Hot & Cold Are Good

Stop saying that God prefers for us to be either on fire for him or spiritually cold toward him rather than spiritually struggling somewhere in the middle. Do you really believe a hostile atheist like Richard Dawkins pleases God more than an inconsistent, struggling believer?
 
When we take the hot as have in a vibrant, enthusiast faith, and the cold as being either spiritually apathetic or antagonistic toward God we miss out on the important message that Jesus really was trying to teach the church in Laodicea.

Actually, the hot and cold of Revelation 3 is not a contrast between good and bad options. Both hot and cold are positives expressions set in contrast with the lukewarmness of the Laodicean’s self-sufficiency.

Here is the historic context of the statement, 
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
 
Laodicea didn’t have a supply of good water. The local water had a high lime content.
 
In contrast to Laodicea are the water supplies of both Hieropolis and Colosae. Hieropolis had healing hot springs used by people to treat a number of maladys like arthitis. Colosae was fed by refreshing, cool mountain streams (remember the Nestea plunge?).
 
Since, Laodicea didn’t have their own source of water they piped the cool water in from Colosae 20 miles away. However, by the time it reached Laodicea it was rancid and tepid.
 
Jesus takes this issue related to the local water supply to teach the Laodiceans a spiritual lesson. Laodicea had developed a spiritual malaise because of their self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. Jesus described their self-assessment as “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” With that spiritually lethargic attitude Laodicea had ceased to make a influence on its community as either a place of spiritual healing, where broken lives were being put back together, or of spiritual refreshment, where weary souls were being revitalized.
 
Here is the point Jesus is making: God desires that we be a healing or a refreshing community, rather than a community which is useless and worthless due to our spiritual lethargy.

 



How To Grow Church Attendance

Over the last month you have heard the Elders share a vision for 2017 of seeing our average Sunday attendance rise by 20% over 2016. I’d like to come behind what they have shared with a little more information and context.
 
The attendance average for FCC hit a significant snag in the spring and summer of 2015 when the average Sunday attendance dropped to 75. It then became a goal of seeing the attendance rebound by at least 20% over the next year (September 2015-August 2016) or 90 people. We actually saw a recovery and our average Sunday attendance increased to 92 people.
 
This year again, the Elders sought to see us reach a 20% attendance increase once more. However, we felt that we needed to make the congregation aware of this goal.
 
The reason informing the congregation was deemed important, was because we wanted the congregation to own the vision for growth as well. Congregational buy-in is necessary because it is the congregation that will ultimately determine whether we will reach our goal or not.
 
There are two determinants helping us achieve the growth that we dream of for each member:
 
1) If we attend ourselves … nationally, the average church attender now attends church only 27 times per year — that is only one Sunday over half. At FCC, we have noticed the national trend in our own attendance as choices of sports, sleeping in, and other things have squeezed out church attendance. 
 
Attending half of the time will do to you spiritually the same thing as eating half of the time will do to you physically. We can do better for ourselves spiritually.
 
2) If we invite others to attend … studies show that at best, 25% of church members ever invite someone to church. Yet, over 50% of unchurched Americans say they would attend church if a friend invited them.
 
Part of our mission is to help others know Jesus. Inviting them to church may be the best way of helping them know Him. Who have you invited? Keep inviting. Find new people and invite them too.
 

20% and Beyond

 



Practice Hospitality With Whom

Paul bids the Romans to “practice hospitality.” There is a nuance to that statement that I had never been aware of before today. The term specifically references the warm welcome that is extended to a stranger, someone who doesn’t belong to the family. And with that nuance, I believe it presents something more than a cup of coffee or punch in an after worship social environment.         Hospitality is what we do to make guests welcomed.
 
Many churches don’t do hospitality – for what they would call hospitality only serves to make those who   belong welcome.  Surprisingly, some churches are infamous for choosing to ignore their guests.
 
Yet, week after week, we hear from guests that FCC Chicago is a welcoming and friendly place. Our guests  express to us that our church family does a tremendous job of making them feel like they belong by greeting them and engaging them in conversation, and inviting them to Connection Groups.  All of that is hospitality! And we are doing a good job at it.
 
Now, let me ask that you go the next step. We do a tremendous job of demonstrating hospitality to guests within the church building. What if we extended hospitality beyond the church walls to those guests?
 
  • What if we exchanged phone numbers with those guests, and made a call to them during the week to share that we were glad to meet them?
  • What if we invited them out to eat with us on Sunday following Connection Groups, and take the chance to get to know their story?
  • What if we planned to meet them during the week for a cup of coffee?
  • What if we invited them to our homes for dinner, and a chance to play some games with the family?
 

Can we choose to do that? What difference do you think such actions would make in helping people to connect with the church, see the church as a community of grace, and feel further loved by the church? Let’s not just practice hospitality. Let’s perfect it.

 



Do You Make The Holy Spirit Cry?

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“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you are sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30).
 
The Holy Spirit begs each of us, “don’t make me cry.”
 
What is it that makes the Holy Spirit cry? What breaks His heart?
 
Interpreters of this verse often present a wide array of thoughts on what it means to “grieve the Holy Spirit.” Ideas range anywhere from crediting Satan for the actions of God, living in unrepentant sin, or falling away from faith.
 
However, each of these interpretations break one of the cardinal rules for Biblical interpretation … study the context. Let the context define what an unclear statement might mean.
 
Paul does just that with this verse in Ephesians 4.
 
Take a look at verse 29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
 
Now look at verse 31 and 32: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
 
We don’t need to go any further than these verses to guess what Paul means in verse 30! Paul provides matching bookends to verse 30. Sandwiched right between is the plea to not bring the Holy Spirit to tears.
 
The verses, immediately before and after, mentions actions that are destruction to relationships within the body of Christ. In each couplet, a negative action is rejected for a positive option. In both verses, Paul is telling the believers to guard against these negative actions: destructive words; and bitterness and malice. The Ephesians are told to exchange these negative actions for positive relating: words that encourage and strengthen; and tender forgiveness like God.
 
Why does he tuck this verse about grieving the Holy Spirit between these verses? Because Paul’s sandwich is meant to make clear to the reader that it is these very harmful activities that threaten the harmony and unity of the body of Christ that make the Holy Spirit cry?
 
Have you made the Holy Spirit cry? How are your relationships within the body of Christ? Have you conducted yourself in a manner that leaves tears streaming down the face of God? Or have you exchanged the actions that bring the Holy Spirit to tear with the actions that place a smile on His face because they grow and bless the body?


Telling The Lost To Go To Hell

Have you been guilty of telling others to go to Hell?

The very phrase for many Christians sends a bolt of indignation through our gut. We don’t like hearing people tell one another to “Go to Hell”, because it is a defaming and derogatory statement of derision.

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Most believers wouldn’t even consider using that phrase. Yet, I fear that we have so focused on the phrase as “bad language’” that we have forgotten that we may be saying the same thing to people with much more serious consequences.
 
When we treat those outside of a relationship with Christ with ridicule and derision, we in essence are telling them to “go to Hell.” When we fail to demonstrate Christ’s love toward those who are struggling in sin, we are telling them to “go to Hell.” When we fail to exhibit God’s grace to those who are seeking salvation, we repeat the refrain “go to Hell.”
 
Our actions toward the lost, whether they be family, friend or enemy, have very real consequences. These consequences are much more significant than someone having hurt feelings because someone told them to go to H-E- double hockey sticks. The consequences of rejecting lost people, failing to show grace, and judging rather than showing grace to lost people is a sure way to being accomplices with sending them on their way to Hell. Sometimes in our own spiritual arrogance, we are actually pushing them to Hell because we are pushing them away from Jesus.
 
This is not to deny that those who are outside of Christ are going to hell. What the problem is is that many Christians, who are called to be God’s ambassadors of grace to a lost and dying world, are perfectly content with lost people being consigned to Hell. While we may not be throwing them in, we may be fanning the flame.
 
How do you get these lost souls off the highway to Hell? You treat them with the same level of respect that Jesus did. You build friendship with lost people. You pray for their salvation. You engage them in conversations through which you can tell them about Jesus. In short you treat lost people, not as if they deserve Hell, but as people who deserve the grace of Christ, the same grace shown to you.
 
Let’s not be content letting them go to Hell. Let’s do everything that we can in order to change their condition and destiny.

 



Soft Hearts

soft-hearts“Be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
 
Right relationships are not just about the don’ts — don’t hold grudges, don’t speak badly of others, don’t seek harm toward others.
 
Right relations are also built by positive actions. Paul tells us to have soft hearts toward one another. That means be sensitive toward one another, allow your heart to be moved by others. Bitter hearts become calloused. Paul encourages that to be replaced with softness and compassion.
 
He, also, tells us to forgive each other. That is the positive reflection of softening of a heart of resentment and anger. It isn’t enough to discard your bitterness. Bitterness needs replaced by forgiveness. We need to relate to one another as God relates to us because of the sacrifice of Christ.
 
Paul’s very clear implication is that since all of us needed forgiveness at the expense of Christ, we ought to demonstrate forgiveness to one another. How is it possible to hold someone hostage in unforgiveness for the very things Christ has forgiven?
 
Does your heart need some softening?


I Resolve To Release Myself From Bitterness

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“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Ephesians 4:31 ESV
  
We do well to put away the bitterness, resentment, anger, and dreams of payback that haunt us. These are the dark places of the soul that keep us captive to old wounds, old scars, and bind us from experiencing the joy of life in Christ.
 
Yet, I wonder if our putting away is less than Paul was hoping. Rather than relegating bitterness to the trash heap of things that don’t move us toward Christlikeness, do we stow it away in a location where it is easily retrieved for display? Do we get our resentments out ever-so-often so that they can be polished to a bright sheen to make sure they don’t begin to look like something which should be discarded? Do we nurse our anger when we should be starving it? Do we end up cherishing our bitterness more than the joy that would be experienced when we let it go?
 
Paul’s instructions do more than let the other person off the hook. They grant you the room to experience healing yourself. It is up to you to shake off the chains. No one else can set you free. 
 
I resolve to release myself from bitterness, to discontinue blaming others for my resentments, and hold over their head the injustices which I have convinced myself I have suffered at their hands. In setting them free, I choose to set myself free.
 
On the otherhand, picking at my wounds may only lead to infection.

 



It’s Not The End Of The World

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Many are the heralds who trumpet that election 2016 will result in the end of America as we know it. We have let our anxiety overwhelm us with despair. Hope has been lost in a pool of uncertainty and fear. 

 

Undoubtedly, many changes will result from this election. However, if we are believers, it is hardly the end of world. Our hope does not rest in such transient things as elections or even nations.

 

Here is a sampling of things that will remain unchanged as the results of the election roll in:

1) God’s word is still true and his authoritative revelation;

2) God will still reign sovereign on his throne;

3) Mankind will still be subject to sin and powerless to resolve the problem;

4) Jesus is still God’s Son, the conquering Redeemer, Savior of mankind;

5) Mankind still will only be redeemed through faith in the saving work of Jesus;

6) The resurrection of Christ still empowers God’s children to live new lives freed from bondage to sin;

7) The church is still called to exhibit the grace and love of Christ with one another before the world 

8) The mission of the church to share the gospel with a lost world will be unchanged;

9) Christians will remain aliens and strangers in this world because this is not our home;

10) The world will still not embrace believers as their own because the people of this world hated Christ first;

11) Jesus is still going to return to bring his people home to be with him forever;

12) Those who make the choice to be alienated from God in this life will remain alienated for eternity.

 

Looking at this list, I’m not so sure much of significance will really change come Wednesday. Perhaps the emanate changes will drive us to reliance on what is lasting and what really matters.

 

What is sure about our faith produces hope. And hope overcomes our fear.



Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Careless Talk

It seems we have mistaken our constitutional right to freely express our thoughts as a freedom to disregard, humiliate and disrespect others. (It’s just a guess, but I don’t think that is what the founding fathers had in mind).
 
Disrespect is not dialogue! 
Blog Careless Talk
It is intriguing, but even more disturbing, that meaningful discussion and dialogue have been lost in an environment where name-calling has become the most honored debate strategy. We are being subjected to that every day; from both leading presidential candidates and from every corner of the twitter-sphere.
 
Don’t argue your point by a rationale presentation of facts when you can simple disqualify the validity of the other person’s existence by simply calling them out as a libertard, a right-winger, a homophobe, a racist or bigot, a liar, a pharisee, a heretic, or simply an idiot. Those with whom we disagree are no longer people with different views. They are enemies to be exposed, devalued, and defamed.
 
And sadly, it is not just secularist unbelievers that have resorted to attack speech. Careless talk has become, far too often, the common vernacular of those who call themselves Christian.
 
Is this the kind of interaction that Jesus was promoting when he instructed his students: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? 
 
Have we forgotten the condition placed upon “speaking the truth” in Ephesians 4:15?
 
We are quick to render criticism on our young people for the disrespect which has become their norm (and it is bad). However, I think we do these young people an injustice when we refuse to turn the spotlight on a society that believes it is not only normal, but acceptable, to talk down to one another, and put others in their place, when verbally cruelty is applauded as a positive character trait. Then we should further turn the light upon ourselves, and ask, “When have I chosen, rather than counter with legitimate rebuttals, to assassinate someone’s reputation through name-calling?”
 
Could it be that our greatest cultural crisis is none of the issues that our politicians are peddling? Could it be that what we are seeing in our presidential candidates is our biggest failure being put on display before our blinded eyes? Maybe our most critical cultural crisis is a gross loss of civility in which we can’t show respect toward one another as fellow beings created in the image of God, tarnished as it may be.
 

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear … Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Ephesians 4:29, 31-32 ESV
 
Steven Chapman


Behind the Numbers

crime sceneAre we confronting horror and holocaust or are we looking at hype, hoax and hysteria?
 
The shouts can become deafening. Black America shouting, “Stop killing us’, and many in conservative white America are shouting back, “The cry of injustice is hype, a hoax.”
 
Who is right? Is it true that blacks are not killed more often than whites? Well, the answer is “Yes and no.” It depends how you look at the data.
 
There is a couple of popular memes circulated among conservative media outlets that compares the number of people from different ethnic groups that have been shot and killed by police in 2014 and 2015. In both years twice as many white people were shot and killed by the police as blacks.
 
The cumulative date from January 1, 2015 to today validates those findings. Since January 1, 2015 the police have shot and killed 1502 people; of those 732 were white, 381 were black. These conservative meme are accurate — or are they?
 
Just looking at the raw data it certainly appears that whites are more frequently victims of police shootings than blacks. However, there is problem with the raw data. It doesn’t give us the real picture.
 
The raw data does not account for population difference between the two populations. Whites account for 62% of the US population, blacks account for 13%. In other words there are roughly 5 white people for every black person.
 
When you account for this difference in population, what we see is the 2/1 higher ratio of whites/blacks killed flip to where blacks are the victim at a rate 2.5 times higher than whites.
 
When black people are the victim of police shootings at a rate 2.5 times (note: times, not percent) higher than whites, it needs to give us reason to pause. Our hearts should be broken for what is happening in the African-American community.
 
Does it imply universal racism among those in law enforcement? No, that is where I believe Black Lives Matter Movement (contrast that the the little “m” movement) oversteps their diagnosis. But it does demonstrate an issue of social justice that we need to be concerned about. While the problem may not be universal, it is undoubtedly indicative that something is broken in the system.
 
However, to deny there is a problem is at least just as egregious as any overstatement that may come from the Black Lives Matters Movement. I hear others whites rationalize that white people don’t protest when a white person is killed. Yet, I wonder if even that claim we have declared in honor of our restraint would be tested if year after year over the coming decade we saw white deaths triple … when it is not longer enough to tell our children when pulled over by the police be respectful, and that instruction has to be replaced with “Keep you hands on the steering wheel. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t reach for your wallet. Have the police get your wallet.”
 
Solving this issue is not just a matter of fixing racial prejudice in policing. The problem goes much deeper than that. However, we will never move toward resolution as long as we continue to deny that there is a problem.
 
(For more information read this Washington Post story.)