Friday, June 26, 2015

So Gay Marriage Is Here. What Now?


So Gay Marriage Is Here. What Now?
The Christian world is badly divided on this issue of gay marriage.
The left generally has supported the LGBT agenda, although at great cost as their denominations have hemorrhaged members and congregations.

The Christian world is badly divided on this issue of gay marriage.
The left generally has supported the LGBT agenda, although at great cost as their denominations have hemorrhaged members and congregations.
So what do the rest of us Christians do now?
Here are ten thoughts from Pastor Mark Jeske of Time of Grace:
  1. I don’t fear that gay people who want to get married are a serious threat to heterosexual marriages. The greatest threat to heterosexual marriage is heterosexual people. In my pastoral opinion, the best thing straight Christians can do to protect one-man-one-woman marriage is to take better care of their own marriages. Marriage is like a car—if you just drive it and drive it and never refuel or do maintenance, the car will die by the side of the road.
  2. The greatest damage to straight marriage is done by straight people who don’t bother to get married but just cohabit, or single straight people who just sleep around as though it is their right, or married straight people who want to act like they’re single. We can do a lot more good for the state of heterosexual marriage in our world by putting serious work and respect into God’s marital design.
  3. Christians should stop expecting that their government will be the teacher of national morality. The only possible source of a code of conduct that is universally true for all human beings on earth is the Bible. Our nation’s laws are based not on the Bible but on what the people say they want. That’s the downside risk. But there’s an upside—the darker and bleaker that our world gets, the better and more desirable our Christian communities will appear. Where God’s Word and Spirit are disappearing, Satan moves in. In Satan’s wake are always pain, conflict, hatred, selfishness, and cruelty.
  4. Opposition to the LGBT agenda and lifestyle is not homophobia. That very word is a made-up mishmash—phobos is the Greek word for “fear.” We are not afraid of gay people. We are simply convicted by the clear words of Scripture. Neither are we haters. Christians whose harsh words make them look like haters only make the biblical position look backward and distasteful.
  5. Any Christian who dares to utter an opinion on the sexuality of others better know what the Bible says. Do you know where the Scripture speaks about homosexuality? If our words are not based squarely on Scripture, then we will just appear driven by prejudice rather than principle.
  6. Businesses run by straight people who oppose the LGBT agenda will probably no longer be allowed to discriminate against gay people with their goods and services. Christian bakers will have to make cakes for gay weddings, photographers cannot say no to gay fianc├ęs, companies cannot fire people for sexual preference, and bed-and-breakfasts will have to allow gay couples as guests. The law’s compulsions on businesses, however, do not constitute approval of the lifestyle on behalf of the owners.  
  7. There has always been a subset of the human population that is sexually attracted to the same gender. You can argue the percentage, but the desires will always be there in some. That means that there are people sitting in the pews with you on Sunday who are wrestling with their desires. People with same-sex desires are people too, people loved unconditionally by the Lord, sinners just like you and me in desperate need of the blood of the Lamb. People who feel shunned by their families and churches are often intensely lonely and can find acceptance and support only in the gay world. We need to find a way to make people with gay desires feel valued and loved even while discouraging living the lifestyle. We must find a way to welcome people even when not sanctioning parts of their lifestyle. Gay people need to be in church. Gay people need Jesus.
  8. LGBT advocates argue that the very presence of gay desires legitimizes those desires. Their Christian allies will say things like, “This is how God made me.” Biblical Christians do not have to yield on this point. The presence of a desire in someone’s mind and heart does not make it right. A persistent subset of the population fantasizes about sex with children. That does not make it right.
  9. My greatest regret about the legitimization of gay marriage is that it will damage the individuals themselves. Gay desires will always be there, but it is repentance that brings Christ’s forgiveness and new strength. First Corinthians 6:9-11 teaches us that arsenokoitai (men who have sex with other men) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Steadfast rejection of God’s Word only brings divine judgment and condemnation.
  10. Kindly note that heterosexual adulterers come under the same judgment, as do thieves and swindlers. Christians do our world no good when they appear to single out homosexuality as worse than other sins. All sinners need to acknowledge their accountability to God, compare their lives to his standards, repent of their failings, claim the forgiveness that Jesus bought, and then fill themselves with Word and Spirit to make the changes they need to make. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 6, “And that is what some of you were” (note the verb tense—people can change their lifestyles).

10 Traits of Churches That Will Impact the Future

11 Traits of Churches that will Impact the Future
Almost every church leader who blogs or speaks nationally acknowledges that our culture is shifting.  To reach a changing culture, the church needs to change. Rapidly.
Don’t misunderstand me, I'm not suggesting we need to change the message.  Just the method. One is sacred. The other is not.
What isn’t as clear is what the future church will look like, and what kind of characteristics will mark those churches.
However, studies are indicating a few trends. Not all of these might be correct, but I think the following ten traits describe the kind of churches that will have a significant impact a decade from now.  We talked about some of these traits at St. Mark over the years but after you review the list, maybe you will see what I see ... we have a lot of room for improvement!  These traits will also help us as we expand our ministry in the Green Bay area.
*Here’s what many see as hallmarks of the churches that will make an impact in the next decade:
1. The ability to say no. One of the reasons churches don’t change is because leaders are unwilling to say no to current members who prefer things the way they were. When you learn to say no to the preferences of some current members, you learn to say yes to a community that is ready to be reached. 
2. Outsider focus. Churches that become passionate about people outside their walls will be far more effective than churches that are passionate about keeping the few people they have inside their walls. Better still, you will have a healthier church. We call individuals who are fixated on their wants and needs selfish and immature. Selfless and mature churches will have an impact because of their passion for people God cares about.
3. Quick decision making. If you have a decision making process that’s slow and complicated, you will not be able to keep up with the pace of change needed. Having multi-level approval processes and having to get congregational approval on matters will block innovation. 
4. Flexibility. You don’t need to change your mission (for the most part), but you do need to change your methods. Flexible and adaptable churches that can innovate around strategy and different initiatives will have the freedom to make the changes they need to make an impact moving forward.
5. A willingness to embrace smaller to become bigger.  Mega-churches will continue to grow, but most of us won’t worship and serve in mega-churches. When small churches stop trying to be mega-churches, good things can happen. In fact, more and more larger churches will start embracing smaller venues, locations and partnerships to keep growing. A greater number of smaller venues might be a hallmark of future churches making an impact.
6. A quicker, lighter footprint.  Churches need a quicker, lighter footprint to grow. If you’re waiting for millions to build your building, you might wait forever. Get innovative and start looking at portable and non-traditional ways of growing your ministry. Quicker, lighter footprints will be necessary.
7. Valuing online relationships as real relationships.  Churches that aren’t online beyond a website are going to miss the boat. Real interaction with real people online is…well…real. Sure, face to face is deeper, but people will tell you things online they can’t muster the courage to tell you face to face.  As much as you might hate it, virtual relationships are becoming real relationships.
8. An openness to questions. Most unchurched people today come in with questions that seem weird to those of us who spent a life time in church. Don’t try to answer them right away. Churches that understand that embracing questions is as important as providing immediate answers will make an impact in the future. We’re discovering that if you embrace questions, the answers eventually find their way into people’s lives. The Holy Spirit actually does move in people’s lives.
9. A high value on experimentation. The more traditional you are, the less you will value experimentation. The more successful you are, the less you will value experimentation. If you start to raise the value of experimentation, you will accelerate change and flexibility. The churches that connect with their community will be the churches willing enough to try a variety of things, and who also have the courage to kill them as soon as they stop being the best way to reach people for Christ.
10. Prioritizing a for you not from you culture.  Churches in decline often think in terms of what they can get from people – money, time, growth etc. Churches that will make an impact on the future will be passionate about what they want for people – financial balance, generosity, the joy of serving, better families, and of course, Christ at the center of everyone’s life.
That’s what the "experts" see. What else do you see in your personal ministry?
       I’d love to hear about what you’re noticing.
*list from CareyNieuwhof.com

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What we can learn from Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal


I'm not much for predictions, but it's my humble opinion that in the week leading up to New Year's Eve 2015, two of the top 10 stories from 2015 will be that of Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal.  I believe their stories are so compelling because all of us can identify with them.

Rachel Dolezal is arguing that because she wants to "survive" it's her choice to identify with whatever race she wants to be.  When she became black, then she could be herself.  Caitlyn Jenner and other advocates for transgender lifestyle argue that it's their choice to be who they truly were supposed to be all along.  When they became transgender, then they could be themselves.

What they are doing is not being themselves.  What they are doing is called self-medication.  Changing skin color or changing out body parts are just two extreme ways of doing what we all are guilty of doing at times.  What's your form of self-medication?  Do you eat more or do you starve yourself?  Do you work a lot or workout a lot?  Do you drink a lot or have sex a lot?  All of us have some form of self-medication where we try to feel better about who we are.

You see, we can identify with Caitlyn and Rachel because like them, we realize there is something wrong with us.  So we try to "change" it, which is one of the definitions of the prefix "trans."  Becoming transgender or transracial won't bring about the change we want.  Only transformation does.  I have a hunch that when all the media coverage dies down that both Caitlyn and Rachel will once again experience that gnawing feeling that something needs to change.

The only place to find lasting transformation is God.  Psalm 23:3 puts it this way, "He (God) refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake."  Lasting change in how we feel about ourselves begins with God.  Lasting change in experiencing the full joy of life begins with God.  It's a soul issue, not a race or gender issue.  

The only way that a soul issue is fixed is not through self-medication or self-religion, it's through Jesus.  Jesus took everything that needs to change about us, i.e. our sin and guilt, to the cross.  He paid the price with His life to remove the penalty for our sins.  That means that each day we have a fresh start, new hope and real power to change.  No amount of transgender or transracial dialogue can do what transformation in Jesus can do.  Are you tired of self-medicating your life with the same result?  Try Jesus.

If you know of someone who is struggling with their identity.  Don't mock them, like some Christians (Matt Walsh) have done with Caitlyn Jenner.  That's not being like Jesus.  Pray for them.  Reach out to them.  Speak the truth in love to them.  Give them the only One who will bring about the change they want and, for the sake of their eternal destiny, need.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

3 Signs Your Church Is Ready to Reach Lost People

Almost every church I know says they want to reach lost people, people who have never been connected to a local congregation or who have drifted from one. But after a peek behind the "ministry curtain", few are actually doing it.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that many churches don’t really understand unchurched people or what are called the "nones" today (those who say they have "no" religious affiliation).
Another part of the problem is that our model of "church" is designed to reach and serve the already convinced, and not really reach lost people. Very few churches seem to be ready to change in order to really reach the lost.  So you can say you want to reach people all day long; you can preach about it every week from the pulpit. But if you haven’t designed your ministries around reaching people who don’t trust Christ, you might as well be preaching that you want to lose weight while having Pizza Hut on speed dial!
Here are 3 signs that indicate your congregation is set up to reach the lost as well as better equip the found:
1.  People who attend your church actually know unchurched people.  Many Christians say they want to reach unchurched people, but they don’t actually know any unchurched people well enough to invite them. That's why at St. Mark we encourage people to have unchurched friends, to invest in their lives and, when given the opportunity, to invite them to worship or some event.  There is a reason we end every worship service reminding people that they are "now entering their mission field."
2. Your attenders are prepared to be non-judgmental.  Unchurched people do not come ‘pre-converted’. They will have lifestyle issues that might take years to change (and let’s be honest, don’t you?). Cleaning up your behavior is not a pre-condition for salvation, at least not in Christianity. What God has done for us in Jesus saves us; not what we have done for God. We need to be ready to love unchurched people, not just judge their behavior.  Jesus’ genius approach was to love people into life change. If we can remember this truth, churches (including St. Mark) will be better equipped to reach lost people.
3. Questions are okay.  Embracing the questions of unchurched people is a form of embracing them; letting them know that questions are part of the learning process.  This is one of the reasons we often have a message series about "Difficult Questions" or "I Have A Brother Who Says ...."  In fact, at our new Green Bay site worship service (starts Sunday, September 13 at 10 am) and this Fall at our Monday night services, we will be offering a Q & A period in the worship service itself.  Yes, people on the path toward Christ have questions (I do too).  You need to give them the time and opportunity to find answers. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

What's going on this Summer?

Wondering how your kids can connect with their friends over summer? Look no further than St. Mark's Youth Newsletter.

Each month our youth director, Tad Schubring, emails out a helpful resource called "Parenting Christian Kids". It has useful ideas on how to share God's Word with your families this summer and if you look at our June youth calendar (last page of the newsletter) you will see some opportunities to camp close to home.

Also, don't forget that Kids Camp is August 3-7 and parents can register their 1st-6th grade children (Fall 2015-16) at http://www.stmarkdepere.com/youth.

Do families that grow closer to God grow closer to each other? Let's find out together. God's blessings on your summer.