FERGUSON MISSOURI AND THE FAILURE OF THE CHURCH

I have been watching the news like everyone else. My response on the issues in Ferguson Missouri, is not a political or a racial one. The events of Ferguson reflect the failure of the church being the church. For reasons that I will explain, the church has failed to evangelize our nation. Ferguson is just a symptom of that failure.

There is has been an increase in the number of police problems, particularly the militarizing of police departments. But when you see the riots and the destruction over the last few days, when you understand something about the drug culture that has gripped our nation, you can understand many of the issues that law enforcement face and are trying to solve. Many voices have been warning of the social chaos that is coming to our American society if something does not change.

You can understand, if you try, that being black can be a humiliating experience when you are pulled over, or checked simply because you are black. When I was young, I was hassled by police because I drove a loud car and had long hair. It is infuriating to be stopped because your looks don’t conform to some sort of societal norm. It is not right that you are given criminal attention simply because of your skin color.

However, the real issue is not race or ethnicity or law enforcement. The real issue is moral. To be more precise, the real issue is sin and the sin nature that resides in all of us. There is only one solution to sin and that is Jesus. Before you decide that I am being simplistic, read some more and understand why I say it is a church problem.

Morality is a spiritual issue. Morality is the foundation of our nation, of our freedoms. It makes it possible for us to have an open and free society. Morality is tightly connected to the vitality of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Our law system, our business system, family system, and the entire fabric of our society are based on the foundation of our historic moral system.

We should never be surprised with lost people act like lost people. Lostness creates a self-centered society. Human nature without God hates the things of God and we only seek our own self-interest. Lost people live as if there is no God, no moral order, and no responsibility to others. It is lostness that destroys the moral fabric of our society. I am not saying that one has to be a believer to be moral, morality can be taught. What I am saying is that Christians are failing to be salt and light. Christians act as if they are not Christians, as if they have not been saved and filled with the Holy Spirit. There is something deeply wrong with the church.

All churches have failed to evangelize our culture. Instead we have been won over by culture. We want to look like the world and act like the world thinking that makes us more attractive. The fact is, we have abandoned God’s purpose for the church. White churches and black churches failed Ferguson. The Good News of Jesus was replaced by various cultural icons.

This is a problem that has gone on for decades. As many formerly white neighborhoods, changed, the churches refused to minister to their new neighbors. White churches hunkered down into their little white citadels and refused black membership and refused to minister to their neighbors. Even as they dwindled to nothing they refused to open their doors and love their neighbors. The white church refused to evangelize and lost their moral voice.

But the black church has failed as well. Too many bought into the prosperity gospel teaching the hope of materialism rather than the hope of Jesus. The same can be said about politics. The black church became centers of political activity and pushed social change agendas. This is understandable but it is also a failure to understand what brings real change. Change comes when people have been confronted with Jesus, who redeems us and makes us new people.

Churches of all ethnic shapes and sizes, need to regain the basic Gospel truth; we are all sinners and we need to be saved by Christ. It is the Gospel that will unite us. It is the Gospel that will change us. It is the Gospel that can bring healing to the nation. The Bible teaches that when we become a follower of Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells in us. When we practice the presence of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis, he will conform our character into the image of Christ. Christ brings radical change to the human soul. We learn to respect people no matter what color they are or what religion they hold. We learn to respond to anger with kindness and to turn the other cheek. We learn to bless those who curse us and to go the second mile. Living the Christian life is a hard thing. We have high ideals. We cannot measure up to our calling as long as we refuse to live our lives controlled by the Holy Spirit.

We, who profess Christ as Lord and Savior, need to renew our lives in Christ. Christians need to learn to be witnesses both in the words we speak and in the deeds that we do. The love of Christ transcends skin color and cultural differences. The blood of Christ covers us and turns us crimson. The blood of Christ makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our nation is burning itself down. There are evil doers who have nefarious purposes and they will lead the nation to disaster. People will listen to them because they offer a false hope and because those who have a real message of hope have become silent. It is a terrible indictment on God’s people. We hold the solution to the sinful behavior of our nation, and we have refused to share that solution.

I like the quote from Martin Luther King, JR that has been circulating around on the internet: “We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” There is only one brotherhood that is big enough to accomplish this unity and that is the brotherhood we gain in Christ. We become a part of God’s family by entering the door of Christ. There is no other Door, no other Way. We must come together through the blood of Christ.

In the past, revivals and great awakenings have changed societies and prevented great disasters. If God’s people would repent of their materialism, their self-centeredness, and of their apathy, God could use us to change our nation. Otherwise, we will have more rioting in the streets, more police brutality as they have to defend themselves and an incredible loss of freedom. Freedom begins in the heart. We know that freedom is bought and paid for by Christ himself. Freedom means being conformed to Christ and not to the sin that so easily traps us.

AWAKE O CHURCH! Arise, and perhaps God himself will hear us and save us from our national disaster.

I APPRECIATE PASTORS

The popular idea among Christians is that the closer to God we get, the more wonderful it feels. Some speak of experiencing ecstasy in the presence of God. I am not discounting the possibility of it, but I don’t see it from a biblical perspective. And I don’t see it from personal experience.  The reason I don’t think it is true is based on one simple fact, we are not holy and God is. There is a difference in being declared holy and being intrinsically holy. The Holy terrifies us and it should. How can a finite, sinful, person stand in the presence of a holy, just, and righteous God and not feel overcome and condemned?

There is not lot of feel-good when you think about it. Not one person in Scripture, who found themselves in God’s presence, experienced anything other than the dread and awe-filled moment of being undone before God.

Those who serve in ministry know a lot about this. Those who do ministry may find that they are the most satisfied. But those same people are the ones who struggle the most with their relationship to God. And in fact, they are probably the loneliest.

I have a friend of mine who is having a tough time as a minister precisely because he is close to God. It is a tough time right now because of the things he is called upon to do. It is like his face is pressed to a grinding stone and the sparks are flying as if it were steel on the grinding rock.

I know that this is counterintuitive. You would think that getting closer to God would make us feel good, it would be pleasing. But when we think like that, we do not understand God or his nature. We need a breakthrough in our thinking about holiness. We cannot imagine the nature of a pure and pristine holy God. Our real experiences of God quickly remind us that God is different from us.

I like going to pastor conferences because, while they all are smiling, even happy people, just under the surface, they are struggling, hurting, and often very lonely. Pastor meetings are a gathering of the lonely. Our loneliness is all connected because we are called to handle holy things, do holy things, and live in a holy presence. We are a brotherhood of crying men who cry for their church and for their own failings and brokenness which longs for God, the very one who makes them feel lonely.

When I meet with our pastors, I am meeting with real men. They may be young and enthusiastic or older and leery of the world around them, but they are real men. Pastors are broken and fractured men, totally inadequate to dwell in the presence of a holy God. They gather and hold each other up because, by faith, they are men of the future. All of it is about the future. What we are promised as our eternal reward keeps us from quitting, draws us forward like a magnet in spite of all that may befall us.

You may wonder what I mean by this. There is no perfection in this world. This world is destined to be extinguished. Every soul feels this in their deepest parts even if they mentally don’t believe it. We are a fallen world where people do fallen things. Even the most radically saved person sins and sins greatly. The person who has come to faith in Christ, who is now in a relationship with God, knows the reality of our fallen nature. As we mature in Christ, we become acutely aware of our sin, our nature before God. Our salvation is a down payment, so to speak, on that day when we will be made holy. Our salvation is only a taste of the future. While we live in fear of the holy, we long for that day when God will change us. First Thessalonians says that we will be transformed. We strain toward the future with John’s vision in mind: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1Jo 3:2 ESV)

I think Paul knew this struggle. In Romans seven, Paul opens up about the struggle we have with sin and he does it from a personal perspective. Paul had all the trappings of a righteous man, but he gave it all up to pursue the upward call of Christ:

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phi 3:7-11 ESV)

Paul was well aware of our struggle. He does not write about ecstatic experiences or beatific visions. He tells us about his struggles, hardships, and even his fears. And he gladly identifies with the death of Jesus so that he might know his resurrection. His final great confession:

6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2Ti 4:6-8 ESV)

We tremble and mourn in the holy presence of God. We do not understand those who have the happy clappies and are rightly suspicious of them. We know that those who claim to be close to God, who claim to get direct knowledge from God, who claim to be so happy with God are not close to the source of all holiness and righteousness and justice. What they are close to, is an idea of God that is not biblical.

I appreciate my fellow pastors, who day in and day out, deal with holy things. They often tremble before God as the high priest did on the Day of Atonement when he stood before God and offered the sacrifice for the sins of the nation of Israel. My brothers cry with joy before a holy God because his grace shields us from the awful furnace of his burning glory. We limp on toward the future because God has promised us that we will be changed, transformed in the blink of an eye and we will be made fit for the presence of our holy God. It is why pastors suffer the indignity routinely imposed on us and often pure oppression from church member and non-church members who don’t care to understand the call that God has placed upon us.  We bear up because we belong to God.

Paul wrote, 17 “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” (Gal 6:17 ESV) The word here is “stima” a brand mark or scars that identify one as belonging to God or the marks that come from serving God. All pastors have those marks. They may not stand out visually but they are in the souls of every pastor who has served for any length of time. It is the injustice that comes from serving others and serving God. But rather than it being the ugliness of disfigurement, it becomes for us the badges of honor bestowed on us by our suffering God. When we bear the scars of ministry, we most resemble the one who was crucified.

So, I express deep appreciation to my brothers in the ministry. Lean on each other. March to the call of God with all the strength you can muster and let God carry us in our failures and in our weakness. As idealistic as it may sound, we continually lay aside our encumbrances and we run the race, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Thank you for your eternal service.