Saturday, July 26, 2008

Practical Christianity #1

Practical Christianity -- putting our faith into practice -- is kind of like yard work. I'm not being trite -- this is a serious comparison! But an active faith is really like yard work.

If you are like me, you spend some time on your yard so that it's healthy, looks good and you can enjoy it. Yard work involves some kind of activity nearly every day. There are days when we cut the grass and prune the trees and bushes. There are days when we pull weeds. There are days for fertilizer. There are days for thatching. There are lots of days for watering -- especially in these hot Oklahoma summers! All of these activities, done in the proper proportions and at the appropriate times, ensure that our lawn is healthy and suitable for our enjoyment.

Isn't practical Christianity that way? Don't we have to perform certain activities in the proper proportions and at the appropriate times in order to ensure that our lives are suitable for serving Christ?

For me, I have to constantly pull the weeds out of my life. I'm not talking about the superficial modifications that we are sometimes called upon to make by psuedo-Christians. In Jesus' day, he was confronted by the religious leaders of the day about a bad "habit" his disciples had: "Your followers don't wash their hands!", said the Pharisees (Matt. 15:2). Jesus cleared that one up quickly: "It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man", he said, "but what comes out of the mouth... that's what defiles the man (v. 11)... the things that come out of the mouth proceed first from the heart: evil thoughts, murders, adulteries... these are what defile a man" (v. 19). My weed pulling takes place in my heart.

But the activity of weed pulling -- in the yard and in the heart -- is made easier if we use what the lawn people call "pre-emergent". That's a substance that is put on the yard in the spring and early fall to catch the weeds before they ever go to seed. Don't we need to do that spiritually too? I find that its important to keep the truth of God's word in my heart so that when the "weeds" come, I am convicted about my thoughts or behavior (Ps. 119:9). I have also found it important to have people in my life that hold me accountable. I make it a point to tell them that I am giving them permission to take me to task when they observe me being inconsistent.

My heart -- just like my lawn -- needs constant watering. I receive that watering/refreshing from God's presence in my heart. Jesus clearly said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). The New Testament speaks often of the Spirit of God living in us. What a spectacular thought that our love for God is reciprocated by His dwelling in our hearts: "Christ in me!" (Rom. 8:10).

I find my fertilizer from my private Bible reading and study and from our corporate worship. These things energize and strengthen me. They prepare me for the trials and tribulations of life.

Finally, there's one of these yard activities that I find that God does for me: cutting the grass! Yes, while I'm pretty good at using the lawn mower and wielding the tree and bush pruners for my physical yard, only God can bring the right things into my life to "prune" it. Hardship, trial, unwanted change, and even suffering seem unfair most of the time. But God uses certain events of our lives to get rid of things that are unnecessary or unwelcome. Like someone has said, "You learn a whole lot more from failure than you do from success."

Living out my faith in a practical, godly way is like keeping my yard healthy: it takes all of the important elements and activities -- in the proper proportions and at the right times -- to obtain the results that God wants for me.

The next time you are working in your yard, think about how similar it is to God working in your life. We are his vineyard (Matt. 20:1) after all. At the Open Door Church, we can help you apply the proper elements to your life to make it healthy. Here, we're not afraid to ask questions, discuss the hard topics, and subject our own egos to God's will. Come and see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Reason

Why are you a Christian? Is it to escape Hell? Is it to be a better person or to have a happy life? Or, is it more?

My daughter and I have a game we play. When she wants something, like a cookie, or to enter my office, or for me to do something for her, she asks. And, according to what I deem good and necessary, I answer. But to complete the interaction, whatever it may be, I always say, “You’ve got to pay the toll,” to which her trained response is a hug around daddy’s neck and a smiling kiss.

I call this a game, but I considerate it vital to our interaction, because the lesson for my little child is that my love for her and her love for me is far more important than anything I could ever give or do for her or she could ever give or do for me.

The truth is, the only thing I want from my children is their love. I doubt many parents would say differently.

Knowing this then, why do you think God called you to Christianity? Is it for you to escape Hell? Is it simply so that you will be a better person or have a happy life? Or is it more?

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:34-38

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trapped by Good Intentions

From Oswald Chambers' devotional (My Utmost for His Highest) on July 12:

"The church ceases to be spiritual when it becomes self-seeking, only interested in the development of its own organization."

It is surprising how easily we can be distracted from the ultimate purpose God has given us. While congregations work diligently to develop ministries and programs that can be very useful and beneficial to its members, it is not unusual to see those things become a means rather than an end.

For example, I have found myself in the past more concerned about developing a ministry or participating in a worthwhile "program" than seeking out the individuals those programs are intended to benefit - failing in the process to encourage, fellowship with, or simply listen to the needs of those people. It was, however, quite easy to develop a sense of accomplishment and self-worth by contributing some time and effort to the activities of the ministry or program.

I wouldn't suggest that everyone falls prey to this trap; I do, however, think it is easy to be deceived by the process of creating activities for the church to participate in with the objective of simply creating participation. Programs and ministries can create a lot of activity and, proportionately, they may create a false sense of security. Again, it's not the ministry or the program that is a bad thing - it is allowing those things to substitute for serving the needs of others in a consistent, personal, and heart-felt way.

If the objective of our congregation were to become more about developing the organization than our "faith expressing itself in love" (Galatians 5:6) as we serve our members and the community, we will have walked right into a bear trap - with a big smile on our faces.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

What Is Man?

Twice in the Psalms, King David makes the statement, “What is man?” The context of both statements centers on the greatness of God in His creation of the universe, the planets, the stars, and all of nature – in sharp contrast to the pitiful weakness and immorality of man. David both saw and lived this contrast… and he was amazed that the God of the universe would stoop to pay attention to man, much less orchestrate man’s deliverance from his own self-destruction.

What was true in David’s time is equally true in ours. Some research into the shallowness and frailty of today’s man and woman gives us additional amazement into God’s continuing love and concern for us. Man is patently bent on self-destruction (Gen. 6:5; Rom. 7:24):

1. Man is self-destructive in his relationships.

We do harm to our marriages.The divorce rate in the United States continues to approach 50% of marriages. The divorce rate for those claiming to be Christians is actually higher than that of agnostics and atheists. The divorce rate in the Bible belt is the highest in the nation.

We do harm to our children. There are more than three million reported instances of child abuse in the United States per year, and officials fear that the actual number is much higher. The death rate from child abuse in the U.S. is 11 times higher than that of European countries. I sometimes wonder if enrolling our kids in every sport, hobby, and extra-curricular activity isn't some form of abuse? Is it any wonder that there is less time for church activities as we rush back and forth to drive our kids to the next, scheduled event?

We do harm to our partners. Spousal abuse is rampant. Abuse can take several forms, including physical, mental and emotional. The most commonly reported is physical and the instance is about 12% of women in the U.S. report physical abuse of some sort each year. Interestingly enough, men were as susceptible to abuse from their wives as were wives from their husbands.

These statistics are not unique to the non-Christian. These numbers reflect so-called "Christian" families. Each Sunday, as a minister looks at his congregation, he is looking at people bent on destroying their relationships.

2. Man continues to self-destruct in his spiritual journey.

Americans are worshipping and living in accordance with our own consciences and desires at an alarming rate. As America has become a more pluralistic nation, our recognition of "sacred" books other than the Bible has increased. In a recent Barna survey, the book of Mormon, the Koran, the Torah and a variety of other books were recognized as sacred texts. Thankfully, the Bible is still the overwhelming favorite -- and exclusive -- sacred book in America. We may not know its contents, but it still occupies the dominant spot on America’s bookshelf.

Among those who consider themselves to be strong Christians and hold only the Bible to be the Word of God, the trends are no less alarming. A recent survey indicates that the conditions of an ideal life for these committed Christians included, in priority order: physical health; integrity; one marriage partner for life (although only about 50% are achieving this); a clear purpose for living; a close, personal relationship with God; close friendships; a comfortable lifestyle; a satisfying sex life; having children; close relationships with family; and a committed faith. One interesting observation is that the condition of “having a comfortable lifestyle” has risen in importance by 20% in the last 20 years, and is seemingly more important to Christians than having a committed faith. Note that Americans spend seven times as much on entertainment as they do on spiritual activities. What if the apostles or the restoration movement leaders of the 1800s had held the same priorities as we?

Finally, “Christendom” is undergoing a vast reformation. While some of us are concerned with restoring first century Christianity, many others are focused on re-inventing the church to be relevant to today’s society. Less than half of today’s “protestant” ministers have a Biblical worldview which includes absolute moral truth, the infallibility of Scripture, the virgin birth, the existence of Satan, the omnipotence of God, and the personal responsibility to evangelize. Many see that we must re-make the church to be relevant to our high-tech, pluralistic, politically correct society.

At Open Door, our "experiment" in shrugging off the man-made traditions and institutionalism to be a restoration church is all the more important in this kind of society. We'd better become bold, courageous and determined in being counter-cultural.

3. Man continues to self-destruct in his personal life.

The United States leads the world in substance abuse. 16% of Americans have used cocaine, which is 4 times the percentage of the next highest country. Nearly 50% have tried marijuana.

More than $10 billion a year is spent on cosmetic surgery.

We spend $360 billion each year on entertainment.

Americans are engaged in an expensive, all-out search for the meaning of life. We have focused our attention on every conceivable idea, gadget and fad available in an effort to understand why we are here and how to obtain “happiness”… everything except to consult and follow the handbook to life that is provided by God.

Do you think that comfort is any less important to us? Next time you walk through the parking lot, notice the late model automobiles that we drive. We do not lack for comfort in our vehicles and our homes. How is it that we struggle to pay our ministers and find a permanent place to worship? Hmmm...


Our reading on the divided kingdom of Israel and the succession of evil and good kings experienced by both the northern and southern kingdoms has provided ample illustration of a nation of people that abandoned God and His ways to succumb to their own wiles and “wisdom.” There is nothing in the reading to suggest that the people and their leaders made a conscious decision that they “wanted to go to hell and be eternally separated from God.” Even at their worst, these people worshipped, prayed, encouraged community, maintained their ministers, and celebrated holy days.

Are we any different? Nationally? Congregationally? Individually? I think not.

Why would God continue to care about a wretched, fallen, rebellious bunch of people like YOU AND ME? Should this not motivate us to submit to Him and His ways? Like David of old, let’s first acknowledge our sinfulness and helplessness and seek Him who can save us from ourselves.

At the Open Door Church, we have made a conscious decision to ask and discuss the tough questions, engage in self and congregational examination, and seek in every way to do better and align ourselves with the Christ of the New Testament. We're not perfect, as the statistics and the Scriptures would indicate. But we're determined to make a difference. Care to join us?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Tim Mahaffey

I did not know Tim Mahaffey. But my family and I had the honor of attending a memorial service for him this past Saturday.

It was a moving service, highlighted by a slideshow looking back at Tim's all-too-short life. As we drove home, this young man I did not know lingered in my mind and one part of him has remained with me: His smile.

As the slides rolled and Tim grew from childhood to maturity before our eyes, his smile did not change -- as if it somehow stood outside of time.

Tim had one of those rare smiles, the kind that without speaking a word say volumes, hint at possibilities. Anyone on the receiving end of that smile, without knowing exactly what would happen next, would sense that anything was possible and that they had better be ready.

Regrettably, I did not know Tim Mahaffey. But it was good to join his family in honoring his life. They mourn him now, but when they next see him, I imagine he will greet them with that smile. And like it once did, it will say without words: “Be ready. Here, anything is possible.”

Friday, July 4, 2008

A Heart That Seeks God

Hezekiah, the King of Judah and a religious reformer without equal during the era of the kings, dedicated himself to bringing his wayward people back to God and recommitting the nation to its covenant responsibilities. In the midst of this great return to law-keeping and right worship, the following episode, part of this week’s reading, is recorded:

Hezekiah invited the northern tribes to join Judah in celebrating Passover. Many of them accepted, but of the people who did, most did not purify themselves before eating the Passover meal, a clear violation of God’s commands.

But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying “May the Lord, who is good pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God -- the Lord, the God of his fathers -- even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.

There’s an important principle here, one that Hezekiah understood. The external does matter. But the internal -- having a heart that seeks God -- is what matters most. Keeping God’s commands is as vital under the New Covenant as it was under the Old, but God is most concerned, now as then, with your heart.

To sincerely desire, out of love and gratitude, to keep his commands is the true sign of a heart that seeks Him. Neither a legalistic obsession with rule-keeping nor a cavalier disdain for the very notion of rules -- tendencies that are alive and well in the Church -- are possible for that kind of heart.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


If you love living on the edge, you should trying letting God take the reigns of your life. The thing to expect with God is the unexpected, and that’s the thrill of the Spirit-led life.

I’m not talking about the thrill extreme sports enthusiasts seek jumping out of airplanes at 10,000 feet with snowboards strapped to their feet. With God, it’s not about cheating death; it’s about altogether accepting it.

The excitement begins when we finally realize it’s not about our weakness but about His strength. With God, Gideon defeated an entire middle-eastern coalition of hundreds of thousands with just 300 men. With God, Moses freed over a million slaves from Egypt with nothing but a stick in his hand. With God, Paul, a Pharisee of Pharisees, went from hunting Christians to baffling the Jewish world in his defense of Jesus, the Christ. The point is God does immeasurably more than all we could ever ask or even imagine.

The thrill is being a part of God’s work, knowing by faith that He moved and you were there. As gruesome as it sounds, imagine David’s thrill carrying Goliath’s head and laying it down in front of Saul. David didn’t kill Goliath, and David knew it! God moved, and David was there. They did it together – the unimaginable!

I refuse to believe the unimaginable was reserved for those who lived thousands of years ago when Peter says it was our time that all the angels and prophets longed to look. We live in the time of the glories that follow the sufferings of the Christ (1 Pet.1:10-12). We live in the time of the Spirit, the time of “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27), the time when the power of God is at work within us (Eph. 3:20). No! There is no greater time in the history of all mankind than right now!

So how do we do it? How do we do the unimaginable with God?

The one common denominator among all the “greats” of the Bible is that they all had to step into the unreasonable unknown with total trust in God. Gideon had to send away over 30,000 men before he could fight with God, because God said his army was too big. Moses had to return to the land where he was a wanted man, and face the very man he had defied and who had the power to kill him at will. David had to stand before his brothers, his nation, a giant and the giant’s army alone. Paul had to renounce almost all he knew. And, Jesus had to work his way to Jerusalem to die on a cross.

None of it made sense at the time. No one knew any of the outcomes beforehand – except God. But these faithful stepped forward. The only question is, will we?

There is no limit to what God can do. The only limit is what we believe he can do.