Naughty or Nice?

naughty listI love these Facebook memes that come around, which are all done in innocent fun.  Although we know that they bear no meaning in reality, we quickly peruse the lists to find our names, and then proceed to share on our own Facebook walls.  With Christmas around the corner, the “Naughty” and “Nice” lists will fill our newsfeeds relentlessly.  So far, I have not found my name on either.

Children are told that if they are good, Santa will come; but if they are bad or naughty, he will leave coals instead of toys, or skip over their house entirely!  Sadly, many grownups believe the same scenario applies to their spiritual lives and eternal destination.  The premise that “good” people go to heaven and “bad” people go to hell is a lie from the Devil himself!  In my work with the elderly, it saddens me when they begin to fret and worry that they have not been good enough to “make it in.”  The truth is that none of us can ever be “good enough” on our own to enter into the presence of Almighty God.

The truth (which sets us free) is that our salvation cannot be earned.  It is a FREE gift called “grace” from our Heavenly Father, paid for by our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  Fortunately, it is NOT based on our works or performance.  (Ephesians 2:8)  It is given and received when one acknowledges and repents of their sin and accepts Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, giving his or her life over to Him completely.  It is offered to everyone, naughty or nice.

In our society, we tend to label and condemn those on our own mental “naughty” lists; those who have lived less-than-stellar lives.  We criticize and penalize those who have made poor choices, or done evil deeds.  While crimes must be punished and criminals held accountable, the Bible says that we ALL have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)  Even on our best days, our righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of our Most Holy God.  (Isaiah 64:6)  Jesus Himself said that no one is “good” but God.  (Mark 10:18)

People often ask how a good God can send people to hell.  Well, He doesn’t.  It is our own sinful nature that drives and separates us from God as He cannot look upon sin; we cannot stand in His presence in our sinful nature, wearing our old, filthy rags.  But in His goodness, love, mercy and grace, He has provided a way to ESCAPE that horrible fate and be reunited with Him forever!  When we repent of our sins and accept Jesus’ shed blood on the Cross as atonement or payment for our sins, we are then clothed in HIS righteousness, and granted a seat in the Kingdom of God for all of eternity!  No matter what we have done, our sins can be forgiven, and we are washed clean by the blood of the Lamb – God’s only Son who was sacrificed on our behalf!   “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)  

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
(Psalm 103:12)  

Oh, how we love to distinguish the masses and divide them into groups:  male or female; naughty or nice; rich or poor; black or white; right or left, etc.  But at the end of the day and at the end of this life, there will be only two groups of people:  saved or lost.  It will not matter how “good” you have been, as none of us deserve to be let in.  The only “list” to make sure that your name is found on will be the Lamb’s Book of Life.  Will you give your life to Him today?

The best gift ever bestowed upon mankind was the original Christmas gift:  the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ!  He IS the reason for the season.  I pray that you will accept this most glorious gift today.

See ya in Heaven!  I’ll be wearing a white robe, clothed in HIS righteousness; my filthy rags having been tossed into the depths of the sea, covered by His blood for eternity!

What’s Really Growing in Your Church?

churchgrowth“Church growth” is the current buzzword in the Christian community.  It has generated a billion-dollar industry from the Purpose Driven best sellers to the multi-campus models, and everything in between. If you Google “church growth”, you will get pages and pages of books and videos, careful 3-step and 10-step strategies and instructions on how to “grow your church.”  The Bible has a lot to say about “church growth”.  It is called “evangelism”, “soul-winning”, and “discipleship.”  But are we getting it right?

I fully understand and agree that we need to keep up with the century that we are living in.  We cannot allow our traditions, no matter how dear, to remain so old-fashioned that we are unable to relate to or communicate with the generation we are trying to reach for Christ.  I love a contemporary praise and worship service, and personally take no issue if the pastor is wearing jeans and tennis shoes.  (Jesus never told anyone they had to change their clothes before coming to church, and neither should we.  We are only instructed to dress “modestly”, as we should!)

However, we’ve recently watched pastors frantically spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in attempts to allure the masses.  They have built enormous buildings, trendy pulpits and stage sets, complete with strobe lights and fog machines.  Some of these mimic the very night clubs the Lord has delivered so many of us out of (myself included).  Again, I love some powerful, contemporary praise songs, as most of them are pulled straight from scripture.  I even love seeing the joy of Lord expressed in dancing before Him, in worship.  But I come to bask in the presence of Almighty God and be fed His holy Word; I do not need to be entertained.  It breaks my heart to see crosses removed from today’s houses of worship so as not to “offend” anyone.  “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the POWER of GOD.”  (1 Corinthians 1:18)  Sin is rarely addressed, and in some denominations, even promoted!  But the Bible says, “… let it not be named among you, as is fitting for saints.”  (Ephesians 5:3)

A precious pastor-friend of ours recently got caught up himself in the game of adding and removing chairs from Sunday to Sunday, trying to make the auditorium (we no longer call them sanctuaries) look full enough, yet not over-crowded.   He said, “Well the statistics show…”  Say what?  Is this what “preparing for the service” has become?

Yes, the large mega-churches are bursting at the seams, but are people getting saved, delivered and set free?  Are lives being changed?  Are we growing/maturing in our Christian walk and faith? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)  Are we growing in grace and knowledge?  (2 Peter 3:18)  Are we winning souls for the kingdom (evangelizing our communities), and discipling them?  (Matthew 28:19)  Are we feeding the hungry and clothing the poor?  (Matthew 25:35-40)

Evangelism is my first love, and my first call to ministry.  I am overjoyed with true “church growth”.  We should be praying earnestly for the real thing.  The Bible has much to say about it!  In fact, on the day of Pentacost they saw 3,000 people added to the church in one day!  Again, “And the Lord added to the church DAILY those who were being saved.”  (Acts 2:47)  Despite the phenomenal number of mega-churches popping up all over, we have yet to witness these numbers that the early church accomplished.  So, what was their secret?  What was their “strategy”?  They did not have fancy buildings – they met in people’s homes.  They did not have elaborate stage sets, nor extravagant sound systems.  And I can assure you, they did not use flashing lights nor fog machines.  

The answer is simple.  They preached the life-changing message of the Gospel that Jesus preached.  The same message that Peter preached at Pentacost where 3,000 were saved:  “Repent, believe, receive.”   The Holy Spirit flowed freely, and miracles happened.

“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were MULTIPLIED.”  (Acts 9:31)

“And He said to them, `Go in to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.'”  (Mark 16:15)

Shall we?