Thursday, March 29, 2012

Missing Person

My mind is haggard today because it's turned inside, reflecting upon itself. Trying to figure out what has happened, and resolving to turn it around.

I remember a young preacher whose faith was simple. He stood toe-to-toe and face-to-face against the time's leading liberal theologians. He refused to back down against teachings denying the physical resurrection of Jesus. He answered human theology with Bible truth, not just quoting scripture to hide behind it, but expounding on God's Word to expose the Truth. One of those theologians-- a direct student of Paul Tillich, no less-- asked the young man, "Why do you have to be such a renegade?" And the title stuck.

He had his own "Damascus Road" experience. His horse was a motorcycle. The road was a 4-lane highway. Thankfully, he wasn't blinded and thrown off his steed. But the call came from a voice in his ear, and was clear. He went on to defy barriers to his education and ordination. He rebuked demons, both human and spiritual, standing firm on his faith, and they backed down.

He stood on Christ alone. He preached one message, Jesus Christ. It was all about Christ, because he had the faith of a child--
Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18.16-17
--that is, he believed "just because."

That faith moved mountains that stood in the way. He rode with the Outlaws and the Bandidos, leading their marriages and burying their dead and giving them the Gospel. Hell's Angels opened a space in their riding column to let him join their ride.

He joined with others to lead street youth to hope and new life. A sainted lady took him by surprise when she told him that he is "a mighty man of God."

He was asked to preach in Africa. Thousands came to repentance and salvation. There his heart was broken for third-world widows, and he dedicated his life to helping them.

He did it all because Christ made him strong.

The cares of the world-- making a living, paying the bills, everyday life-- have eaten away at the heart. Worldly logic and reason fight against simple faith. The ministry for the widows has stalled with the economy, and the fact that people are turned on to help children, but turn cold about helping adult widows.

Basically, that young preacher has gone missing. I've resolved to find him and bring him back.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Homesick? No Place for That Here

When your mind is of the wild and untamed haggard type, most everything that passes through it gets questioned. Sometimes, beliefs that I have had for years suddenly seem to be very wrong.
Take for instance: Today I heard this week's Billboard #1 Contemporary Christian song, "Where I Belong" performed by the group Building 429. Don't get me wrong. It's a great song. Trouble is, its message isn't Biblical. It repeats a non-Biblical theme that has been popular in Christian music for decades: "This earth is not my home. Heaven is my home."

"All I know is, I'm not home yet.
This is not where I belong.
Take this world and give me Jesus.
This is not where I belong."

Some popular songs go so far as to declare that we should be homesick, wanting to be in heaven instead of here. That whole concept is anti-Gospel, non-Biblical. In my haggard mind I consider it to be a deception designed to keep us from being what we are called to be.

Other than in John 14.1-3, where Jesus talks about His Father's house, and says "I am going there to prepare a place for you," you won't find anything in the Bible that says this earth is not our home, and that somehow we don't belong here. In fact, even John 14 can be understood without any thought of "home" at all.

This generally accepted message is supposed to express the hope that we have as Christians. And while it's true that all Christians hope to be in heaven after this life is over, that is not the Hope that the Bible says we have.

Our Hope is best expressed by the apostle Paul, all through his writings. I can sum it up with three references. In a section on freedom in Christ, he says, "For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope." (Galatians 5.5) Paul tells the Colossians that he is presenting "the word of God in its fullness," something that once was a mystery, but is now disclosed to God's people: "...Christ in you, the hope of glory." (Colossians 1.27)

What our real Christian Hope is, is to be righteous. No, that's not quite right. That's the way the world thinks about it. No, our Hope is to become righteousness itself. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5.21) Not that we might be righteous. Not that we might have God's righteousness. No. That we might become the righteousness of God.

Mull that over in your mind for a while. It may take a while for it to sink in. This ain't the "milk" of the Gospel here. It's what the writer to the Hebrews was talking about: "You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness." (Hebrews 5.12-13)

Sure, we hope to be in heaven after this life. But our real Hope is to have Christ living in and through us, making us the very righteousness of God. Here. Today. Being salt and light in a decaying and dark world. Being His feet and hands in a world that needs Him more than ever.
No place here for being homesick.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Church People or Christians?

A small local church is searching for a new pastor. They are an aging congregation with few, if any, families with children. After their previous pastor of six years retired, they are looking for a younger minister with a wife and children, who "can attract young people." Their written requirements are that their pastor will work a minimum of 40 hours a week, leading three worship services a week (Sunday morning and evening, plus Wednesday evening); keep the office operating during "normal hours;" visit the sick and the elderly. Their unwritten expectations are that he will actually put in 60 or more hours a week; be in the church office from 8 to 4, including lunch hour; be reachable 24/7; visit every member in their homes at least twice a year, preferably in the evening; know about every event in every member's life, even when not notified; always deliver life-altering, inspiring messages; and always maintain an appearance that will make the members proud, which includes sharp clothing and a nearly new, well-maintained car.

When a member who is not on the search committee objected about these expectations, and suggested that the church members themselves should be active in the church's ministry, the response in so many words was, "That's what we pay the pastor for."

The compensation package they are offering is $2000 per month plus $600 per month housing allowance. That's $24,000 per year salary. No health insurance. No pension plan. In that area, a house to rent or buy starts about $800 per month for an old cracker box, plus utilities and insurance. Their previous pastor was able to live on $1600 a month and $500 housing, by supplementing with his and his wife's Social Security and previous retirement funds.

Just to step aside for a second, the Church in general wonders why young people are no longer attracted to the ministry. Let's see, it's not uncommon for a newly ordained minister to owe $100,000 or more in education loans. You may find it hard to believe, but this not not an unusual compensation package from a typical small church that a newly ordained minister would serve.

How do I put this? Uh... duh!

When that same member I mentioned above asked about their compensation package, and how a pastor could live on that, the general answer was, "Well, his wife can get a job." Which brings up another set of unwritten expectations. His wife will make up for the lack of compensation, and her job will provide their health insurance. In that area, unless she's a school teacher (and if the school will hire her), the job prospects include local office secretary and... well, that's about it. That means just a little over minimum wage plus (hopefully) health insurance. Oh! And let's not forget that she will participate in all women's activities and possibly teach a Sunday School class. (She'll be heavily criticized for working instead of coming to the women's group that meets after lunch on a weekday.)

By the way, I'm not writing to stir up anything about women's rights and equal opportunity. So please, no comments on that for this posting. But I might as well confirm that even though this church will consider women as candidates, it's highly unlikely any will actually be considered. Not that they have anything against a woman as pastor. They just aren't... well... comfortable with the idea.

In his "Sermon on the Mount," Jesus said, "Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7.20-23)

Put another way: Many will say, "Didn't we do this and that in your name?" And his answer will come back, "Well... no." Sure, they did this and that. But in Jesus' name, as truly representing him? Hardly.

This church just interviewd a promising young man who has a wife and child. He gave a really inspiring message. But after the interview, he withdrew himself from consideration. The church people couldn't figure out why he backed out. Amazingly, it wasn't the compensation package that ultimately turned him away. The reason he backed out? Too many church people. Not enough Christians.