Like many of you, I only knew a scant amount of black history – slaves were brought over, freedom came in the Civil War, and full voting rights only came in the Civil Rights Act of 1965, due in much part to the heroic efforts of Martin Luther King, Jr. However, American Christian historian David Barton has continued to open our eyes in the last few years to so much of our history that has been hidden, including black history. I highly recommend the article in the link below on African American voting rights, which goes back to the founding era of our nation.
As I’m right in the middle of a three part series on Sunday mornings at New Covenant (December 2011), I’m again struck by the strong difference between what the Bible teaches and what the church does. Eph. 4:11-12 clearly states that the purpose of all the preaching, teaching, etc. that goes on in church is to equip the saints (God’s people) to do the work of the ministry. This is in strong contrast to the modern concept of church where we primarily see ourselves as the recipient of ministry. It’s almost like a product we consume rather than divine instructions we receive as a worker or a soldier would receive their marching orders. This “Christian consumerism” has created a variety of evils: churches ever becoming more entertaining to attract more ‘customers’, lowering the bar and creating a mass of undeveloped Christians who couldn’t lead someone to the Lord, or minister to the hurting, or give simple Bible instruction or core Christian principles if their life depended on it. This overfed and under exercised crowd sadly mirrors our obese culture rather than changing it.
The greatest loss is not in the low number of real Christian workers available today. It is in the life of the believer themselves. They become “Christian critics”, much look food critics, who constantly compare one restaurant with the other, in terms of what kind of experience it gave them, many times regularly visiting multiple churches to get the ‘full menu’. Don’t get me wrong – being in a Spirit filled, New Testament church should be an exhilarating experience where we regularly experience God’s Presence and rich spiritual food. But once church becomes a ‘product we consume’ and sees itself primarily as something to bring back ‘repeat customers’, it sedates its members with messages and activities that don’t challenge or develop them. It’s ‘members’ (many no longer join, just attend) become half asleep, wondering why life is not more exciting, why it’s so hard for them to ‘have faith’, and why they struggle with a sense of mission or purpose. When believers answer the call to ministry they develop the spiritual muscles they need to become fully alive.
In preparing to teach the last two studies in our foundations series I called “The Essentials”, I’m struck again in how much an eternal perspective affects us now. These last two messages are on the subjects “Resurrection from the Dead” and “Eternal Judgment”. Now, these are staple, time honored Christian doctrines, emphasized heavily though out church history, except in recent history. I myself came late to this party, as in my early years as a Christian, it seemed to me as a fiery young evangelist and teacher, that churches emphasized the ‘sweet by and by’ to create some sort of ‘escape theology’, totally checking out of engaging the modern culture and making any attempt to be relevant or even evangelistic. Actually, some of this was true. And much of the church has made great strides in becoming relevant and reaching large numbers of people. But, the church today has paid a great price by minimizing the issue of eternity.
Endurance and Fear
One of the great principles of planning successful people use today is the concept of ‘start at the end and work backwards’. (Can anyone say, “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”?) In other words, see where you want to end up, and start now to take steps to get there. Do you want to have a successful career? What kind of training, education do you need? Years are involved in this. It takes endurance and delayed gratification. I’ve seen young resident doctors work 18 hour days for poverty wages to become a certified physician. Their goal gives them endurance, much like an Olympic athlete training for the gold. Yet many of today’s “Christians” won’t go through months or even weeks of marriage counseling to save their marriage. They won’t share their faith or confront someone headed for destruction for fear of persecution (which in our culture means not being liked by everyone). We have no theology of suffering or endurance. If we go through something more than a week, we think we deserve to be written in the book of Job. Only an eternal perspective can change this. We lost our daughter eight years ago, and it is only the knowledge that she is in heaven and we will embrace her again that keeps us going at times. Temporary setbacks, being misunderstood (the ultimate trial!) or even slandered, wrestling with discouragement and doubt, and things like that have truly become, as Paul said, “light affliction, which is but for a moment” because it is “working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17).