Category Archives: Church

Compassion: The Missing Link in the Church

Jesus-Cristo-e-os-judeus-1As an American society, we have allowed our fears to take control of how we think, act, and who we will elect to leadership in this country. We are so afraid we will lose our jobs and our socio-economic standard of living if we don’t  stop illegal immigration that we no longer see the desperate plight of men, women, and children willing to die for a chance to improve their living conditions in this country. We so are terrified by the terrorist that we are willing to turn our backs on those who are helpless and hopeless in their flight from war, persecution, and famine. We are attempting to insulate ourselves from these real situations by ignoring the faces of those people, demonizing them, and then despising them because they don’t act, think, or worship like we supposedly do. Add to this, the outrageous promises of the politicians and it only reveals what the majority seem to believe anyway.

So—what about the church? Does she think the same way? The church is the thermostat. As the church goes—so goes our nation. What about individual Christians? As individual Christians go—so goes the church. By the way, unless you are 100% Native American, you are an immigrant—no matter how long your family has been in this country. Somewhere in your family tree is an ancestor who crossed the Atlantic or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande.

Something is missing that once made this country different and once made the church a champion of the downtrodden. That missing link is compassion. We seem to have become a compassionless people who are willing to govern themselves with compassionless governments that make and enforce compassionless laws. Our hearts seem all of a sudden to have grown cold and callous.

What is compassion anyway? Compassion is a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune and accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate suffering. Compassion is different from pity. Pity feels but does not act—compassion does both.

It seems that the church has reverted back to the old fears, prejudices, and intolerances of the lost world and now lives guided only by fear and self-survival. Or—has the world simply picked up its attitude and its actions from the church and started living them out. There seems to be little difference when it comes to the subject of compassion. Both groups seem indistinguishable from the other.

Jesus never acted out of fear. Survival never found a place on his daily “to-do” list. No, Jesus acted out of compassion. His entrance into the world was the act of a compassionate God. He came to seek and to save those who were helpless and hopeless. He was driven by compassion and his actions resulted in him dying for our sins. But his resurrection insured that we could live with the same compassionate intensity he displayed every day as he ministered. His compassion set the demonized free, gave new legs to the cripples, new eyes to the blind, healed the lepers and the diseased, and raised the dead. Read your Bible, it was compassion that focused his love and grace to meet human needs and suffering. His compassion produced an atmosphere pregnant with the possibilities for miracles. Genuine miracles by God are always fueled by compassion.

Where’s yours? Are you willing to see past the politics, the angry rhetoric, the spewing froth of fear, and the overwhelming needs—to see the people? Jesus saw the person! He looked in their eyes and did not turn his head.

Will you?

Or will you look away, close your eyes, or change the channel when the pictures of lifeless Syrian refugees wash up on the shores of Greece or the dead bodies of illegal Hispanic immigrants who lie scattered in the mesquite thickets of Texas and Arizona, clutching empty plastic water bottles in one hand and a plastic sack containing all their worldly possessions in the other. Jesus looked and he acted.

Will you?

Pity is not enough. Compassion demands the church respond. If she does not—this nation will not. But if she does—God will empower her with what she needs to do what he would do. But first we must once again regain what we have lost—our compassion, the missing link that makes us like Christ.

Crisis: Religion or Relationship (Part 1)

 

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Crisis (Part 1)

Fasting is tough. I am eighteen days into a 40 day fast from religion, as are many of the members of Eagle’s Wing Church where I pastor. We are driven by a desperate hunger and a passionate desire to experience a genuine relationship with God. Our desire is to know God rather than the facts or things that point us to God. We want to personally experience God and his love rather than live off the past experiences others.

Perhaps you’re wondering—why a fast from religion? Isn’t religion a good thing? Isn’t religion all about God?

Let me define religion. Religion is a system that must be practiced so that perfection can be reached. On the other hand, relationship is a heart-to-heart connection with a real person. You can’t have a relationship with a system. Relationship requires two people (not a person working a system). Jesus came to pay the price of sin so he might restore our ability to walk in communion with God—to have a personal relationship with him. Relationship is pursued,  while religion is practiced. And in this case practice will never make us perfect.

Our hearts yearn for relationship. We are born with a hunger to be loved and to give love in return. God created us that way. And he created a deep craving within all of us that can only be satisfied by a genuine relationship with him. God is relational. It is a part of his nature. Relationship starts in the heart of God.

Humanity created religion because we like systems where we can achieve things on our own. For some reason, we want to do it our way, rather than God’s way. Religion demands a pseudo perfection that is somehow achieved through rigorous practice and good works. The problem with that is we can’t rise to the measure of perfection God requires. Otherwise the death of Christ on the cross was a tragic waste.

The modern Christian church is in crisis. Most preach salvation by grace but then we turn around and try our hardest to achieve God’s favor, love, and blessings through works and activities. That’s religion, not relationship. Most believers attempt to connect with God through religion—through the system. But the only way we can make this heart-to-heart connection is through relationship.

For the next several weeks I want to share the subtle deception of religion and the satisfying depth of relationship through this blog. I encourage you to join us in a forty day fast from religion. If you will commit—God will bless you and set you free from religion’s crushing coils.

How do you start? Simply ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything in your spiritual life that is smacks or smells of religion. That may be a belief, a doctrine, a cherished idea or practice. It could be anything. As the Holy Spirit exposes those hidden things, confess them and move on. Invite the Holy Spirit to examine all your beliefs, doctrines, practices, and way of thinking. Don’t be afraid to invite him in to those things—he should be at home in all of them or that belief is not from God. That’s it!

You may be thinking there’s got to be more to it than this. What are the rules? If you need more rules than I’ve shared, you can start right there with that thought—it’s riddled with religion!

Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice of the Church

Where has the prophetic voice of the Church gone? Why has it grown so eerily silent? Has God nothing to say?

These are important questions that must be answered. The body of Christ—the Church—was created to be a prophetic voice to world. In her divine design, she was to express his heart of encouragement, strength, and comfort. For many who are outside or even inside the Church, she has become known for all the stuff she is against rather than the things she represents. Tragically, many people view the Church as condemning and judgmental rather than loving.

Why? The answer rests in the absence of her prophetic voice. Many seem to believe that if one stands in the pulpit and delivers a sermon that word is prophetic, which means it is from God. Sadly, that is not always true. God is often blamed for things he did not say. Too often the greatest love story of history is degraded into condemning diatribes of shame, manipulation, and guilt. This is the ditch on the right side of the road. Jesus never resorted to those techniques in drawing people to himself. He expressed the heart of the Father and people flocked to him in droves.

There is also the opposite extreme of standing for nothing—that is, anything goes. Don’t ask—don’t tell. It’s the idea that what’s right for me may not be for you—so let me do my own thing. This is certainly not biblical Christianity either. Instead it is the ditch on the left side of the road. Jesus never condoned sin nor did he disobey the Mosaic Law. Love does not look the other way—it steps up and confronts, but it does so in love.

The Church is drawn to extremes. We preach grace but demand lives lived to the letter of the law. Or, we disregard the principals of the law fulfilled by grace and refuse to step up or stand up for what’s right and against what’s biblically wrong. We have no prophetic voice.

What does God have to say about things? Well, most certainly God has not stopped speaking. He is still talking to those who are listening—the problem is very few of his people are listening. In fact most have no clue he even wants to talk with them. God is looking for men and women who will listen for his present-tense voice and speak what he is saying—in the workplace, at the market, in school, in the halls of government, and in the church. God is looking for people who will prophesy—who will stand and declare what he is saying to this generation.

But to do that, we must reclaim our prophetic voice, which means we must come to the place where we can once again hear God speak clearly and be willing to speak what he has said. Our future of our culture and our world hang in the balance.

Reclaiming Biblical Healing (Part 12)

q10700606In our last blog we looked at three separate moments in church history that helped diminish the ministry of healing. I use the word “helped” because it was not a single event, but rather a series of events, teachings, and personalities that when combined swept away the clear instructions of Jesus and left us with a host of faithless theologies and unbelieving believers. Culture, theology, and politics in the church produced a reversal in beliefs and behavior.

Over time, all these things affected the Church’s teaching on spiritual gifts. It moved from a supernatural understanding to one based on natural aspects. Around 600 AD, Pope Gregory the Great issued a new list of spiritual gifts which consisted of wisdom, science, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear (imagine that—a spiritual gift of fear…huh? What about 2 Timothy 1:7 or 1 John 4:18?). Apparently Pope Gregory the Great thought the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 and other places were incomplete. He choose not to include the gifts of healings, miracles, prophecy, word of knowledge and word of wisdom in his new and improved list. What the Pope decreed the priests taught and the people believed. Most of them could not read anyway so they had no way of checking what the Bible really said.

Another change took place with a division between the clergy and the laity. The priesthood of every believer was replaced with a priesthood of only the clergy that excluded the common people. And with this false division, a belief arose that soon became the practice of the church—only the bishop could exercise spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts did not cease, but regular Christians became fearful of exercising them. Ordinary Christians who gave prophetic words or employed works of healing or did miraculous things were labeled as heretics or witches. They were persecuted and put to death by drowning or burned at the stake. It became unhealthy, even deadly to use the very gifts Jesus had given his church to demonstrate the presence of the kingdom of God.

The interpretational methods of the Bible by the church also contributed to the loss of healing as a viable ministry. The corporate church began to use the miracles, healings, and resurrection that Jesus performed as proof texts to prove the deity of Christ. We tend to forget that although Jesus was one hundred percent God, he was also one hundred percent man. And during the 3 ½ years of his ministry everything he did—he did as man fully dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit and fully obedient to the Father. Otherwise you and I cannot do what Jesus said we could and would do according to John 14:12.  Biblically speaking, these things were secondary proofs, but not primary proofs. Jesus healed because God is good and it was a demonstration of the gospel of the kingdom.

Add to this that the church did not distinguish or understand the true meaning of suffering. Jesus and Paul talked about Christian suffering, but they were talking about  a persecution for following Christ, not sickness or infirmity. The church mistakenly defined suffering as anything that afflicted you—sickness, diseases, infirmity, poverty, pestilence, etc.—and declared it to be the cross you were to bear and glorify Jesus. In other words, when you are sick it is your cross to bear making you more Christ-like. Sadly, that belief still lives and breathes today in many churches. Many believers will talk about how God allowed, sent, or gave them this sickness or that disease so they could become better Christians. (By the way—that is why God the Father sent his Son to die on the cross. If something else could make you better, the Father wasted the Son.)

The Protestant Reformation recovered the Bible and salvation by grace through faith, but most of the other things that were lost, including healing, were not recovered. In fact, the Protestant Church of today thinks much like the Church of Martin Luther’s day, or the Church of the Dark Ages, or even the Jewish religious system of Jesus’ day.

We have invented all kinds of theologies to explain why God no longer does what he once did and then drape them in the trappings of biblical sounding excuses. Many churches and denominations believe the gifts of healing, as well as the other gifts, disappeared with the death of the last apostle or the canonization of the Scriptures. This is a powerless gospel and is not transforming the culture we live in. These excuses are nothing more than unbelief and a refusal to embrace the dynamic Jesus the Gospels declare. We have become guilty of the very thing that led to the crucifixion of Jesus—his wondrous works threaten our little religious kingdoms and he does not look or act like we think he should.

Biblical healing has been lost because we refuse to contend for it. Instead, we are willing to accept a series of flimsy excuses that attempts to explain why God won’t, don’t, or can’t. God has not changed—but over the centuries the Church has.

Reclaiming Biblical Healing (Part 10)

Healing is a central part of the Gospel of the Kingdom; it is not a peripheral issue. It was not a peripheral issue to Jesus or the early church. Therefore it should not be to us. But—it seems to be in most churches and denominations. Why? Jesus did not change (Hebrews 13:8)—but the church did.

We know Jesus healed. He revealed the character, nature, and will—the essence of who God is. He demonstrated God’s will at every turn. He commissioned and authorized not only the apostles, but all his disciples to do the works he had done and even greater ones. He also commissioned them to make disciples and train them to do all that he had trained them to do. And that is exactly what that first few generations of believers did.

Over the next three hundred years, the church turned the world upside down through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit as they proclaimed and demonstrated the words of Jesus. The book of Acts is saturated with healing miracles and chronicles the first thirty years of the church. The “gifts of healings” are mention in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Healing was an integral and normal part of the early gospel message.

The Roman government condemned and persecuted the church, but it could not argue against or get rid of the testimonies of healing that accompanied the followers of Christ. Those powerful manifestations of God’s power could not be denied. The early church fathers, such as Origen and Justin Martyr, wrote of these miracles as they defended their faith. Their writings, as well as many others, are available for anyone to read and they serve as faithful accounts of early church history. Healing miracles did not end with the death of the last apostle—they continued unabated for three to five hundred years.

Sadly, over time the church changed and was affected more by the culture surrounding it and from subtle changes from within. These changes negatively influenced the ministry of healing and over time, it was lost—in the dust of abuse, misuse, and eventually no use.

To be a Christian during those first three hundred years meant you were the real deal. There were no nominal or “Sunday” believers. Christians were persecuted, their property confiscated, and their children taken and sold as slaves. They were shunned in their communities, hunted by government and religious authorities, and killed by gladiators and wild animals in the arenas throughout the Roman Empire. A person claiming to be a follower of Christ was all in or that person was not a part of the church. The cost was too high!

Everything changed when Emperor Constantine saw a vision with a cross and was told that he would conquer in that sign. He place the cross symbol on the shields and breastplates of his soldiers and won a great victory in 312 AD. It is likely he became a patron of the church rather than a believer in Christ, and in 313 AD he signed the Edict of Milan, which legalized the church. In 381 AD, the Christian Church was declared the state church of Rome, bringing throngs of pagans into membership who had never experienced salvation. The purity and power of the church was compromised.

Another event that greatly affected healing was the fall of Rome in 476 AD. With this, the civilized world entered what is known as the Dark Ages. During this time, illiteracy became prevalent and ultimately the Bible—the Word of God—was lost to the common people. People could no longer read, and thus, they had to trust their priests (most of them could not read) to tell them was Scripture taught. This enabled a select few to interpret the Bible and disseminate its truths in ways that would maintain a rigid control of the masses and put huge profits in their pockets.

Survival became the daily toil of the common people. Life was tough and life spans were short. People began to focus on the life to come because they wanted to escape their present struggle. Heaven became the ultimate destination and health and freedom promised by Christ in the present lost its luster.

Biblical healing was quickly becoming covered in the dust of time—buried by compromise and unbelief.

(In my next blog, I will share some specific theological choices and events that helped bury the biblical ministry of healing.)

Reclaiming Biblical Healing (Part 2)

One of the keys in reclaiming biblical healing in the church is a biblical understanding of the meaning of save or salvation and it usage in the Greek language of Jesus’ day. The New Testament was initially written in Koine (meaning common) Greek. Jesus and his followers were multi-lingual, speaking Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and Latin. In the 2,000 years or so since the New Testament was written, the church has misplaced nuances of word meanings it chose to no longer use or those meanings were gradually lost during the Dark Ages.

For most believers, to save or salvation means the forgiveness or redemption of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He is the Savior. Few Christians, regardless of their particular flavor, would argue against this meaning. And if that were all that it meant it would certainly be enough. Forgiveness of sin is the ultimate miracle of God. But I believe, based on its multiple meaning and the example of Jesus that God meant so much more.

The Greek word to save is sozo and it carried a three-fold meaning in the Jesus’ day. First it meant to redeem or forgive and in our case spiritually speaking, payment of the sin debt. Secondly, it denoted a deliverance from torment. And finally, it was used to indicate healing from disease. It is a word rich in meaning, but sadly the vast majority of the church has never embraced the last two meanings. We have often taken the revelation of God, translated it, and interpreted it through the foggy lens of later theologies rather than through the theology Jesus demonstrated. Jesus is, after all, perfect theology. If we want to know who God is or what God thinks—all we have to do is look at Jesus.

Jesus came to redeem humanity from the effects of sin, and those decimating consequences of sin effect humanity in totality—spirit, soul, and body. Jesus did not die to give us a partial salvation. No, he died to save us completely from the carnage of sin. His work on the cross was complete—in spirit, soul, and body. Now, you may struggle with that. This may not mesh with what you have been taught, but please consider what Jesus said and did.

Twenty percent of the Gospels are given to the healing and deliverance ministry of the Savior. It is fairly evident from a reading of them that Jesus healed (sozo) the sick, the diseased, the blind, the lame, the deaf, and the afflicted. And it is clear that he brought deliverance (sozo) to those who were tormented by demonic spirits. The gospel of the kingdom—the good news that the King’s domain was present (heaven touched earth in those moments)—was demonstrated through this benevolent, yet militant invasion of the kingdom of darkness. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil—of which sickness, demonization, and ultimately sin are all a part.

Therefore, the salvation Jesus bought and paid for purchased forgiveness of sin, healing of the body, and deliverance from the torment of mind and soul. It was a complete salvation, not a partial one.

Jesus said we would do the works he did and even greater ones. That can only happen when we reclaim the full meaning of his words and incorporated those actions as a part of our the ministry in the church.

Reclaiming Biblical Healing (Part 1)

The ability to reclaim something carries with it an acute awareness that something has been lost that once belonged to the person or group searching for it. If we don’t realize or recognize something is missing we will most certainly never reclaim it. Tragically this is the case for healing in the New Testament Church. Though it was demonstrated and authorized by Jesus, given as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and practiced by the early church, biblical healing has been lost for the most part, buried in the soil of neglect and unbelief.

For the first four hundred years of the church healing was a normal part of the ministry of the body of Christ. It was one of the signs that accompanied the early believers according to both the Scriptures (“…They will lay hands of the sick and they will recover” Mark 16:18c) and the testimony of church history. Contrary to what some systems of theology or certain denominations teach, the miraculous gifts of the Spirit did not cease with the death of the last apostle or with the canonization of the Holy Scriptures. These gifts, including healing, were given to empower the church in her commission to make fully-formed disciples in the likeness of Jesus Christ, while continuing his destruction of the devil’s works.

Somewhere along the way the healing ministry of the church was fumbled and lost. And today, most believers see little or no use for it. In fact, those who do contend and search it out are often ridiculed as uneducated, ignorant, or biblically illiterate. The devil has done a jam-up job in confusing the issue and creating chaos whenever this subject arises.

Many Christians believe that God can heal if he wants to—that he has the power, but that it might or might not be his will in any given situation. Others believe that sickness comes from God and by enduring its suffering he will make you a better Christian. Some believe sickness is the result of the ravages of sin. Still others see the body as a disposable item cursed by sin they soon will throw off in their quest for heaven’s pearly gates. None of these options are fully biblical nor are they evidenced in the teaching or actions of Jesus.

Perhaps the time has come to reclaim what Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated during his ministry instead of the powerless and poison garbage the enemy has infected and introduced into the dogma and doctrines of the modern church. Perhaps the time has come to reclaim biblical healing as our heritage and our destiny. Perhaps the time has come to recapture the purity of that first generation of believers and minister from the source of power they tapped into—that power source generated by love, faith and the Holy Spirit that turned the world upside down in less than three hundred years.

God has called his body to be a house of healing where people experience the fullness of Jesus Christ and the fullness of what he purchase through the passion of his crucifixion. The time has come for Jesus to get the full return on what he paid for in his atonement. This means we must reclaim biblical healing as a part of the total salvation Jesus purchased at Calvary.

Over the next several weeks, I will be blogging on reclaiming biblical healing by digging into the Old and New Testaments, the Gospel accounts of Jesus, and the history of the church. Join me as we make this journey and blow the dust off a vital ministry of the church.