What Good Is Your Church Anyway?

Light BulbI recently read the quote of a skeptical unbeliever that stopped me in my tracks…

The church is a parasite. It owns the best property, doesn’t pay any taxes, and doesn’t help anybody.

As a Pastor who loves the local church rather deeply, everything in me wants to argue. Who does this anonymous skeptic think he is? He’s just never been to the right church! But sometimes arguing with someone’s perspective is rather pointless. In the end, it’s better to be introspective and ask, is there any truth here?

Jesus came into a religious culture in which people thought they were doing just fine. People with real hurts, hang-ups, and habits were frustrated and flocked to Jesus because the established religion of the day just didn’t have any real power. So Jesus challenged His disciples to think differently about faith. He preached the Sermon on the Mount for several reasons, but one was to sort of set the record straight. Throughout the discourse, He keeps saying things like “You’ve heard it said that —, but I say to you —.”

Right after the beatitudes, Jesus sets the record straight on what disciples should look like. He makes it clear that there is little point in the pointlessness that characterized the religion of the day. It’s useless to act like salt but not be salty. And it’s foolish to pretend to be light and yet to brighten nothing. So He describes what we should be…

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world — like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

~ Matthew 5:13-16 NLT

In other words, refuse to be irrelevant and useless. If you’re going to claim to be salt, be salty. And if you’re going to claim to be light, be bright enough to light the way for others. If you’re going to call yourself the church, make sure you’re a useful church, a life-changing church, a church that fulfills God’s purposes for you in a real and relevant way.

There are some important lessons for the church to learn from Jesus’ words about salt and light.

Salt does at least these 3 things…

Salt Preserves

When we lived in southern California, there was no such thing as country ham. But in the south, they hang them from racks in the grocery stores, unrefrigerated. How is it possible to leave pork hanging in the warmth of a store for weeks on end? Salt. You rub enough salt into the meat and it will last for weeks.

The church should be a preserving agent in its cultural surroundings. We can close ourselves off and complain about how bad the world is getting, or we can determine to be bright spots in the middle of the darkness. We can preserve our culture from decay as we live out God’s purposes in the midst of it.

Salt Irritates

Ever cut your foot in the sand at the beach and then step into the water? It stings! Salt irritates, but it does so in a healing way, not a hurtful way. The church has been quite guilty of irritating the world in a way that turns people away from God, but Jesus would have us instead to irritate the world in a healing way. It is irritation that causes an oyster to turn a grain of sand into a pearl, and sometimes its our persistent irritation, our resilience and unwillingness to give up on our community that turns to its healing.

A salty church says, “We’re not going away. We’re going to keep loving and serving you no matter how resistant you are because we love you and we want to see change happen.”

Salt Flavors

I always knew you could add salt to food, but I never knew just how much until I met my wife. She’s cut way back, but when we were first married, I watched her salt her salads. Why? Because salt flavors. And we should flavor the lives of people around us. The gospel may offend some, but heaven forbid that we in our personality and approach should push people away from the hearing of the gospel.

Jesus also calls us light. I like what Jesus does here. First, He identifies us with His identity. He is “the light of the world” after all. But I also like that He labels us both salt and light. So His goal isn’t to get us to doubt what we are, but rather to realize what we are with a challenge to live it out.

Light Permeates

Ever light a candle in a totally darkened room? A little bit of light goes a very long way. I’ve spent time in Mammoth Cave in central Kentucky. When the tour guides turn all the lights out, it’s the darkest place on earth, but when they strike a single match, that tiny light fills the room. And so ought we to fill the earth.

Light Exposes

People all around us are trapped in sin and its devastating secrecy. Shame and guilt keep people shrouded in darkness, but our light can expose all of that darkness and set people free.

Light Guides

Imagine landing a plane on a runway at night with no runway lights. Or cruising through the busiest intersection in town when all the traffic lights are out. Light guides.

It’s great to know and understand our identity the way Jesus assigned it to us, but what do we do with it? Here are three BIG words we need to keep at the forefront of our minds as salt and light: SPEAK. LIVE. ACT. As salt and light, we need to speak the gospel, live the gospel, and act out the gospel, joining God on His timeless mission to redeem the world to Himself.

We deserve hell for our sins, but God forgives us when we place our trust in His Son Jesus, His death on the cross for our sins, and His resurrection to life. Not only that, but God then proceeds to call us to join Him in His great work of reconciling a lost and hopeless world back to Himself. There is no greater privilege than living out our purpose as His salt and light.

What good is your church, anyway? Are we really satisfied with merely meeting on Sunday and “having worship?” I hope not.

Graphic by Matt Gruber

The Light of the Salvation of God

Light has the amazing ability to pierce the darkness around it. It doesn’t take much. I read of a team of skiers who were lost in the Alps of Switzerland. They were rescued because a helicopter was able to spot the light coming from the display of an mp3 player.

ONE GREAT TRUTH: The whole world has been lost and condemned in sin, but Jesus came to pierce the darkness, to the the light of God’s salvation, leading us back into a saving relationship with our Creator.

Continue reading The Light of the Salvation of God

You Are the Light of the World

I’ve always been fascinated by this thought – Jesus is the Light of the world, and Jesus called US the light of the world. It’s a partnership. He’s the Light of the world in the sense that He brings salvation to the world. We’re the light of the world in the sense that we bring His salvation to the world around us.

Continue reading You Are the Light of the World

The Light of the Glory of God

This article is adapted from my sermon from Luke 2:8-20 from a series on the light of Christmas.

I think most of us can relate to having a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” For me, traveling to Russia on a mission trip was that kind of an opportunity for me. When those moments come along, I wonder how I wound up there, and why it was me.

I think that’s how the shepherds felt the night Jesus was born and the angels showed up by myriads to announce Jesus’ birth to them. Why them? Why there, in the fields? But that was God’s choice. And I really don’t think we fully understand the amazing nature of what happened that night. We’ve heard the story told so many times with the emphasis on the manger scene itself that we don’t realize that the very windows of heaven itself were thrown open with a massive display of the awe-inspiring glory of God.

These ordinary, every day, down-to-earth shepherds were allowed the privilege of beholding the holiest thing anyone has ever seen – the glory of God. When that happens, our lives are changed and our appetites are whet forever!

Continue reading The Light of the Glory of God

Kumbaya, My Lord!

What does that mean, anyway? Actually, it means “come by here.” We didn’t sing Kumbaya at camp this week, but God definitely showed up! This was my first experience with church camp… ever! I’d been to Conservation Camp in elementary school and hated every minute of it. This week was vastly different. For one thing, thirty-six people got saved!

As I reflect on camp, let me just share the highlights… The quiet mornings by the lake while the kids slept were great. Waking up by singing the song “Climb, climb up breakfast mountain” was quite nice too. Teaching the college-agers brought about some good discussion. I enjoyed watching activities such as human foosball and playing softball. I was encouraged by fellowshipping with members of other churches. Most of all, I loved the worship time. It was awesome to watch kids “own” the service and take their needs to the altar, many of them inviting Christ in as Savior or rededicating themselves to a thoroughly Christian walk.

What did I not enjoy? Only the noises and odors that are the natural result of sharing quarters with a bunch of boys!! Nonetheless, the cabin was comfortable enough and we really weren’t in it much anyway. I’m definitely going back next year, the Lord willing, and I hope to take twice as many campers with me!

As American As…

Last night, I saw the inside of the new Busch Stadium as we watched the Los Angeles Angels topple the Cardinals 10 – 6. We did, however, get to see three Cardinals homeruns, including one by Sir Albert! It really is true that there isn’t a poor view in the park. We were in the third tier over the third base dugout, but we could see the game very well and our view of the St. Louis skyline was breathtaking!

My love for baseball has waned in recent years, and attending this game both helped and hurt. On the one hand, I’m terribly annoyed at the price of seeing a game for the average family. If you have the average 2.5 kids, you can expect to drop at least a hundred bucks for the tickets, and possibly another hundred for food, souvenirs, and some of the family activities available. It’s no wonder people are cynical about the salaries of players and the bankrolls of owners.

Nonetheless, on the field, it’s still the old game it used to be. There’s still something a bit magical about the bright green, perfectly manicured grass, the larger-than-life image of the players, and the thrill of watching a homerun fall into the stands. Plus, you can’t beat a stadium hot dog (though the price of $5.75 is a bit much)!

If I could sum up what it’s all about (the game, the parks, the players), I’d have to say… advertising! From an hour before the game until the last pitch was thrown, there were special promotions and activities on the screen, “sponsored by…” There are digital scrolling billboards throughout. The scenery is plastered with the names of big businesses such as banks, stock brokerages, and restaurant chains. The stadium included a Hardee’s, Big Mac land (a McDonald’s promotion), and even a Build-A-Bear workshop tailored especially to the St. Louis Cardinals fan base!

At the end of the day, I’d summarize my experience as absolutely awesome! The skies were clear with a temperature of 65 and a slight breeze blowing. The hot dog was juicy, yet crusty. The view was great, and even riding the Metrolink was a neat experience. Would I do it very often? Everyday!!

The Nightline Debate: Proving the Existence of God

Last night, millions watched the debate between Kelly and Brian Sabient (representing atheism) and Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron (attempting to prove God’s existence without using faith or the Bible). I have reviewed as much of the video as I can stand and have come to some interesting conclusions.

At first, I was disappointed in Ray’s use of Scripture in his opening comments. He had made a commitment to prove God’s existence without the Bible and then proceeded to use the Bible, handing ammunition to his enemies who took full advantage of the moment and exploited his mistake. After much thought and prayer about the matter, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ray had not choice but to use Scripture.

This was his chance to speak to millions of “on the fence” people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Further, Ray believes that the Word of God has the supernatural ability to pierce through the hardness of the human heart. And finally, Christianity has made the mistake before of attempting to prove God’s existence without the Bible and our attempts at doing so have failed to convert people or change our surroundings. A convincing argument for a Creator might be fabricated from the witness of nature, but a converting faith is only borne on the wings of God’s inspired revelation of Himself to mankind. What was Ray’s mistake? It was in agreeing not to refer to faith or the Bible to begin with.

The reason I could not stand to watch the entire debate online, stopping the stream early instead, was because of the knot that formed in my stomach as I listened to Kelly blaspheme God in such an extreme way. My heart breaks for her. It is apparent to all who watched that atheism leads to intellectual arrogance and belligerence toward Christians. This rebellious attitude is not only proof of the fall of mankind into sin, left unchecked it always leads to the ultimate end of a soul unable to repent because of the hardening of the heart through the deceitfulness of sin. Should Kelly continue choosing to blaspheme God, she will inevitably push her will beyond the point of ever humbling herself before her Creator. She expressed that she’d rather go to hell than to live in eternity with a God she perceives as unfairly violent toward sinners. I hope this isn’t a self-fulfilling prophecy for her.

The thought that terrifies me the most is that they have become preachers of a false gospel. It isn’t that they question a Creator, it’s that they persuade others to purposely break the command not to blaspheme the Holy Spirit (a misinterpretation of Jesus’ intent, by the way). I’ve encountered the writings of Richard Dawkins and other such rationalists who purport that Christians are guilty of indoctrinating generations of people into believing in a warmonger-god. Yet the skeptics themselves are actively and intentionally recruiting followers to join them in their hate-filled, angry tirade against the very God who bought them with the price of His own dear Son.

At the end of the day, there will be millions who simply will not believe the gospel record. This is nothing new and we cannot naively assume that we’ll ever rid the world of atheism or agnosticism by simply arguing science or Scripture alone. What does seem to be new is the intensity with which atheism belittles people of faith. It is as though the battle lines are being drawn more clearly. The forces of light and darkness are engaged in a more intense form of warfare than at any other time in the recent past. Perhaps we’re moving toward a climax.

Perhaps it is that the day is soon coming when men will make their final choices concerning God and His Son. Should you accept the record of the Bible as inspired and inerrant, as I do, then you’ll discover that the Bible itself predicts the rising intensity of this debate toward the ultimate battle between Jesus and the forces of darkness. Thankfully, we who believe, already have the rest of the story laid out before us, and… Jesus wins!