Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Build a Multi-Cultural Church

We're going to look at a plan to help guide a mono-ethnic corps (church) to more accurately depict the culture of the surrounding community. In a world of rapidly changing demographics there are important challenges being faced by churches in diverse communities. As the body of Christ we are called to reach the “whosoever.” How can we as a church reach different ethnic groups and help facilitate a multi-cultural environment that fosters Christian harmony among diverse peoples? Let’s look at how we can build a better future together.

First of all, the goal should be to begin to make connections with different ethnic groups in the community. It’s wise to look for leaders in the ethnic community one is trying to reach, and develop personal relationships with those individuals. Christ calls us to all people groups, not just those we're comfortable with. 

Knocking on doors and developing relationships can also be a helpful way to begin to develop those connections. I would try to develop close relationships with people of various ethnicities in the community who could help teach me, and help me navigate the cultural landscape. 

Christian multicultural outreach expert M. Ortiz (1996) describes an example in which a church in Baltimore was attempting to better reflect the surrounding neighborhood which was 60% black and 40% white. The Pastor of this Baltimore church had no experience with cross-cultural engagement; but with a lot of grace, and the development of two key friendships with an African-American man and a street-wise Caucasian man, he was able to begin to learn and develop his ministry (Ortiz, 1996, p. 53). 

Once those relationships have been developed and new people are beginning to attend the corps it would be important to begin to connect with these people on a deeper level. I think this process of developing cross-cultural relationships would be greatly assisted through small groups meeting at least monthly (if not weekly) to begin to develop those relationships and deepen them through sharing honestly with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 86).

The second goal I would set would relate to developing a worship service that better reflected and engaged local cultural norms. The Pastor of the Baltimore church did this quite effectively at his church (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). He described the worship service on Sunday as the most important hour of the week in regard to this plan (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). They developed a worship service in which three different styles of music were implemented: African-American worship style, contemporary praise music, and traditional hymn music (Ortiz, 1996, p. 52). This helped the various cultures and ethnic groups, young and old alike, to better connect with the worship experience. If I were trying to reach African-Americans, I would implement worship songs that applied the African-American culture, and if I were trying to reach Latinos, I would look for worship music that met the spiritual needs of Latinos in the community. I would also look to provide translation services for those in the church who spoke different languages, if necessary. The entire worship service and message would have to be adjusted to better serve the ethnic groups in the community. 

However, I wouldn't want to go to far into "multiculturalism."  Multicultural engagement should be clearly different from the ideology of multiculturalism.  Multi-cultural engagement is absolutely vital to evangelism, and carrying out the great commission. But the concept of multiculturalism, the idea that cultures coming into the United States should resist assimilation to American culture is not a biblical concept, but a political ideology.  The church should reject pushing multiculturalism, and understand that our job is to evangelize and outreach to communities, and help them to come to Jesus, without undermining American culture in the process. Multi-cultural engagement means connecting to diverse culturals and helping to facilitate a church culture where different culturals can engage and interact as the unified body of Christ.

Now it's important to recognize that multicultural engagement is much than simply outreaching to different ethnicities that are represented in your community.  Though this is a key aspect of multicultural engagement. But even if you are in a majority white, or majority black or latino community, there will be subsets called "people groups" within all cultures that have various subcultures.  If your in a small community in the Midwest, you'd probably want to consider how to outreach to a people group like sports fans, or hunters and fishers, or how to outreach to millennial young adults, or how to outreach to working class factory workers, or middle class professionals.  These are all subcultures within different cultures that will find different styles of worship and preaching and evangelism appealing, and others unappealing. 

As we began to outreach to various cultures, we'd have to help establish a multicultural environment in the church. I would teach, preach, and speak regularly to my corps council, advisory board, staff, and church congregation about multi-cultural engagement. I would build up that “narrative” in their minds. I would tell that “story” of who we are as a church, and I would try to inspire the people in my church body with the mission of reaching different ethnic groups with the good news of Jesus Christ. 

I would try to win my church family over by inspiring them, and appealing to their better natures regarding developing a multi-cultural corp. This would require a great deal of prayer (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). It would also require many frank discussions, and the ability to work out difficult disputes and miscommunications (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 65). 

There are bound to be people in the Salvation Army corps that I lead that will push back against multi-ethnic engagement. I don’t believe this is because they are bad people, but mainly because this will be something very new to them. I would need to take the process slowly, and develop relationships with those who might struggle with the process. Some people might even leave the church. But I think overall it could be smoothed over and worked out through a lot of prayer, conversations, friendships, and inspiration for a better future.

Fourth, I would need to learn as much as I could about the cultures I would be engaging in the community. There could be some very embarrassing and confusing moments if I don’t learn how differing cultures do things; and what customs and rituals are involved in various cultures, including language barriers (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 95-96). 

One would need to avoid problems like cultural destructiveness, cultural blindness, and other problems of failing to understand and account for cultural differences (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 103). I would try to be culturally aware, culturally sensitive, and culturally competent (DeyMaz, 2007, p.104-105). I think along with this approach of being culturally “plugged in” I would also look to be inclusive in a way that shows other ethnic cultures that they are welcome to join and become a part of the church family, but also, that they are welcome to come and bring with them their cultural and ethnic traditions and express them in the community freely, as long as those traditions and cultures did not violate the scriptures (DeyMaz, 2007, p.112-113). This would help make the corps a more inclusive place with more diverse expressions of culture in its many forms. While "inclusivity" is a biblical concept, inclusivity should not extend to violations of the clear teachings of the scriptures, or lead to a rejection of the Matthew 18 concept of confronting sin in the church.  Inclusivity means providing a welcoming environment, not transforming the church into a politically correct environment pushing a progressive orthodoxy. This should go without saying, but in the current cultural tensions, we have to be wary of such political activism.

Fifth, I would look to mobilize in evangelistic efforts to reach the unsaved in diverse communities. I want the church I lead to be more than a body of Christians inside the walls of a church. I want the corps I lead to be a place of sending out evangelists and missionaries who are going, not to far away places, but to the local community, knocking on doors, handing out fliers, serving food and drink to the needy, and meeting the needs of people in the community. I think this would be vital in increasing the diversity of the corps I lead. There are so many people across such wide lines of ethnicity and culture that need Jesus. 

Reaching these people, understanding them in their cultural context, and leading them to faith in Christ will help develop the corps to be a welcoming place for people of any skin color or cultural background. Of course the growth of the corps should not be motivated by simply increasing numbers, or stats, but about bringing glory to God and leading lost people to the love of Christ (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 120-121). A healthy multi-ethnic multi-cultural church can be an incredible blessing to a community in that people are simply astounded and amazed by various cultures and ethnicities in harmony with one another (DeyMaz, 2007, p. 121).

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning” (Smith, 2016). Part of being a successful Salvation Army officer will be fostering an environment in the corps I lead that serves to encourage cultural engagement and multi-ethnic ministry. I intend to do my best to see that this takes place in the corps I serve in through developing connections in diverse ethnic communities, developing a diverse worship experience, helping guide the church members toward cultural engagement, and evangelizing ethnic communities with the gospel of Jesus Christ. All of this will take much time, prayer, and wisdom. But with Jesus Christ all things are possible.

DeyMaz, M. (2007). Building a healthy multi-ethnic church: mandate, commitments, and practices of a diverse congregation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley.
Ortiz, M. (1996). One new people: models for developing a multiethnic church. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Does Man Need God in Western Civilization?

Malcom Muggeridge said, "It would be difficult for anyone looking around the world today to resist the conclusion that something has gone very badly indeed with what we continue to call “Western Civilization.” This awareness tends to be distorted and muffled – if not obliterated – by the media, which manage to induce us to take for granted the continuingly explosive situations that confront us on every hand, and to see as an enlargement of our freedom and an enhancement of the quality of our living the steady and ominous erosion of the moral standards on which our traditional way of life has been based." - The True Crisis of our Time

In our day and age it seems that for the most part, mankind has slipped from any cognition of morals, values, and God forbid, a loving creator. But when we're angry, or upset, or something terrible has happened, or we've slammed our fingers in a door, what do we exclaim? "God!" "Jesus Christ!"

Why? Perhaps we know deep down there is an ontic referent regarding how things ought to be, and when they don't go rightly, we exclaim in intensity, the name of our creator. How often do you hear someone exclaim "Oh Buddha!?" Or Krishna, or Zoroaster?

In the news lately we hear of super blood moons, terrorist attacks, and deep seeded divisions in culture.

When God is evicted from the public square, from the scientific institutions, from the public schools, from the colleges, what happens? We've seen a growing depravity in the culture epitomized by perhaps a certain Miley Cyrus, once an idol for millions of young female children on the Disney channel, later seen on MTV naked mounted on a wrecking ball swinging back and forth. Which may be an accurate picture of what the television media is doing to the minds of our young people: wrecking them. Wrecking them with sexuality, drug culture, greed, and materialism. 

We've seen the ugly truth behind Hollywood and the media lately.  We've seen the truth come out about sexual abuse, and pedophilia in Hollywood.  We've seen Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and so many others outed.  We've heard about the depraved sex parties of silicon valley tech companies.  We're learning about the truth behind the facade put up by the media.  It begs many questions.

"The greatest question of our time will be this: Can man live without God?" -Ravi Zacharias - The Death of Truth and the Decline of Culture

As I've browsed through the channels and viewed the "programming" I'm even more convinced of my previous conviction: The mainstream media through television, radio, internet, and product advertising are at the forefront of the decline of culture in the United States and Europe. And the process of globalization has made that depraved declining media available to the entire world. Then what comes to mind is a piece of scripture from Revelation that says "For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries. The kings of the earth committed adultery with her, and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries."(Revelation 18:3)

Does man need God? To me it seems that he does. There was always the village atheist in the old times. But now it has become a popular mainstream belief. The belief seems to be that science explains reality, and that's all we need. But is that true? Does science adequately explain the origins of mankind? It explains some things, yes.  But not everything.

Science is based on observation. There is no theory regarding how the universe got here. Evolution is discussed, but where did the material and energy come from? A big bang is theorized, but who caused this big bang? Thankfully there are excellent arguments, like the Kalam Cosmological argument which explain how the universe needs an uncaused designer. Intelligent design is a reasonably view.  It's been attacked relentlessly of course.  But the facts are the facts, it's a reasonable view.  I would say in fact, it is much more reasonable than a universe that "creates itself from the law of gravity" as Professor Stephen Hawking has suggested. But that is an illogical statement, as Professor John Lennox has pointed out. Indeed, quite illogical!  A law like gravity?  Let me ask you this: Does the fact that two plus two equals four ever put four dollars in your bank account? A law like math or gravity can't create.  A third grader knows that.

Never-the-less the question remains, does man need God? To me, it seems that man desperately needs God. I grew up without God. My parents took my sister and I to Catholic church, but to me it was so antiquated and detached from reality that I never made even a meek connection to it. But I needed God. I needed God when the commercials and consumerism had convinced me I needed so many products and subscriptions and new toys. 

 I needed God when I was so obsessed with NFL football that I collected volumes full of football cards. I needed God when I spent endless hours playing Nintento, Super Nintendo, Playstation, Playstation 2, Xbox, PC, and Xbox 360 games. I needed God when my parents divorced and my world was shattered. I needed God when I turned to drugs and drinking to blot out the terrible emotions I felt.  I needed God when I dated numerous girls, slept with them, hurt them, broke their hearts, and found myself more and more empty after each conquest.  

And I needed God when I kept asking: "Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What should I do with this life?" 

 And in the same way as I need God, so all humanity needs God. Because God shows us the truth. He shows us the way. He shows us how to overcome death. He shows us Jesus Christ, and invites us to believe in him and live a completely different life as a result. But not to believe in some story or book or legend, but to believe in a Living Jesus Christ, and a Christianity that is not just talk or myth, but extends into all reality around us, across the cities, the forests, the rivers and oceans; and is lived out in the physical world, not just in talk, but in true devotion to follow a living God named Jesus Christ.

Many turn hard against the idea of God. Many have had very negative experiences with Christianity. The word "religion" or "religious" has come to be a virtual curse word. It is a taboo in modern society. Spirituality is good, and religion is always bad. People openly mock the Christian worldview citing it as the view of the uneducated rubes of the past. They suggest: Have you ever seen God?  No, then God must not exist.  But this is overly simplistic.  Have you ever seen an atom?  Or have you seen the oxygen you breath?  Have you seen love?  Yet we know these things exist.  There is more to life than sight. 

The rage against God is quite interesting.  There are many militant God-hating atheists out there.  But why?

"Atheists don't hate fairies, leprechauns, or unicorns because they don't exist. It's impossible to hate something that doesn't exist. Atheists hate God because he does exist." -Ray Comfort

Still there is so much clamor against "organized religion" and the many evils of it.  But have we forgotten that Christianity has produced great institutions like orphanages, hospitals, universities, and the like?  Have we forgot that the freest and most prosperous nations on this Earth have been grounded in the Christian faith?  Yet the blanket assumption is laid out that "all religion is created by man and therefore false."  But is there evidence for such a conclusion?  Or is it just a slogan of our day and age?  Yes, this is simply a slogan, and it falters when faced with the facts.  We don't get out of ethical living that easily.  But it certainly is a useful slogan to toss aside ethical living and live a debauched "me-centered" life.

However, as Dr. Norm Geisler said, “The unexamined life is not worth living by insisting that the unexamined faith is not worth believing." 

One is not suddenly free to live a life of empty debauchery and depravity simply by pointing out the failings of "organized religion." That is not an acceptable remedy to the soul. Christianity has certainly been practiced poorly by many. So how about instead of judging, condemning, and then discarding the very excellent teaching of Christ in the gospels, why not instead step forward and live it as correctly as possible, to show the "organized religious types" how it is done? That is, in fact, exactly what Jesus Christ did when he confronted the religious hypocrites of his day and age, the pharisees.

It's been a question on my mind in the past few weeks. How did we get here? How did things get this way in the United States? This nation was founded on Christian principles. This is in fact a Christian nation as evidenced by statements made by the Supreme court. So then how did this happen? And I think several factors play into it. But the biggest factor has to be the minds of young people. The young people are future society. The current professional class right now are the young people of yesterday.

I saw it most clearly myself as I was growing up. What were the influences on my mind? Primarily? My parents. My friends. The television. The public school. I was a middle class, middle middle class kid growing up into the culture of the 1990s. Dad was a teacher, mom was a nurse. As middle class as they come. As I grew up into junior high and high school I became increasingly confused as to why all the people around me seemed so interested in nothing more than the latest products, the latest television shows, (South Park was very popular when I was in junior high) and the latest sporting events. Why is that? Because it's the primary focus of the culture. The television, music, news, movies, it's all geared toward selling things, and triggering temptation.

Have you ever noticed how rare it is for a truly intellectual television show to air on TV? It's all dumbed down. It's like it's specifically designed to keep people consuming and not asking questions. Thank the Lord of Heaven and Earth for the Internet. Because there I could search, I could participate and inquire. I read about all kinds of ideas that I simply didn't know about. They were not allowed within the orthodoxy of television media, public school curriculum, videogames, news, and sports.

Therefore my conclusion must be that the mind of the child in western society is held hostage by the media of today. Think about it, really think about it. Malcom Muggeridge knew it. Noam Chomsky knows it. G.K. Chesterton could see it years ago. Francis Schaeffer saw it in the 1970s. Dr. Zacharias sees it today. I can see it too.

The vast majority go to public school, they are taught materialism, scientism, and modernity.

The vast majority watch television, and are sucked into a culture of sexuality, sports, materialism, technology, and purchasing. Selfishness is king.

The vast majority are not given a Christian message. Many are given a dead Christian message or a prosperity gospel message (think Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes.)  Others are given a straw-man description of Christianity as a "backwards religious" cult of simpletons. If the Christian message is in there at all, it must compete with an incredible noise and temptation and past programming within the mind. No wonder it's so difficult for Christians in the west to live truly holy lives. There is far too much noise. And no wonder young people reject faith: They've been programmed with slogans from society blasted at them constantly like "religion is man-made" and "all the evil caused by religion" and "religion is for stupid people."  None of those things are true of course.

So it's not an easy time to be a Christian, or to share the Christian message. But this is not a special situation. World Christianity has always faced chaos and trouble. And it's always overcome. And we will overcome also.

When you look at church history, what has Christianity had to face? Let's see, first intense persecution in Israel in the first century AD. Then intense persecution in the ancient Roman empire AD 100-300. The fall of the Roman empire. Evangelizing the barbarian invaders. Then fighting corruption from the papacy, leading to two reformations. The Muslim invasion of Europe and North Africa. Then two world wars, and now today, globalization and mass media. It's no different than the past chaos Christianity has faced. We will overcome the world, because Christ overcame the world.

The first step is to believe that we can. We've been sold the lie in this country that "it's done, you can't change it." Abortion is done. Secularism is done. Media depravity is a reality, accept it. Gay marriage is a reality, accept it. Next they'll be saying you need to take a microchip implant (Iplant 7 series from Apple?), just accept it. It's a new era, just do it. I refuse that. I can change anything. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. This is nothing new for world Christianity, we've faced worse in the past two thousand years and overcome it by leaps and bounds.

Why? Because we've got Christ. He is our King, our Lord, our blessed Comforter. And we have the current ministry of the Holy Spirit, who moves too and fro between the nations, like Gandalf the White between Rohan and Minas Tirith uniting the Christian peoples against the forces of the evil one. All we have to do is believe in him. We petition the Lord God, and he hears us. As the word says:
"Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”? 

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." -Isaiah 40:26-31(NIV)

Young people are hungry for the truth today. As men like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, and many others travel to universities to give their presentations on Christianity they are speaking to increasingly massive crowds. Young people are hungry for the truth. At a recent event Ravi Zacharias of RZIM spoke to over 40,000 young people. It reminds me of the 2012 talks given by the presidential candidate Ron Paul, as he traveled to universities like UCLA and spoke regarding liberty and restoring the Constitution to 4,000 and 6,000 and in Wisconsin 3,500; an event that I attended. It reminds me of the campaigns of people like Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders in 2016, with thousands of young people turning out.

People are fed up with the corruption in Congress, in banking, and in big business. They know about the lies. But just like the media ignores candidates they don't like, so also the mainstream media ignores news of any real substance, instead covering celebrity gossip and "this politician said this or that" while the Constitution is shredded and religious liberty is assaulted. And so the mainstream media also conveniently ignores people like Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Stephen Meyer, and Lee Strobel who share a relevant Christian message. But never-the-less young people just don't buy into post-modernism or this materialistic scientism. They know deep down there is something more. They want answers! Thank God for ministries like the Veritas Forum, Cross Examined, Reasonable Faith, and RZIM that go into university campuses. Because so many churches simply fail to penetrate into people groups, even those right around them.

There is too much noise, depravity, and temptation for young people these days. Young people, teens, twenties, thirties have been thrown to the wolves of addiction, pharmaceuticals, sexuality, fine foods, new technologies, products, and entertainment. I was stuck in it all, wondering what truly mattered, wondering what the ultimate reality was. I sought out the perfect high, the perfect social encounters, the perfect true love sexuality for completion but all of those things fell short and instead left me addicted, confused, depressed, and starving for something I didn't know I needed.

Jesus Christ is the perfection I so deeply required. His internal presence through the Holy Spirit is the final fulfillment of such ancient lusts and longings buried within me. I want everyone to know, especially young people who are suffering in the three ring circus out there in the United States and Europe, that all of those temptations, treats, and triumphs are in the end hollow. The truth is that we need God just like our parents and grandparents needed God. We need God in reality, in relevance, and in truth. We really really do.

The noise is so loud in the culture: "Buy this!" "You need that!" Instead turn to Christ. Join faith communities. Get active in Christ. Support organizations like RZIM, Cross Examined, The Veritas Forum, Cru, the Salvation Army, and others.  Stand out, and swim against the stream.

That way we can work toward a better tomorrow, and shut off a lot of that media noise, replacing it with outlets of biblical truth, important causes, and means of edification for the body of believers in Jesus Christ, the blessed Lord and King of the entire, actual, real Earth. He is our literal leader, our high chancellor, who will soon claim his position and set things right on the Earth. Await that day with hope in the Lord, that you will walk and not grow weary, you will eat hearty of his truth, and stand the test of faith over the test of time and temptation. Until that day of his return, participate in these organizations, share the gospel of grace through faith, and stand strong in the faith. God bless you all, amen.

In conclusion, John 10:7-18 (NIV) says: "Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

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          Wednesday, February 7, 2018

          I was almost Aborted

          "We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." -2 Corinthians 3:18 (ESV) 

          I'm a very lucky man. Yes, very lucky to be alive.  Or shall we say blessed?  

          Never give up hope.  Even when there seems to be so little left!  Our lives are series of moments that hang like lattices on one another. The strands weave together, through a dangerous world.  One in which I nearly never entered. 

          You see, when my mother became pregnant she went to the doctor in severe pain.  The doctor gave her a brief examination, took no scans of any kind but decided that the egg was caught in the Fallopian tube, and the pregnancy needed to be terminated.  In fact it was urged that it should be done that day.  Thank you Lord that my mom was a trained nurse. She knew it could be any number of issues.  My life almost ended that day, in abortion.  But my mom knew better.  And I survived.  

          I was delivered on a holy Saturday, and there were no doctors available, because it was resurrection weekend.  But finally a doctor was found, though my head was caught and stuck during the birthing process, and they had to do a C-section to free me.  But I survived.  

          The doctors couldn't decree my death sentence, because God knew my mother would become a nurse, an RN, and have the knowledge to understand what was really happening.  Imagine if my mother had been a dentist or an electrician?  

          It's not that my life amounts to much, it doesn't.  For most of us, in the grand scheme of things we're very little.  We don't matter all that much in the mechanisms of history.  Though maybe that's not completely right.  Maybe we really do matter more than we realize to the course of history.  

          Who can fail to recall that classic film "It's a Wonderful Life."  Think of how history and events had been so impacted in the small town where George Bailey resided.  One man, so deeply impacted a community.  Now I know that this film is a work of fiction.  But the theme runs true.  

          How would the world be different if you or I had never existed?  Things would indeed be very different.  There are thousands of lives we've effected, for better and often for worse.  And think of the people they've impacted! The people we've impacted have often gone on to impact thousands or even millions of others.  

          Scientists tend to take a uniformitarian view of the past, that history remains basically static in a geological and biological framework, but catastrophism seems just as likely, given how small events can have such massive world-changing impacts on world history.  

          One life really does matter.  It really really does.  We think we can do so little.  But we can actually make a huge difference.  And I don't mean if we have millions of dollars or know the right people or have social media influence.  I mean anyone with a little determination, rich or poor, dumb or smart, can make a huge difference.  It's true.  All you have to do to begin is to believe that it's possible.  And it is.  

          Each of us lives a series of moments through our lives, and those moments define our lives.  And we have to try and make the right choices, so that we can make a difference for good in the world.  There is a lot of evil in the world.  I mean, there is a ton of evil in the world.  The norm is evil.  And it invades the church, it sits in leadership positions and tries to guide the body toward false ideologies.  It's a deadly danger.  So the odds are stacked against us. 

          We've one life.  So precious.  We walk around and see all these people.  I look at their faces.  And I watch them.  They're like works of art.  Their faces are like paintings.  Human beings can are beautiful! I notice this incredible beauty.  They look to me like royalty of some sort.  There is an aura about them.  I'm awe-struck by it, really.  I can't help but notice.  

          At the same time, humans can be unspeakably ugly. Humanity is so debased at times, when I see it I can hardly believe it, the hatred, the disregard, the violence, the demented debased humor. 

          I see humanity, of great value, royalty, children of God though they don't seem to know it, and I'm amazed at what has happened.  We're like a bride and groom on their wedding day who have slipped into the mud and come up looking somber. Still beautiful, yet marred. 

          The things we do! The depraved things we lower ourselves to.  And the chill of the cold, cold winds of winter that shoot through... Something is quite off.  These works of art have gone oddly astray.

          J.R.R. Tolkien portrayed the contrast, as a great assembly of angels singing, God guiding the orchestra.  And the united singing was the creation of the world.  But one sang out of tune, intentionally creating discord in the infinite harmony.  The artistry of creation, the artistry of humanity, is contrasted with the artistry of sorrow and darkness.  Not because there is something apart from the holiness and purity of God, but because outside of God there is nothing.

          It's taught in our world, today, in our society.  A worldview contrary to the truth of Christianity is taught to all young people through the culture, through education, and civilization.  The exceptions are those who are taught the truth.  But the lies are institutionalized, and the truth is on the outskirts. 

          So we find contrasts in our world, paradoxes, anomalies, and all manner of bizarre situations that strain the senses. So much beauty in the human condition, mingled with so much trauma and darkness.  The contrasts are astonishing.  The beauty of a sunset, astonishing!  The icy frigidness of a cold winter night, astonishing...

          The simple pleasure of watching a man cut an apple.  I recall one time, when I was very young, I was on a train.  I think I was in Atlanta for the 96' Olympics, or something like that.  And I was young, about 11 years old.  I was watching this man, sort of hunkered down, carving the peeling off an apple.  He had a blade in his hand and was carving a line out of the apple, moving the apple in a circular arch, the blade gliding across the apple.  And I was awe-struck in this moment.  Then I noticed another man, watching him carve up the apple as well, and the man looked at me, and smiled, like he knew I was marveling at the beauty of the man carving up the apple.  It was a powerful moment in my memory.  Things as simple as this...

          They are the moments that define our lives.  They are the memories that transform us.  And God is guiding those moments.  He's weaving the strands together.  He's the orchestrator behind the meta-narrative.  He's the author, writing the story, clicking on the typewriter, putting it all together.  And he nods to us in our memories.  He speaks to us, sometimes backwards in time.  When a strand come to fruition in the future, we look back and notice how he brought it all together, and we access a memory and see God there, nodding to us, and smiling.  He works through people you see.  It is his great and odd pleasure to work through mere humans.

          "For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." -Isaiah 53:2-7 ESV

          Sunday, February 4, 2018

          Serving as Good Soldiers of Jesus Christ

          Audio Message:

          Recently I went to see the movie Darkest Hour with my dad at the theaters. A stunning film, and for Christmas this year I got a DVD copy of Dunkirk. Both of these stories revolve around the decisions and speeches of the great leader Winston Churchill during the dark days of World War II. A few years ago I read some of Winston Churchill’s biography. It was an absolutely stunning struggle. The whole world was at the brink of collapse. It’s 1939 and you’ve got this darkness spreading, through Nazism. You’ve got a military that can’t be stopped in the Nazis. You have a genocidal regime so terrible that it is exterminating millions of Jews and Christians. Think about how it must’ve felt for the people of Great Britain. They saw Austria fall, then they saw Poland fall. But the French, they were so strong, with their Maginot line. There’s no way the Nazis could defeat them. But in just a few weeks, the Nazis had crushed through the French defenses. And French and British troops faced double encirclement, they were surrounded. They’d fled to the city of Dunkirk. And they were waiting to be destroyed by the German panzers. They were trapped… Hopeless. Europe, conquered by the Nazis. And it seemed there was no hope for civilization left. Imagine that situation, and your Winston Churchill, prime minister, shivering at the thought of the fall of not only Great Britain, but all of western humanity.

          This reminds me of the situation we are in as the church today. Our forces are crumbling. Corps are shutting down left and right. And we’re afraid to face that reality. We’re losing. We’ll falling to the great darkness, growing in our culture, and in our society. It’s a disaster scenario. It really is. I think about it every day. It’s my great obsession, the thought of the state of our country, of Europe, of the church, of the Salvation Army. We’re in great danger. And we seem to be standing at the cusp of darkness.

          Thankfully Jesus lives, and we are his people. There is no one else. We are the Salvation Army. We are soldiers of the Salvation Army, and as such we have a great calling ahead of us. No one else will do it for us. We have to do it ourselves.

          I imagine Winston Churchill felt the same way when he looked across the channel toward occupied France. Or when he felt the concussive force of bombs dropping over London. Is this the end? Will it really end like this? He must’ve wondered. But sometimes it takes just one man, one woman, willing to believe in the impossible, who can change everything. Just one. Is it you?

          Winston Churchill believed. And he spoke his belief. He said “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Sometimes you have to boldly shout into the face of total darkness: We will Fight. They did fight. And they won the day, when it seemed impossible.

          In the same way, we are soldiers. And as soldiers our job is to obey the orders of our commanding officer. Our commanding officer is the Lord Jesus Christ. And he has commanded us in the great commission: To make disciples of all nations with the living gospel of His life, death, and resurrection. Then Jesus was lifted to heaven. And he promised to return. I believe he will do just that. And he'll ask for a report on what we did while he was away.

          As a soldier, my job is to fulfill my orders, under penalty of death. To fail to carry out his command is to be in breach of my orders, and there is no choice, in this army, there is only do and die.

          The body will accomplish all that Christ has for us to accomplish. There is no way around it. Christ will do all he desires through us his people. We are yielded to Him. We are his body. He is the head, we are the agents. He is God, we are the servants. He is the general, we are the soldiers.

          The world is crumbling. There is so much corruption, so much poverty, human trafficking, oppression, persecution, immorality, lies, and brokenness in this world. There are so many multiplying evils, what possible difference could we make? There are great difficulties ahead. But it's at just such times like these, when everything seems to be crumbling, that God loves to work to generate massive transformation! It's at times like these that we'll know through and through, bones to bones, that it was only by God's power, by Christ's efficacy that we could ever persevere forward into such darkness. We'll know that it wasn't of us, and our cleverness, but that it was by God's reality penetrating our reality, by God's miraculous designs and mercies in time and space that the tide finally turned!

          It wasn't us. It was never us. And we could never do it alone. It's humbling to realize that God alone is the one who justifies, and God alone is the one who brings about real hope and real lasting change. No man can do this, but only God almighty himself.

          Humanity wanted a world without God. That is the fall. And this is the fall. Here it is. This is the world without God. But in fact even now God still intervenes, refusing to allow our fatal destructions to be final, He still continues to hold out his hand to us and pull us from the muck and mire. He breaks our chains of sin. He pours out His love to us, and wipes the tears from our eyes as He sets us in a spacious golden valley, suits us up with his armor, his uniform, the blue, the red, and the shield, and the sword, and breastplate of Christ's righteousness, girded up in His truth, and ready for battle.

          He's lit a candle in us you see, the candle is Christ, and this Spirit he places inside us, and we glow with His power. And nothing is impossible for us in Christ. Nothing is impossible.

          We have a great duty before us, and a great many works to do as the church. So let us do them. Because the master is away right now, Jesus Christ, He is in heaven. And He will return again, to make all things right, and when he returns he will call us to account. How did we spend our talents? How did we put ourselves to work, to serve those in need, and to carry his gospel? We will be called to account.

          “When the Son of Man comes in his glory with all his angels, he will sit down upon his great throne. And he will separate the sheep and the goats.” -Matthew 25:31-33 (paraphrased)

          So as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, as warriors, soldiers, ministry leaders, officers, we must stand the test. We must fight the good fight. We must do what the master has taught us to do.

          Jesus gives us instructions in Matthew chapter 25, regarding what he expect of his disciples in these fallen times. In this account he rewards those faithful sheep who have followed the shepherd, and achieved victory through the struggle.

          “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” –Matthew 25:34-40

          Now it’s important to note that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus has given us his own righteousness, and suffered and died on the cross in our place, to delete our sin, and give us new life. He resurrected from the dead to give us eternal life. We have this new life and we walk in it. Yet Christ also requires that we live as he did. He insists that we must serve those in need.

          Jesus instructs us first of all to feed the hungry and give those who are thirsty something to drink. Feeding programs? It is wise to feed those in need, in fact Jesus instructs us to do that as his sheep. And he instructs us to clothe the naked. I think of the gyms full of jackets during Christmas season in the Salvation Army, and I smile.

          Next, Jesus instructs us to visit the sick, and visit those who are in prison. Interesting isn’t it? He calls us to it. He instructs us to do it. And Jesus is very specific. Jesus says if we do these things, if we visit the sick, and the prisoners, if we feed people who come to us in need, then there is this reality: The people we feed, and visit and serve, they are actually Jesus.

          Behind the eyes of each person you and I serve, are the eyes of Jesus, looking back at us. The master is silent, during the testing. Isn’t that right?

          My first reaction is to think, if that was Jesus, then why did he relapse for the fifteenth time? I started my work with the Salvation Army at the very bottom, working intake at a homeless shelter. I was so on fire for the Lord back, and I hope I still am today. But I used to hand out Bibles to every person that came in to the shelter. And when someone new came in I would go over and talk to them, tell them about Jesus, offer them food, and get them set up in a room. I loved that part of it. And in the story in our heads, that’s where it ends. We nobly feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison, and they give us a big hug, and say “oh thank you sir, thank you.” And then they accept Jesus as their savior. But in reality that’s not often what happens. What often happens is you see that drunken bozo next week back on a bender, high on crack shouting at you, telling you how you’re the source of all their problems. And I recall I’d hand out Bibles, and a week later I’d go over to the book case in the main room of the shelter, and collect the Bibles I’d given out. They’d been left there. So, I’d just hand them out to new people! That’s the challenge of ministry.

          I recall one guy I worked with, I was doing case management and I worked with him for months, and he was doing a lot better, he got sober from alcohol, he got a job, and an apartment. He was smiling a lot more. The light and hope was coming back into his eyes. But something set him off, and I had to kick him out of the shelter for being drunk. And two days later he came back, and was drunk, yelling through the front door about how useless we were. That’s how it really goes in ministry. It’s not easy. The truth is, in that sort of messy ministry, that man was Jesus. That’s what we’re called to do, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to Jesus. And to do that we have to serve.

          So how do we put this into practice? Sometimes we can have the mistaken idea in ministry that it’s all about the pastor. And the congregation becomes the audience. But that’s exactly backwards. The chief role of the pastor is simply to teach, lead, and then step back, and empower Christians to serve their savior in ministry.

          We are good soldiers of Jesus Christ. And so it is our duty to serve. Let other churches and congregations be vacant audiences to show time services. But in this army we are soldiers.

          So what ministry is God calling you to serve? There are many to choose from. God could be calling you to volunteer with a feeding program, or with packing boxes in the food pantry. God could be calling you to serve in children’s ministry. Or maybe God is calling you to start a Bible study? Be creative. Think about what your talents and gifts are. What is a unique way that you could serve? Some amazing ministries I’ve seen in my life have been weekly prayer groups, a prayer email list, street evangelism groups that go out once a week, young adult Bible studies, Christian bloggers, social media ministry, and many others. When you’ve prayed about it, and you’re ready with your idea, go and talk to your pastor/officer.

          We are the most unlikely saints and soldiers, you and I, the most unlikely saints and soldiers. We're former drug addicts, alcoholics, abusers and abused, poor uneducated wretches, depressive suicidal street urchins, bipolar, mentally unchained, outcasts, physically disabled, angry, demented, sinful, evil, and terrible people bought from darkness with the precious blood of Jesus Christ and turned from sin and hell and to light, love, hope, faith, and freedom. Oh such sweet freedom we've been given, and He's made us all new!

          We are unlikely saints, yet saints we quite remain, as the gift of Christ Jesus. We wear as garments robes of white, the perfect righteousness of Christ. He's purchased us, we are His body, His army, and His beloved people. He loves us so much. Even when we were still rebels against Him, He loved us so much and He set us free. He set me free. He set you free. And it's a beautiful story. It's such a beautiful story. It brings me to tears, the beauty of this story, that Christ would choose you and I, makes no sense to me, yet His love is just that mystery, that He loves us so much, that He selected us, with such great love, and with such a peculiar and specific love for each of us, something special He loved in each of us. And His love remains with us. It's what spurs us to do anything. Not to buy His love, not to earn it, no, but because we already have it in the free gift of Christ. Your perfect in Him, you’re a very Godly and pure army. Own it.

          So we will fight. We must fight. We will fight to bring the gospel to the lost on the streets of this world. We will fight in the streets, in the prisons, in the dope houses, along the red light districts, the brothel houses, the impoverished inner cities, the institutions, the houses of learning, the skid rows, the bars, the hospitals, the broken homes, and the darkest, dankest, most dismal places, where no light dwells, the great Light will shine and yes, we will fight! We will fight to the very last! We will fight in the fire and volley, we will fight! We'll never give up!

          Remember that we are faced with a world rapidly crumbling under the weight of secularism, post-modernism, and meaninglessness. People are so confused in our day and age, and sin is rampant in our society. We are in desperate, desperate need of good soldiers of Jesus Christ, hard working, determined, and willing to serve Christ. We have to do it. We’re the last line of defense. Time is running out, and this world is crumbling. But just like Winston Churchill, perhaps you’ll be one of those people that help change history. Perhaps you’ll be one of those people who refuse to surrender, who refuse to give up, and determine in their minds that things will change.

          As William Booth the founder said, “God loves with a great love one whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.”

          Jesus is coming soon, and He must find us faithful, we've much work to do, so let us get to work, and do it for Christ. He is coming soon now. He will be along quickly. He will be here soon. Come Lord Jesus.