Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Different, But The Same . . .

"There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all." - 1 Corinthians 12:3-6 (NKJV)

Do you ever think about what would happen if every church in your area was exactly the same?  What if you all had the same styles of music?  Better yet, what if you all played the same list of songs? And in the exact same way?  What if all of those churches put on the same events?  What if all of the local pastors taught for exactly the same amount of time each service, used the same number of verses per message, and taught out of the same translation?

The answer to all of these questions is apparent: if anything, our churches would all reach the same people (if anyone,) and only the people who found this particular stencil of church appealing would be able to receive the Gospel.

Obviously, with the conglomeration of cultures that make the United States the diverse nation that it is, we wouldn't be able to reach all of the different kinds of people in our nation if we didn't use different kinds of bait (I say "bait" because Jesus called us to be fisher's of men; we're obviously not trying to dupe and lure people, seeing as we preach the truth.)  This seems to be a truth that all of us can accept, yet somehow we still manage to find a problem that ties directly into this idea: churches speaking out against the activities of other churches. 

Now, you may say, "I've never known another church to openly disapprove of the activities and outreaches of another church."  Well, stick around: the unfortunate truth is that you're likely to see it at some point.  And, even if we don't see it happen publicly, who knows the number of times leaders from a particular church have sat behind closed doors, ridiculing the activities of another body.  I'll give you an example:

Here in Arizona, we had a church that was putting on a very highly-publicized sermon series on sex (back when such things were less common than they are now.)  There were banners generated, stories run in local newspapers, and many other mediums used to draw attention to the sermon series.  Needless to say, community response was tremendous: the church, whose normal Sunday attendance was around 1600, was seeing Sunday crowds of around 3000 (my numbers may be off, but the difference in attendance was quite drastic.)  Many of these new attenders were people who may have never darkened the door of a church had the topic not been sex (we'll address that thought more in a moment.) 

Under normal circumstances, having that many people come into a church and be exposed to the Gospel would be highly celebrated, especially given the opportunity created to bring those people to Christ.  Of course, there was one problem: the subject matter used to bring the people in, and it drew fire from some local churches.  While most of the criticism was not given on the record (and thank God for that,) there was absolutely some disapproval among many local churches, wondering why we would go to such "extremes" just to get people to come to church.  Questions arose about the merit, morality, and motivation behind such a sermon series.  This is where our foundational scripture comes into play:

" . . . there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all."

Teaching openly about sex on a Sunday morning safely falls under the category of "diversities of activities."  Now, I realize that our canonized Bible is not exactly running over with teachings about the particulars of sex, but it is definitely a topic that it covers.  Nowhere in the Bible is there a passage that says we can't address it, and seeing as it's one of the foundational parts of marriage, it seems like something too important not to teach on.

At this point in our nation's history, it's probably safe to say that we need to do whatever it takes to reach as many people as we can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, short of committing sin to do so.  If that means that (God forbid) we need to teach on a topic that is relevant to most people in our country, and that will actually cause them to come to church because they see the value in what's being offered, then there should be no place for anyone to nay-say, especially if the salvation of lost souls is the result.

We're not saying that every church needs to teach on sex like this; obviously, we're a body, and we all perform different functions, and we're all necessary in our own way (more on this topic at another time;) what we are saying is that we can no longer afford to stand in the way of ministries that are doing something that reaches people!  The Church in America, in a lot of ways, has been highly ineffective for too long, and it can no longer be acceptable for us to throw our two cents in when a church is making an impact.  Remember: it's still God who is working all in all!  That means that if God's love is the motivation, and salvation results, then there should be nothing left to say.  Who are we to say that God can't use a teaching on sex to remove the veil from darkened eyes?  Or that a church conference on political issues can't cause a person's mind to be renewed?  Or that God disapproves of reaching out to prostitutes on the street? 

Remember: Jesus our savior met us at our level as a servant; in reaching our nation, we must be willing to do the same.

Please understand that this is by no means an exhaustive dissertation on the need for diversities of activities, and the need to embrace such diversities, but for now, this is sufficient for getting us thinking on the right track. 

I leave you with Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (NKJV):

"For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Picture Of Unity

Take a good look at the picture above; what do you see?  Do you notice anything this group?  Can you tell anything about their denominational alignment?  Does anything stand out about the kind of music they like, or what kind of outreaches they do?  Does anything at all seem, say, off?  Or weird? 

The answer to all of those questions is probably "no."

Let me let you in on what we're looking at: this picture was taken at a church in East Mesa, AZ.  What you see are elements of a few different churches, one of them a bilingual church, one of them a largely Caucasian church.  This photograph was taken after a worship service where multiple congregations were invited to come and worship God together in unity.  It was a powerful evening: God moved, people were touched, and we touched the heart of God.  It was a wonderful night, and an incredible experience. 

In reflecting on that service, I thought to myself, "There's something powerful about God's people coming together in worship."  Really, it best embodies that first verse of Psalm 133: "Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity." 

Then, I thought further: what if we could replicate this all over the country? 

Now, I know that there are huge worship gatherings all over the country every year, the best example of which being the OneDay worship festivals put on by the Passion group.

photo courtesy of

That's a lot of people!

In the midst of meetings like this, the power of God is able to really work because people are able to put aside their differences and focus on our creator and seeking His face. 

I find a problem, though, but it's not a problem with huge worship meetings that draw people in from all over the country; I find a problem with us being able to do this same thing among local churches, which is why the picture at the beginning of this post is so significant.

Yes, coming together on the level of OneDay is important, but here's the key: I believe that one of the things that God is waiting for is for the two little churches of fifty people that are three miles apart (and have never agreed on anything) to put aside their differences and seek His face, together.  That was the case with the image above: none of the congregations represented there have more than 50 members, but they made a point of coming together to seek God.  And God paid attention to the cries of his people in that service.  

Here's another thought: I've been a part of both large and small churches, and I've noticed that large churches are often not interested in anything another church does unless it's a larger ministry than theirs.  Now, I realize that larger churches have more things that they have to deal with simply because they have more people, but what's wrong with a pastor stepping down for a moment to get involved in something that a smaller ministry is doing?  I'm not saying that it's necessary all the time, but let's at least consider the possibility that God wants you to be involved in a smaller church's event, or worship service, or anything else they might be doing. 

On the flip side, some pastors of smaller churches absolutely refuse to get involved with larger ministries, whether it's because because they distrust them ("they might take our members,") or they feel that they're corrupt ("they must be watering down the Gospel,") or whatever other reason they may have.  The fact is that they could actually learn something by taking the time to participate in something that a larger ministry is doing, and use what they learn to be of greater good in their own community. 

In the end, all I'm saying is this: there are so many points that can divide us as a church, which is why we have to be proactive about promoting unity, and one of the best ways to do that is crossing congregational boundaries and coming together in worship.  Why is that one of the best ways?  Because God deserves all the glory on account of His love and His goodness, and we can all agree on that.

So, I challenge you with this: whether you're a pastor or parishioner, leader or team member, paid staff or volunteer, do something to connect with another church in your city, community, or neighborhood.  Pastors, reach out to another pastor that you maybe haven't reached out to in a long time (or ever) and arrange a cooperative worship service.  Take some time to get together and give God glory. 

See, what we want is for God to do what He did in Genesis 11: we want to come together in such a way that He wants to come down and see what's going on!  We don't want to continue in this mess of isolation that has turned people away from the church and ultimately away from God; we want to come together in unity and lift up Jesus so that he can draw all men to His side. 

The best picture of this that I can give is from Micah 2:12-13 (NKJV):

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
      I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
      I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
      Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
      They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.
      The one who breaks open will come up before them;
      They will break out,
      Pass through the gate,
      And go out by it;
      Their king will pass before them,
      With the LORD at their head.”

And let that be our prayer, o God, that as your people unite in you, that you would break open all the things that stand in our way, and lead us onward in victory as we march toward the redemption of our great nation.

God bless you as you continue to minister the Gospel everywhere you go.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Can We Discuss This In Private?

"These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Corinthians 2:13-14 (NKJV)

"As these disagreements and wrongs surface, why would you ever entrust them to the judgment of people you don't trust in any other way?  I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you're doing. Is it possible that there isn't one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don't believe it. And here you are taking each other to court before people who don't even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don't believe in the God of justice?" - 1 Corinthians 6:4-6 (Message)

I remember that, late in 2006, I was walking through the lobby of my church, in a building that we were sharing with a school.  It was late, and I was ready to go home.  As I passed by the school's reception desk, I noticed a recent issue of Time Magazine.  Normally, I wouldn't have cared to stop and look, but the cover story caught my attention: "Does God Want You To Be Rich?"  As I picked up the issue and began to read, my heart sank within me.

Here we had extremely high-profile preachers of the gospel going toe-to-toe, discussing the doctrine of prosperity (a topic we'll address at a later date.)  Normally, it wouldn't matter that these preachers were discussing this, or even that two of the most renowned of them were obviously at opposite ends of the discussion.  The problem was this: Time Magazine, a secular publication, was being given the opportunity to play referee over a divisive issue in the American Church.  This was especially troubling with one of the preachers referring to the other's viewpoint as, and I quote, "baloney," which was obviously the most mature term one can use in a debate, right?

Anyway, the article took me to the scripture mentioned at the beginning of this post.  The apostle Paul gave specific instructions about letting disputes like this be judged in the eye of a world that doesn't understand spiritual things: DON'T DO IT!  Now I realize that, in the actual context of 1 Corinthians 6, he's talking about lawsuits, but doesn't the same reasoning seem to apply here?  Why would we, who are supposed to represent the body of Christ as a whole, want to put any division in the body on display for the whole world to see?  Where is the positive witness in that?  According to 1 Corinthians 2, they can't even understand what we're talking about, so why would we include them in the discussion? 

What adds to this is the irony of  these passages being written in 1 Corinthians (to understand this point better, click the "Why This Blog?" link at the top of the page.)

Now, we as Christians know how to handle disputes (or at least we should.)  Can we agree to this?  Can we do what Paul did and determine, at least as far as the world is concerned, to not know anything except for Christ and Him crucified?  For now, that's all they need know.  The disagreements?  Let's keep those internal.  We can address and discuss them, but let's not drag the world into the debate. 

Now, let me say this: are there certain things that are going to come out anyway?  Will the media still try and take things that go on inside the Church and spin them negatively?  Will the darkness of this world still do everything it can to tarnish the name of Christ in the eyes of those who need Him most?  Yes, these things will happen.  Here's the difference: when they ask us for our opinion, let's stick to the company line, "Christ and Him crucified."  Is it OK for them to know that we don't agree on everything?  Yes, that's fine, but let's not go dragging our brothers and the differences in their beliefs through the mud just for the sake of some press, or for the sake of establishing our doctrinal superiority.  There's too many lives at stake for us to have any selfish ambition or gross division among us.

Let's keep our message to the world simple: "Jesus loves you, and you need Him."  That's what wins the lost.  Let's keep the rest of the discussion between us.

If you'd like to read the Time Magazine article, just click the link below:,9171,1533448-1,00.html

Thank you for your continued support, and for spreading the word about Psalm 133.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Welcome! It's About Time . . .

Psalm 133 (New King James Version)

A Song of Ascents. Of David.
 1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
         For brethren to dwell together in unity!
 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head,
         Running down on the beard,
         The beard of Aaron,
         Running down on the edge of his garments.
 3 It is like the dew of Hermon,
         Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
         For there the LORD commanded the blessing—
         Life forevermore.

Honestly, it's about time that someone devoted a reasonable amount of time to promoting unity in the Body of Christ, especially in it's American representation.

Yes, I realize that it's short-sighted to say "it's about time," as it is possible that there are lots of people who devote lots of time to promoting church unity, but, given the divisions that still exist among us, it couldn't possibly hurt to add another sound voice that uses Biblical perspective to address the issues that tear us apart.  Hence, the reason why we're all here: to identify the things that tear us apart, root out the things that don't belong, set aside the things that don't matter, and embrace the things that bring us together.  That is why God has inspired me to start the Psalm 133 blog.

Now, I've been in the church as far back as I can remember (which is at least the age of 5,) and have been a part of several different types of services and congregations, and have witnessed both great successes and absolute failures when it comes to unity in the Body of Christ.  I've watched Baptists and Assembly of God members work together in the most poverty-stricken parts of India, and I've watched like-minded believers who didn't even have denominational differences tear each other apart and divide a church, hamstringing a force for good in a community.

Why do we have such a disparity in our actions?  Do we not realize what the psalm is telling us?  Let me break it down for you in brief: when there's unity in the Church, the power of God can flow freely (the oil is a picture of the anointing power of God, just like in Psalm 23), and, he commands his blessing of life forevermore upon us!  How can we possibly allow division and strife to exist in our midst when it would keep us from promises such as these?

We'll break down the Psalm more in the coming posts.

Of course, in order to be in receipt of that commanded blessing, it's necessary for us to understand what unity actually looks like.  Does it mean that we all have to believe exactly the same things and interpret the Bible the same way?  Maybe it means eliminating the disputes between preachers that often become fodder for the media, and which are often proliferated just for the sake of some publicity and an ego boost.  We'll look at that in depth as well.

We'll also tackle individual issues and look at the Biblical perspective on them, things like speaking in tongues, money, denominations, etc.  We'll even look at practical ways for churches to work together to spread the Gospel, because, after all, that's why we're here, right?  For the sake of the glory of God and fulfillment of His Great Commission?

When all is said and done, I know there's a way for us to work together to bring in the harvest, and that's why we're going forward with this undertaking.  I hope you'll join me in helping to bring to light God's take on all of this, as we work to develop the unity that we need so that his power can flow and so that he can command the blessing upon us, even life forevermore.

Thank you.