Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August 25, 2015

"But where there are prophecies they shall cease." I Corinthians 13:8

The word used for "prophecies" is more about forth-telling than it is about foretelling. In other words, it refers to preaching not predicting.

Many things in the church have changed over the generations but thankfully, preaching remains central in churches. The Word is the life-blood of any healthy church. Those who are fortunate enough to be called to preach the Word should devote themselves to prayer and study to assure they do it as well as they can.

It has been my great joy to preach and teach the Word for 44 years now. I would be thrilled to have another 44 years to do it!

I want to establish my high regard for preaching the Word before I move on in this article.

Now, for some context and perspective. The Corinthian church had one of the greatest preachers ever in the Apostle Paul but it was an extremely unhealthy church. They also had another dynamic preacher named Apollos!

So, as important as preaching is, building a church solely on the foundation of preaching is not the best way to build. I know that sounds contradictory so let me explain.

As evidenced in the Corinthian Church, preaching easily becomes intricately identified with the preacher and over time his persona and personality can steal the church's focus.

When that happens, the church begins to become unhealthy.

One church that comes to mind is the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. For forty years this church prospered in the shadow of Hollywood and Disneyland under the preaching and promotion skills of Dr. Robert Schuller. His engaging personality and positive self-help sermons were featured on a weekly television show "The Hour of Power!". Using the world-wide platform of television and a score of best-selling books He leveraged his popularity to build an amazing architectural marvel known as "The Crystal Cathedral".  

But, unfortunately, as age took a toll on his energy, his mental sharpness, and his judgment, he was unable to maintain the level of performance needed to sustain the momentum. For all his success he had failed to raise up a successor. The ministry went bankrupt and the building was purchased by the Catholic Diocese.

This story is a high profile example but by no means an isolated case. It serves as a sad reminder that while it is important to build a church around Biblical preaching the leadership should be very careful not to allow it to be built around the preacher.

Preachers can fail. Preachers come and go. Churches that build primarily around a preacher will ultimately fail. "Love never fails!"

August 24, 2015

"Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they shall be stilled; where there is knowledge it will pass away." I Corinthians 13:8

As I come to the end of this Summer sermon series on I Corinthians 13:8, I was given an unexpected but very valuable and practical insight into church health.

Remember that this letter was written to a church! The Church in Corinth was a very gifted church but also quite a carnal body of believers. As a result, we see a struggling strife-filled church. So, all of the advice and counsel offered by the Apostle Paul was in the context of bringing spiritual health to an unhealthy church.

For our purposes at FredWes I want to offer a justification for our ministry vision of "loving people to life".

I want you to notice four points of emphasis active in this church: love, preaching, speaking in tongues, and knowledge. As I noticed it and thought about it I came to the realization that many modern churches pick these same emphases to build their churches upon. Let me give you an example.

There are preaching (prophecy) based churches. 

Preaching the Word of God is a central priority and sacred responsibility of any church. It is one way we justify our existence. No church can be healthy unless it has solid Bible-based preaching presented with practical life applications.

BUT there are churches who build their vision around the preaching ministry of a certain preacher. The talent, the personality, and giftedness of that preacher become the driving force of that congregation. People invite their friends primarily to see and hear that preacher. Much of the church budget is directed around the purpose of promoting his preaching skills on TV or radio or building bigger buildings to accommodate more "fans" of their celebrity preacher. In this environment it is easy for the preacher to begin believing his own celebrity status. While this model has worked to create some large and influential churches, they often don't endure past the end of that pastor's tenure.

Speaking in unknown or ecstatic languages (tongues) is a central emphasis for some churches. Some Christians believe that speaking in these mystical languages is the evidence of having been filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Holy Spirit is the will of God for every believer but there is debate about whether the evidence of being Spirit-filled is manifested primarily through this gift of tongues or by the manifestation of spiritual fruit. (See Galatians 5:16-26).

Churches have been and are being built around the teaching of speaking in tongues. The manifestation of this gift becomes the central focus of their worship, their teaching, their preaching, their doctrines and their ministry emphasis. In many cases, these churches do not have happy endings just as, what happened in the Corinthians Church, this practice becomes a source of spiritual pride that becomes divisive. There are large churches that have been built around this emphasis but not many healthy ones.

Also, there are many churches built around "knowledge". What do I mean by that? What am I talking about? I am referring to churches that build around a big idea or a strategy borrowed from another successful church. They believe that imitating a successful model will guarantee such for their church. While some large and significant churches have been built  by essentially becoming "clones" of another church, it is very tempting to become so enamored or committed to implementing and sustaining the strategy they lose site of Biblical mandates for the Church.

While there can be no denying that growing and influential churches exist using each of these three visions, it is clear that the central truth of I Corinthians 13 is there's a better foundation upon which to build a church.

Do you  know what that is?

Is your church built on one of these three models?

August 23, 2015

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." Hebrews 11:1-3

To believe in creation requires faith. Accepting the evolutionary theory of origin also takes faith. Because faith is defined as "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see". Neither creationists or evolutionists have seen their "first cause" each is certain of its existence. Creationists put their faith in Scripture while evolutionists put their trust in science. Which do you think forms the best foundation?

Frank Crick is a Nobel-prize winning biologist who helped with the discovery of DNA. He is a man who has devoted his life to science and has invested great faith in it. Here is a quote from him relating to the origin of the universe, "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to almost be a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to have been satisfied to get it going."

Science journalist and author, Charles Siefe observed, "It seems like a tremendous coincidence that the universe is suitable for life."

Coincidence? Miracle? Random chance occurance? What is the origin of our universe?

One thing is sure, the tolerance for error in the beginning of the universe was extremely slight. Astro-physicist, Lawrence Krause, for instance, wrote that if the force of gravity were changed by 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001%, both the planet Earth and the sun would be nonexistent.

Honest examination of the facts and the evidence and the mathematical probabilities strongly favor supernatural creation as the origin of our universe. But your final answer will come down to where you place your faith. And faith is based on what you hope to be true.

Evolutionists hope that God does not exist and that the universe spontaneously exploded into existence. Why would they not want God to be the Creator of the universe?

Again, I hearken by to my two main reasons offered previously:

1) They want to be in control of their own lives.

2) They want to sin without having any consequences.

If, as Scripture records, God is the Creator, then He is in control and we are accountable to Him. But, if the scientific theory of the "Big Bang" and evolution are correct, then their is no God and we are in charge.

That is the essence of sin. St. Paul expressed it this way:

"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." Romans 1:19-21

I would caution you against hoping God away from the creation process. If there is no God and if all that we see in our world and universe is an incredible coincidence, then where is our security? If it all came together via a random occurrence of matter and energy, what is to keep it from all coming apart? How can you have hope in the midst of that uncertainty? If we can only be certain of the moment in which we live then what is the purpose of living? If we are gods, what has our deity gained us?

If you are trusting in science, has science ever been wrong? Are you sure that you want to pin your hopes on something as inexact as science?

"Faith is the substance of things hoped for...." Be careful what you hope for.