analytical

Altar or Throne?

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Last week I started looking at what may seem an anomaly but is more typical than we'd like to accept. By we, I mean Christian believers who hold the Bible as authoritative in matters of faith.

Over many years, a cultural shift took place within the church in America. It impacted both beliefs and practices. This shift has been addressed by many, and in one instance given a term—moralistic therapeutic deism.

This cultural shift impacts the church in a powerful way because what people believe in their hearts is directly connected to how they live.

Professed beliefs don't always line up with what's held in the heart. You've likely heard the expression, "do as I say, not as I do," but the reality is that actions speak louder than words.

What people believe in their hearts is directly connected to how they live

A disconnect

Perhaps the question to answer is—Why is there a disconnect between what is believed and how one lives? What people say they believe and what they do and say in their daily lives are often incongruent. They may talk like Christians but they live like agnostics and atheists.

It's similar to what cross-cultural missionaries contend with when sharing the gospel within another culture than their own. Beliefs are often traditional, even cultural, but don't seem to have much impact on daily life.

An article I read by Dr. Philemon Yong said this about how westerners present the Gospel and why it can lead to an animistic belief—

"The gospel comes not as a story that has a beginning, middle and end. The parts, though true, are not always connected. Worse yet, the content of the beliefs is never defined, and the relation of the gospel to specific cultural practices is often left untouched, leaving the hearer to decide for himself what it means for him to now follow Jesus."

Along with articles noted in a previous post, it's not hard to see similarities to how the gospel is often presented in the US with similar results.

Is there a disconnect between what you believe and how you live?

What gospel have you heard?

How have you heard the gospel shared with you? How do you share it with others? Was it something like—"Jesus died for your sins!"—or—"God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!"?

Phrases and statements like these are certainly true, but they are just fragments of the whole truth of God's redemption. I've posted about this on many occasions (see links below) and wrote a book prompted by this concern.

When we reduce the gospel to a phrase focused on what's needed to get into heaven, we minimize the work of Christ's redemptive work on the cross. We also ignore the gospel Jesus preached (Matt 4:17; 5:1–7:28; Luke 4:18-19; 9:1-2).

Do we preach the gospel Jesus preached or a minimized version?

Why this matters

In western culture, thinking is more linear—a line of thought in a logical and systematic thought process. Piecing separate bits of information together to understand a larger truth comes more naturally for well-educated people in a western culture.

Non-western cultures, as in Asian, Mideastern, or African nations, think more globally or holistically. The parts are seen in the whole but not extracted or extrapolated apart from the whole. The details of the whole aren't separated out to consider but seen as part of the whole.

This fits with how eastern cultures put less importance on individuality, which is typically emphasized in western cultures. Non-western cultures elevate the value of a group, family, community, or national identity over individual interests.

People who are non-analytical thinkers don't piece things together the same way as analytical and linear thinkers. Consequently, the less analytical thinker hold bits and pieces of truth that can also be associated with other information or beliefs.

Global thinkers don't piece things together as analytical and linear thinkers do

Altar or throne?

When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne? Perhaps you wonder if there's much of a difference. There is!

Altars are erected as places of offerings, often sacrificial offerings. Thrones are places of authority. Things offered on altars typically cost a person something. There's effort involved in presenting what's offered.

People sit on thrones—people in authority. Those who approach whoever sits on the throne acknowledge the authority of the one who sits on the throne. Their acknowledgment is shown by some type of submission, allegiance, respect, or honor.

When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne?

Christian altars

As a young believer, I remember calls to "come to the altar" to give my life to Jesus or rededicate it to Him. At other times, calls to come to the altar were for repentance, healing, dedication to some service for God, or whatever else the speaker exhorted people to do.

In my early days, I responded to these calls because I thought it was expected. As I matured in my faith, I realized I didn't need to respond to these various altar calls because they often didn't apply to me.

The throne of grace

I also realized that Jesus' call to follow Him was an all-inclusive commitment (Matt 16:24-26). I didn't need to make individual or special commitments, I just needed to follow through on my initial commitment to follow Jesus.

I realized Jesus' call to follow Him was an all-inclusive commitment of my life

This singular and continuous commitment is reinforced in the book of Hebrews—

...let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)

How do you approach God?

Let me ask my earlier question again. When you come to God, are you coming to His altar or His throne? We are told in the book of Hebrews that the tabernacle under the Old Covenant was a copy of what was in heaven (Heb 8:5-6).

The layout of the tabernacle had the altar outside. This is where sacrifices were made. Only the blood of atonement was brought inside to the innermost room and only once a year by only one person (Heb 9:7-8, 11-15).

That innermost room—called the Most Holy Place—represented the very presence of God above the mercy seat with its golden cherubim (Heb 9:4-5). Jesus made His atoning sacrifice once for all (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:2, 10, 12, 14) in the very presence of the Father.

No sacrifices needed or required

God neither desires or requires any further sacrifice from us—those of us who trust in Him by faith because of His grace. Jesus invites us to follow Him in a simple way. If we choose to follow Him, He says we need to deny our selfish nature and die to our self and live for Him (Mark 8:34-37).

Personally, I accepted the sacrifice of Jesus as perfect and complete, and that I could not nor need not offer any further sacrifice to Him. I chose to commit my life to Him many years ago and I affirm that commitment on a daily basis (Luke 9:23).

So, how do you approach God? Are you bringing Him a sacrifice of some kind or trusting in Jesus and His perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace!

A Results-Based Dilemma

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Let's face it. America is locked into results. We measure and quantify everything, even our leisure time. Think not? We post life events or moments on social media, then check to see how many "likes" we've received. It's an epidemic and it's not healthy.

Christian believers are not immune to this epidemic. It infects churches and other ministries. We measure the sizes of congregations and buildings and responses to various types of ministry efforts.

Jesus wasn't results oriented in the way we are. He did expect results but not the kind we do.

One of the Lord's closest followers betrayed Him, the others abandoned Him at a critical point, and then He died. From a human point of view, that would seem like a failure. But of course, there's far more to the story than that! And far more to Christianity than measuring results.

Dwindling results

Much has been written about the dilemma American churches face today. In general, Millennials are not too interested or engaged with church, many in older generations have given up on church and become part of the Dones, and the majority of America's pastors are getting grayer.

Personally, I see this stemming from a lack of personal, intentional discipleship, which requires long-term investment in people and commitment. This is what we see the Lord Jesus model in His ministry on earth, but it's not easy to measure in terms of progress.

Perhaps this stems from the approach the church takes with evangelism—presenting the gospel, God's redemptive message.

American-style evangelism

Evangelism in America reflects our national cultural roots. We tend to be confrontational and analytical, so we present the gospel as if it was a legal argument in court or a debate that requires a yes-or-no answer.

Decisions can be measured, like the responses to a large-scale crusade or an altar call invitation at the end of a church service or evangelistic outreach.

I'm not saying these approaches are wrong. They reflect our historical and cultural identity and they appeal to our inclination to measure results.

How can we quantify God's Kingdom?

But is the Kingdom of God quantifiable? Was Jesus concerned that His followers—His church—be able to measure the results of their efforts at fulfilling the Great Commission?

Instead of counting decisions as a measurement, we need to make disciples who will also make disciples. There is no measurement that brings a point of completion for this, it will continue till we see Jesus face-to-face.

Another approach of presenting the gospel or sharing one's faith falls into the category of friendship evangelism. A current trend of personal evangelism is summed up with the unverified quote attributed to St Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary."

Life example is vital for being a living witness of Jesus Christ to others (Acts 1:8), but words are essential for communicating the truth of the gospel.

A better way, or another way?

I love preaching and teaching and know they are still viable and valuable to present the gospel to others. Most people who respond to an invitation at a crusade or evangelistic rally, or in a church setting were brought by a friend or a family member.

But the evangelical church as a whole is not reaching the present generations as well as we could.

Is there another, better way? How about asking—Is there another approach to presenting the gospel to a postmodern, nearly post-Christian generation?

There is and I'll look at one such approach next week. But let me be clear. This is not the next best thing, it's just one more approach to presenting the gospel, and it has a biblical foundation.

Are you curious? Check back next week!