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I grew up in a "Christian" home. We attended church twice every Sunday and once every Wednesday. I was also there many other times for activities involving kids my age. The church was the center of our life.

Mom was deeply in love with Jesus. The real deal. Dad died when I was 10, and my stepdad was something of an enigma. He professed to be a Christian, but in his daily words and actions, it was hard to tell. Nevertheless, we were seen by those who knew us as a family of Christians.

I am the first of seven brothers, boys who grew up in the church. And as we came to adulthood and made our own choices, three of seven chose to live as followers of Jesus. The other four walked away from what they grew up in, seeing it as empty and a fraud, or at least unworthy of consideration. Three of seven is appalling, and a failing score by nearly any measure. But it could be far worse, I suppose.

Ever get frustrated?

Do you ever get impatient with your church? Or with church in general? I do. I struggle with church. What I mean is, I don't like churches that have no depth or sense of purpose in them, beyond making their own members feel good. Nor do I like churches that have no idea what they are supposed to be doing. That includes a great many of the churches I have encountered. I have patience neither with self-centered churches nor self-centered people, especially when they profess to be Christians.

Our home group was discussing Mark 13, and specifically where Jesus speaks of the terrible times that will follow the appearance of the "Abomination of Desolation."

His statement was clearly prophetic, and yet, what was he referring to? There had been such an event over a century before. And yet, he is clearly speaking of something else, something future.

So as we look down the road from his viewpoint, the next obvious event is in AD 70, at the destruction of the Temple. That seems to fit fairly well.

But is there more? Is there an additional meaning, more pertinent to our times today? That's a more difficult question.

Uniquely Christian

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a conversation at a retreat for leaders of a business. My topic was vision and mission.

In the conversation, many questions arose, a few of them mine. One of them, which had been gnawing at me for some time, had to do with their business name, which contained the word "Christian."

My question was, "What is it about what you do that makes it 'Christian'? How is what you do different from some 'secular' competitor down the street? Or is calling yourself Christian merely a marketing tool?"

Merry Christmas: A Reflection

Well, here we are again, at the best and worst time of the year. Christmas. I love it and I hate it. I listen to endless hours of Christmas music ( is wonderful), but refuse to hear musical triteness like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Christmas is depressing because, for most people, it's a tawdry orgy in honor of materialism run wild. It's an event unworthy of those bearing the image of God. For others, however, it's a time marked by hope and excitement at the dawning of a new day.

Despite this paradox, it's perhaps my favorite time, because it marks - admittedly inaccurately - what is the most astonishing event ever: God becoming a man. It marks the day when hope was born, a day when we began the journey from darkness to glorious light.

Bubble-wrapped people

"Bubble-wrapped people." Sounds a little weird, doesn't it?

It certainly did to me, though bubble-wrap is not a new idea. We all know "bubble wrap," a plastic packing material with small air "pillows" in it. It's used to surround some object to isolate it from what's around it and protect it.

But people? Did you ever think of bubble-wrapped people? Probably not, though they're not uncommon, walking through life securely protected from the evil and pain in the world. I think to an extent, at least in western culture, most people live with some degree of insulation protecting them from whatever they perceive as a threat.

Is God with us...

Among the many fascinating events in scripture, I think often of the account in Exodus 33, where Moses is talking with God about God's presence with Israel. The issue is how people around them will know that Israel is really God's people. What sets them apart from all the rest? Here's part of the passage:

Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" (v. 15-16 NASB)

Words or power: Talk is cheap

I recently saw a post on Facebook, asking why the modern American church seldom sees miracles. It's an interesting question, and I suspect asking ten people will bring ten different answers. But I want to add my voice to the "chorus," because I think the chorus is mostly wrong. I think scripture and history are pretty clear about this matter.

I used to know some folks who, upon encountering some evil thing or person, would begin repeating "in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus," like some sort of mantra, something that would magically repel the devil.

I chose not to join in. I never saw much good come from their practice. Magic words don't work. Ask the seven sons of Sceva in Acts.

There is another form of the Magic Word Club, however, that is more pervasive, and more dangerous. These folks also believe there is some magical power in the name Jesus. But in this case, it's for salvation.

In my library, I have several books from the business world, mostly best-sellers. Generally, they are about how to achieve excellence in business. How to be the best.

I am not in the business world and have little interest in being there, but I believe there are principles that apply anywhere: business, life, and church. And that's my interest: How do we live and act with excellence, especially as followers of Jesus?

Accidentally unforgiven?

I was reading this morning in Matthew 12, about the "unforgiveable sin." It brought back a flood of memories, and some disturbing questions.

When I was a kid - and probably longer than I want to think about after that - I heard about and read about this sin, and I had no idea what it meant to "blaspheme" the Holy Spirit. But it was clear that anyone guilty of it was in a heap o' trouble, and I didn't want to go there.

The hardest thing

I have thought a lot about the challenges of following Jesus. I have taught for some 35 years, and have listened to uncounted men and women telling of their struggles. And I have reached some conclusions.

One of the most common issues is maintaining a regular, quality prayer life. Most Christians don't pray regularly, and the idea is unattractive. I don't know the reason for all, but it occurs to me that many of us think God doesn't like us much, and so why would we want to sit and chat with someone who is just humoring us? Not me.

A lesson from antiquity

When I ask people what is their favorite portion of scripture, I usually get an answer that has to do with individual salvation, such as John 3:16 or some other verse that reassures us of God's love for us.

When I am asked for my favorite, I have a hard time choosing. I love the interaction between God and Moses at the burning bush in Exodus, and I think the accounts of the conversations between Moses and God on Sinai are fascinating, sometimes very funny. Hard to pick just one.

'I was robbed!'

Perhaps like many of you, I grew up in a white, middle-class, suburban American family. We were not really typical, but we did fit some of the mold. We attended a conservative, evangelical church, and I was shaped by that environment, as was our entire home life.

At our church, I learned "Christianity" as a set of truisms and principles to which I was expected to give mental assent. And as a result, I would, of course, live according to a certain standard of conduct: I would not drink, smoke, cuss or chew. Neither would I play cards or attend most movies. You perhaps know the routine. It was more a cultural than a spiritual thing.

Is it really good news?

Yesterday I attended one of the "12 Conversations in 12 Cities" leading up to the Lausanne meeting in October in Capetown, South Africa. The focus was the relationship between the church, the gospel and social justice. A panel of respected Christian thinkers and leaders interacted on some difficult questions, and it was a good and worthwhile time.

Listening, the basic question came to me: What, exactly, is the gospel? I think some of our problem is that we have failed to fully understand this term with all its implications. Some refer to a "social gospel" while others hold to a "spiritual gospel."

Options: Grow or die

I love the church. I have little patience with those who are anti-"organized religion," or even more, who claim to be Christians but choose to have nothing to do with a local congregation. They are disobedient children at best, spiritual whores at worst.

The church - the organized manifestation of the people of God - has problems. It is by no means perfect. But the same can be said about every alternative. It's universally true simply because the presence of people means the presence of problems. And this principle is further compounded because these particular people - the people of God - have an active enemy committed to their destruction.

Keys to Health

We've all heard them, and a few of us even do them. You know: Eat right, exercise, watch your weight, and all that. Unless you live under a rock, you can't miss hearing this message in America. The message is a good one, especially for Christians. Being a follower of Jesus includes being a good steward of the things He gives us, including our bodies.

But what about the other parts that make up "me"? We all have a spiritual aspect, and an intellectual one, as well. And we have our individual lives and corporate lives, too. BOth spiritually and intellectually, we are made to be with each other. So what about the church? What if we look at "we" rather than "me"? Are there things the church should be doing to promote health, as well? I think so, and they are badly needed.

It's that time again

Well, it's that time of year again. You know, the one everyone says they look forward to, but are glad when it comes only once a year. The time when Americans go on a materialistic spending orgy, wiping out the progress of the past year toward a debt-free life.

You know what I mean, of course. It's Christmas. Just a few more days, and it'll be here.

Christmas is a topic of disagreement among Christians. Some want to celebrate it to the full, while others say it's a pagan orgy, and should be avoided.

Life or death

"The choice before us isn't just whether or not to listen to our Scriptures and place our faith in [Jesus]. The choice is whether or not to have any meaning and fulfillment in our lives. That's why Moses told us, shortly before we entered the Promised Land, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).

You are chosen. Will you heed the call?"

by Avi Snyder, writing in Issues, published by Jews for Jesus.

Jesus said we would always have poor people among us. In a broken world such as ours, it seems a fact of life. But should it be? Is it necessary that most of the world struggles simply to survive? That children die by thousands for lack of clean water? That "poor" in America equals "rich" in much of the world?

It's true, you know. There is appalling pain and hardship around the world. And the American church - the wealthiest church in history - is making only a small dent in the problem. This is not a good thing.

Desperate evangelicals?

From the cover of Christianity Today magazine, October 2009:

"Evangelicals desperately need moral and spiritual renewal -- on that everyone agrees. But what do we do about it?"

Indeed, what do we do about it? Are we really desperate?

Over recent years, I have been disturbed as I have noticed myself becoming increasingly impatient with churches I have belonged to. I have been frustrated for a couple reasons. First, I have felt like I was becoming anemic, trying to live and grow to maturity on spiritual and intellectual baby food. Then, second and perhaps worse, I felt like I was the only one, that there was nobody else who felt as I did.

I am not one who enjoys going about criticizing and stirring up trouble. I try not to be a "professional gadfly." I respect the importance of the biblical principle of not attacking those in authority, since all authority comes from God. So I have gone privately, talking with pastors and church leaders with whom I had an established relationship, telling them of my desire for more depth and meat in teaching.

The response has been discouraging.

A couple weeks ago I wrote of events at a meeting of a house church group, where a woman was ill and asking for prayer, and nobody moved. Two elders were present, but nobody responded. Finally I stood, laid hands on the woman, and prayed for her healing. Nobody joined me. But she was healed.

This is the follow-up on that incident.

Last week, the meeting began with a meal, as usual, and with three songs, as usual. However, after the singing, the leader, rather than starting the discussion, stopped and said we would first pray for three people, two present, with a need of healing. I was surprised, but pleasantly so.

The Leadership Imperative

Last night was our house church meeting. It's a night I normally look forward to, but this time the events of the evening left me deeply disturbed. What happened raised in my mind questions of what things characterize Christians. How are Christians - the people of God - different?

There was some discussion about living as a Christian - mostly things Christians do not do. And it's evident, I think, that socially and personally destructive practices should have no place in the life of God's people.

But I have been concerned that "Christians" very often define themselves by what they do not do, or do not believe. The world sees Christians as people who are against everything fun, interesting, or pleasurable. Christians often come across as colorless, bland and boring people who have little or nothing positive to say about anything.

If indeed you call yourselves Christians, and rest on grace, and make your confidence in God;

If you say you know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the Word;

If you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in your mind,

You, therefore, who would teach others, do you not teach yourselves?

You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal?

You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery?

You who abhor idols, do you rob God, even worshipping yourselves as idols?

You who make your boast in grace, do you dishonor God through making His grace a small thing? Know this: "The name of God is blasphemed among the people because of you."

(Romans 2:17-24, paraphrased)

A "Spirit-ual" Puzzle

I've been reading N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope. It's a fascinating read, about heaven, resurrection and the mission of the church. The premise is that we can't understand the mission or purpose of the church - that's you and me - without understanding heaven and resurrection. And of course, heaven and resurrection can't be addressed without considering the book of Revelation, one of the most fascinating of biblical books. Some years back, I read Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder, the best book I have read on Revelation.

So Bishop Wright got me thinking about Revelation again, and I decided to read it once more. It's not going smoothly. Even in the first chapter, I get hung up on things I have read many times, but that now make me stop and say, "What does that mean, anyway?"

In my last two posts, I have written, first, about the powerless church, a church that is increasingly irrelevant in an increasingly secularized America. Then, I wrote of the first step in renewing the church, bringing it to life, the first step in becoming a credible factor in society: reclaiming the gospel.

But there's another question - a big one - as yet unanswered: How does all this happen? How does the church reclaim the gospel - the whole, biblical, life-transforming gospel? And how does the church go from being "just words" to living out life-transforming power? How do we move from being an irrelevant subculture of more-or-less nice people to a community of radically committed followers and representatives of Jesus?

I think there are two major factors: our concept of God, and leadership.

"...I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, 'but the righteous man shall live by faith'" (Romans 1:16-17).

A few days ago, I wrote about the secularization of America, and the powerless American church. While I believe everything I wrote is true, it's incomplete. I have long subscribed to the philosophy that anyone can complain and point out problems, but unless the complainer also brings potential solutions, he's part of the problem.

So, here's part two of my take on the state of the American church.

John Ortberg recently wrote this on the Out-of-Ur blog: "The recently released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) indicates that faith is going down across the board."

Ortberg is not the only one discussing this latest survey. A number of people are writing about it, and generally, the conclusion is that America is fast becoming a secular nation. Christianity is diminishing in influence and significance at an increasingly rapid pace.

A slice of God's Kingom

A few days ago, I was invited to a birthday party for a pair of Burmese refugees, twin girls age 7. In the small crowd, there were uncountable children and three Americans. As the only American man, I was asked to bring some "encouraging words."

So I spoke - with someone else translating into Burmese - about God's grace and favor, and the great blessings he promises to those who worship and obey him. I talked about the rain falling outside as I spoke, which helped our food to grow. I talked about the good houses we live in - something new to my listeners - and about the family we have in Jesus.

Lent: Just more Catholic stuff?

Well, it's Lent. At least I think it is. Seems like I read it somewhere. Or... No, wait, I think it begins tomorrow. I never know about that Catholic stuff, you know? Seems like not many other Christians care too much about it, either.

I grew up in a Fundamentalist church, one that encouraged me to cross the street if I saw a priest or nun walking toward me. And I did just that. I was an arrogant bigot, and all I can say in my defense is that I was young and didn't know better. But I thank God that he freed me from that sort of nonsense a long time ago. And yet, there's this Lent business. Isn't that as Catholic as priests and nuns?

Healthy? Or slowly dying?

How do we know if we're healthy? How do we know if our bodies are well and can be expected to serve us in good fashion?

I suggest that the mark of both health and illness is change. For example, if our body temperature suddenly rises, we know that our body is under attack and defending itself. If there is sudden pain, it's a signal that something is amiss. And even on the good side, we experience change, though more subtle. A healthy body is in a constant state of restoring and renewing itself. We are less aware of these changes, but when they stop, we know. When the changes in our body stop, we are dying, and it's only a matter of time before our bodies have no life remaining.

Paul revisited

If indeed you call yourselves Christians, and rest on grace, and make your confidence in God; if you say you know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the Word; if you are confident that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in your mind, you, therefore, who would teach others, do you not teach yourselves? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob God, even worshipping yourselves as idols? You who make your boast in grace, do you dishonor God through making His grace a small thing? Know this: "The name of God is blasphemed among the people because of you." (Romans 2:17-24, paraphrased)

Twice in three days someone has asked me that same question. It's an important question, but one that is not asked often enough. It's not an easy question to answer. However, since I have some ideas about it, and since people have asked me, here's my answer.

But first, we need to rid ourselves of some common assumptions on the matter. For example, full pews do not necessarily mean a healthy, successful church. Nor do full bank accounts. Nor does the absence of conflict within the church.

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  • Larry Baden said:
      Poonam, My apologies for the long delay in replying to your comments....
  • Poonam Rai said:
      I just wonder why the man with whom the woman was caught up in the ac...
  • Larry Baden said:
      Hello Johanes, I'm not certain I understand your comment, but it seem...
  • yohanes wonde said:
      hi LARRY BADEN i am fond in a big problem I belief am not in choice o...
  • Larry Baden said:
      George, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. As for your 'humor,' well......
  • Larry Baden said:
      Truth, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I especially like the last se...
  • Truth Told said:
      Looking into the account of the adulterous woman it is easy to see tha...
  • George Fowler said:
       Jesus said: “He who is without sin, cast the first stone”. A rock ca...
  • Martin Rudd said:
      Remember what our Lord and Saviour said. "Its not my will that any sho...
  • Thomas Hatfield said:
       I realize that a humain being has to make difficult decisions in ther...

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