Crises of Faith – 3

Today I want us to look at the state of the church in America.  We see its values being attacked on a daily basis and its effect on the American culture lessening continually.  Church attendance is shrinking and the message is becoming confused with false doctrine.  In short, we are steadily losing ground  

Churches are trying different strategies to try to turn the tide, but nothing seems to bring lasting results.  One of the cries is that the church is out of date and boring, so some churches are changing the format to include a different type of music and dress code to make people feel more comfortable.  The doctrines are being watered down and compromised.  Some churches are promoting the “prosperity gospel” that is measured by physical prosperity.  While it is true that the attendance does increase for a time and the excitement is there, it is also true that many of the traditional values are driven out of the church and when the emotions subside (and they will) and when the music style changes (and it will), then the same results of a diminishing core will certainly follow. 

The reason that these will be the results will follow is that they have not identified the real problem.  It is just as my father used to say, “you can’t fix it until you know what is broke.”  Attendance and excitement are not what makes a church effective.  In reality, it is much easier to fill a church with people than it is to fill a heart with hope. 

There are several flaws in this type of approach to building a church.  First of all, we need to remember that the church belongs to the Lord.  It is not our church and therefore the ultimate responsibility is His and not ours.  He is the one who has the power to convict of sin, and He is the one who will draw the people to come.  The point is that He will fill the church in direct proportion to the room we make in our hearts for Him.  God is willing and able to turn the tide but His grace is frustrated by our refusal to surrender the control of our lives to Him.  As long as we cling to the controls of the church, we prevent God from working as He wants to and our faith is in our abilities instead of in Him. 

As I shared with you in my last blog, the object of our faith is the Lord.  Not in what He will do but simply in Him.  We need to trust His working and not our programs.  We need to trust His promises and not our ways.  Our faith must not be in our ability but in His ability to effect change in us first and then in our living in His ways.  Here is a glimpse of what that means:   new life comes from the death to the old life; gain comes from giving; greatness comes from serving; humility and compassion trumps power and authority and Love never fails.  When the lost world sees the life of Christ in the believer, then that is the only thing that will satisfy the hunger of the heart.  No other plan of man will work to stabilize the church.  The problem is not in what we are doing but is in our failing to live by faith in Him.  Romans 14:3 states that whatsoever is not of faith is sin and Hebrews 11:6 states that without faith it is impossible to please Him.  That is why I say we are in a Crises of Faith.   We are religious but not righteous.  2Ti 3:5  Having a form of godliness but denying  the power thereof.

Crises of Faith – 2

In my last post I stated that America and some other countries around the world are experiencing a decline in many areas of church life that include attendance, finance and respect, is due to a crises of faith.  Today I will begin to explore why I make such a bold statement.

Before we can really address this issue we must define some words that we use so often with many different meanings, so that is where I will focus this blog entry.  The first word is faith.  It can mean anything from a wish, to a ritual, to a feeling, to a religion.  If we are to be able to communicate on the same plane we must understand faith in the same context.  So let’s begin with how Webster’s Dictionary definition.  1.Unquesting belief that does not require proof or evidence.  2.  Unquestioning belief in God, religious tenents, etc.  3.  A religion or a system of religious beliefs (the Catholic faith).  4.  Anything believed.  5. Complete trust confidence, or reliance.  6.  Allegiance to some person or thing; loyalty . . .  As you can see there is a wide variety of ideas as to what is meant by the word faith in the English language. 

The biblical definition of faith is much more restrictive in its meaning.   I reference the Greek language, and specifically koine Greek, since that is the language that the Bible was written in.  Of the 254 times that faith is used in the bible, all but two of them are in the New Testament, and use the Greek word, pistis, which means to trust or rely upon.  Both of the times it is used in the Old Testament it uses a word of the same meaning, and Habakkuk is quoted three times in the New Testament where pistis is the word that is translated as faith.

We can therefore deduct that the meaning of faith in the Bible means to rely or trust.  It is therefore means to rely or trust is someone or something beyond ourselves.  By definition, then, it cannot mean that it is a dependence upon our ability, gifts or effort and is dependent upon that in which we trust.  So what is the object of our faith?  That is where our faith is validated or invalidated.  The object of our faith must be able to control the outcome.  If it has no power to perform then it is dead faith, and if it is flawed it will produce a flawed product.  The only object that is capable of such power as is promised is God, Himself.  That is also the one to whom we are directed to place our faith in.  Have faith in God is the directive of the Bible.  So we can conclude that any faith in anyone or anything other than God is not Biblical faith.  Further, faith in the wrong object cannot produce the fulfillment of the thing sought.  This is one of the prime reasons that “our” faith doesn’t work.  Faith must have the proper object of trust.

That brings us to another critical point and that is that if we are trusting another (ie. God), then He is in control and not us.  You do not have the control of the outcome but you are trusting in the one who knows best and does what is best.  You may not understand the why of the outcome but because of who it is that you are trusting, you entrust the results to Him. 

In my next posts I will address the operation of faith, the steps of faith and many other aspects of faith that help us to understand why our faith is not productive and our church are so enemic.

A Crisis of Faith

There is a strange phenomenon going on in the churches of America.  It is affecting all churches of all sizes and all denominations and that is that the attendance is dropping, as well as resources, influence and power.  If it were only one denomination we might conclude it was because of a teaching or doctrine.  If it were just the larger churches or just the smaller churches we might conclude it was because of resources.  But it is affecting all churches which are causing church leaders to ask why is it happening.  I have even heard that it is the fulfilling of the prophecy that times will wax worse and worse as we get closer to the end times.  However, this process of degenerating has been going on for thousands of years already.  No, this phenomenon is something else that has not yet been understood by the vast majority of the churches.

I remember before I became a Christian that it was hard to distinguish between the Christians and the non-believers.   They all seemed to follow the same moral code and conduct.  There was a general respect for the church member over the nonmember but little else.  Later, after I became a Christian I became curious about not seeing God’s power working in the lives of the members and churches.  I wondered why I didn’t see or hear much about God doing much in His people.  Then the scandals of the tele-evangelist and the breakdown of our national morals followed, until today when we have been devastated by compromising many of our long held beliefs.  Despair has become much more prevalent and there are all manner of “churches” sprouting up that claim that the long held truths that we have stood on for ages are no longer valid and were just for a time.

Lest I be understood to be saying that there is no hope and that everything is falling apart, I want to say that this is nothing new.  It has happened many times before.  If fact, every great revival of history began in such times as we are in today.  Let me also say that this phenomenon is not worldwide, though it is found in several countries.  Last year, I visited the underground church in another country and found an altogether different church.  There it was illegal to publically share your faith and Christianity was declared as darkness by the government.  Still, believers were so hungry for the gospel that they would travel up to two hours to a Bible Study; they would arrive 30-45 minutes early and quietly pray and read their bible;  sit on a plastic child’s stool that didn’t even have a back, for nearly 3 hours without complaining or squirming around;  take notes like a college student studying for an exam; stay for an hour or more in fellowship; and travel the up to two hours home.  After they completed their work day they would return the following evening and each day thereafter.  They weren’t tardy or missed opportunities but considered it an honor to be able to be there and were very grateful.  I came home wanting to bring that back with me.  Under these conditions the ratio of Christians was around 1in14 where here it is somewhere between 1in50 or 1in100

So we come back to the question of what is wrong in our churches in America.  I have prayerfully considered this for a long time and remembered what my Father told me years ago, “ You can’t fix it until you know what is broke.”  If we do not properly diagnose the problem we will just be treating the symptoms and will not see real change so I share with you what I believe is the real problem.  We are in a crises of faith.  With all of the books that are written on faith, I do not know of one that is addressing this as the problem.  So I will be writing several post on this and hopefully we can move closer to the center of God’s will in this matter.  After all, Romans 14:23 tells us that whatsoever is not of faith is sin and Hebrews 11:6 tells us that without faith it is impossible to please Him.  I conclude therefore that until we get our faith walk right that we will see a continued deterioration of our churches and the quality of life that we live.

Worship

Think back to a recent worship experience.  Was it enjoyable?  Was it memorable?  How about life changing?  Sometimes we leave the service with an “oh hum” attitude that leaves us examining the value of the use of our time. 

Your response to the worship service is quite revealing and it is worth noting how you left the worship service.  The first thing you notice is was it a positive experience or did it leave you with something missing.  It may be the service but it could also be because of what is going on within you.  Before we go criticizing the church for failing to bring you into worship, we should at least consider that it may not be their fault.  Worship is personal between you and God and must begin with us.  Worship is possible in any situation when we are focused on Him, rather than on ourselves.

Now look at the focus of the worship.  To what did the service call your attention?   Did it focus on life in the here and now or in the sweet by and by?  Did it emphasis individuals or the Lord?  Sometimes it seems as though the leaders are saying, “Hey, look at me” rather than “Hey, look at Him.”  Was the main emphasis the church growth, a program, a performance, or was it one of what God is doing and how He is leading.  Oh, and be sure to check out your own expectations.  Were you looking to be entertained or were you looking for some direction or answer from God?

Thirdly, Look at the message, itself.  Did you take notes?  Even if you never look at them again, taking notes are beneficial for you to digest the message and to organize your thoughts.  Can you tell about the message in a word or sentence or two?  What was the message about?  Another very important point is was the interpretation in agreement with clear biblical doctrine.  The message should be directed by its text.  Preaching should break open the hidden things of the text and expose it to be examined by the listener.  Where did you thoughts travel?  Did your thoughts travel heavenward or were they anchored here in this world by circumstances or needs.   Were they led by the speaker or was you focus on things of this life and you never caught the concept of what is beyond this life only. 

Fourthly, consider your vision of life, were you left with the feeling of times are getting worse and worse, or did you leave with hope in the end that God has a plan and He is in control.  There are needs a plenty and difficulty is common to all but how does God fit into all of life.  What is the purpose of God in allowing us to go through all of this?  How can we have peace in the midst of all of this turmoil?

Finally, as you think back over this experience, were your expectations met?  This may sound strange to you at first, but I hope that they were not.  Many people leave a church because their “needs” were not  being met.  The criticism vary and may include such things as the sermon was too long, the choir is always off key, so and so has this problem, and so on.   This type of criticism is selfish and focuses only on self.  It lacks understanding of the others and the point of worship.  Worship is a corporate event and includes everyone.  Though it is true that God is concerned about your every need, it is also true that He is concerned about everyone’s individual needs.  We all need to be loved and valued.  True worship finds us as a part of God’s plan that includes everyone and excludes no one. 

So, as you consider your own worship experience, consider that worship requires and investment of yourselves, a discipline to bring self under His control, a vision beyond this life into the next, a faith in God and not in something temporal such as a man or church or a plan, and  a surrender to the will of God rather than just your will. My prayer for you is that your worship will become richer and fuller with each experience. Since worship is at least a part of our eternal existence, we should be practicing it now.

I cannot take credit for this insight as it was outlined by David Jeremiah with the following thoughts:

                It is not about us – it is about Him

                It is not about here (the physical) – it is about there (the eternal)

                It is not about what is seen – it is about what is unseen

                It is not about now – it is about then      

                It is not about one person – it is about many people

What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?

I have listed a few of my favorite scriptures on believing as I will be discussing them and they are here for your reference.

John 6:29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

Mark 9:23 Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.

Matthew 17:19-20 Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out?  And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

John 14:12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.

In our harried world of social networking, busy schedules, pressures, and hectic paces, we often try to simplify or reduce the topic to one main idea.  We have all heard the saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”  When it comes to studying the Bible, we often look for basic concepts or verses that go straight to the heart of the truth.  One verse that was eye opening to me was John 6:28-29 (The title of this article and verse 29 listed above).  I was a new Christian and I simply wanted to know what I should be doing.  I didn’t know a lot of verses or history and it was all new to me so I wanted to just be doing the right thing.  I wasn’t interested in denominations or traditions, just what the Bible said.  Verse 29 summed it up for me.

But then I asked the question, “What does it mean, to believe on Him?”  I had a generic idea that it meant to be in agreement and to do right things but what were those things that I was supposed to do?  Like so many other people, I thought that the Lord would be pleased with me if I did the right things.  My understanding was in the doing, but the verse said that it was in believing and not in the doing.  As I studied I learned that the word, believe and the word faith are the same word in the Greek.  That word is pistis and it is translated as believe in one place and faith in another.  This opened a whole new thought process to me.  The Lord is not looking for me to do great things but He is asking me to allow Him to do great things through me.  Now I am not working for God (as though I am earning His favor), but He is working on me, and consequently through me so that he can transform me into His likeness and image to prepare me for eternity.

I learned that to believe on Him is to trust and rely on Him to do the work.  It is His job to do the mighty works and it is my job to be in a position of faith, reliance and dependence on Him for the results.  Those results are limitless. There is nothing impossible that he will not do to those who are believing in Him.   This brings up the question, why then, do we not see this power working in and through our churches today?  I believe that He answered that in Matthew 17:19-20.  The disciples could not cast out the demon because of their “lack of faith”.  But it was not a shortage of faith, rather it was that their faith was not in Him.  This was also brought out with the father of the demon possessed son.  He began with the word “if”, as though to say I don’t know you well enough to trust you but I have no other one to turn to so please help.  I trust you to help my son, but I need you to first help me with my faith.  The barrier to our seeing God work is that we see him as a man, but he works when we see him as God.

This faith in Jesus is to see him as the God of Creation who can move mountains.  Even to the extent of using the likes of me to do greater works than those that He was doing.  Simply put, to do the impossible.  So how do you know Jesus?  Is He just a man?  Or even a prophet?  A might man of power?  Or is he very God who loves you and will spare no expense, and cross any barrier that we might know Him for who He is and know His resurrected power in this present evil time.

John 14:14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.

Luke 1:37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

My Tribute to Joel Bandy

This Saturday, at 2:00 PM we will be attending the memorial service for Joel Bandy who was translating my book into Russian. He passed away about three weeks ago. Apparently, he passed away shortly after we talked on Saturday night. He had just finished Chapter 6 and he said that he would send me a copy the next day. He never had another day to send me that chapter but his brother has his laptop and told me that he would be sure that I would get it.

Joel and I talked about my trip to China last year and he wondered if something would happen and I would wind up in prison or something and he would lose me as his friend. You need to understand that he had called me several times a week for over 25 years. We had come to understand each other quite well. I was one of the few friends that he had and I had become one of his closest friends, but more than that I was his counselor, pastor, and father figure.

Joel had many problems but faithfulness wasn’t one of them. I always tried to tell him the truth, even though it hurt at times. He had grown from an angry man to a patient and forgiving person. He struggled with his ministry to the Lord and would often try to guess what it was. He made many guesses but none of them ever went anywhere. He would often come back to translating Russian which is what he was doing before his mental illness took hold. One day I suggested that if he wanted to be used in translation then he should be active in translating. He said, I have no one who wants to hire me and I have no avenues to take. I said, then you should just start translating something so you would have it to show. We talked back and forth for a few minutes and each time we came to a wall where he would just stop. Then I said to him, Okay, then translate my book to which he replied that it was too big a project. So then I said that he should try just one chapter and again he said that was too much of a commitment. I finally suggested that he had to start somewhere so just do a sentence. After a bit he said that he would do a sentence.

When he called me back he had done a whole paragraph, even though it was a short one. We then went over it and he read it to me in Russian, and it was fine. Then he was willing to take on one more paragraph which turned out the same way. Then for the next two years he would call when he had completed a paragraph and we went over it until he had finished a whole chapter. Then it was two, then three and the last time we talked he had finished six chapters which was over half of the book. Why do I recount all the details. Because he was that detailed. He would search a word that didn’t say it exactly right until he found a way to say it that carried the same meaning that I had intended when I wrote the book. He took great pride in doing a great job.

He was that same way in his personal relationship with the Lord. It took him a long time to get the doctrine right but once he understood it he would stand as strong as any one could. I had the privilege of leading him to the Lord and I was often rewarded by his example. I have never know anyone who spent more time in prayer and the study of the Bible, than Joel. He was a very lonely individual but he would often say that the Lord was his comforter and he longed to be with the Lord. Not in a suicidal way but in an eternal way as he recognized the temporary nature of this life and the promise of the eternal life of the Lord.

Though we talked about death and how he would make it if his mother, brother or I would be gone, we never considered how we would continue without him. That now is where I sit and I rejoice in his victory. I know that he is not lonely any more and he is with the Lord.