Monday, May 30, 2011

When Your Focus is on the Gnats You Miss the Camel in Your Drink

Over the years our church has been blessed by the gifts and talents of a brother who has given his life to portraying great preachers of the past as well as Bible characters. His ministry is a combination of acting and preaching. It’s quite effective, spiritually moving and very entertaining.

Once, preparing to minister in our church on a Sunday morning, he contacted another local pastor about coming to his church that evening. In previous years and in another locale/church he had ministered in that pastor’s congregation, and felt they had a good relationship.

But that pastor said, “No. We can’t use you here.” His reasoning? “You’ll be at Nags Head Church on Sunday morning. For you to then speak in our church would be confusing to our people.” Although his church and ours are essentially the same in beliefs, we choose to affiliate with a group of Baptist churches he deems to be less then orthodox. I’m sure he also does not approve of our lack of dress code and musical preferences either. So because of who WE are and that they judged us to be wrong, he and his church chose to separate themselves from our actor/evangelist brother. Too bad for them!

Secondary separation is the practice of withholding fellowship or association with another Christian – not because of sin or unorthodox beliefs - but because he/she has fellowshipped/associated with someone you deem to be wrong or apostate in some way. Usually it’s about crossing doctrinal lines. But it can also be about methodology, denominationalism or other such minors. Because it takes the idea of separation one degree beyond personal experience it is called “secondary”.

Those who hold to this level of being separated from “the world” are apt to conjure up what isn’t real or true about someone. In their imaginations they conclude that because someone ministered to a particular group or attended a meeting in a particular place where there were infidels (whether real or contrived) that they, too, have bought into the apostasy or have united with anti-Christ.

Their fear then, is that by welcoming this brother to share God’s Word with their congregation, they indirectly endorse everywhere he’s been and everyone to whom he has previously ministered. When that happens their “separation badge of honor” is taken down off their wall and replaced with “compromisers”.

It’s where we go when we choose to major on the minors. Jesus said to the legalists of His day, “Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!”

Maybe I’m wrong, but why or how can you come out and be separate from something you’ve never joined? Two years ago I preached a funeral in a Catholic church. I don’t think that “confused” any of my flock at Nags Head. At least I hope not! They know what I believe.

Of course, today, with the plethora of internet blogs and sites added to the preponderance of radio talk show hosts babbling once conspiracy theory after another; and added to that the reality that as time marches on we are drawing closer to the end of the world (that breeds its own class of left field teaching), it’s no surprise that well-intentioned (but gullible) Christians are living in fear of anything “different” and fall prey to legalistic views of separation (that can lead to a cultic isolationism) and false teachings. In fact, this is how cults are born.

Once, when Jesus’ disciples were out and about, they apparently came across someone who was doing ministry in Jesus’ name, yet wasn’t following “them”. In other words, this person they did not know wasn’t part of their group. Jesus didn’t seem concerned. In fact, His reply was, “Don’t stop him, because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterwards speak evil of Me. For whoever is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:39-40)

Let’s not be guilty of swatting at gnats when we could be in the path of a stampeding camel. Make the main thing the main thing. Let God sort out the rest.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Some gave all...

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. There are many stories as to its actual beginnings, with over two dozen cities and towns laying claim to being the birthplace of Memorial Day. There is also evidence that organized women's groups in the South were decorating graves before the end of the Civil War: a hymn published in 1867, "Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping"...

For more info on the history and meaning of Memorial Day, click here.

While many confuse it as a day to honor veterans, (their day comes November 11) Memorial Day is a day of remembering those who died while in military service for our country and the many other countries America has liberated, and continues to liberate fro tyranny to this day.

Many communities host Memorial Day ceremonies. If you have young children or grandchildren, consider taking the to such a ceremony on Monday to teach them what a great price has been paid for their freedoms.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Camping's New Spin: Saturday was a "Spiritual Judgment"

Deluded Harold Camping, a man who thinks He's out-smarted Jesus by determining the date of the "rapture", has come up with the reason why he miscalculated. Again.

Don't forget that this same man predicted a rapture to happen in 1994. When it didn't happen, he used the same excuse..."I miscalculated".

Now, he claims that the May 21 apparent "non-event" was actually God's day of "spiritual judgment" on the earth. "Spiritual", of course, meaning, "something we could not see". The rapture, he tells us, will come on October 21, the day he earlier predicted as the day the earth would be consumed by a fire ball.

You know, he could be right. October 21 might be the day the trumpet sounds and those in Christ are called up to meet Him in the air. Or, it could be today, or tomorrow or any day, for that matter. We don't (and can't) know, said Jesus.

But Camping's reason for Saturday's confusion - a "spiritual judgment" - belies his poor grasp at best of what is called in theological terms "soteriology": the doctrine of salvation. Orthodox Christianity teaches that the sins of mankind were judged in Christ as He hung on the cross. That judgment ushered in a period of God's grace wherein any man or woman can by faith accept Christ's salvation and have his or her sin forgiven. And that time of grace will continue until Christ appears in His second advent.

Now, if Jesus didn't return Saturday, that means we still live in this gracious time when "whosoever will" may receive God's forgiveness and know that their sins were judged in Him and paid for by His death. If, as Camping would have us believe, God spiritually judged all on earth who have not received Christ, then there is no more option of salvation for anyone.

So, not only has Camping stepped out on a limb, he has cut it off behind him. No one who believes in historic Christianity will accept his view. Long ago he cast off any submission to a local church. Now he has ventured further off the straight path and has moved into the cultic arena of heresy.

Sadly, people will choose to believe him. But happily, there still remains God's grace for the Gospel of Jesus to give new and everlasting life to all who will by faith trust in Him.

That's the message we need to share.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Do we close our eyes to the poor?

In recent years at Nags Head Church we’ve made intentional efforts to reach out to the poor and needy in our community. Some of the organized efforts have been:

* giving school supplies away through Operation BackPack;
* giving away winter coats
* Donating to Interfaith Community Outreach, which acts as a clearinghouse for dispensing funds to people with needs in Dare Co.;
* Participating in Ruthie’s Kitchen, which provides a weekly meal in the winter months to the hungry;
* Hosting the homeless for a week at a time through A Room at the Inn;
* Encouraging the church to participate in the Advent Conspiracy.
* Cleaned out the homes and yards of flood victims.
* Food pantry

Maybe you’ve wondered why we do such things. Isn’t our primary task to evangelize the world? Someone asked me this question recently and said that American churches shouldn’t be doing “social” ministries. It was also suggested that our church is in danger of gravitating away from the Gospel to a “social gospel” by these outreaches.

The term “social gospel” was something applied to liberal, mainstream churches in the mid 20th century who reached out to the poor, especially in 3rd world countries with social projects – building hospitals, providing food and clean water – those kinds of things, and saw those kinds of good deeds as sharing the gospel. The criticism of them was that they were not leading men and women to Christ. They were taking care of physical needs, not spiritual needs.

The reaction of the evangelical and fundamentalist churches in America was to go the other direction. Rather than meet physical needs of food, clothing, shelter and medical needs, churches only preached to the poor. So what you had were two extremes. One giving the necessities of life without giving the Gospel; the other ignoring the hunger and poverty but telling them Jesus loves them. My guess is that both had right motives. But that the right thing to do is to bring them together.

As always, let's get direction from the Scriptures.

God required His people Israel to give to the poor. When they harvested their crops they were to leave the corners of their fields unharvested and allow the poor to come and freely glean from their fields. (Lev. 23:22)

They weren’t to withhold giving to the poor when they had resources to give. Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. 11There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need. (Deut. 15:10-11)

Job’s testimony was that he "rescued the poor man who cried out for help, and the fatherless child who had no one to support him" (29:12) and "I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame." (29:15-16a) It seems Job was saying, “All this is good and what God expects of me, a rich man”. He knew that the very character of God is to care for the poor and the hungry. (Job 31:16-23)

Some might argue, “But that was Old Testament Law and applied to Israel, not us”. OK. My first response might be, “So has that heart of God toward the poor changed? And if so, how do you know that?” My second response would be, “OK. So what then about Jesus’ teaching? Isn’t that for us?” So, what did Jesus say?

When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers, your relatives, or your rich neighbors, because they might invite you back, and you would be repaid.

On the contrary, when you host a banquet, invite those who are poor, maimed, lame, or blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." - Lk. 14:12-14.

If you want to be perfect…go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me. - Mt. 19:21

It seems extremely clear (to anyone looking with spiritual eyes) that Jesus was telling us to give to the poor. How can that be hard to see?

With our economy so crippled, the question shouldn't be "Why do we give to the poor", but "How can we not address the needs of the poor?". At NHC we have never preached a “social gospel”. The only Gospel we preach is Christ crucified, buried and risen. But as we give to the poor we do so “in Jesus’ name”, saying to those who receive, “Here’s a church that cares about you.” We give out gospel literature; we invite them to come and see what we believe; we pray with them and offer them hope.

Frankly, I’m hoping we do even more giving and at the same time be even more intentional with evangelizing at the same time. But to close our eyes to the needy and to not see the opportunities to share the gospel and the opportunities that giving opens, or to say it’s not something we should be doing as an American church is missing the heart of Christ. Someone said, “I won’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

So, we’ll continue to find ways to show Christ to the poor in our community. And when they wonder why we give things away, the answer is simple: because it’s what Jesus wants us to do. We don’t apologize at all for caring for the poor. It seems that when we do care we are closely following His footsteps.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Toughest Lesson

I’m no psychologist. But I did take enough psych classes in college to remember Freud’s concept of id, ego and super-ego. Not that I find Freud the “go-to” guy in matters of the “heart”, but there is something to be said about our innate desire to elevate our own desires above others. His “ego” helps explain human self-centeredness and selfishness.

Of course, it wasn’t a 19th century Austrian neurologist who came up with the notion that we are basically driven by our own desire to be king (or queen) of the mountain. It harkens all the way back to the very first of our species to inhabit earth. When Satan, in the form of a snake tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit, his enticement that broke down her resistance was the lie that she would be like God once she ate.

So, seeking our own way is really part of our heritage. It’s in our DNA, so to speak. We can’t help it! It’s who we are. It’s what we do…naturally. The craze in our culture for “reality” TV has brought selfishness to the forefront, hasn’t it? Have you seen those bridezilla shows? Wow! But then, don’t we feed that kind of thing? “It’s your wedding day, sweetheart. It’s all about you.”

Now maybe you’re one of those people who learned early in life that you weren’t the center of the universe. Whether that was because of incredibly effective parenting or you chalk it up to your “personality”, you are amazing and rare. My hunch is that most of us truly battle with wanting the world to revolve around “me”. My observation is that most of us see self-centeredness for what it is, but that some go through life blinded by their own need to be affirmed and catered to by everyone else.

Something in me nauseates my soul when I realize I want it all my way.

It must be that when you take a look at our Savior you find the direct opposite of someone who lived for self. His mission was not to be served, He said, but to serve. When He was challenged about His agenda He said He had come not to do His own will but the will of His father. When His closest friends totally missed the lessons He was trying to get through to them He didn’t give up on them.

Once, when an opportunity was given Him to exercise legal authority that was His and condemn a guilty lawbreaker to death, He instead chose to gently and compassionately extend grace. Faced with impending arrest, torture and death, His request in prayer was for His own will to be submissive to His Father’s. Later that night, as those closest to Him betrayed, then abandoned and denied Him, He completed His mission on their behalves.

There was not a self-centered cell in His body. Not a bad example to follow.

Someone noted for following Christ was a former egomaniac with a self-appointed calling to destroy the movement Jesus began. But once He came to know the very one he had hated, his life was changed in a radical way. To the Galatian churches he penned these words that so well describe a better way to live than for self.

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When I see myself as dead to self because of the new life given to me by Christ then and only then can I abandon self-centeredness. It may be the toughest lesson in life to learn: “It’s not about me”. But once it is embraced life becomes a smile instead of a pout.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This past weekend found me transported back in time. Way back! I was on the West Coast for a reunion.

Forty years ago, when I was a 15-year-old sophomore in high school my family moved from Northern Virginia to Southern California. We moved in the middle of the school year to a place where we literally knew no one. Most people might think that would be a traumatic experience for an adolescent, but not so for me. That move proved to be a most positive life-change for me.

Because our family was Christian, Mom and Dad made sure the first Sunday we were in town we found a church to attend. Guess what? It was not just any church…it was the right church for us. And for the next 19 months that we lived there the influence of that church – especially the youth of the church – played a huge role in shaping my life.

So now, every few years the youth group of that era in the 1970’s get together to re-connect. What’s most interesting is that the church no longer exists, but there indeed is a “tie that binds”, even four decades later.

Reunions are great times, whether they are family, school, military units, whatever. Rekindling those relationships forged long ago brings great joy as we hear each other’s stories, both old and new.

Reunion is also part of the Christian faith. The “blessed hope” of the believer is that one day we will be reunited in heaven forever with those who have gone before us, and most importantly, we’ll be in the presence of the Lord. It’s something we anticipated.

What will happen then? Well, one thing is that we will be changed. As my long ago friends and I began to gather Saturday it became clear that we weren’t quite the same as we were in high school! A few more pounds. A bit less hair. Glasses adorned most faces. We were the same people…but different. Age does that!

The Bible tells us that when we get to heaven a transformation will take place in our bodies. Paul encouraged the Corinthian church with these words about that future day:

“Listen! I am telling you a mystery: We will not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed.” – 1 Corinthians 15:51-52

We won’t be the same, yet we’ll recognize each other. I had no problem at the reunion recognizing long ago friends – even those I had not seen since 1973. In heaven, although we’ll be given perfect bodies, they will somehow still be recognizable to those who knew us and “we’ll be known as we are known”. Different, but greatly improved! Maybe best of all the lame will walk, the blind will see. Our physical limitations and handicaps will be gone forever.

If you belong to Jesus the Holy Spirit lives within you as the guarantee that you’ll arrive at your heavenly destination safely and forever. It’s where Jesus is and all who have died before you in Him. It will be a time of great reunion.

The good news is that Christ is preparing heaven right now for all who have put their trust in Him. And He guarantees they will arrive there one day safe and sound. The old hymn says, “What a day of rejoicing that will be!”

I hope to see you there!