Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Case Of Misidentification: “I Thought You Were A Christian?”

An unfortunately reality the church faces is the fact that her non-church going members represent her.  In 2010, Helen T. Gray, McClatchy Newspapers, wrote an article title, “Survey: Many Christians Don’t Go To Church.”  She highlighted two people that left the church for 10 and 8 years respectively.  Both of these individuals, even during those years away from church, they considered themselves Christians.  They are examples of people in a recent Barna Group survey that found that three out of five U.S. adults who don't attend church are self-described Christians.  Americans identifying themselves as Christian make up the overwhelming majority, 83 percent, according to Barna. Other polls vary slightly.  In short, we have non-participating and non-crop bearing (fruit of the spirit) people speaking for Christianity.
If the numbers in those surveys are true, then 8 out of 10 people are Christian in America.  You can probably quickly survey your surroundings and see that those numbers can’t be true. In fact, a decade and a half old research refutes those numbers. Two studies on church attendance performed in 1993 and 1996 by C. Kirk Hadaway and P.L. Marler demonstrate that committed church members tend to exaggerate the number of times they attend church. The studies attempt to address a mathematical conundrum. Year after year, 40 percent of Americans tell Gallup pollsters they attended church or synagogue in the past week. Yet church membership has remained flat while the population has grown. Hadaway and Marler decided to take a closer look to see if church members were misreporting the numbers.  In 1993, Hadaway, Marler and researcher Mark Chaves examined attendance at Protestant churches in one Ohio county and in 18 Roman Catholic dioceses across the country. Instead of 40 percent of Protestants attending church each week, they found 20 percent. Instead of the 50 percent of Catholics who say they attend church, they found 28 percent.  The information is dated but it provides a glimpse behind the veil.  It should allow you to realize the enormity of challenge of share and teaching Christ.
Ok, all of that is nice background information but what about you?  Are you representing Christ correctly? How can the church encourage her congregants to be more active.   Let's not confuse going to church or speaking "Church-ese" as the same thing as being a Christian.  Being a Christian is life service...not lip service.  Let me hear your thoughts.

Work In Your Mission Field (Matt 28:19)

Wouldn't it be embarrassing to be get lost going to work?  We all have a mission field.  The problem is that many of us aren't in the field working.  Are you working in your mission field?
As a Christian you must realize you have a role in building the Kingdom of God.  Did you know that your actions or inactions can dilute the Word of God?  Unfortunately, not everyone in the church is saved.  Nor are they at your spiritual level.  Also they might not share your Christian values. Remember, just because they say they are Christian doesn't mean they live like a Christian. They are, however, looking at you and how you worship.  More importantly they look at how you don’t worship.  You can be a difference maker to them. Take a quick assessment.  If your life was displayed on the wall for everyone to see, would it encourage or discourage your brother or sister in Christ?
We all have a mission field within our church, family, neighborhood and jobs! I believe you are the key to bringing people to Christ.  It might sound strange for a preacher to think you are the key rather than the clergy. Why do I believe this?  It's simple.  You’re in a strategic position to help our brother or sister in Christ who may have not lived up to the doctrines of Christianity. Preachers are looked in one light while the person sitting next to them in the pews are looked at differently.  They expect you to live and act like them.  Ironically, we all are supposed to live holy...not just the clergy.  Regardless, you are an example to everyone you come in contact with.  Is the example good or bad?  If it’s bad, now is the time to change.  We have the same goal. What’s that goal?  It’s to preach and tell everyone about Jesus and further the kingdom of God (Matt 26:19).  If you aren't well-versed in the scriptures...teach what you know.  I believe there is a bible study going on at a church...somewhere in your area. If your church doesn't have a bible study, go to a sister church's bible study.  If you can't go to a bible study, buy a book.  If you can't buy a book, read The Book.  It has a lot of good things in it! (Smile).  Remember, we want to reduce anything from hindering the Gospel of Christ. Pastor Michael Steve Brown, True Vision Church, once said, “I might not be sinless but I do sin less.”  That's a pretty good saying.

Now go out to your mission field and show the world the Love of Christ.  

Stay In Place Until God Says Leave

Let's do a quick line-by-line review of Paul and Silas' imprisonment.
Acts 16:16-18.  The spirit in the slave-girl knew who Paul and Silas were.  The spirit knew of Jesus.  Paul called on the Name of Jesus Christ to deliver the demon out of the girl.  Did the spirit intentionally annoy Paul and Silas so that they would get in trouble? Let's examine the scripture a little further before we make a decision.
Acts 16:19-21.  The slave-girls’ Roman masters were upset about their economic downturn and caused Paul and Silas to be arrested.
Acts 16:23.  Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown in jail.
Acts 16:25.  Around midnight, Paul and Silas are praying and singing hymns.  I'm certain they weren’t singing a song of “Woe is me.”  I would like to say that when I’m beaten up by circumstances, I automatically praise God and sing songs.  Unfortunately, I don’t.  Paul and Silas’ example helps remind me what I should be doing.  They knew it was a reason they were beaten.  They were sent to this area to encourage other Christians.  They knew that the Christian life isn’t always peaches and cream.  If you do a careful review of the previous chapters, you’ll see exactly what I mean.  Yet, they stayed the course.
Acts 16:26.  God shook some things up by providing an earthquake to help Paul and Silas.
Acts 16:27.  The jailer slept through this incredible earthquake? I know it’s possible to do this since I've slept through an earthquake before. Yet this earthquake wasn't the normal type of earthquake.  Verse 26 tells us the foundations of the prison house were shaken, doors were open and everyone's chains were unfastened. Yes, this isn't a typical earthquake.  The jailer went to bed one way but he was going to get up another way.  Little did he know that he was about to be "shook up."
Acts 16:27-30.  The jailer believed the prisoners had escaped.  So, he was about to commit suicide.  His mind was probably racing, his heart full of fear, his pulse rate in overload and sweat pouring down his cheek.  This man knew life as he knew it was over.  Suicide was the only way. It was the only way.  Why would he do such a thing?  In those times, a Roman guard would be put to death if he let his prisoner escaped.  So, he was doing what he was trained to do.  He didn't have the mindset, "God doesn't want me to kill myself."  He is a nonbeliever.  In fact, it was his people, the Romans, that were persecuting the Jews at the time.  They kept their iron heel on the necks of the Jews.  Now, the one who was in power has become powerless.  Just then, he heard Paul and Silas cry out to him.  What could have possibly been going through his mind?  He was the voice of authority to them before he laid his head down to get some sleep.  Now, the sweet sound of their voice is now soothing his already overloaded heart and mind.  Paul and Silas told him, in so many words, "Don't kill yourself, it's going to be alright.”  The jailer had someone bring him lights. This indicates he wasn’t alone.  Once the jailer saw Paul and Silas, he wanted to be saved.  In a sense, he joined Paul in having a Damascus -like experience.  He goes from persecutor to disciple!  Aw, what a difference a day makes.  If Paul and Silas had taken this opportunity to escape the cold walls of prison, one less soul would have come into the Kingdom.  Did I say one?  Let's look a little further
Acts 16:31.  The jailer gets his answer.  It's the Lord who saves.
Acts 16:32.  The former prisoners are now welcomed, honored and cherished guest at the jailers home. I guess we can say, "What a difference a day makes."
Acts 16:32-34.  The jailers entire household was baptized and saved.
Paul and Silas didn't get into any trouble until they pulled a demon out of a slave girl who was doing divination for profit.  Divination was something God didn’t like nor approve of (Deut 18:9-14).  An earthquake broke off or opened up the chains that bound Paul and Silas.  We don’t know if God or the Holy Spirit told them to stay in place.  What we do know is, if they had taken the unique opportunity that was presented to them to escape, lives for the Kingdom would have been lost.  They showed and presented God to their oppressor!   
Ok, what does any of this have to do with you?  Glad you asked.  Perhaps you are in the situation you are in now because you need to deliver a message from God to someone.  As my wife says, “May-haps” you have a mission that you haven’t fulfilled yet.  Don’t be discouraged by your present situation.  May-haps God has you there for a reason.  Pray to Him for guidance.  If this isn’t the case, you still have the obligation to share the Gospel with the world.  This week, how many people have you shared with Christ? I have that answer!  You share Christ with everyone you speak to and don’t speak to.  You have a dying world that looks to you, as a Christian, to show them who Christ is.  Therefore, what you do and don’t do shows them who Christ is.  My final question for you to ponder on is, “Are you showing them the right things about Christ or are you confirming the bad things people say about Christians?  I believe  St. Francis Assisi eloquently said it best,
             “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary use words.”  
My fellow brother and sister in Christ, pleas seek God for what you need to be doing.  Until then, “Stay In Place Until God Says Leave.”  I know you can complete your specific mission.   Remember, He chose you out of everyone in the world to deliver His message.  


Daily we all have to determine how we’ll spend our time budget.  Time budget?  Yes, we all have a budget of 24 hours.  While many of us wish we could get more, we all get the same amount.  It is up to us to determine how we use it.  How much of your time is devoted to prayer?  How often do you pray?  How do you know what God’s will is for you if you don’t spend time with Him?  You are in serious trouble if your prayer time is limited to saying grace at dinner and listening to the prayers at church.  How do you spend your day?  We realize the Jews went to the synagogue and prayed several times a day.  I’m certain you don’t have time to do this.  But, how do you spend your day?  Let’s do a little math.  There are 24 hours in a day.  No one can get more time than this.  Many will get less.  Therefore, you want to be certain you’re in a relationship with God before it’s to late.  Let’s subtract 8 hours from your allotted 24 hours if you are working or in school.  So, you have 16 hours left.  The typical person sleeps around 8 hours.  So, we’re down to 8 hours.  You have other obligations such as going to the grocery store, reviewing your child’s homework, watch TV, read, etc.  Let’s just say those items take 5 hours.  It shouldn’t be difficult to carve out 10 minutes of prayer from the remaining 3 hours you have in your day.  Obviously, those numbers are loose.  I just wanted you to see that we have a lot of time to devote to our Lord.  I would image you’ve found time to ask God for things you want.  Why not put in time to simple talk to Him about where you are and where you want to go.  As you talk with our Father, you’ll gain a clearer view of where He wants you to go and what He wants you to do.  Remember, prayer isn’t about you.  Rather, it’s about you finding out what He wants you do to.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for things.  Just don’t have all of your prayer time in with Him as a selfish endeavor.  The goal of prayer is the ear of God.1 

I challenge and encourage you to find out how much time you spend with the Almighty.  Anyone “seeks an example to follow does well to turn to the life of Jesus Himself. Our belief in the necessity of prayer comes from observing His life.  Surely if anyone could have sustained life without prayer, it would be the very Son of God himself.  If prayer is silly or unnecessary, Jesus would not have wasted His time at it.  But wait! Prayer was the dominant feature of His life and a recurring part of His teaching.  Prayer kept His moral vision sharp and clear.  Prayer gave Him courage to endure the perfect but painful will of His Father.  Prayer paved the way for transfiguration.  To Jesus, prayer was not a hasty add-on, but a joyous necessity. Commit to spend time in prayer with Him if you aren’t doing already.  In fact, right now is a great time to start. According to Oswald Chambers, “All Christians need more teaching in the art of prayer, and the Holy Spirit is the master teacher.  The Spirit’s help in prayer is mentioned in the Bible more frequently than any other help He gives us.  All true praying comes from the Spirit’s activity in our soul. 1

  1.  Sanders, Oswald J., Spiritual Leadership, (Chicago: Moody, 1994).