’re doing, but on Christ and how He did. It’s past tense, it already happened, and now we’re living loved and free—that’s the gospel!

In this day when so much seems to be shaking and insecure, it’s not God in His wrath doing the shaking. What is happening in our day is that the systems of this world are failing—of course. They’ve never actually worked, though they may have appeared to for a season. God has never blessed the systems of this world, and He is not now. Depending on how much we’re losing in the marketplace, we may be tempted to believe that God is withholding His blessing, but it’s not true. In my opinion, God is working to give us the blessing we already have, yet aren’t really enjoying—Himself. Do you ever get lost in the presumed blessings of this world? Me, too. So He is working to give us back what we love most. The Blessing!

Look, we have long been deceived into estimating ourselves based on how we’re doing, how much we’ve got, how we’re progressing, how little we’re suffering, and how much we’re on the right side of pleasing God. That always morphs God into The Ever Watching Pharisee—imagine how He must like that. And who loves a Pharisee? More specifically, who draws close enough to be loved and liked and reconciled by a Pharisee?

And that’s my point. To the extent we believe that God has not reconciled us because He has not yet exacted the due punishment for the sins and sinners of this world through Christ, is the extent we’ll live in fear that He’ll be doing it tomorrow if not today. We’ll think most any worldly trembling is God stomping His feet. We’ll be tempted to run around and get people to stop making God mad, because we’re in for it if they don’t.

I know this has turned into something of a rant. Sorry. Sort of. But the last thing you need to worry about is God, not because you’re wonderful (though you are), but because He is. You can count on it. In fact, you’re supposed to. Can you say, “Consummate”?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Dance For Two


I love it when just a few sentences cause a mini revival inside me. It's like the Spirit and I come together and dance--just the two of us. It's wonderful.

Here's the music that got me on my feet and into the embrace of God, my Savior and love.

1Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Col. 3:1-4

Released from the dominant and torturous lie of this passing-away world, I am new. And the day just looks better from here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Coming Evangelical Collapse

Here's a sobering article from--sorry--the Christian Science Monitor. It was sent to me by a friend who is the Director of International Marketing for my book, "Better Off Than You Think." This article is worth reading. Can't say that I disagree, either.


ONEIDA, KY. - We are on the verge – within 10 years – of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity. This breakdown will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and it will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West.

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants. (Between 25 and 35 percent of Americans today are Evangelicals.) In the "Protestant" 20th century, Evangelicals flourished. But they will soon be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century.

This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.

Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

WHY IS THIS GOING TO HAPPEN?

1. Evangelicals have identified their movement with the culture war and with political conservatism. This will prove to be a very costly mistake. Evangelicals will increasingly be seen as a threat to cultural progress. Public leaders will consider us bad for America, bad for education, bad for children, and bad for society.

The evangelical investment in moral, social, and political issues has depleted our resources and exposed our weaknesses. Being against gay marriage and being rhetorically pro-life will not make up for the fact that massive majorities of Evangelicals can't articulate the Gospel with any coherence. We fell for the trap of believing in a cause more than a faith.

2. We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.

3. There are three kinds of evangelical churches today: consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile. Denominations will shrink, even vanish, while fewer and fewer evangelical churches will survive and thrive.

4. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. Evangelicalism has used its educational system primarily to staff its own needs and talk to itself.

5. The confrontation between cultural secularism and the faith at the core of evangelical efforts to "do good" is rapidly approaching. We will soon see that the good Evangelicals want to do will be viewed as bad by so many, and much of that work will not be done. Look for ministries to take on a less and less distinctively Christian face in order to survive.

6. Even in areas where Evangelicals imagine themselves strong (like the Bible Belt), we will find a great inability to pass on to our children a vital evangelical confidence in the Bible and the importance of the faith.

7. The money will dry up.

WHAT WILL BE LEFT?

•Expect evangelicalism to look more like the pragmatic, therapeutic, church-growth oriented megachurches that have defined success. Emphasis will shift from doctrine to relevance, motivation, and personal success – resulting in churches further compromised and weakened in their ability to pass on the faith.

•Two of the beneficiaries will be the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Evangelicals have been entering these churches in recent decades and that trend will continue, with more efforts aimed at the "conversion" of Evangelicals to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

•A small band will work hard to rescue the movement from its demise through theological renewal. This is an attractive, innovative, and tireless community with outstanding media, publishing, and leadership development. Nonetheless, I believe the coming evangelical collapse will not result in a second reformation, though it may result in benefits for many churches and the beginnings of new churches.

•The emerging church will largely vanish from the evangelical landscape, becoming part of the small segment of progressive mainline Protestants that remain true to the liberal vision.

•Aggressively evangelistic fundamentalist churches will begin to disappear.

•Charismatic-Pentecostal Christianity will become the majority report in evangelicalism. Can this community withstand heresy, relativism, and confusion? To do so, it must make a priority of biblical authority, responsible leadership, and a reemergence of orthodoxy.

•Evangelicalism needs a "rescue mission" from the world Christian community. It is time for missionaries to come to America from Asia and Africa. Will they come? Will they be able to bring to our culture a more vital form of Christianity?

•Expect a fragmented response to the culture war. Some Evangelicals will work to create their own countercultures, rather than try to change the culture at large. Some will continue to see conservatism and Christianity through one lens and will engage the culture war much as before – a status quo the media will be all too happy to perpetuate. A significant number, however, may give up political engagement for a discipleship of deeper impact.

IS ALL OF THIS A BAD THING?

Evangelicalism doesn't need a bailout. Much of it needs a funeral. But what about what remains?

Is it a good thing that denominations are going to become largely irrelevant? Only if the networks that replace them are able to marshal resources, training, and vision to the mission field and into the planting and equipping of churches.

Is it a good thing that many marginal believers will depart? Possibly, if churches begin and continue the work of renewing serious church membership. We must change the conversation from the maintenance of traditional churches to developing new and culturally appropriate ones.

The ascendency of Charismatic-Pentecostal-influenced worship around the world can be a major positive for the evangelical movement if reformation can reach those churches and if it is joined with the calling, training, and mentoring of leaders. If American churches come under more of the influence of the movement of the Holy Spirit in Africa and Asia, this will be a good thing.

Will the evangelicalizing of Catholic and Orthodox communions be a good development? One can hope for greater unity and appreciation, but the history of these developments seems to be much more about a renewed vigor to "evangelize" Protestantism in the name of unity.

Will the coming collapse get Evangelicals past the pragmatism and shallowness that has brought about the loss of substance and power? Probably not. The purveyors of the evangelical circus will be in fine form, selling their wares as the promised solution to every church's problems. I expect the landscape of megachurch vacuity to be around for a very long time.

Will it shake lose the prosperity Gospel from its parasitical place on the evangelical body of Christ? Evidence from similar periods is not encouraging. American Christians seldom seem to be able to separate their theology from an overall idea of personal affluence and success.

The loss of their political clout may impel many Evangelicals to reconsider the wisdom of trying to create a "godly society." That doesn't mean they'll focus solely on saving souls, but the increasing concern will be how to keep secularism out of church, not stop it altogether. The integrity of the church as a countercultural movement with a message of "empire subversion" will increasingly replace a message of cultural and political entitlement.

Despite all of these challenges, it is impossible not to be hopeful. As one commenter has already said, "Christianity loves a crumbling empire."

We can rejoice that in the ruins, new forms of Christian vitality and ministry will be born. I expect to see a vital and growing house church movement. This cannot help but be good for an evangelicalism that has made buildings, numbers, and paid staff its drugs for half a century.

We need new evangelicalism that learns from the past and listens more carefully to what God says about being His people in the midst of a powerful, idolatrous culture.

I'm not a prophet. My view of evangelicalism is not authoritative or infallible. I am certainly wrong in some of these predictions. But is there anyone who is observing evangelicalism in these times who does not sense that the future of our movement holds many dangers and much potential?

• Michael Spencer is a writer and communicator living and working in a Christian community in Kentucky. He describes himself as "a postevangelical reformation Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality." This essay is adapted from a series on his blog, InternetMonk.com.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Church Search

Here's an interesting article a friend told me about in the online version of Slate magazine. It's about church hopping--and the benefits it brings.

Now there's a twist.

Without endorsing the mag, it's worth reading.

Click here, or go to http://www.slate.com/id/2211937/?gt1=38001

Tell me what you think.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Redirecting Grace


Okay, so I abandoned the team—it’s true. But I suffered for it.

After speaking at church on Sunday, I went from a humid 81 degrees and near chaos at the airport in Bridgetown (“How can I get a flight out?”), to 24 degrees and 5” of snow in Charlotte, N.C. The East Coast was in disarray as a large storm moved in, so we were diverted from a shut-down Atlanta to Charlotte, where I spent an all-too-brief night. After my flight landed, the airport closed.

Have you ever tried repeatedly to call an air carrier in the middle of the night when the weather is causing havoc? Make a note: they don’t answer, and you miss out on sleep.

So, from 9am until 7:30pm, I spent a lovely day at the airport on Monday. Do you know how long the same pastries sit in the viewing case at Starbucks? I do. Do you know how many times a soothing yet powerful voice interrupts your dozing to say, “Do not accept luggage from someone you don’t know”? I do.

Other than the skyrocketing gloat factor enjoyed by the team I left (We TOLD you to change your ticket and stay another week!), the good part of my leaving was talking with several people about the New Covenant. On the plane to Charlotte, and during long hours at the airport, we got deeply into it. They had wonderful and vital questions, and all of us were invigorated and encouraged when we parted: one person to Tennessee, one to Colorado, and several more to Missouri. We wouldn’t have met but for the redirecting grace of a storm.

My days in Barbados were filled with, well, warmth. The warm West Indies breeze gave us the perfect impetus to let go of the sometimes fleshly need of a planned or structured presentation, in favor of the Spirit’s leading. Our plan became: “Let’s get with the Bajan believers and see what happens.” And we did, over and over again.

From group meetings in our guesthouse to lunch in the center of town, from a trip around the island to a youth meeting in a local home, our desire to know God together opened and brought out our hearts for God. The visible transformation was amazing! In the safety of our union in Christ, we opened up and found delight with God and with each other. What might ordinarily have caused stress (What should we do at the meeting? How shall we arrange things? What do we want to accomplish?), in fact revived us. It was as if the water provided by the Spirit flowed between us, and we were delighted. Like kids.

As Jesus said it would be whenever His sons and daughters were together, we knew God, and that means we received Life. What a plan. On a rocky knob in the Caribbean, strangers quickly became friends, men became brothers and women became sisters. What we are already through Christ—a noble family—we could feel.

The one regret I have is that I didn’t tell my teammates what I thought of them. Oh, I told them some things—that I loved and respected and liked them—but I didn’t tell them more, and I could have.

Herb, you are delightful, to me and to everyone. You are a rare and refined man, content only to assist people to what’s most true—an appetite for God. What matters more?
Laurie, you are an invigorating joy—ask anyone, and they’ll tell you. You help people “get God” in ways no one else does, maybe because no one else can. He has seen to it that your life means life for us. You’ve got it, girl.
Cynthia, you are indispensible, always showing up and adding stability and strength when it suddenly feels like we’ve got only three wheels. How do you do that?
Tracy, I like you. You’re one who adds zest to life and seasoning to every meeting. You have a way of saying something that brilliantly cuts through the fog of arrogance or fleshly ignorance. We find our way because of you.
Ken, why didn’t we grow up together? What was God thinking? You are wonderfully perceptive, and I like watching as you offer yourself to people. You listen intently and wait. What a good man you are.
Pauline, I love the depth you add to people around you. You are fresh and vibrant, and what God has made of you is opening like a flower; you’re on display, and we notice.

I am richer by far.

As the team moves together through their final days in Barbados, I know they will encounter God because of each other and because of the Bajan believers. God has planned it this way, and so it is.

I hope to return.

Bajan Beauty

Here are some pictures in wonderfully chaotic and nonsensical order. To see them in more detail, click on the picture.

Here's Herb surfing the Soup Bowl on the eastern side of the Island. What moves!

In the next instant, Pauline was baptized Bajan style!

One of the few remaining windmills on the island. Something missing? Yeah, it's under repair.

Cynthia takes it in.


Gilligans Island?

Next to Cynthia is Natasha and Julie (daughter and mother), who gave us a great tour around the island. Wonderful and witty, they made sure we had a blast.

Think Cynthia is enjoying herself?


Herb and Pauline renewed their marriage vows on a beautiful Friday morning.


A little stress relief before the ceremony.

Having made an ESPN Top 10 catch, guess who is getting married soon?
Yeah, that's me.
Nicole and Linda, the worship leaders at Barbados Grace Fellowship. Their smiles tell the story.

I took maybe one hundred pictures of this view while there. Be thankful I don't post them all!

So many different looks and lighting. It is gorgeous.

Ken and Pauline comb the beach for shells.

Cynthia took a particular liking to this gecko. She's thinking of getting one for a pet when she returns home.

See the boat? A Bajan favorite is fried flying fish, and this boat traveled the waters outside our guesthouse every day looking for the catch.

From left to right, Herb, Tracy, Marie, Sandi and Laurie at one of our many gatherings.

From the left, Heather, ________, Greg, Nicole and Jeff, and Peter, wonderful Bajan friends.

From the left, Cynthia talks with Sandi (youth leader) while Ken and Pauline listen in.


From left to right, the view that makes people jealous, Cynthia, Nicole, Laurie and Tracy.




Just outside our guesthouse, a surfer spies a turtle, one of many working the surf.

A local gang.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Guess Where I Am?

I'm stuck in Charlotte, North Carolina!

Because of the storm, my flight from Barbados was redirected here instead of Atlanta, so who knows what's up for today. The Delta office is tiny here, so only God knows what they will be able to do.

I'm off to the airport.