Living in Canaan

As a Pastor, I often wonder, how do Christians impact culture and society with the Gospel and faith. More than knowing the Word and understanding the truth, but relating the Gospel of Jesus and the Kingdom of God to the rest of the world.

As the Children of Israel left Egypt, they were heading toward the Promised Land, ancient Palestine, aka, Canaan. The land was filled with pagan people who worshiped false gods like Baal, the moon-god, and Asherah, his female counterpart, Moloch, and others. Their worship involved deviant sexual conduct, sacrifices of children, and many other atrocious practices.

Christians as people of the Book (the Bible), carefully trying to discern the times, it seems appropriate to consider that the church is living in a modern form of ancient Canaan.

The society we are a part of carries out the practices of the ancient pagan religions. It is a very self-centered (narcissistic) rather than god directed society, but the values and practices are not a whole lot different. Sexual deviation is obvious. Just watch anything media based and it’s almost impossible to escape some form of sexual expression. Sex is not about pleasing a god, but satisfying the self. Abortion is the modern child sacrifice, and the altar is women’s rights. Lying, tolerance, becoming rich, being a celebrity, being important, and more are the norms.

The church in a sense is living in Canaan.

Remember that Israel was told going into Canaan to eradicate the pagans living there. Run them off, destroy them and rid the land of pagan worship. Don’t let it be a temptation to you. Our dilemma is not that we are in the promised land, that is in the future when God brings the saved into heaven with him after the return of Christ; we have the God-given responsibility to live among the pagans. Their values and influence are powerful and many Christians have compromised their faith, mixing Christianity with the unholy and ungodly practices of the rest of the world.

How do we live in the world and not be a part of it. We can’t separate from them and live on an island and not be an influence to them. We can’t change the laws and force them to believe or at least act like Christians. We can however, present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, living by faith, guided by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, showing Christ’s love, fellow-shipping with other believers, and letting God protect our souls while we risk our lives to lead them to Christ.

Too many believers have forsaken the task, holing up in their church buildings and homes, protecting themselves from the influence of the world and making a small almost immeasurable impact for Christ.

The Bible is clear, we are on a mission, a spiritual mission, a war for the souls of people. They are not the enemy, as one preacher (whose name I’ve now forgotten) I heard a long time ago say, “they are captives of the enemy.” The enemy is the devil, Satan himself and he has captured the hearts and souls of the majority of people in the world. For the Christian, it is as if we have moved into Canaan without pushing out the pagans.

The way, is to hold to the truth and be aware of how people accept truth and gain understanding. That is the hard part. The truth is easy. God the Creator loves all people and wants so see them saved (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9), and sent Jesus (John 3:16-17) to save the world through faith in him. And as Peter said, “there is salvation in no other name given among men (Acts 4:12), we have the answer.

Learning how to relate the answer means we need to learn how the modern, spiritual Canaan may relate to and accept the answer. That’s the hard answer.

As we are told, preach the truth in season (when it is popular and acceptable) and out of season (when people don’t want to hear it and even try to stop the preaching of the Gospel).

Do I have the actual answer to every circumstance? No! But God’s Spirit and the teaching and leadership of others who know the truth and have listened to the Spirit can lead into being able to living in Canaan and be obedient to the mission God has called us to in Christ.

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Irrelevant Church

It is has always been a concern that the church may be irrelevant to contemporary culture and society. The questions: can the church realistically speak to the society in which it has been placed; can society understand the tenets of faith and the value of belief (in the Savior, Jesus Christ); will the church make a difference that saves the lives of sinners and benefit the world around it?

The church began in the mind of God, and was a part of the kingdom purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth, and was established on the Day of Pentecost with the power of the Holy Spirit of God (see Acts 2).

Bill Gaither composed a song in the 1970’s called The Church Triumphant. “Let the church be the church; let the people rejoice; for we settled the question, we made our choice. Let the anthem ring out; songs of victory swell; for the church triumphant is alive and well.” Bill Gaither, like myself and many others love the church. We should because the church is the bride of Christ, reflecting his glory in the present world until he returns and we experience the Church Eternal.

The church is triumphant because of one fact: it is the church of Christ. He is the victor; our triumph is based on no other truth and reality than the death and resurrection of Christ to save the church. We are victorious over sin and death. We are freed from sin and live holy and righteous lives in gratefulness for our Savior. We are eternally hailing Jesus for the quality of life that is set in a permanent relationship of love and honor with Almighty God.

Our salvation makes us victorious over our culture, but are we, the church, irrelevant to our culture? Does our faith, our hope, and our Savior make sense to the society in which we live?

The group of churches which I have been associated with throughout my life seems to almost constantly continue to be mired in the past. Though the message does not change, God is Creator and loves us; Jesus is the Savior; salvation is offered to all people regardless of race, gender, status, or anything else, the message we share with the world gets lost in 1950’s rhetoric and 1970’s methodology. In other words, we tend to favor being old fashioned and if it was good enough for my grandpa, it is good enough for everyone. That may be true, but not always.

Then, there are the churches and church groups and denominations whose purpose is less about the message of the Gospel and almost completely about serving and helping others. They go out of their way to provide food and clothing for the needy, and help those who are behind on rent and utilities. They have a comprehensive social aspect to their focus. It is often called the “social gospel.” In a lot of cases, they ignore the Gospel of Christ to serve as Christ served by helping those in need, thereby making the gospel less about salvation and more about Christian service to the world.

Then there are churches who are very concerned with missions. One church I served focused almost 20% of their budget on missions, both foreign and domestic. That is substantial. I have heard of churches that intentionally increase their missions giving 1% at a time (maybe annually, or every five year). And I heard of one church whose missions giving was 70% (I suppose that includes both foreign and domestic missions). Most churches support missions either directly or through a mission organization like Christian Missionary Fellowship International (www.cmfi.org), Team Expansion (http://web.teamexpansion.org/) , Outreach International (http://oionline.org/)or any of a number of other mission organizations. Fortunately, with few exceptions, the churches that support missions at a level of 10% or more of the giving their church receives tend to be very evangelistic.

But the relevance of the church to our society; is it relevant?

How do we become relevant if in fact, we are not?

Let’s consider the three S’s; Send, Serve, Support.

The three types of churches described above tend to focus on one the three S’s, sometimes to the exclusion of the others.  Some churches are better at one than the others and some churches have more opportunity with one of the S’s than the others.

But the New Testament Scriptures show us through teaching and example, that all three; send, serve, and support, are essential to the church not just reaching their society with Jesus Christ, but it keeps them relevant to the culture in which they are set.

First, we the church are sent. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel and make disciples of all people, immersing them in the name of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus the Christ), and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to follow everything I have commanded you (“you” being the apostles, “them” being the church)” (Matthew 28:19-20; my paraphrase). Jesus has sent his disciples, the church to preach the Good News of salvation in Christ to those we encounter. The church is to go into the whole world with the Gospel.

Second, we are to serve. The model of serving comes from Jesus. He met a lot of people’s needs, many times through healing. He got down on his hands and knees and washed his disciple’s feet like a servant. Paul informs us in Philippians 2 that Jesus came in human form and took on the capacity of a servant. And the early church followed Jesus’ example as they cared for the widows (Acts 6) and sources outside the Bible tell us they saved discarded babies and raised them as their own (no one did that in those days). James tells us that true religion involves not letting the evil of this world spoil our righteousness and to care for widows and orphans. The aspect of caring would be broader if James wrote his letter in the 21st Century.

Third, missions support. When a missionary takes the Gospel to another country: that is their one focus. They usually are unable to have an occupation wherever they are at, either practically or legally. They need support to enable them to preach the Good News in places that don’t have the Bible or haven’t ever heard of Christ. Supporting missions financially is significant and important. Paul received support from several churches (and individuals). There were times he couldn’t work to support himself (time constraints, imprisonment, lacking opportunity) and the church, especially Antioch, provided financial support to enable Paul and his companions to preach the Gospel.

When the church (and we mean both the world-wide church at large and the local church) as they study the Word and put their faith into practice by going with the Gospel to their area (Sent), and helping in big and small ways in their communities (Serve), and provide financial assistance to world-wide missions (Support) God provides a focus that allows them to know their culture and bring the message of Christ to the world in a relevant way.

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Christians and the Political Process

I personally lost track this year with the presidential election. I admit I must choose who to vote for according to my values which are informed with the Bible. I must live according to my conscience in voting for any elected official. I must admit that I fear the direction our country is taking is like the fall of the Roman Empire with the administration, but my participation in the political process has been askew. Though I do believe I voted correctly, the way God would have me choose, I did not live peacefully and quietly in this area of life.

My conscience is guilty. I lost track of what scripture informs me about my role in this world.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Instead of peaceful and quiet living, I have stirred up stress with disagreements about who and what to vote for. I apologize to all who I have encountered this way. I pray for your forgiveness and look forward to living peacefully in the future, choosing to vote according to my conscience as it is informed with God’s word and the Holy Spirit.

Let me encourage you to make that your path too. While praying for our elected officials, trusting wholeheartedly in God’s wisdom and understanding though we may not have access to it now.

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PS: It is and will be hard to keep my big mouth shut and my thoughts to myself in this area. I pray to God for his strength, help and guidance.

The Cultural Christian (Casual Christian Part 3)

Jennifer Hua identifies herself as a Christian. A 35-year-old former attorney studying Christian counseling at the Wheaton College Graduate School, she has gone to church all her life and is a lay leader in her suburban Chicago congregation. She furthers her spiritual development by daily Bible reading, prayer, listening to and singing worship songs, and interacting with other Christians. And every few months, she carves out time for a silent retreat.  She says, “I do all of these things because I know from past experience I need to recalibrate my mind and my heart to be in tune with God.”

James Smith also identifies himself as a Christian. He attended church as a child, but his attendance was minimal as a young adult. He believes in God, he occasionally attends church (Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan) when his time-consuming job in the finance district allows, but he doesn’t participate very often in other activities to further his spiritual life. He has a Bible but he rarely opens it and what leisure time he has he spends with friends, most of whom are of different faiths, and he doesn’t necessarily believe that his God is any different from the one his Muslim friend worships.  He says, “I don’t think that God would be a God who would shut others out of heaven because they don’t use the word ‘Christian’ to describe themselves.”

The United States is described in the mainstream media as largely Christian (between 70 and 80 percent, identify themselves as “Christian”) and compared to the rest of the world, this is certainly the case, but, not everyone within this vast group of Christians are alike.

To understand the range and differences among American Christians, Christianity Today International partnered with Zondervan Publishers to have Knowledge Networks conduct attitudinal and behavioral research of U.S. Christians. In September 2006, more than 1,000 self-identified Christians 18 years of age and older were surveyed on their religious beliefs and practices. The results reveal a number of significant differences, illustrated by the examples of Jennifer and James. In fact, portraits of five distinct segments emerged from the study. They are called . . .

  • Active Christians,
  • Professing Christians,
  • Liturgical Christians,
  • Private Christians, and
  • Cultural Christians.

Each group represents about one-fifth of those identifying themselves as Christian, with Active Christians (such as Miss Hua) most likely to have a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that affects their beliefs and inspires an active church life.  Cultural Christians (such as Mr. Smith) are least likely to align their beliefs or practices with biblical teachings, or even attend church. And between the two is a range of beliefs, different commitment levels, and varying public practice of the faith.

Simply put, there are those who let the culture determine what Christian values are.  Those people are in the world and they are of the world.  Are they participating in sin?  Maybe; maybe not!  But, their values are guided by what is popular, or what is politically correct, or what is considered valid at the time, or by what makes them feel good.

Romans 12:2

1)    The “Cultural Christian” is one who is conformed to the world.

There are four key words in this verse.  Look at them.

  1. Conformed
  2. The World or the Age
  3. Transformed
  4. Renewing

Conform means “to make like.”  When I pour Jell-o into a Jell-o mold and it forms to the shape of the mold, it is conforming.  When I wear a hat, I get a hat hair.  My hair conforms to the shape of the hat.  In this world and the age I live in, I make myself just like it and I have conformed myself to it.

  • My values will be guided by the thinking of the age I live in (which is constantly changing)
  • My purpose and goals will be formed according to the way of thinking I follow
  • My thoughts and actions will be determined by conforming to the modern age

I may get my way of thinking from CNN or MSN, or the NY Times, or from Oprah or Montel, and the movies, or friends, or books, or the Internet, or any number of sources that are worldly and conformed to the world themselves.

The World/the age in which you live, the popular or current values of the rest of the world press every person to conform to the values that the world holds.

  • The past 40-50 years the world’s values have been about tolerance, self-reliance, humanism, evolutionary thinking, and political correctness.
  • The world is trying to force its values on us through media, through legislations, and through education and at every level, especially higher education.

I used to be on the board of a Campus Christian Fellowship at Truman State University.  The campus minister, Joe Belzer informed us one time that the prevailing philosophies and teachings in the universities, within ten years become the mainstream beliefs and practices in America

I have noticed a broader application to the principle Joe shared with us 15 years ago.  It really begins in the universities on the east and west coasts where America is more liberal politically and religiously.  That becomes mainstream in public life in about ten years time.  The universities in middle America grasp the teachings and philosophies in the following years and that becomes mainstream in the middle America about ten years later, so we see what is happening in universities on the coasts and 15-25 years later, it is a part of the life patterns of America.

Conforming to the ways of the world is how that looks.

But the apostle Paul indicates we are to not to conform to the world, don’t conform to this age.

This is where being transformed comes in. Transformation is changing from one thing to another.  The actor on the stage transforms as they change costumes for each part they play.  Mixing cake ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, chocolate and whatever other ingredients are required together and then when it is baked it transforms and becomes a cake.  The caterpillar balls up into a cocoon and eventually becomes a butterfly.

We are to change away from the ways of the world; the values that guide people away from God, the worldly philosophies and worldly religions and worldly values.  We are to be renewed in our mind, transformed, changed from what we were which was worldly, sinful, and far away from God.

Jesus reminds us that we do not belong to the world.  We belong to God and the things of the world, the ways of the world are not our ways; they are not to be a part of our lives.

@John 15:19

And John warns us not to love the world or the things of the world.  If we do God’s love doesn’t live in us.

@1 John 2:15

The Bible warns us, Christian leaders warn us.  They even teach this to us.

Biblical Christianity versus Cultural Christianity

Biblical Christianity means being joined to Jesus Christ through faith in what he did for us at the cross then allowing him to live through us so that others might know him and see his love.

 Cultural Christianity follows the changes from culture to culture.  They imagine their god fits their new cultural wants and values.

Some of the differences between Biblical faith and today’s cultural deviations. Follow the link to this chart prepared by Dennis Monroe for a comparison of Biblical and Cultural Christianity: http://www.crossroad.to/charts/cultural-Christianity.html

Cultural Christianity is why the church has had little impact on our society.

2)    We should think in terms of Biblical Christians and Cultural Christians should be Transformed

Biblical Christians are those who seek to live by believing, obeying, understanding and applying Biblical teachings and principles, with God’s Spirit in our lives.

Cultural Christians are defeated, they’ve given up and they’ve been drawn into the secular mold and live a form of counterfeit Christianity.  Their Christianity is a matter of convenience rather than of conscience or obedience.

Which world-view is yours?  Is it guided by the Bible?  Many cultural Christians think they are guided by the Bible but if they accurately study and apply scripture, they’ll find they have a form of Christianity without the reality of Christianity.

Therefore transformation begins with a total and accurate Biblical viewpoint and obedience to the God’s word and this is much more than simply asking “What Would Jesus Do?”

  • Do you have a point of view about something?  Examine the scripture to see where it stands in relation to God’s point of view.
  • If you are honest about it, humble toward God, and obedient to Christ, when your view differs with God’s, even if it is close but not quite right, then you will accept God’s view and change your heart, your mind, and your actions to match it.

A second means by which transformation takes place is that we become spiritual people, true spiritual people and that means that we have the mind of Christ.  @1 Corinthians 2:15-16

  • We all have the Word of God
  • Christians have the Spirit of God
  • But do we have the mind of Christ?

There was a book published about 20 years ago in tribute to Seth Wilson, long-time professor at Ozark Christian College (Joplin, MO) who died last year.  It was called “The Mind of Christ.”  His focus was having the mind of Christ.  That is why he spent hours every day pouring over the Bible, studying, learning and investing years teaching the Bible to willing minds who were seeking to serve God as ministers and missionaries and servants in the church.

The mind of Christ comes from the Spirit of God who makes it possible for us to understand spiritual things.  The worldly mind cannot understand spiritual things.  The world can’t even accept the things of Christ.

The mind of Christ as Paul applies it here in Corinthians has to do with correcting the sin and division in the church.  Because they were mixing the ways of the world with their faith in Christ!  It sounds like a lot of the modern church.  Living by means of the world, but belieiving and claiming to be Christian.

I want to use the term “the mind of Christ” to make us think about who Christ was on earth and what his focus was on.

  • Pleasing God, obeying God, honoring God
  • Drawing people to God for salvation
  • He did this in a number of ways: Preaching, teaching, caring, helping, obeying God’s commands, staying true to God’s word.

The Cultural Christian varies from the mind of Christ.  They have accepted Christ.  They are professing to be Christian.  But their values differ from the churches values, from what the Bible says.  It could be:

  • Church attendance is an optional thing
  • Or that we should tolerate other religions as if they were true or equal to Christianity
  • Or the homosexuality is ok with God
  • Sex is ok in any situation
  • Or any number of Biblical things that have been interpreted through the lens of worldliness or even rejected because it is different than the world.

We need to continue to be transformed by letting God’s Spirit renew our minds through our faith in God and our reliance upon the Bible, developing the mind of Christ and become Biblical Christians.

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