Hyphenated Christians

Hyphenated Christians

Until recently, America has largely avoided violent internal strife because as a nation, we’ve lived simply as “Americans.” Wherever we came from, old labels were left behind and American became our identity. We even fought a great war to put an end to rising tribalism and bind ourselves together as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

Since the radical 1960s however, we are less and less “American” and a nation of tribes. “Mexican-Americans”, “Gay-Americans”, “African-Americans”, “Evangelical Americans” and the list goes on. Sometimes our tribalism is about where our ancestors came from, but more often it’s a celebration of our divisions.

This trend exists in churches today as it plagued the ancient church in Corinth two-thousand years ago.

There are no hyphenated believers in the family of God. We are not Paul-Christians or Apollos-Christians or Peter-Christians. We are either followers of Jesus, born again by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone, or we are not Christians. Our only foundation for truth, faith, and practice is the Bible or we follow a religion other than Christianity. Other divisions are phony and prideful externals, both immature and sinful (1 Corinthians 3:1-4).

There is great gain in knowing the past; celebrating the best of the past and repenting of the worst, but when that past creates ungodly division among brothers, it must be put away.

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ … there is one body (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 4:4).

A Letter from Paul

a-letter-from-paulImagine living 2,000 years ago and your church received a letter from the Apostle Paul!

On Sunday, everyone gathers to hear the pastor read the letter received earlier in the week. As the letter is slowly read line-by-line, your pastor stops to explain each words and idea. It takes him a long time, even weeks or months, to read through every word of the letter and explain it so you fully comprehend.

Paul’s letter can’t be understood by reading a random line and then talking about something else. It must be read and studied just as he wrote it to your church, word-by-word and line-by-line. This is called expository preaching. If you want to understand the God of the Bible, and how to serve Him, attend a church where the pastor is an expository preacher.

So they helped the people to understand the Law, and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading (Nehemiah 8:7, 8).

Polishing the Brass

titanicIt was the largest, fastest, and most luxurious ship in the world. Late in the evening of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg only 375 miles from the shore of Newfoundland, Canada. In less than 3 hours, 1,517 of the 2,224 crew and passengers were drowned.

The crew ignored warnings of icebergs in the area because they believed the advertisement that the ship was “unsinkable.” One passenger boarding the ship, Mrs Sylvia Caldwell, proclaimed that God Himself could not sink this ship. 

As the unsinkable Titanic sank, passengers still believed the ship could not go under the icy Atlantic Ocean. Some began playing a game of soccer with chunks of ice on the deck. The ship’s orchestra continued to play as people around them panicked. Millionaire businessman Benjamin Guggenheim took off his life vest and donned his black tie, tails, and top hat while walking the deck saying he would go down with the ship as a gentleman. Hundreds stood around a priest praying that God and Mary would save them yet did nothing to save themselves.

One thing no one did, however, was polish the brass on the sinking ship.

We do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day … for the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal (Second Corinthians 4:16, 18).

 

Showers of Blessing

Early this morning I stood in the shower, the hot water spraying over my sleepy head, down my body, and into the drain. This is the place and time of day I feel both invigorated and relaxed.

As I breathed in the steam I exhaled the words of an old hymn. There shall be showers of blessing – this is the promise of love. There shall be seasons refreshing, sent from the Saviour above. Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy-drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.  

I live in a place where it seems to rain non-stop from October through early June; then for three months it’s hotter than Hades. People who move here in the summertime from other parts of the country quickly become discouraged and even depressed when the bleak skies and constant showers of rain begin. They wonder aloud why they moved to Oregon, The Beaver State.

Oregonians understand that the rain showers are what makes the most productive farmland in all the world. It keeps the forests green, our rivers and lakes filled, and snow on the mountains year-round. These showers make Oregon a blessed and beautiful place for those of us with webbed feet.

Like the ground, sometimes we become dry and parched inside, in what God calls the soul. Like my morning hot shower or Oregon’s cold showers of rain, God both invigorates and refreshes our souls with daily abundant water from His Word.

Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass (Deuteronomy 32:2).

A Money-Grubbing Bride

Many years ago my church participated in our city’s 4th of July parade. We built a patriotic-themed float and paraded down the streets with hundreds of others, waving and passing out fliers advertising our Sunday services.

As one of our members handed a flier to a man, he refused it and said, “All you Christians are alike. All you want is people’s money.”

In more than thirty years as a pastor, it’s been my habit that we never ask, beg, shame, prod, play games, or run gimmicks for money. I never want to be perceived as being materialistic or greedy and I don’t want Christ’s bride portrayed as money-grubbing.

Instead of asking for money, each week we publish the amount of money needed to pay the church bills and how has been received. I trust the Holy Spirit to provide as He moves upon people’s hearts to give. People who are taught the Word of God will naturally give to the work of God. And through the years, He has always provided – maybe not for the wants, but always for the needs.

In his letters to the Christians in the Greek city of Corinth, the Apostle Paul gave 5 simple principles about financial giving.

  1. God doesn’t need your money; everything already belongs to Him. He wants you give yourself to Him before you give your money (2 Cor 8:5).
  2. Christian ministry should be supported by Christians – both rich and poor – not unbelievers (2 Cor 8:1-5).
  3. Our giving is a cheerful and thankful response to God’s grace, not because we are shamed, goaded, or commanded to give (2 Cor 8:8-12). If you can’t give cheerfully, don’t give, for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7).
  4. Give what you’re able, from the abundance you have (2 Cor 8:12, 14; 1 Cor 16:2), but don’t be stingy (2 Cor 9:8-11). Trust that God is the One who provides for your own needs.
  5. Be purposeful in your giving. Plan and set aside money each week according to your own willingness and desire (1 Cor 16:2; 2 Cor 8:12; 9:7).

Holy Spirit, Fill the Atmosphere

 

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Corinthians 3:16).

When you are born again, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit fills you with His presence (Romans 8:9, 11). Your body becomes the temple of God in which the Spirit dwells permanently (John 14:16-17).

When you are born again, the Holy Spirit baptizes you into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13) and you are adopted into the family of God the Father (Romans 8:14-15).

If you are born again, you are a member of the Father’s family, a member of the Church of Jesus, and the temple of the Holy Spirit; where you go the Godhead is.

Since you are born again, when you walk into a building to worship God this Sunday, there need be no call to welcome God or prayers and songs inviting the Holy Spirit to come. That’s un-Biblical nonsense.

Since you are born again, where you are, God is because He is in you. He can’t “fill the atmosphere” more than He already has. The Spirit “came into the room” when a born again believer walked in.

Unlearning

My friend Martin and I met in Bible college. After graduating, Martin accepted the pastorate of the only church in a small Wyoming town of ranchers and farmers. On his first day in town, he put on his suit and tie, laced up his black wingtip shoes and went out to introduce himself. Folks were kind, but he could tell they didn’t like him. For several months the church pews sat nearly empty.

In desperation he called a former professor and asked for advice. After a series of questions and answers our professor offered this: ditch the suit and tie and put on a plaid shirt, Wrangler jeans, and buy some cowboy boots.

We were taught that a pastor must never be caught “out of uniform”, which meant a suit and tie. The professor’s advice was that on Sunday “the uniform” might be acceptable, but during the week it made Martin appear superior to the cowboys and farmers he was there to teach God’s Word. His clothing created an air of “big city” arrogance and snobbery to the simple townsfolk.

There are many things we learn that need to be unlearned, things that are culture and tradition and not Bible. Give me pure Bible!

Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day (Psalm 25:4-5).

Love is Blind

love-is-blindThe English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote that love is blind. Chaucer knew that we willingly distort truth in a mistaken idea of love. Our rose-colored glasses blind us to others so that we feel better about them and ourselves, but such blindness is dangerous to everyone involved. Overlooking sin is neither loving nor beneficial to anyone.

God’s love for you isn’t blind. The Father couldn’t ignore the wickedness of your sin. His love couldn’t put shades over his holiness. Instead, His equalled love and justice sent Jesus to die in your place. The Innocent for the guilty.

Jesus willingly paid the debt you owed for your sins. Justice was served upon Him so love could reign toward you.

When we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly … but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6, 8).

Lollygagging

snooze button

Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” … and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him (Matthew 4:19, 22).

It happened again. Another late night; another early Sunday morning.

My wife was away visiting her mother. Every 5 minutes the alarm would beep for me to rise and shine, only to be gently tapped for another “snooze” session in the comfy bed. There was an hour before we’d normally leave for church services. I could snooze one more time, but I’d better not. Well, just … one ….. more ……. snooze …….. and I’ll …………

The cat lunged from the windowsill onto my head. I rolled over and pulled the small clock close to my face. Ten minutes until I needed to leave. TEN MINUTES??!! I jumped from bed and hastily woke my teenage son from his slumber and ran to the shower.

Thankfully Daniel and I are both guys who need little prep time to leave the house. We were in the car and on the way into Portland at our usual time. It’s not good for the pastor to be late on Sunday!

The Bible says, Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:14-16). Don’t spend your time lollygagging when there is much living for Jesus to be done.

The Gate

the-wall

Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter (Psalm 118:19-20).

When I was very young, cowboys were a boy’s heroes. I had cowboy sheets, a pillowcase, and pjs.

My sister and I shared the attic as a bedroom. Not that either of us cared, but our mom did her best to give us each our own space. She hung a piece of fabric down the center of the room from a line of string, effectively separating my “room” from Serina’s. My side of the “wall” was cowboys. It may have only been a hanging sheet for a wall, but it served its purpose.

Walls come in different shapes and sizes and materials, all of which do two things: they keep something out and they keep something else in. Walls are necessary to keep out cold weather, dangerous predators, but also work to keep the things we value contained in a secure place. Walls can also create isolation and separation.

When Jesus came, He broke down the wall of sin that separated a holy God from an unholy people. Through His death on the cross, He broke down the wall of separation and became gates of righteousness so that “ain’ts” are born again as “saints”.

He set free a Samaritan woman trapped behind the wall of her past. He liberated a thieving tax collector. He took a few dunder-headed fishermen and made them fishers of men. Even a thief on a cross was released to join Him in Paradise.

Jesus breaks those walls of sin still today for all those who come to Him through faith.

If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed  (John 8:36).