The Gospel is not about how wonderful the church is or how dynamic the pastor is or how friendly the people are. If that is all true, word will get out, trust me. If you have to put it on a billboard or an ad or video, it’s spin. And the Gospel isn’t spin about us. It’s a straightforward proclamation about Christ. Remember? “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery…” (I Thessalonians 2:3-5)
When people are told that the church has all the benefits of a store or a club or a product, they are not hearing the message of sinners saved by grace through faith, nor are they being prepared to hear it in a real community of fallen people gathered around the cross. They are hearing the crafted ploy of exaggeration, and sooner or later they will figure it out.
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Which brings me to the point that these scandals provide an opportunity for us to confess one of the great blind spots of the church: its inability to admit its institutional sinfulness. To acknowledge that we are fallen persons is not hard, but to admit that all the deceitfulness of the human heart is multiplied within our institutions is much harder. We seem to endow our institutions with an absurd degree of infallibility, especially considering that conservatives particularly should be suspicious of the idolatry of any human system. Institutional evil not only exists in the hearts of persons who make up a church, it exists within the system itself, and manifests itself in particularly surprising ways. As far as I know, fallen human organizations cannot be redeemed, though the persons who make them up may.
So we should not wait for the world to discover our flaws and drag us through the streets in derision. Christians should police themselves, and not condemn those who do that good work.
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Listen. My list of church preferences is so narrow that I could justifiably sit home every Sunday on five matters of essential principle. I don’t want to hear about the God of Arminianism. I don’t believe there is any Biblical warrant for the public invitation. I have no appetite for legalism. Congregational church government makes me ill. I loathe the saccharine content of most hymnody this side of Isaac Watts. The list goes on. But I’m convinced that God has no real appreciation for this collection of potential excuses, and therefore, I have spent most of my life standing and singing twenty verses of “The Savior Is Waiting” after a sermon on “Ten Things God Can’t Do If You Don’t Pray Just Like This.”
…I’ve chosen to show up on Sunday for my children’s sake, and for appearance sake and a dozen other reasons running from good to phobic. But I hope, at the core of my Christianity, I recognize that the gathered church is a constant reminder of just what a wild and extravagantly ridiculous idea grace really is. That this collection of characters is destined for glory, worship around the throne and judging angels….it’s hilarious. The Bible never makes any pretense that the church will look like much to the world. Hats off to the churches that have made church cool, hip, trendy and the place to be. (Hint: It CAN’T last. So enjoy it while you can. We are TOO PATHETIC.)
As we’ve said for years, be careful about looking for the perfect church. When you find and join it, you’ll ruin everything.
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I believe the Bible’s inspiration is that it tells us about Jesus. After that, not only am I not interested, I don’t know why I should be. Of course, Jesus turns out to be the meaning of all of scripture, so I win the pony.
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Therefore, the idea of heaven as a place “up there” or “over there on planet Q” is nonsensical in many ways. Far more likely to me is that we are constantly in the presence of God, constantly surrounded by spiritual “beings,” constantly surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” because we are about as much “in heaven” as we can be…..two matters being excepted.
1) We exist in a physical plane that limits and restricts our awareness of reality. Before sin, this affected us less than it does after sin, but the physical universe is not identical with the fullness of God’s glory. That glory is mediated through it and is never separate from it, but physical existence- especially as mediated through the senses, the body, etc, is always a restriction of our participation in the full dimension of God’s presence and existence. (I believe this limitation will still be there in the new creation, and is a basic difference between God and any creature in any form.)
2) Sin has perverted our awareness of God and reality to the manner of self-centered, blind existence we currently live in. Though the glory and presence of God are everywhere, we are blinded to it by our fallen condition. At times that glory and reality creeps in around the edges, but we are utterly opposed to accepting it. This does change with conversion, and eventually, with glorification, as the effects of sin are removed. (Sin is, basically, a way of thinking and seeing reality.)
3) Therefore, “heaven” to me is a return to the full experience and awareness of God that surrounds us always. This happens in three ways: 1) Salvation, 2) death and 3) resurrection/new creation.
…Jesus is the traveler from reality to the shadow. He takes on the limitations of the flesh but lives fully in the presence of God. He says the Kingdom of God is here. Now. With him. With us. We are in it. If we believe in him, we never die. I believe that completely. I think when we “die,” it is death that falls away and we simply “fall” into the resurrection of Jesus, whose life allows our disembodied existence to continue until resurrection again gives us a spacial and temporal existence. If we follow him, to death and beyond, we are right there all the time.
Two thoughts. Some of the paranormal is the bleed-over from this situation. I am convinced of that. And “Field of Dreams” had it almost perfectly right. The door is in the cornfield.