The Purge


Maybe you’ve heard of “The Purge” movies. I haven’t, but from what I hear, they are set in a dystopian future where society has decided that rather than prohibit violence they should channel pent up aggression by allowing it to be unleashed during one 24 hour period once per year. There may be some people in our culture who watch those movies and think that would be a good idea. They might even have their own list of offenders they’d “purge”  on those days. 

I don’t think we’d ever get to that point (hopefully), but the mindset behind “The Purge” resides in every person. How can I confidently say that? Because, ever since The Fall of humanity, our social ecosystem has been contaminated with an invisible virulent contagion. The scriptures call it “leaven” and it’s baked right in to every family, clan, tribe and nation by default. What is this leaven? It is every individual’s secret disdain for his or her fellow human being. Why do people gossip and slander? Leaven. Why do they plot and undermine? Leaven. Why tell lies white or otherwise? Leaven. 

Christ in the gospels commands our attention and admiration because he is unleavened. He who could lambast the influential people of his day calling out their hypocrisy, which he called leaven, and then pray forgiveness over those who had crucified him. That’s an unleavened life. Should he have settled for our admiration, he would surely have died of a ripe old age surrounded by loved ones. But he didn’t settle. Instead, he commanded humanity to follow him and yeasty beasts that we are, we tortured him to death in response. How could it have been otherwise? And yet his solitary death has become The Purge we needed. 

Consider these words, from the apostle Paul: 

 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. – 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 NIV

The Purge took place on that hill 2000 years ago and it happens every day of every year for the believer. Every interaction on this contaminated plane can become the medium for the old leaven to grow in our hearts. Every careless act committed against us, every instance of neglect, every moral failure in another person presents us with an opportunity to return to quiet disdain. And once it returns it begins to spread, puffing us up. We resort to that broken narrative, “Hey, I’m not perfect, but at least I’m superior to most other people.” Oh damnable, lethal lie! May all those who hope for a coming eutopian world purge it today and so be fit for an unleavened environment. 

According to Paul, the ironic way we participate in the purge isn’t by stuffing our hurts or denying sin in others but rather by honestly confronting the problem. Note in the Corinthian passage, the call was not for that church to hide their brother’s sin but to honestly confront it. The unleavened bread isn’t denial but “sincerity and truth.” That’s the character of Christ. Those are the consistent attributes the of one who could offend so many while loving them so perfectly. Make no mistake, there is nothing more dangerous on every level than an uncushioned, unleavened existence in this hostile world. There also is no other means of fixing it. 

Ghandi’s Seven Social Sins

We were in an Indian restaurant yesterday and a video displaying Ghandi’s list of seven social sins came on the television behind me. My son read them out loud and as he did, I started to think, “Wow, it’s like he’s describing this year’s presidential candidates.” Politics aside, though, his list does provide a piercing insight for anyone who’s willing to consider how their own path contributes to the overall condition of the cultural environment in which we live. I commend this list to you. 

For the purposes of this blog, I want to highlight “Worship without sacrifice.” To American Christendom, “worship” means “singing in church.” We call our meeting places, “houses of worship.” I doubt anyone would dare to suggest that spending one hour per week at the equivalent of a Christian concert would count as a sacrifice. Christians in the first century understood that worship must be sacrificial. Here is one of my favorite texts on gospel inspired worship: 

 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:11-16 

There is an old chorus that goes, “We bring the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord.” For the author of the letter to the Hebrews, though, the real sacrifice of praise isn’t offered in the “house of the Lord” but “outside the camp.” We offer the sacrifice of praise when we profess the name of Christ among those who are hostile to him and his message. Those who have cast him from their lives will send us out of their presence as well. There we will find fellowship with him. 

Outside the camp, we will find the new community – the church as God has conceived it. In that new society, our material resources must be forfeited for love’s sake. The community in the wilderness joyfully divests itself of physical adornments in order to build a house in which God dwells. We become the house of worship that God sacrificed Jesus to build: 

 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22

If tomorrow, every brick and mortar religious institution was closed down, the church of God will have suffered absolutely no net loss. In traditional cell-celebration models of church, the home groups provide community and the Sunday morning experience provides a time to worship. This dichotomy only makes sense if a person equates worship with a Christian concert. Members of Life Teams don’t need an additional experience outside of the Life Team meeting in which to worship. Life Teams are worshipping communities. By sharing his life (making public profession of his name) and by sharing our lives (not forgetting to do good and to share with others) we offer the sacrifices that please God. 

All Have Fallen

Paul called the church, “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” As the pillar, the church holds the truth of God’s word up for the world to see. As the foundation, the church gives substance to the truth of that message as we live together in loving community. So, to fulfill our function as the church, we must share his life (as the pillar) and share our lives (as the foundation). Simply put, whatever else we are involved in as the people of God, if we’re not sharing the life giving message of Christ with a dying world and loving each other like Christ taught us how, we’re not doing our job.

I know that most Christians are concerned with the condition of those who have not submitted to Christ’s reign but that concern does precious little good when it does not get translated into action. We just need to open our mouths and speak the gospel to the lost. If we don’t know any lost people, then we need to find some. Here are some places to look:

  • Your neighborhood. Throw a block party, start a game night, BBQ with some immediate neighbors, participate in or start a neighborhood watch, invite others to join you in a clean up of common spaces, you name it.
  • Your extended family. If you didn’t come up in church, then chances are you have a potentially fertile field for gospel seed right in your own back yard. Pray and make a list of members of your extended family that do not know Christ. Then pray over that list and reach out to those on it.
  • Your workplace. Think about the people you interact with on a daily basis. What is their spiritual condition? Make a hit list and take people to lunch. Share your spiritual journey with them. Be on the ready to pray with any who have a need.
  • Meetup.com. I’m not a big fan of doing evangelism through social media but we can initiate face to face conversations by reaching out online to people. Meetup.com is an online platform designed to bring people together in face to face community around shared interests. If believers in Christ don’t use this resource to share the gospel, I have to wonder if we won’t kick ourselves on the day when he returns to settle accounts.

Those are just a few places to start. If you don’t know how to share your faith. We have training and resources available to assist people of any personality type. Just make the ask. To get you started, check out this evangelistic website that Jason put together. We have cards with the URL printed on the front that you can hand out.

All or Nothing

Do you know someone whose Facebook feed alternates between affirmations of faith and vulgar sexual references? I look at those people and ask myself, “How do they understand faith in God?” After much consideration and dialogue with others about their faith, I’ve come to the conclusion that many people see God as a means to an end. They want to be safe, prosperous, productive, worthwhile, or thin. They know that they are not up to the task of making these things happen so they reach out for an invisible, omnipotent being who will provide what they lack. Their brief prayers consist mostly of variations on “Help me, God.”  Those who watch their lives want nothing to do with their God since these self-centered “adherents” broadcast to the world that faith in God is the desperate, fainting hope of the weak. But the gospel of Christ calls us to much more.

In the gospel, the faith of Christ is revealed and it is through that faith that we come to God. For Christ, faith in his Father meant the exact opposite of that which is practiced by self-centered professors. The faith of Christ called him to lay down his life in the service of God and humanity, knowing that his God was able to rescue him even from the grave. For Christ, faith in God was not a means to an end but the end itself as well as the means. As Paul ejaculates in Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
    that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
    To him be the glory forever! Amen. (NIV -emphasis mine NAW)

So, here’s the bottom line. If you see God as a means to financial security, a happy family, better self image or any other personal goal, you’re not a Christian. Stop saying you are one. A Christian is a person who follows Christ who himself was a pauper who died a bachelor in shame and disgrace for the will of God. The faith that saves is the ruthless trust that enables us to lay down our lives entirely because we know he will raise us up on the last day.

Tim Keller says it more kindly and eloquently than I do:

Are you getting into Christianity to serve God or to get God to serve you? The latter is a kind of shamanism, an effort to get control of God through your prayers and practices. It is using God rather than trusting him.

I’m afraid all too often, it is the leaders in the church who have accepted “believers” on these terms in order to get them in the door and get their money in the plate. I suppose that is because the leaders themselves have their own ministry agenda that they want to use God to support. Regardless of our calling, faith in God will always be an abandonment of self into the hands of God for the sake of his glory. Paradoxically, our joy awaits on the other side.

Stand Up, Church

Christ said, “On this rock, I will build my church.” (Matt. 16:18)

Paul wrote that, “His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph. 3:10-11 NIV)

God means to disclose himself to the world through the church – the Body of Christ. At times, institutional dysfunction cripples the body keeping it from faithfully representing the nature of God. When this happens, organizations often arise to supplement the church’s work in the world. For instance, in the 90’s, the church’s failure to attract and develop strong Christian men gave rise to Promise Keepers. In time, the church caught up with programs such as Men’s Fraternity. When that happened, the interest in Promise Keepers waned and the organization eventually dissolved. In my view, this was an ideal situation.

If parachurch serves a purpose at all, it must be remedial just like a crutch or a wheelchair. The goal should be to bring healing to the body and eventually to shed that which has been brought in beside.  Can you imagine a person breaking her leg and being told by her physician that due to an advance in prosthetics she might as well amputate rather than go through a painful rehab? And yet that outlandish scenario mirrors our tendency to produce and maintain parachurch ministries. Christ’s organic model becomes outmoded in favor of human innovation.

“What’s the big deal,” you might ask, “as long as the work is being done.” Yes, parachurch ministries often do a good and efficient job of teaching the Bible, developing youth, and mobilization world evangelism. I’m not saying they don’t. I’m saying that the church will do a better job if we insist that the church be the church and not abdicate to specialists. The church will do a better job because the church is holistic and being holistic, it can produce wholly holy disciples rather than a la carte consumers. A believer who gets her Bible teaching from BSF, contributes to a mission agency, co-chairs her kids’ home school cooperative, and volunteers with a community outreach will have a lot of acquaintances but few real friends because she simply will have no time to develop relationships.

Conversely, a believer who sees his Life Team as a complete expression of the church will work with his gospel community to go deeper in an understanding of the Scriptures, develop children in an intergenerational setting, meet the needs of other members and instigate a myriad of outreach initiatives. In the latter case, the disciple, because he’s always around the same people, will be able to develop deep relationships that can realize Christ’s ultimate vision, that we would love each other as he has loved us. Or as Paul went on to write, “…to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:19 NIV)

Neil Cole had some very helpful things to say on the subject of parachurch and its effect on the church in his book, Organic Leadership. Check it out here:

Here are a few ways that some parachurch ministries are parasitic: they feed off the church’s resources, off the church’s purposes, and off the church’s experience.

Feeding Off the Church’s Resources: So many churches are weak and anemic because they have lost valuable resources-to ministries that were originally started to help the church! Valuable leaders, often the best, are recruited away from churches. Then those same leaders are sent back to the church to raise their financial support so they can serve in the parachurch ministry.

Feeding Off the Church’s Purposes: Often parachurches exist to fulfill the mission that was clearly given to the church. Whether it is evangelism and church planting or equipping and training leaders, the churches of America are forfeiting the role they should have, so other ministries, which are supposedly not the church, can step in the gap. The church has outsourced much of the work that she is called to do.

This is an unfortunate reality today. The church has become irrelevant and out of touch in our world, mostly because she has surrendered her God-given role in society and culture. Often the church is a feeble corporation incapable of contributing anything of substance to a lost world. In many cases, she has farmed out the most important tasks:

  • Her leadership development has been assumed by colleges, seminaries, and Bible institutes.
  • Her compassion and social justice have been given over to nonprofit charitable organizations.
  • Her global mission has been relinquished to mission agencies and evangelistic ministries.
  • Church government and decision making have often been forfeited to denominational offices.
  • Her prophetic voice has been replaced by publishing houses, self-help gurus, and futurist authors.
  • Her emotional and spiritual healing has been taken over by psychologists, psychiatrists, and family counseling services.

The essence of the church is lost when she farms out her responsibilities to other organizations. The world today looks at the church wondering what relevance she has. The only use they see for the church is performing the sacerdotal duties of preaching, marrying, burying, baptizing, and passing around wafers and grape juice. How sad! The church was once a catalyst for artistic expression, social change, and the founding of hospitals, schools, and missionary enterprise, but today she has settled for providing a one-hour-a-week worship concert, an offering plate, and a sermon.

Feeding Off the Church’s Experience: There are a growing number of experts on church health, growth, and multiplication that have not ever done any of the things they teach. Instead, they observe closely what others have done, write it out in a workbook, and offer seminars and consulting on how other churches can see the same success. In these cases, they use the fruit of a successful church or two to gain information that they can sell back to the rest of the churches. I know of some organizations whose leaders are supported as missionaries to do this work. So they double dip into the resources of the churches via financial support and the added cost of the seminar or consultation. This is parasitic. It is feeding off the church’s resources and experience and then selling it back to the church!

Neil Cole. Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are (pp. 116-117). Kindle Edition.

 

 

The Infamous Question #3

According to Paul, the new covenant is not like the old one. Rather than being written with ink on paper it is written with the Spirit on our hearts. But how do we experience life under this covenant?  According to Paul, the law written on our hearts is adjudicated by our conscience. Speaking of the Gentiles who were untaught in the Mosaic Law he says:

They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. Romans 2:15

It is our understanding that under the way of Christ, each person is to live up to his or her own conscience and is bound to it regardless of the objective doctrinal truth on the issue at hand. Much could be said on this topic but for the purpose of this post, I’d like to convey that a person must aspire to a life consistent with their conscience in order to grow spiritually. A person who lives at odds with his or her conscience regardless of whether they can justify their behavior, hardens their own heart. The heart so hardened becomes desensitized to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and to the horror of sin. This is why Martin Luther declared that going against conscience is “neither right nor safe.”

In Christ we are no longer under a legal metaphor with its terminology or concerns. We don’t concern ourselves with culpability or punishment. We’ve been declared innocent at the bar of God through the blood of Christ. As Paul says, “All things are lawful for me.”

We have immunity but that doesn’t give us impunity. Paul goes on to say, “But not all things are helpful (1 Cor. 10:23).” Along with our exoneration, we were fitted with new life. While our behavior might not result in condemnation, it will have unhelpful repercussions on that new life we’ve been given. The alien Holy Spirit who now resides as guide in our hearts requires our loving surrender to thrive. The rebellious, carnal attitude require to violate our consciences dumps poison into our hearts, the environment of God’s Spirit of Christ. This is indeed sin not in the sense of a violation against impersonal laws but in the sense of a personal betrayal of the living God who’s taken up residence within our hearts and in the sense of the abuse of our very selves.

For these reasons, we’ve included the infamous “Question 3” in our Growth Groups accountability questionnaire. By asking and answering this question each week, we safeguard our hearts against being hardened through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13) and gain an ever-growing awareness of the prompting of the Holy Spirit within. Grab a friend and give it a try.