Growing Kingdom People – Be Biblical, Not Legalistic

Be Biblical, Not Legalistic

The church I serve is a part of a movement that seeks to be faithful to the truth of God’s Word, while pursuing unity with as many followers of Christ as possible. This vision can be hard to achieve, but we believe it honors the Lord.  After all, Jesus said the world will know we are His disciples by our love (John 13:35). We want to “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.” Only then, can we avoid letting our human opinions get in the way of what God wants to do through His church.

I believe the Bible is the inspired, infallible Word of God, and I accept it as my foundation for faith and practice. However, I recognize this challenge of upholding both truth and unity has become more complex in a post-truth culture.  Unfortunately, amid these shifts in our culture, some have abandoned scripture.  To achieve unity, they have sacrificed the truth.

On the other hand, some, in pursuit of truth, have gone beyond scripture and abandoned unity. How do we know when we have begun to speak where the Bible doesn’t speak, and developed a legalistic spirit that undermines the love Christ wants us to share with our world?

Consider these possible signs of “legalism”:

Legalists make non-biblical opinions matters of doctrine. A non-biblical opinion involves something God’s Word doesn’t specifically address. This doesn’t mean God has to spell something out for it to be a matter of doctrine. There was no Internet when the Bible was written but attempts to hurt others on social media with gossip or suggestive and demeaning comments are prohibited by biblical instructions regarding a false witness and a hateful heart.

Yet, there are many opinions that are not so clear.  For example, many churches once believed going to a movie was a sin. Certainly, modern Christians don’t hold to this standard, though many use ratings to determine which movies they should view.  None of our modern political parties are mentioned in the Bible.  Do some parties support beliefs that can be found in scripture.  Sure.  But the Christian faith isn’t aligned to a political party.  Instead, it is connected to Christ, its head.

Legalists frequently make non-biblical opinions matters of doctrine, and sometimes use scripture in the process.  However, if they are speaking where the Bible doesn’t speak, they might be guilty of using God’s Word as a vehicle for their own ego or personal ambition.

Legalists ignore their own inconsistencies. Those who make non-biblical opinion a matter of doctrine, often demonstrate glaring inconsistencies in their own words and actions. Human reasoning can be flawed, especially when it is driven by bitterness, arrogance or selfish desire.  Some of the most unkind and unethical behaviors I have experienced in my Christian walk have come at the hands of those who publicly prided themselves in being grounded in the scripture. This isn’t God’s fault or an indication of some problem with His holy Word. Rather, it is a result of our fallen human nature.  I can only imagine how someone who doesn’t know Christ feels when they encounter a Christian legalist who doesn’t practice what he preaches.

Legalists judge others with hearsay and association. Legalists are not necessarily conspiracy theorists, but they resemble them in many ways. They sometimes make assumptions with petty facts and half-truths.  I find this behavior particularly common among para-church ministries who attempt to generate funds by demonizing others in the name of truth. Often, the falsehood in a legalists’ rant far overshadows his subject’s weaknesses. Still, in a day when some will believe almost anything they read online, people are easily misled. It is important to realize, just because a Bible verse is used in a document, and appears in bold font, doesn’t’ mean it has been properly applied.  If I jump to conclusions and judge my brother or sister without carefully examining the facts for myself, I am a legalist.

“Where the Bible speaks, we speak. Where the Bible is silent, we are silent.” This old slogan doesn’t mean we can’t express an opinion. I personally love engaging in debates on Bible topics with friends. But there is a difference between healthy debate and questioning one’s faith because we disagree on a matter of opinion.

If we do, we need to be sure we are right.

God doesn’t like it when people claim to love His Word then use it as a vehicle for their own ambition.

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Growing Kingdom People – So, “Human Trafficking” is a Problem After All

So, “Human Trafficking” is a Problem After All

For years human rights activists and Christian ministries have been beating the drum against human trafficking. But now, suddenly, major news outlets are captivated by this world-wide scourge.

I don’t mean to suggest people haven’t noticed. There have been congressional testimonies, news articles, and celebrity advocates. The community where I live conducts occasional prostitution stings and publishes the names and mug shots of customers who are arrested.

Still, it is hard to miss the fact that human trafficking has become much more of a topic of conversation after Robert Kraft was implicated in a Florida sex trafficking sting. When a powerful and successful public figure is caught doing something shameful, people notice.

Why?

Is it because we are shocked that someone who has everything going for him would risk everything for sex? It shouldn’t.

Or are we puffed up with self-righteousness when we see someone famous caught in a sin? “Even I know better than to do something like that!  Tell me more!”

I suppose there are many explanations for our sense of urgency when it comes to criminal activity, or the lack thereof.

But I have my own theory…

I don’t think we care about human brokenness until someone we care about is involved. Realize, I said “care about”, not necessarily love. I would not expect a Giants or Colts fan to love Robert Kraft. But they do care about what happens to him.

Perhaps there is some crime or sin you ignored until someone you loved or disliked became involved. Your connection to someone whose life was impacted by his or her actions made you much more aware of your world.

If Robert Kraft’s alleged sin can raise our awareness of the darkness that exists in our culture, I am thankful. But after the publicity subsides and Mr. Kraft enters a season to restore his reputation (perhaps with a multi-million-dollar donation to fight human trafficking), 12-13-year old girls (and sometimes boys) will still be entering the world of sex trafficking.

Here’s what you can do:

Rid yourself of anything in your life that directly or remotely supports the human trafficking industry. This includes pornography, so-called “adult entertainment” and questionable businesses that could be involved in illegal activity.

Get involved in some aspect of local Christian organizations or efforts by your home church that fight human trafficking. Even if you aren’t ready to counsel a trafficking victim or aren’t comfortable ministering in the adult entertainment world, you can contribute money or other material items to those who do.

Pray. Pray for those caught up in sex trafficking. God hears our prayers and breaks down strongholds. Pray for the victims of sex trafficking and those who reach out to them.

Learn the signs of a sex trafficking victim and act. Most organizations that fight human trafficking post “recognize the signs” lists on their websites.

Fill your heart and mind with God’s truth and love. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are too strong to be trapped by some element in the human or sex trafficking business. Sex is a strong urge, and Satan exploits it for his purposes at every opportunity. Did you know human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world, behind drugs? We are inundated with sexual images in our culture and temptation awaits us. Keep your life in check.

As I conclude, I want to encourage you to pray for Robert Kraft as well. I know it is hard to show compassion to a wealthy man who has used young girls who have nothing but their bodies to sell. But Mr. Kraft was also made in the image of God.  Perhaps, in God’s timing, this embarrassing event in his life can ultimately be used to thwart the schemes of Satan.

In the meantime, commit Proverbs 4:23 to memory: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

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Growing Kingdom People – Should Preachers Have Big Homes?

Should Preachers Have Big Homes?

Several weeks ago, I saw Facebook posts criticizing mega-church Pastor John Gray for living in a 1.8 million-dollar house purchased by his church and for purchasing a $200.000 Lamborghini for his wife.  There are other issues involving Gray’s life and ministry, but I wish to focus on the lifestyle question here.

A few things to get out-of-the-way before I continue…

John Gray does not appear to own the house. It is a church parsonage. That means, unless the church decides to give him the house, when he leaves it stays behind. Yes, it is a nice house and affords the Grays a good lifestyle, but it does not directly benefit them financially.

John Gray has earned money on books and other personal ministries and used these funds to purchase his wife’s car, which I understand he is still paying for.

Additionally, in the interest of full disclosure, I am not attempting to defend John Gray’s lifestyle or my own. My wife and I live in a very average home by community standards, and throughout our ministry we have driven “clunkers”, though now we drive a four-year old and ten-year old vehicle. Quite an upgrade for the Joneses!  Our church family has been generous, and these lifestyle choices are our own.

Now, I continue…

Is it wrong for a preacher to have a big home? Or a big car? By “wrong”, we should mean, “Is it unbiblical?” We should not define “wrong” by traditional standards, or some preconceived notion we have of the ministry – that if you work for God full-time you should live in poverty. In reality, all followers of Jesus work for God full-time. Should every Christian who has “taken up his or her cross to follow Christ” live in poverty? If we can’t answer “yes” to this question, then we shouldn’t be quick to condemn people in full-time ministry when we think they have crossed a socio-economic line.

I do believe it is biblically “incongruent” for preachers to have extravagant lifestyles. Preachers in the Bible, whether they be Old Testament prophets, or New Testament Evangelists, lived modestly or in poverty. Some slept under the stars to avoid capture. Yes, there were followers of God who lived quite well, such as King David and King Solomon. And there were some prophets who had a few perks, such as Daniel. But the majority of those who gave their entire lives to God’s service struggled financially, relying on the generosity of others to support their ministry. Does this mean this is the way it must be for all full-time ministers today? I don’t think so. But this helps explains why wealthy ministers are thought to be doing something wrong. They don’t fit the biblical mold.

You should also know, if you don’t already, there are some distinct theologies that play into how preachers live. The “Prosperity Gospel” (of which John Gray is a part), promotes the thought that God wants to bless us materially. In this theological environment, material wealth, by default, becomes a litmus test of faith. “If we have enough faith and are faithful, God will make us materially rich.”

There are cultural issues which make it more acceptable for churches to honor their preacher with expensive benefits. In some communities, the preacher is the one through whom the church lives vicariously. In other words, his standard of living is a matter of pride for his people. They want him to live well, or at least to appear to live well.

With these random thoughts in mind, I will attempt to share some material lifestyle principles worth considering whether we are preachers or not:

Biblically, God blesses us to be a blessing (Genesis 12:2). God doesn’t bless us so we can spend everything on ourselves. If we receive a financial windfall and our first thought is how we can buy more stuff for ourselves, we might want to search our hearts. At the very least, we should consider the biblical “tithe” as we dedicate the first 10% of our blessing to the work of God.

We should not fool ourselves with flakey rationales. “Prosperity Gospel” preachers are suspected of manipulating poor people into giving to their ministry so they can, in turn, support a lavish lifestyle. This is often excused by an old, but sly financial trick which involves begging for money to support some great need in a ministry while justifying expensive purchases because they are paid for with private funds. Jesus once addressed a similar scam with religious teachers who were putting their money in a temporary “God-fund” so they didn’t have to use it to care for their aging parents. (Mark 7:11-12) The premise of asking people for money to support ministry is that we don’t have the funds available to do the work ourselves. Therefore, the argument that money for expensive purchases doesn’t come from the money one receives for ministry is bogus.

We should never lose sight of the bigger Body of Christ. Ironically, some religious teachers use the “non-denominational” banner to draw funds from a broader scope of believers, but they live in a bubble when it comes to their sensitivity to the sacrifice others are making in ministry. While they live well, they are miserly and unjust in their treatment of those who work for them (often expecting others to donate their time for the Lord), and they ignore the voices of God’s servants in impoverished communities who are struggling to survive in their ministries. Anyone who uses money from a church for a ministry, should always remember there are others who could use it. This doesn’t mean it is wrong to ask and receive. But we can’t talk about “kingdom work” when the only kingdom we are ultimately concerned about is our own.

So, is it wrong for a preacher to have a big house? I may not have answered the question sufficiently, therefore, I will be specific as I close. No. As long he isn’t playing games with his rationale, uses his blessings to be a blessing, is forever mindful of servants of God who are less fortunate, and never forgets the goodness of brothers and sisters in Christ who give sacrificially to support his work.

These thoughts alone should help anyone find the right balance when it comes to possessions.

Whether one is a preacher or not.

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Growing Kingdom People – What God Says about Walls

What God Says about Walls

There has been much talk in our country recently about a “wall.” I will not rehash the relevant conversations, but I do apologize for using the word “wall” to attract you to this page. It is amazing how a single word can possess such power.

I wish to highlight some walls referenced in the Bible and explain why they are important:

The Walls of Jericho – Jericho was the first city Israel conquered when it entered the Promised Land. Joshua led several marches around the parameter of the city, culminating in one final lap, the blast of trumpets, a mighty shout and the collapse of the walls. This event was symbolic of the power of God displayed through the obedience of His people. But there is more. Before the city fell, some spies from Israel met a prostitute by the name of Rahab who lived within a massive wall interior. Because Rahab protected the spies, she was spared in the chaos of the city’s destruction, then joined with Israel and became a member of the earthly lineage of Jesus. God rewards those who seek Him.

Nehemiah and the Wall – The biblical book of Nehemiah tells the story of Nehemiah’s leadership as he led the Israelites in the rebuilding of walls of Jerusalem. Having returned from captivity, they faced the daunting task of reconstructing a defense around their city under less than ideal circumstances. As construction got under way, outside antagonists threatened the project. Nehemiah struggled with discouragement, fear and apathetic attitudes among his people.  But God was with him and the wall was finished. Even today, Nehemiah is elevated as a supreme example of faithful leadership through adversity.

The Writing on the Wall – In the days of the exiled prophet Daniel, King Belshazzar of the Babylonians defied God by using some goblets that had been taken from the temple in Jerusalem to serve wine at a party. As the people in the king’s court drank, they praised the pagan gods of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood and stone. Needless to say, God was not pleased. Suddenly, a hand appeared in front of a plaster wall in the party room and began writing. Belshazzar’s face turned pale. When his wise men and enchanters were unable to interpret the writing, Daniel was summoned. He delivered the bad news that King Belshazzar’s kingdom was going to fall. Even today, people speak of “the writing on the wall” as something that signals an impending doom. God is merciful, but His patience has limits.

The Wall of Damascus – The Apostle Paul became a follower of Christ in the city of Damascus after a supernatural encounter with Him on the road into town. After Paul’s baptism, he began proclaiming Christ to others, which angered some and put his life in jeopardy. His enemies kept watch at the city gate so they could kill him when he passed through.  However, some of the disciples in Damascus, the same disciples Paul had once hunted down, lowered him through the city wall in a basket. Paul escaped because Christ’s followers were courageous.

The Walls of the Eternal City – In the book of Revelation, John writes about a spectacular wall made of jasper, with foundations decorated in every kind of precious stone. The wall had twelve gates made from single pearls which led to streets of gold. Scholars have debated about whether the images from the book of Revelation are literal representations of the age to come, or symbolic reflections of its grandeur. Regardless, eternity will be secure and glorious, as we worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

There are other less known walls in the Bible. In the time of kings and kingdoms, one might expect to find them in abundance.  God has always been able to use any wall for His purposes.

In the interest of complete transparency, I must confess my favorite wall as a disruptive Junior Boy in Sunday School was the one in the King James Version of the Bible that referred to men as “him that pisseth against the wall” (2 Kings 9:8).  It was always good for a few laughs in class.  Since that time, I have put away my childish ways and moved on to a more mature approach to scripture.

But it only goes to prove. A wall can be used for many purposes.

And perhaps if the 2 Kings 9:8 passage does nothing else, it reminds us not to take the walls we build too seriously.

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Growing Kingdom People – The Spiritual State of the Union

The Spiritual State of the Union

I am an optimist at heart, and am not one to constantly discourage others with news that points to the disintegration of our society. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of doom and gloom to draw from. It’s just that, in my observation, well-intentioned people often make matters worse by focusing more on problems than solutions. I also tire of spiritual leaders who criticize local churches for not changing the world, even as they exploit resources in the same churches to further their personal agendas.

The Lord’s church is working hard, and while some are unfaithful to the mission, the majority are slugging it out against Satan every day.  Therefore, my thoughts here are not intended to call others out for failing to do their job, though certainly there are those who have been negligent in this respect.  Instead, I wish to speak to the spiritual condition of our culture, as I believe this is ultimately more important to our success as a people than any government policy.

I have examined the Spiritual State of the Union and have determined:

The Spiritual State of the Union is hopeful. While Satan is alive and well, the Bible tells us the “gates of Hades” will not prevail over the transforming message of salvation through Christ (Matthew 16:18).

The Spiritual State of the Union is dark. Our culture is a mixture of great spiritual light and an ever-increasing darkness. The darkness is not so great that the light of Christ cannot overcome it. Yet, great harm is occurring in people’s lives due to the destructive nature of sin. “For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12)

The Spiritual State of the Union is confused. Some claim all spiritual paths lead to God, and no one faith has the corner on truth.  However, the various paths people follow contradict this notion in their own teachings.  Others say there is no such thing as truth.  Yet, if there is no truth, how can anyone say with certainty truth does not exist? We are indeed confused.

The Spiritual State of the Union is bankrupt. We no longer have the collective moral authority to stop evil in its tracks. According to a new law in New York, a baby in the womb is not a person. If someone proposed a law that defined persons as those who survive the first month of infancy, and are deemed “wanted” by their parents, on what basis could the law be struck down? One day we may be tossing live babies in city dumps, and the behavior of the ancient Romans may no longer appear barbaric.

The Spiritual State of the Union is thirsty. This is good news! God made us in His image, and no matter how dark or bankrupt we become, there is always something inside that cries out for its Creator. In some ways, the more spiritually parched our culture becomes, the more open it becomes to the truth.

The Spiritual State of the Union is strong. There you have it. That’s how most Presidents begin their speeches. “The Union is strong and here’s why!” But indeed, it is. The Spiritual State of the Union, that is. We must remember, the church began with a small band of disciples on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. In the future they would face idolatry, paganism, persecution, imprisonment and death. Yet, the church thrived. The world was transformed then, and although there have been plenty of ups and downs in human history, spiritually speaking, the gospel of Jesus has continued to revive dead societies.

Before Jesus left His disciples with the command to make disciples He said, “And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I take Jesus at His word, and I am not destroyed by the spiritual state of our culture.

Discouraged? Yes, at times.

Distraught? That too.

But not destroyed. The state we are in only makes the message of the cross more revolutionary.

After the President’s speech and the rebuttal, this much remains…

The unchangeable, irrepressible power of the cross.

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Growing Kingdom People – We are Becoming Barbarians! Let’s Celebrate!

We are Becoming Barbarians! Let’s Celebrate!

The word “progress” is a strange one. I always thought it meant things were getting better. Progress is what happens when someone makes a discovery that benefits humanity. Progress means we are moving toward being better people, with a vision of a better world.

I understand, some people view progress as the freedom to make choices they believe will lead to their personal happiness. I concede we are unique in our being, and what makes one of us happy doesn’t necessarily please everyone. One person is content living on a farm, taking a weekly bath and tilling the soil (I don’t mean to suggest all farmers only take one bath a week – stick with me). Another prefers city lights, crowded events and high fashion.

But it is this last point that makes what happened in New York with the passing of the Reproductive Health Act so troubling. One sign of progress, in any culture, is the ability to ensure a child’s health and safety as he prepares to enter the world. Developing countries look for ways to reduce risks to unborn children and educate mothers in practices that will increase the possibility of a healthy birth. Regardless of the culture one lives in, or the goals one wishes to pursue in the name of happiness, the assumption is that everyone should have an opportunity at life.

For this reason, I consider the Reproductive Health Act to be fundamentally barbaric. It is practically barbaric as a child in the third trimester of life can be killed for most any reason one can justify (due to the loose language in the RHA). It is philosophically barbaric as children are denied the opportunity of life we were afforded, and are also stripped of their status as “persons.” Were all of us wanted at the time of conception? Were all of us born without health complications?

No.

To my progressive friends: this is not progress. It is another step in the disintegration of all that is good and decent in a society that has been endowed with so many blessings.

Am I exaggerating?

Then, why did they light up the tower of the One World Trade Center to celebrate the passage of the law, but allow the 11 memorials to the unborn children who died in the 9/11 attack to remain? If a law was created with the intent of protecting the life of a mother while honoring the life of the child, would we throw a party to proclaim victory? Would we not still sorrow over any situation that might lead to the heartbreaking choice between a mother or her child?

For me, the celebratory tone in New York says it all.

We are becoming barbarians. Not only are we losing our sense of what is important, but we are celebrating our own evil intentions.

From what I know of history, I must tell you I am not surprised. The pattern of self-destruction is well documented.

Instead, I am very burdened and sad.

I had hoped for progress.

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Growing Kingdom People – The State of The Union…Whatever

The State of the Union…Whatever

Since there is some question regarding whether or not the President will deliver the State of the Union Address in the House Chambers next Tuesday, I was curious about how rare such an occurrence might be. Turns out, it would not be that uncommon.

Although George Washington and John Adams delivered annual speeches to Congress, Thomas Jefferson decided to deliver his message in writing. Not only is it not necessary for the President to address Congress in person, but it is also not required that his message be delivered every year. Article 2, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the President “shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union.”

Incidentally, Thomas Jefferson started a tradition of writing about the State of the Union that wasn’t broken until 1913 when Woodrow Wilson delivered his message to Congress in a speech. Unfortunately, Wilson also missed delivering a speech two years of his presidency due to illness. Like Jefferson, Herbert Hoover gave his assessments of the Union in written form and both Carter and Nixon skipped one “in-person” speech.

I believe State of the Union speeches are a good thing. It is important to see our President in command of His circumstances, even if the confidence he demonstrates is diminishes some by reality. It is also important for the world to see our country honor an office and a system of government, whether or not everyone likes those in power.

But in light of my short research project, I am struck by the tension our culture is experiencing over whether or not a speech will take place, when the State of the Union has actually been delivered in written form for 112 years of American history. In retrospect, it isn’t a life or death matter, or an issue of precedence.

Please don’t misunderstand. As I have said, I believe State of the Union addresses are a good thing. It’s just that they don’t define us as a people. They don’t even give us a clear picture of where we are. If we thought they did, we wouldn’t have rebuttal speeches by opposing parties.

It seems we live in a world where many things are interpreted by moments in time. Average people are demonized by short snippets of video. Companies are counted out after a bad day on Wall Street. Sports figures are persecuted for one bad play.

No wonder people find it hard to deal with failure. We feel as though our life is over if we lose a game, flunk a test or lose money in a business venture. Certainly, no one sets out to experience these things, but they are in no way final defeats.

Trust me in this!

I have lost a game or two.

Or three.

I have flunked a test or…

Never mind.

And not every financial decision I have made has been a winner.

I am convinced we simply put too much stock in things that are not ultimately important. It is fine to strive for ideals, but it is also ok to live with disappointment. In fact, some of the most important lessons we learn in life are learned in the midst of disappointment. Jesus once said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Will the State of the Union Address happen? Probably, in some form. If it doesn’t happen before Congress, I am certain it will be an interesting evening. It might even be a discouraging evening.

But, I for one, am not going to hang my life on what happens, one way or another.

Whatever.

I will still be at peace.

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