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Stand Firm in the Faith!

30 Sep

I have continued to meditate on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 over the last several weeks, but have fallen down on the job of blogging about it.  These two verses are a series of brief, pointed commands.  And I believe that they outline some of the key elements to being a strong disciple of Jesus in today’s world.

Here it is in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

“Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong. Your every [action] must be done with love.”  –1 Corinthians 16:13-14

“Stand firm in the faith” has taken on new meaning for me as I have been following the story of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani in Iran over the past several days.  This young Iranian pastor has refused to recant his faith in Christ.  As a result today the Iranian courts have sentenced him to death.  Whether this will stand, or will be repealed, remains to be seen.  The international community has risen up in united outrage over this blatant violation of basic human rights.  With this outcry and God’s people in earnest prayer, hopefully Pastor Nadarkhani will indeed be released.

This man is a living example of what it means to “stand firm in the faith.”  He willingly risks losing his life for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.  He would rather die than deny his Lord and Savior.  THAT is true faith!  C.S. Lewis once said,

“You never know how much you really believe anything
until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

I hope that you will join me in prayer for Pastor Nadarkhani and all Christians facing persecution for their faith.  Here are some other things you can do with your church and youth group:

  • PRAY with your youth, Sunday School class, and church.
  • Educate them with help from Voice of the Martyrs and many other organizations out there.  I’ve recently discovered a powerful documentary entitled Love Costs Everything.  Below is the trailer:
  • Discuss with your group the difference it would make if they lived in a place where being a Christian was dangerous.  How do they stand firm in their faith?  How does that compare to how people like Pastor Nadarkhani stand firm in the faith?

Audacious Faith: Preparing for Victory

30 Sep

Here is my 3rd sermon in the series I preached in May and June of this year.  It’s taken from Joshua chapter 5, when the people reaffirmed their covenant relationship with God by circumcising the males, and then observing the Passover for the first time since Mt. Sinai.  This sermon lead up to our own reaffirmation of our commitments to God and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. o

Audacious Faith sermon #3: Preparing for Victory

Audacious Faith: A Crossover People

27 Jul

Here is my 2nd sermon in the series I preached between our pastor retiring and our interim beginning.  It’s taken from Joshua chapters 3-4, when the people of Israel crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.  I hope it challenges and encourages you today.

Audacious Faith sermon #2:  A Crossover People

The Church: Is It a Family or Burger King?

8 Sep

There’s a nip of fall in the air, and I’m ready for the Holiday Season already!!!  Halloween…Thanksgiving…CHRISTMAS!  Bring em on!

However, I discovered last Christmas that our neighbors down the street have some pretty cool Christmas traditions that we don’t have at the Lambert Household.  I’ve tried to get my wife interested in trying some of these new holiday traditions and festivities, but to no avail.  She likes our old traditions.  So, I’ve come to a conclusion.  I’ve made a decision.  Julia can celebrate Christmas however she wants to this year, but I’m going down the street to the neighbors.

Alright…now before I start getting hate-filed comments about what a selfish, terrible, shallow husband I am, let me explain…the above scenario is entirely made up.  I have no idea how my down-the-street neighbors celebrate Christmas.  But just remember the ire that you felt as you read that paragraph.  Keep it very near the surface as you read this next one:

I believe very strongly that many Christians are doing the exact same thing to their churches.  We discover that some church family down the street is doing things differently in worship, or in their student or children’s ministry than our church family.  And we try to bring those new ways into our church family‘s context to no avail.  (Now don’t get me wrong.  I’m no traditionalist, and I think there are lots of great things we can learn from other congregations.  I’m a firm believer in constantly evaluating what and how and why we do what we do and making necessary changes…but not for the sake of “keeping up with the 2nd Baptist Joneses”.)  And then when…for whatever reason…it doesn’t work for our church family, we decide to just up and leave them to go down the street and join a NEW church family.

Now, just think about what you just read.  Did that picture make you more or less angry than the first one?  I believe that speaks volumes to your theology of the church.  We love to sing and talk about the church as the “family of believers.”  Several times throughout the New Testament that analogy is used (Gal. 6:10, Eph. 3:15, Heb. 2:11, 1 Pet. 4:17).

So, why don’t we do a better job of acting as if the church were our family?  We don’t give up families because of the music they like, the look of the house they live in, or what extracurricular activities they like to participate in.  So why do we treat the church family like this?  Why do we treat it more like a country club or a Golden Corral buffet or a Burger King (Have it YOUR way)?

Here’s an idea:  Instead of church shopping or deciding to go out and “start your own church” because there’s something you are unhappy about at your church…try the ancient Christian discipline of fidelity.  Be as faithful to your family of faith as you are to your husband/wife and children.  Pray for change to come.  Do what you can to bring change…if it truly is of God and not just your own personal preference.  And if it is just a preferential thing, or if the change doesn’t happen, then pray for God to give you the peace and serenity you need to continue to faithfully worship and serve at your church.  In other words…don’t treat your church family any differently than you would your flesh-and-blood family.  The only exception would be if your church is heretical or abusive…much like what I would recommend for a family (well, maybe not the heretical part).

Thoughts?  Disagreements?  Show me where I’m wrong.

Attempting to Bridge the Gap

21 Jul

You can’t blame people for behaving in ways you’ve taught them to behave.  And you can’t get mad when people fail if you’ve set them up to fail.

I’m beginning to realize that we’ve set-up a lot of church people to fail (especially teenagers and their families).  And I’m finding myself getting frustrated for how people behave, when they’re only doing what I–as a youth minister–have taught them to do.  Let me give you the most recent example:

Last Wednesday night, I decided to bring our youth up to join the adults in their Wednesday night Bible Study because my good friend & our Minister of Education, David Walker, was going to do a study on the idea of being created in God’s image.  As we talked about it I commented on how appropriate that would be for our students to hear.   This summer we’re taking a more casual and laid-back approach to our Wednesday night youth program anyway, so why not do something radical and merge with the adults for one night?

I got the word out through Facebook, texts and phone calls to our students.  With our summer-time attendance slump, I was expecting at least 10 or 12 show up and couldn’t wait to see how impressed our adults would be with the depth of insight they could bring to the discussion!

Guess how many showed up?  Lower…lower…there ya go!  ONE. Yep, that’s right.  And it was our minister of music’s daughter. We even had a couple of youth there for supper with their family get up and leave to help work with the children’s program.

But as I sat there frustrated and discouraged, I realized that we have set-up our students for this very fall.  We have been operating a youth ministry built more out of what Mark Yaconelli calls “adult anxiety and teen angst,” and this was  a perfect example of teen angst.  It frustrated me because if we had met as usual in the Warehouse for youth Bible Study we would have had a decent group.  But because we were going to join the adults up in the “big church” they stayed away as if we were hosting a missionary showing mission trip slides!

This is a problem that MUST be fixed! The “generation gap” must be bridged!

And we are taking “baby steps” to do just that.  One thing we’re doing more of is family-based events instead of just planning multiple events for adults, children, and youth that just end up competing with each other for buses and calendar dates.  Tonight, in fact, we are taking a whopping 44 people to see the Atlanta Braves play!  We’ve promoted it as FBC Family Night @ Turner Field.  We have whole families going together…parents, teenagers, and younger siblings.

It’s a youth event…no, it’s a children’s event…no, its a FAMILY event!

Bridging the Gap!

And in a couple of weeks we’re transforming our annual Youth Lake Day to a Family Lake Day.  We’re hoping we’ll have families of all kinds come: those with small children, teenagers, or no children at all.  We’re having a fish fry that we hope will help even bring out our senior adults.

They’re not world-changing, earth-shattering events.  But they’re baby steps in helping our adults be less anxious about being with teenagers, and helping our youth feel less angst about chillin’ at the lake with our older generations.  I feel as Kara Powell does in the latest issue of Immerse where she said,

“I’m inspired by churches that are realizing that the Kingdom is more than separate adult and kids’ tables; it’s followers of all ages who feast together on the goodness of God’s Kingdom and invite others to join the celebration.”

I want our church to be one of those churches.  I look forward to sharing more about our adventures in “attempting to bridge the gap.”

If the Church Is Against Us, Who Then Can Stand For Us?

4 Jul

Why is it that so many Christians are against so many things?  It seems that we’re better known for the things we’re against than for the things we’re for!

I started to think about all the things that Christians, churches, denominations, and other Christian groups have been against at one time or another: dancing, rock n roll, card playing, restaurants that serve alcohol, drums in the sanctuary, women who wear pants (or make-up or jewelry), the NIV Bible, women deacons, women ministers, Disney, Twilight, Harry Potter, Democrats…I could go on.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t sins and social issues that the people of God should take a stand on and fight for what’s right and true.  And I know there’s a lot of difference of opinion among Christians as to what those issues are and are not.  What I’m taking issue with is the sheer number and superficiality of things Christians tend to be against these days.

So I got to thinking: What kind of things was Jesus against?  Let’s take a quick look.

Right off the bat, I can easily see that Jesus is against sickness and death, because He keeps healing people and raising the dead.  He’s apparently against hunger and thirst, because He feeds people and declares He is the Living Water with whom no one will thirst again. 

From Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew 5-7, we see Jesus is against pridefulness, unforgiviness, anger and hatred toward others, lustful hearts, divorce, being untrustworthy, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, greed, divided loyalty, worry, the illusion of self-sufficiency, being judgmental, and lip service.  Hmmm….not a single mention of drinking, gambling, secular music, or Harry Potter.  Interesting.

On multiple occasions, we find Jesus eating dinner with the worst sinners…among them prostitutes, tax collectors, drunks, gamblers, you name it!  And we never once see Jesus rebuke them, preach against the “wiles of the devil” to them, or even give them a “tisk tisk. Shame on you.”  Instead, Jesus loves them.  Jesus affirms them as human beings made in God’s image.  He FORGIVES them!  He tells their accusers, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7)  He doesn’t condemn!  He isn’t AGAINST them…He’s FOR them!

In fact, the only group I can find in all the Gospels that Jesus is against…are the religious leaders!  The pious, “holier than thou” Pharisees and Sadducees are the ones Jesus has the only things to say AGAINST.  He calls them a brood of vipers (Matt. 23:33), they’re the “blind leading the blind” (Matt. 23:24).  They are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15), not to be trusted. They actually make it hard for people to come to God (Matt. 23:13-15).  Jesus calls them hypocrites and the children of Satan (Matt. 23)!

I can’t help but feel that the Pharisees were known for what (and who) they were against.  They were against the Romans, the prostitutes, the drunks, the Gentiles, the tax collectors, those who work a little too hard on the Sabbath, and of course…Jesus.  Maybe they led boycotts, had protest rallies, and preached about everyone else’s wickedness.

Funny how Jesus and His followers didn’t do any of that.  Funny that when Jesus preaches a “Woe unto you” sermon, it was to the religious people.  I guess you could say that the only people Jesus was against were those who were against people.

Are there some things in this world worth standing against? Of course. Are there any people groups worth standing against? Certainly not!  The Church of Jesus must be very careful about what we stand against, lest we become white noise no one pays attention to.  And we must be very careful never to stand against anyone…for every person is a person for whom Jesus died.

Let’s be like Jesus!  He wasn’t known for what He was against, but for what He was for!  Even in the Sermon on the Mount I mentioned above, those things I said Jesus was against were framed in the positive.  He didn’t preach a bunch of “don’ts.” He laid out the kind of things we are to DO!  When we DO the right things, and love everyone, the “don’ts” become obvious.

Remember, Jesus said He didn’t come into the world to condemn it, but so that it might be saved (John 3:17). And in the verse before that one, Jesus reminds us God actually LOVES the world!  So if the CHURCH…the last, best hope for the world, is always standing AGAINST the world, then what hope does the world really have?  Satan is our enemy.  Not the people of the world.  Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can stand against us? (Rom. 8:31)”  What about this question asked from the world’s perspective, “If the Church of Jesus is for us, who can stand against us?  If the Church of Jesus stands against us, who can stand for us?”  The World needs us! 

So…what and who are we standing FOR?  Let’s make the world sit up and take notice of those things!

A Few Thoughts on Mass Evangelism

27 Feb

Our student ministry partnered with the high school FCA recently and took a group to a Christian music festival.  We enjoyed great music from oldschool bands like Third Day and Newsboys as well as some new ones.  First let me say that when it comes to attending loud and crowded Christian concerts, in the words of Danny Glover, “I’m getting to old for this stuff.”   Not that I can’t enjoy some concerts, just not this kind so much.  But like I said, I guess I really am getting old!  Afterall, three of the groups here I actually saw in concert when I was a teenager. Well…I guess that actually makes those bands old, doesn’t it?!

Well, the kids were having a great time at least.  Both the music and the showmanship was at least entertaining and even made me feel a little nostalgic at times. Until…

A popular youth evangelist at these kinds of events got up to bring the “evangelistic message.”   He opened with a sensational object lesson, used some shocking illustrations, told some corny jokes, and then before I knew it every head was bowed and every eye closed!  And all these students around me are repeating his “sinner’s prayer” after him.   Some girls behind me are giggling and repeating in unison like it’s some kind of game.   And these are MY girls!   I know as much as anyone can that they’r already Christ-followers.   And then he tells all those who just prayed that prayer that if they don’t confess Jesus before everyone here by standing up, Jesus will reject them before the Father!  So on the count of 3 half the room stands up!

Now, excuse me for my cynicism, but aren’t most students who come to a Christian concert, um…Christians?!    And then without missing a beat, the evangelist  welcomes them all “to the family.”   No mention of baptism or joining a church.   Nothing.   Just a “praise God.  Angels are partying in Heaven now.  Goodnight!”

I don’t know about you, but I have a serious problem with this blanket-one-size-fits-all approach to “evangelism,” if you can call it that.  “What’s your biblical basis for your objection?”  you may ask.  Well, here are a few thoughts:

First, using a few cute or shocking illustrations and rattling off a list of propositions can’t begin to do justice to the amazing story of God’s unfailing love for us!  I’m not saying you have to take someone through a survey of the Old and New Testaments before you can help them begin a life-changing relationship with Jesus.  But I do think that you need to communicate to them something of the Gospel Narrative to give them a frame of reference for God’s unmeasurable love and our unmistakeable need!

Second, manipulative techniques for getting a huge number of kids to stand or using guilt to get kids to sponsor a child do more harm than good.  Teenagers are already on an emotional rollercoaster.  Satan is the master of doubt and confusion.  And this approach feeds into both of these obstacles to a mature and grounded faith.  Ususally after events like this I’m left to help kids who have professed faith in Christ, been baptized, and are living out their faith try to sort through confusion and mixed emotions.  Makes me wonder why I continue to bring students to stuff like this!

Third, how many times in the New Testament do we see mass groups of people profess faith in Christ?  I can only think of one off the top of my head.  And it was followed immediately by baptism and discipleship in the Jerusalem church.  I don’t recall Jesus ever asking anyone to bow their heads, close their eyes, and repeat anything after Him.  Instead, Jesus called people to deny themselves, leave everything behind, take up their cross, and FOLLOW  Him.  His style of evangelism was to Make Disciples!  Novel idea, huh?

Evangelism should be done in community, built upon relationship, and viewed as a process or journey rather than an event.  Can anyone tell me when exactly Peter became a “Christian?”  Was it when he left his boat and nets to follow Jesus the first time, the second time, or that third time (after the Resurrection)?   Or was it when he declared Jesus was the Christ?  Was it before or after Peter denied Jesus?  The point is, Peter’s journey from Jewish fisherman to Christian missionary was just that…a journey.  And we rob our teenagers and the church when we try to make evangelism a one-time, tie-it-up-in-a-bow moment.  Life,  Christian spirituality, and teens are just a little messier than that.  But what a beautiful, wonderful mess it is!