Monday, March 31, 2008

Who's winning the war?

A battle wages upon the earth. Not a battle for oil. Nor political power. It's not a battle for rights. Nor a battle for the environment. A battle wages upon the earth for souls. And Islam is winning. According to The Vatican Newspaper, Islam is now the world's biggest religion. Apparently, Muslims make up 19.2% of the world's population while Roman Catholics come in second at 17.4%.

Considering that not all Roman Catholics possess a saving faith in Jesus Christ, this should disturb us. No. we shouldn't be angry at Muslims. We can't expect them to behave any differently than what their religion tells them to do. But we should take a good look at ourselves, the Church.

What is it that makes Islam attractive to a growing number of people on the planet? Here are some thoughts:

1. A conservative belief system with definite behavioral expectations.
2. A compelling hope of paradise for its followers.
3. A cadre of people willing to die for their convictions and doing so in numbers.
4. A clear explanation for what's wrong with the world and who's to blame.

Now, what makes being a Christian so unattractive to a growing number of people on the planet?

1. An unclear and unconvincing message.
Quite frankly, I believe that the Church has lost touch with its message. While Paul wrote in Romans 1 that he was not ashamed of the Gospel, western churches and those they've influenced do not preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We've made the Gospel a message of self-centered success and self-improvement. We preach a message of prosperity without sacrifice, life without death, comfort without the need for conviction, abundance without service.

Attempts at calling the church back to the Gospel has shifted the message from self-improvement to social improvement. Missional communities have risen up as a "subversive" movement away from the institutional church. But I am concerned that these well-intentioned "revolutionaries" may have also missed the target. I'm glad that a growing portion of the western church is recovering the social and justice dimensions of the Gospel. But I have yet to see any of them express the essence of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The fact that Christians can't even agree on what the Gospel message is is a strong factor to why people reject Christianity.

2. A lack of integrity between what Christians believe and how they behave.

This condition has been a plague among Christians since the inception of the Christian movement. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about not even associating with someone who calls himself a brother and yet lives contrary to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Sometimes, the strongest case against the Gospel is Christians themselves! Why would anyone want to join a group like that?

3. An inability to differentiate between Christianity and consumerism.

Possibly the greatest threat to genuine Christianity is consumerism. As Alan Hirsch wrote, "You cannot consume your way into discipleship." But our twisting of the Gospel (see point #1) has caused us to actually encourage consumerism rather than discipleship. The non-Western people of the world see Christianity and consumerism as one. Something, they would rather not be a part of.

The Church should have used the Gospel to redeem consumerism so that the resources that are produced may be used to serve the poor and fight for justice. Instead, consumerism has changed the Church to become selfish, self-centered, and self-serving. Definitely not something people are attracted to.

So what needs to happen to turn the tide of the war we are losing?

1. We must repent and return to the original Gospel message. The essence of the Gospel is that it has the power to save Jews and Gentiles. How does it do that? The message revolves around the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return of Jesus Christ. The Gospel saves us from the penalty of sin so that our relationship to God can be restored. But the Gospel also saves us from the power of sin so that we have the means by which to deal with our sinful and selfish nature and to become a new creation in Christ. In a word, the Gospel is the means by which we are transformed individually and corporately. Biblical principles will not change us. Without the Gospel, Biblical principles only enslave us once again to the law.

2. We must repent and return to living a life of integrity in line with the truth of the Gospel. For this to happen, we will need to return to the preaching and teaching of God's Word. Please do not misread "God's Word" as simply the Bible. To do so would lead us down the path of Biblical moralism and a return to legalism. We already have that today.

The preaching of God's Word means preaching and teaching the Bible through the lens of the Gospel. Every line in both Testaments must point us to Jesus. The Bible is not about you or me. The Bible isn't a book filled with principles to teach us how to live a life of abundance. It is a book about Jesus. From Genesis to Revelation, it is about Jesus. Every principle we "exegete" from the Bible should lead us to Jesus.

3. We must repent and return to demonstrating the power of the Gospel through signs and wonders. Perhaps the fulfillment of the Great Commission will come when we fulfill the Little Commission in Luke 10. The Gospel is transrational. It begins in the realm of facts, history, narrative but launches well beyond into the supernatural. Sings and wonders point to the validity and supremacy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church has been given supernatural power through the Holy Spirit in the name of Jesus to serve the Gospel by meeting the needs of people (healing, financial miracles, deliverance etc.).

4. We must raise up a generation of disciples who will lose their life for the sake of the Gospel. John Wesley once said, "Give me a hundred men who love God and hate sin, and we will turn the world upside down for Christ." Who will be that generation? If not us, who? If not now, when?

We are fighting what appears to be a losing battle. But there is still time to turn the tide, Our entire strategy and tactics must change. Repenting and returning to the Gospel will do that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lessons from Repentance

Just came back from Toronto where I taught an Encounter Weekend over the Easter holidays. Made some revisions in the teaching that seemed to go really well. One participant told another that it seemed that I was talking directly to him and about him. Always nice to hear that.

The first night, I spoke about repentance, showed a portion of "The Passion of the Christ." It was very moving. Then we had a time of personal repentance. The Lord spoke to me about 3 areas in my life:

1. Build God's dream.
2. Be who I was made to be.
3. The Gospel is my cause.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

New Directions

It's been forever since I posted on here. But just a quick note to say that I'm working on a new direction for my personal ministry. I'm trying to discover my "sweet spot" and build a ministry on that. I'm pretty convinced that I don't have it in me to running another church. So, I'm contemplating focusing on training and leadership development.