Pharisees and sin, continued...
Let’s talk about sin, shall we?
In a comment on my "It’s not about Speed" post, The Other Sarah
"Your post left me with the impression that you are saying we are supposed all to live our lives according to our own understanding of what we think it means to "love God and neighbor", and that our understanding can be completely devoid of any concrete, established, moral or spiritual principles."
The statement was in regard to my definition that "there were only two rules; Love and respect God, and love and respect each other. I may be guilty of over simplifying what Jesus was saying, but he did, in fact state:
37Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."(
. Is there more to it? There shouldn’t need to be, but as we are so prone to sin, Jesus gave us many lessons on recognizing and avoiding sin.
We all have a list of things we shouldn’t do, a list of things that are sinful. Stealing, adultery, homicide, cheating, and so on. What if I told you that none of those actions is actually sinful? I’m guessing that some of you are probably getting a little angry, but listen Jesus’ words;27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart
. (Matthew 5)
I have read that verse many times, and always read it as saying that in addition to adultery, just looking at another person was a sin also. But that is not what it says. Jesus says that instead, "but I tell you", when you look at another, you commit adultery. What he is saying is that it is not the action, but instead, the idea, that is, the motive,
that is the sin. Jesus continues this theme through out his lessons;21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment."
(Matthew 5)43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven."
1"Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."(
Matthew 6)16"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."(Matthew 6)
19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
. (Matthew 6)22"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6)
1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
What Jesus was saying is that it is the motive
, not the action itself that matters. The motive, lust is what makes adultery, as well as premarital and casual sex, wrong. The act of stealing something is not as much the sin, for in truth, everything belongs to God, but instead it is the motive of greed and coveting that is sinful. When you start breaking down the Commandments and the teachings of Jesus in this way, you see it is all about motives. There are the desirable motives; love, honor and trust in God, love of each other, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, trust, and compassion, to name a few. Some of the undesirable motives would be; lust, greed, pride, hate, anger, impatience, unfaithfulness, and a lack of love and trust in God.
So, even looking at sin from a motivational viewpoint, you might think it doesn’t change anything. Stealing is still stealing, killing is still killing, and so on. But is stealing always a sin? What about the man, with a starving family, who after exhausting every avenue he can think of, steals food to feed his family, is he guilty? Or are those who turned him away, or pretended not to see or hear him guilty? What about the man who takes the lives of a number of men defending his family, village, or even his country, is he guilty? What about the women, locked into a marriage she didn’t choose, to a man who is cold and brutal; if she meets and falls in love with someone else, is she guilty? It is all about motives, friends.
Let’s examine some of the issues of today. I believe abortion is wrong, but what about the teen age girl, who, if her Dad finds out she is pregnant, will get beat, perhaps even killed, because of her mistake? That is an extreme case, but there are girls out there who face that very possibility, if not from a parent, then perhaps from the father of the child, or from a boyfriend who was cheated on. What about victims of rape or incest, who may be traumatized having to carry around a child conceived in terror? There is no easy answer here, but perhaps as Christians, we should put aside our beliefs and judgement, and just reach out in love. The real goal should be trying to ensure that unwanted pregnancies don’t happen.
Pornography is rampant these days, especially on the internet. But what is it about pornography that is a sin? I do not believe that images of nakedness are sinful. In fact, in Genesis, it states:25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
Even images of sex acts are not necessarily bad. Consider that you can go to the zoo, or watch a National Geographic special where animals are mating. Is it really any different? In truth, it is the lust that occurs when some view these images that is the sin. You look at a picture of a child sitting in a bathtub, and you think "how cute". A pedophile will see that image as porn. Motive. At the fertility clinics, they provide porn to the men who donate. They are helping people who may not have any other chance to conceive a child, so are they sinning by viewing it? In any case, it is not the images themselves that are bad, but the motives
for veiwing them, and making them in the first place, that makes them wrong.
Then there is the issue of homosexuality. Anyone who says that people are not born homosexual are just plain wrong. I have read of studies that verify that the brains of men and women work in dramatically different ways. And in a man born homosexual, his brain works like that of a woman does, while in women born homosexual, they work as a man’s does. I have a friend who is gay, someone who grew up trying to fight what he was. And contrary to what some may believe, he did not become gay because of what people believed. It was a part of him for as long as he can remember, he just tried to fight it, which actually led to other consequences. But I must stress, not all homosexuals are homosexual because they were born that way. For some, it is just a choice, born of lust or boredom. For them, it is just about sex. For those who are born homosexual, it is about more. It is often more about love, trust, and commitment than it is about sex. In fact, if you had two people of the same sex, who loved each other deeply, but never had sex, would their relationship still be wrong? What if they only held hands? What if they only kissed? Is it only the act of sex that makes the relationship wrong? My friends, it has nothing to do with the sex. It is all about the motive in the relationship. Love or lust. Right or wrong.
The whole issue of motives goes much farther. It is at issue in every aspect of our life. For instance, do you take liberties with your taxes, telling yourself every one else does? What about work, do you "borrow" supplies to use at home, telling yourself that the company has more than enough? And what about using work time to check e-mail, play computer games, or for doing any personal matters? Aren’t each of them theft, as well? We can examine our motives for worshiping. Are we doing because we truly love God? Or are we doing it for our kids, or for the community we get at church, or because our parents expect us to. I know people who go to church for those very reasons, and yet see no wrong in it. Do you really consider all you have as belonging to God? We are called to be good stewards of all we are given, yet when we make our purchases, are we making them out of lust, greed, and covetousness , or out of humbleness and a simple desire to meet our needs? Who among us really needs a 50" plasma TV? Do we really need great big, gas guzzling SUV"s, or would something more economical work just as well? When we give at church, or to charities, do we give out of compassion and generosity, or do we give only what we think we will have left over after satisfying our own "needs"? What about your marriage, or other relationships? Do you strive to truly serve your spouse, or is it "all about you"? Is the time you spend with your kids, and how they are raised based on what is truly best for them, or on what works best for yourself? I could go on and on here. I think if we examine our lives based on motives, we will find we are seriously lacking.
When Jesus gave his life for us, he did so, in part, to abolish that list of "rules" that was in place. It was not because no one could live by them, in fact, many of the Pharisees and prominent Jews of the time lived by the rules. But their motives were impure. Everything they did was for show, for their own pride, and not for God’s glory. Jesus labeled them as they were: hypocrites. Let us not be a church of hypocrites too.
Let me be clear, I am in no way condoning pornography, adultery, theft, or any other behavior. While some of the questions and opinions on today’s issues may be just speculation on my part, the premise of motive instead of law is, in fact, Biblical truth. Read your New Testament, concentrating on the Gospels, and it will be clear. If we, as the Christian church, are to be a positive force in the world today, we need to have motives that are pure. Just like the Pharisees, there are too many Christians, including many very prominent ones, who live according to the "rules", but who’s motives are focused on themselves. It is this reason, perhaps, more than any other, that people turn away from the church. Let us become the church that Christ called us to be; a church of love, forgiveness, and compassion, a church devoid of hate, pride and judgement. This is what we are called to be, friends. This is what I hope and pray for each of us to become. May God bless you all richly, Ken
The message that was...
Okay, so here is the post I meant to do last week, after my opportunity doing the massage in church. Problem was, I wanted to wait until it was posted on our church's website. Our webmeister, however, was on vacation all last week, so it was not updated until this week.
I must admit, I was not totally happy with the way my presentation went. I missed a couple key points, made a couple obvious errors, and also missed a key Scripture reference. Thing was, I had all of these things there in my outline, but with the podium I was using, I could only read the top half of the outline easily. To read the bottom of the outline, I had to almost look straight down, and as such, I kept losing my place. In after thought, maybe I should have just picked up the notes, or perhaps, just gone back, which is something many speakers will do if they miss something.
None of that occured to me as I was speaking, however, and I just kept moving along. Afterwards, even as I mentally reviewed my "obvious" mistakes, I was genuinely suprised by the number of people complimenting me on the message I had done. Perhaps it's true, that we are our own worst critics. Or maybe everyone was just being nice.
In the end, though, all that matters is that the message was given. My only true concern is that the words of that message make some sort of impact on someone. I do not consider myself a preacher. I consider myself a gardener; sometimes I am planting seeds, other times I am watering them. But the credit for any fruits that may come goes only to God. He is the one that causes them to grow. So, if you have the time, and want to listen, go here
and click on the July 2nd sermon link. Thanks for being patient, and may God bless each of you. Ken
How to reach Non- Believers
I get various newletters from different organizations. Many have little or no relevance to "real life" and what we, as Christians, face each day, especially when it comes to bringing people to Christ. I just received this newsletter from an outstanding organization, ChurchGrowth Institute, that really got my attention. It details a way to reach non-believers that is so easy, anyone of us can do it, and have fun also. I have included links in my sidebar for CGI. They also have the Spiritual Gifts Analysis that I have spoken of in the past. Do visit them, and pass this info on to your church leadership. The following is used with permission:
Much has been written in recent years on reaching Seekers. Since Bill Hybels made the term "Seekers" popular, pastors and church growth experts have explored numerous strategies from seeker-targeted to seeker-sensitive churches. We have explored the minds of Unchurched Harry and Mary, revamped our nurseries, changed our music, updated our sermons, and restructured our worship services to be more appealing and inviting to non-Christians seeking answers to spiritual fulfillment. These approaches to restructuring are good. They have helped us reach many people for Christ whom we would not have reached otherwise.
These Seekers we so desperately try to reach are people who are looking to fill the spiritual void in their lives, looking for a spiritual experience, or looking for "spiritual" (not necessarily biblical or Christian) solutions on how to cope in an overly complex and out-of-control world. Most are lost, but some are Christians seeking a more rewarding and fulfilling spiritual experience.
Now think of some of the people who you would love to see come to Christ. If you will stop and write the names of the top seven people you would like to see reached for Christ on the lines below this article will give you a greater understanding how to influence them towards salvation.
While we recognize that Seekers may be Christians or non-Christians, all unsaved or unchurched people are NOT Seekers. An overwhelming majority is NON-Seekers, those who don't really give a rip about spiritual things and would rather you not bring them up either. In fact, most of the people we really wish we could reach for Christ are non-Seekers. To evaluate this claim for yourself, go back to your list of seven people you would like to see reached for Christ. Notice how many are Seekers and how many are non-Seekers. If you are like most Christians, eighty percent or more of the names on your list are non-Seekers.
So what's the point? Seeker-oriented methodology won't work for reaching, or as far as that goes for influencing, non-Seekers in today's culture. Stop and think for a minute of the methods we have used to reach people for Christ in the past two generations. The most recent method of restructuring our churches to make them more "user friendly" is probably the first to come to mind - obviously Seeker-oriented services. But, consider the more widely known methods that we don't even think of as being Seeker-oriented -- like crusades or revival meetings. Who comes to these meetings? Mostly Christians, but other attendees who are not Christians are Seekers, seeking answers to life's ultimate questions. Now think about the traditional Thursday night visitation program. Who do we visit? Non-members - typically Seekers - who visited our church on Sunday morning. On the other hand, look at the program that has probably trained more people in personal evangelism than any other - Evangelism Explosion (EE). You might say EE is not a Seeker-oriented approach. True, but it only works with Seekers. Non-Seekers are incapable of relating to its simple presentation.
Most methods of evangelism that have worked in the past are not working today. The culture has changed but our basic approach has not. In his book, The Bridger Generation, Thom Rainer gives statistics on the portion of each generation that has already been reached for Christ.
Generation Percentage Reached for Christ
Builders (Born before 1946) 65%
Boomers (Born between 1946 and 1964) 35%
Busters (Born between 1964 and 1977) 15%
Bridgers (Born between 1977 and 1994) 4%
These percentages, coupled with the fact that 81 percent of Christians accepted Christ before they were 20 years old, and the youngest Busters and oldest Bridgers are now over 20, indicate that, statistically speaking, we stand very little chance of reaching the majority of the last three generations for Christ. It's easy to blame this failure on a bunch of worldly Christians who really don't care about lost people anymore; but, I don't believe that is so. I believe today's Christians are just as concerned for the salvation of their loved ones as they ever were. The problem is that we continue to use Seeker-oriented methods on non-Seekers and our results are declining.
Take note that in Dr. Rainer's chart, a much greater percentage of the oldest generation (the Builders) have been reached for Christ. A logical conclusion is that they have had many more years for someone to influence them for Christ. However, the greatest reason for their stance is that Seeker-oriented methods worked with the Builder generation. Why? Because that generation had a built-in point of reference to the message of the gospel. Their mental environment allowed for the understanding and acceptance of the gospel because the roots to this message had become part of the foundation of their life. The government and society in general accepted our Christian roots. There was little hostility toward Christianity. That "built in" point of reference to the gospel message has declined with each consecutive generation to near nonexistence in the Bridgers. Let me explain.
Builders were taught Judeo-Christian values from day one from a variety of different sources including society itself. By the time many of them reached adulthood they had been to Sunday school nearly 1,000 times¾and those who were not "church goers" sent their kids. When I was in public school we started every day with Bible reading and prayer. Many Builders were even taught Bible as a subject in high school while many elementary school stories were based on Bible characters. Society supported the Ten Commandments as the foundation for human behavior. We were taught there was definitely a "right" and "wrong"; and it was always wrong to lie in any situation. Don't get me wrong, Builders were no angels, but at least they knew when they were doing wrong and, in most cases, felt guilty about it. What I'm saying is that the culture in which the Builders and many Boomers were raised instilled the values of Christianity in them. Even if they didn't live by these values or agree with them, the values still became part of their very being; part of their life's foundation. Thus, when someone talked to them about religious matters or presented the gospel to them they had a built-in point of reference.
Unfortunately, this built-in point of reference to Christianity has been on a steady decline over the past three generations. Most, if not all, Christian influence has been removed from our public school systems. Hollywood and television has served to form a distorted doctrinal belief for most. There's a whole new mind-set among our younger generations that is critical of Christianity. I could go on forever citing instance after instance of the decline of Christian influence and the rise of humanism, but that's not my purpose. Sometimes when I listen to how some non-Christians think, I have to admit that my mind simply can't comprehend how they could possibly think that way. Then one day it dawned on me, if I can't comprehend the way they think then it stands to reason that they can't comprehend the way I think. The point I am trying to make is until a non-Christian starts seeking some answers, thus becoming a Seeker, a gospel-presentation-only approach to reaching them for Christ is as foreign to them as a computer would be to Moses. They may relate our spiritual emphasis to the "Force" of Star Wars, the "spirits" of Ghost Busters, or the "Boss up there" in Touched by an Angel who is portrayed only as a God of love, but they won't relate it to the need for a righteous savior. How can people relate to the need to be saved from their sins when in the minds of a situation-ethic-based-society sin doesn't exist? Builders were immoral, they knew what sin was, they knew right from wrong, they just choose to do wrong. Many Boomers, the majority of Busters, and almost all of the Bridgers are amoral, that is, they don't know right from wrong.
Have you ever heard, "You can't get a man saved until you get him lost?" Well, you cannot get a non-Seeker "saved" until you turn him or her into a Seeker. Non-Seekers lack the mental environment for accepting the gospel. Therefore, we must change the environment in which they think. To do this we must build trusting relationships with them.
Trusting relationships are the key to reaching people for Christ and bonding them to His church. Research, done by church growth expert Win an Charles Arn, shows that the more relationships an individual has within the church the more apt that individual is to stay in the church, and the fewer relationships an individual has in the church the less apt that individual is to stay in the church. O. J. Bryson calls it "the rule of seven: When a church member has seven close friends in a church, he or she will never leave it." Elmer Towns says, "Relationships are the glue that make people stick to the church." Other research shows that 86 percent of those accepting Christ or joining a church are doing so because of the influence of a friend or a relative (I call it "existing relationships"). The same research concludes that only 2% are influenced to come to church because of advertising (yellow pages, sign, newspapers, etc.), while 6% come because of organized visitation, and 6% coming because of pastoral contact. In essence the more relationships non-Seekers have with those who attend church, the greater the chance the non-Seeker will become more receptive to the gospel. Thus, if I want my unchurched friend to believe in Christ and attend my church, then I must get my friend to establish a trusting relationship with as many of my churched friends as possible.
Here's a tool that one of Delaware's fastest-growing churches is using to reach out to non-Seekers (Red Lion Evangelical Free Church; Jamie Swalm, Jr., Pastor). Red Lion EV Free has grown in average attendance from about 250 to over 600 in only four years. The tool is teams (fellowship groups); the application is called AMEs and RSAs.
What are AMEs and RSAs?
AMEs: Acquaintance Making Events. An AME is an event for the purpose of introducing nonsaved and nonchurched friends to other church members. These events usually take place in larger groups (8 plus), never one on one, and are more formal than not in the sense that they are planned ahead of time and organized. AMEs are social gatherings, picnics, cookouts, parties, hospitality events, afternoon teas, etc. They usually take place outside the church. Their purpose is simple: to help develop a three-way relationship or friendship bridge between you, the nonsaved or nonchurched friend you invite, and the regular members of the group.
AMEs are perfect for helping existing church members develop caring, receptive, redemptive, trusting relationships with outsiders when we remember four basic rules.
1. Be sure to invite your nonsaved and nonchurched friends every time your group has a social function. Most people don't come because we don't invite them. We tend to socialize with the same crowd all the time and forget those outside our comfort zone.
2. Be sensitive to who your friends are. Don't get too churchy or too pushy. AMEs are not for presenting the gospel, but for creating an environment for accepting the gospel. These functions are far less threatening to the non-Seeker when held outside the church.
3. Be sure to mingle and do not ignore the newcomers at social functions. We have a tendency to spend all our time socializing with those we already know and ignore all strangers, beyond being introduced to them. If they feel ignored or don't make new friends they won't come back. Make an extra effort to include them.
4. Be patient. It takes time (sometimes years) to develop relationships that are strong enough for outsiders to feel comfortable with new people. As they become comfortable with your church friends, they will also be more comfortable and receptive to the message of the gospel. Don't give up on your friends. Keep inviting them, even if they do give excuses for why they can't come "this time."
RSAs: Relationship Strengthening Activities. RSAs are any activity for the purpose of developing, cultivating, strengthening, and building trusting relationships between your nonchurched friends and other church members. These activities usually take place in smaller groups (four or less) or one on one and are more informal in the sense that they are less planned and more spontaneous.
After you have met and become acquainted with new people at the AMEs, practice RSAs -- involve them in your daily activities - like you do with any friend. Get their phone numbers and invite them out to dinner or invite them to your home for dinner or dessert. Take them fishing or to a ball game with you. Ask them to go shopping with you. Or, just call them and say, "I'm going to the hardware store, do you need anything or would you like to ride along?"
My wife and her friend, Fran, host a "Make-it, Take-it" night at our house once a week. They invite a group of ladies over to do crafts. (They make it and take it home the same night.) They have brief devotions and prayer before their mid-meeting refreshments. The rest of the time is spent making crafts and getting to know one another. The key to RSAs is to spend time with people to cultivate the relationship. Here again we need to observe a few simple rules.
1. Don't be on the edge of your seat all evening looking for the perfect place to twist the conversation into a presentation of the gospel. If the opportunity or question arises, take advantage of it. If it doesn't, don't worry about it. Just relax and enjoy each other's company. Remember, the goal is not to present the gospel as quickly as possible, but to create an environment for accepting the gospel when it is presented, whether by you or someone else.
2. Be a good witness. Avoid questionable activities such as R-rated or in some cases even PG-rated movies. Don't take your friends any place you wouldn't take Jesus.
3. Don't condemn or belittle your friends lifestyle. If you go to a restaurant and your friend orders a glass of wine, don't get hyper; just order your glass of ice tea and go on with the evening. If your friend is living with open sin, don't make an issue of it. Don't discuss politics. Who knows, your friend may have voted for the guy you think is a jerk. Let the Lord deal with these issues after the person "gets saved."
As mentioned earlier, trust is a very important factor in cultivating these relationships and bonding with people. Charles Handy, in The Hungry Spirit (Broadway Books, 1998), lists 7 principles of trust. Keep these principles in mind when dealing with non-Seekers.
1. "Trust is not blind." To trust someone is to know them. AMEs and RSAs provide an environment conducive of building relationships and trust. In these regular get-togethers, people get to know one another better.
2. "Trust needs boundaries." There are boundaries we cannot cross over in getting to know people. We must not be nosy and must be careful of the questions we ask acquaintances. Typically, the more time you spend with someone, the more comfortable you both are in sharing thoughts, feelings, and so forth with one another.
3. "Trust requires constant learning." We must be open to new ideas and ways to strengthen relationships. We should look for opportunities to learn from our mistakes -- and know when to take action or speak and when not to do so.
4. "Trust is tough." Gaining someone's trust takes time and effort. Trust is hard to regain once broken. Be careful how you use the information you know about someone else; take care not to offend them nor pass on personal information to others in the form of "religious gossip."
5. "Trust needs bonding." We must be willing to spend time with others in different environments -- in fun activities outside the church as well as activities inside the church.
6. "Trust needs touch." In other words, we need to make people feel special. We need to invest time in their lives and have genuine concern for them -- and prove it through our actions.
7. "Trust has to be earned." We must be consistent in our "walk" and "talk." We must prove ourselves worthy of trust.
The key to AMEs and RSAs is to create receptivity in the mind of the non-Seeker by building a bridge between the gospel and their non-Christian foundation. In its truest sense, this form of reaching out to others is Team Evangelism. Individual Christians are no longer charged to go it alone to fulfill the Great Commission. The group works together as a team to support each other, pray for their lost friends, and especially to create the environment of friendship that is needed to bond newcomers with a lasting relationship to Christ and His church. If you want to reach the Seekers and the non-Seekers in your sphere of influence, I challenge you put together teams and encourage the use of AMEs and RSAs in your own church. Remember most people who are non-Christians are also non-Seekers. . . and the best way to turn non-Seekers into Seekers is through the influence of trusting relationships.There you have it folks, is that easy, or what? Again, pass this on to your church leaders, and let’s start reaching people for Christ. This just so excites me. God bless each of you, Ken