Do you believe in the Church?

In our anchoring Apostle’s Creed there is a statement of faith that often gets overshadowed by some of the weightier elements of the Creed, such as our general belief in God and our specific beliefs in Jesus Christ. It is the statement about the church.

About three quarters of the way into the creed—after the affirmation of belief in the Holy Spirit—it says this: “I believe in the holy catholic (or universal) church”.

Do you?

When we survey the weaknesses, flaws, and even corruptions in the church it can sometimes be easier to believe in God than to believe in the church. Lots of people feel this way. They say things like, “I’m spiritual not religious” or “I believe in God; I just don’t believe in the church.”

I understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, far too many people have had experiences in the church that did not reflect well on Jesus or His teachings. At best, these bad experiences have soured people toward Christianity and at worst they have done lasting damage to a person’s faith in God.

And yet, it’s still in the Creed. When we affirm our loyalty to Jesus we still say that we believe in His church, and we even call it “holy”. How can that be?

First, we believe in the church because Jesus believes in the church. The church is the only organization that Jesus ever promised to build. The church was Jesus’ idea and He has given His word that He would build it on the earth. Furthermore, He is committed to the ongoing purification of the church so that our goodness increases and our shamefulness decreases.

Second, we believe in the church because we are the church. Personally, I worship every week with some of the greatest people on our planet. I’m not joking or being dramatic with that statement. The members of Grace Church La Verne are radiant. Yes, they are human and prone to weakness, but they are also kind and loving and generous and devout. If I were Jesus, I would be proud to have them bear my name. Amazing people—people who care about humanity and who want to honor Jesus Christ—can be found in nearly every church around our world today.

So we believe in the church because we believe in Jesus, and we believe in the church because we know the potential in the church. In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor Japanese Admiral Yamamoto lamented the decision to attack Pearl Harbor and he was quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awake a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

We believe in the church because despite our failures and frailties we see gigantic potential in the church. We see Christ’s hands and feet—the New Testament calls it His body—and we know that our best days of love, mercy, worship, teaching, and reform are before us.

Let’s reaffirm our faith and let’s do our part in being the church that humanity needs.

The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal) Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.



Why Church Leaders drop out of the race

crashIt goes something like this:

Divine Call/Education → Conflict/Badgering → Disillusionment/Burnout → Eventual Dropout

Many serious ministers have stepped out of their lane and quit running God’s race for their life because of this pattern.

A divine calling to church ministry gets responded to via enrollment in some form of Bible College, seminary, or ministerial training venue. That divine calling and subsequent education fuels the conviction that God is empowering the leader and that their ministry will change the world (or at least a city or a neighborhood).

However, almost immediately after embarking on a new ministry endeavor the minister encounters conflict and badgering. Some of it comes from direct and outright spiritual warfare, while much of it comes from spiritual warfare hidden inside human misunderstandings, failures, hurt feelings, hard-heartedness, and offense.

If the conflict and badgering continues unabated for too long, the once-eager minister will lose the wonder of their ministry calling and will eventually burnout. Prolonged states of burnout inevitably lead to a dropping out of the race.

Some of the burned out dropouts make a recovery and return to Christian service, but others of them never do. The scars of the pattern just go too deep.

Rather than following this pattern and hoping for the best, what are some steps to ensure that we sidestep burnout, hold onto our wonder, and finish our Christian race well?

Here are two (taken from a clergy gathering with Pastor Jack Hayford):

  1. Walk softly before God, like a barefoot Moses in Sinai.
  2. Engage in life-long, continuing education.

Leaders who survive for the long haul engage in the twin pursuits of cultivating deep interior lives and robust intellectual lives. Humble, adoring devotion to God, and intentional life-long education and training are keys to developing leadership that lasts.

Our hour of history calls for humble leaders, devoted followers of Jesus Christ, who get the help they need so they can make it for the long haul. Let’s heal those leaders and be those leaders!

A Family of Friends

Parenthood“God is building a family. A permanent family. Earthly families enjoy short shelf lives. Even those that sidestep divorce are eventually divided by death. God’s family, however, will outlive the universe.

You didn’t pick me. I didn’t pick you. You may not like me. I may not like you. But since God picked and liked us both, we are family.

And we treat each other as friends.

C.S. Lewis said, ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’

If similar experiences create friendships, shouldn’t the church overflow with friendships? With whom do you have more in common than fellow believers? Amazed by the same manger, stirred by the same Bible, saved by the same cross, and destined for the same home. Can you not echo the words of the psalmist? ‘I am a friend to everyone who fears you, to anyone who obeys your orders’ (Ps.119:63 NCV).

The church. More than family, we are friends. More than friends, we are family. God’s family of friends.

Oddly, some people enjoy the shade of the church while refusing to set down any roots. God, yes. Church, no. They like the benefits, but resist commitment. The music, the message, and the clean conscience—they accept church perks. So they date her, visit her. Enjoy an occasional rendezvous. They use the church. But commit to the church? Can’t do that. Got to keep options open. Don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

I propose they already are. Miss the church and miss God’s sanctioned tool for God promotion. For church is a key place to do what you do best to the glory of God.

God heals His family through His family. In the church we use our gifts to love each other, honor one another, keep an eye on troublemakers, and carry each other’s burdens. Do you need encouragement, prayers, or a hospitable home? God entrusts the church to purvey these treasures. Consider the church God’s treatment center for the common life.

Don’t miss it. No one is strong all the time. Don’t miss the place to find your place and heal your hurts.”[1]


Summer Reading Program: The Cure for the Common Life Chapter Nine “Join God’s Family of Friends.”

[1] This essay is taken in its entirety from Max Lucado’s The Cure for the Common Life (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN: 2005): 77-82.

Don’t Forget Pastor Saeed

pastor saeedToday’s constant barrage of crisis-fueled news reports combined with the mind-numbing effects that statistics can have on the human brain can sometimes make us forget some things that need to be remembered. Pastor Saeed Abedini is one of them.

It is likely that you’re familiar with the story of this Iranian-American Christian pastor who was arrested for planting Christian house churches in Iran. He was arrested for propagating the Christian religion, not for being involved in any other sort of criminal activities, and he has been held in prison for approximately eighteen months, separated from his wife and children.

His mistreatment has been significant and his physical condition has deteriorated accordingly. Please be praying for a divine intervention on his behalf.

The annual Bible reading schedule that we follow here at Grace Church currently has us in the book of Acts, which contains multiple stories of angel-led jail breaks. Both Peter and Paul were the beneficiaries of this angelic activity and were miraculously rescued from their bonds. (Acts 5:17-20; 12:5-7; 16:25-27)

Whether Saeed’s angel takes the form of Iranian government officials, prayerful Christians, or literal angels from heaven, let’s remember him and his family and stake ourselves to their need in prayer.

“So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5).

“Resist him (Satan), standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:9b).

How to change a bad perception

mirrorHow do you change a bad perception to a good one? (And, no, this isn’t the beginning line of a cheesy joke—it’s actually a very important question)

If perceptions have grown dubious or negative, how do we change them?

I hate it when people draw inaccurate perceptions about me. And even more than that I hate the fact that people’s perceptions about me become their reality about me. This is true even when their perceptions have no bearing in truth.

What a person perceives me to be is who they will believe me to be.

It makes sense. I do it with you too. I read into your facial expressions and your actions or inactions and I draw certain conclusions that shape my perceptions about the kind of person you are. The frightening thing is that sometimes I’m probably wrong and I might be holding inaccurate beliefs about your life and character.

I hope this is what the non-Christian world is doing with us Christians. You’ve surely heard and experienced the grim statistics about how far out of favor Christians are falling with the general population in our world today. You’ve no doubt been on the receiving end of someone’s skepticism or mockery in regards to your claims of salvation or faith.

I really hope the mockery is wrong. I hope we’re not giving anyone in our corner of the world cause to doubt the sincerity and validity of Christianity. When they truly experience who we are, I hope their perceptions change.

Indeed, sometimes that’s the only cure for a false perception.

I am hopefully confident that true Christians will show the world such a blend of winsome grace, earnest conviction, and mobilized compassion that we could never again be perceived as anything less than genuine followers of Jesus Christ.

The Hole in our Gospel Reading Program Chapter Twenty-One: Why We’re Not So Popular Anymore

The Problem with Wake Up Calls

alarm clockThe problem with wake up calls is that they are necessarily annoying.

They have to be. A gentle, soothing alarm clock wouldn’t revive a sleepy teenager, and without some strong confrontation elements, Richard Stearns’ The Hole in our Gospel might not stimulate us to appropriate action.

However, sometimes the alarm clock message needs to be tweaked a little bit, and such is the case with chapter twenty: “A letter to the American church.”

In this chapter Stearns writes a Revelation-esque letter to America patterned after the style of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. Although composed largely of Scripture and containing very relevant and timely challenges to the church in America, Stearns letter lacks one thing: affirmation.

The outline of the letters to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 follows a pattern of: affirmation–rebuke–exhortation–promise.

Jesus affirms what is going well…rebukes what is deficient…gives strategy for the remedy…and then promises either blessings or consequences for obedience or neglect.

Stearns is not wrong to challenge us—I, personally, have benefitted greatly from the strong, unflinching message of his book. However, I want to remind you that the Lord also affirms you.

  • He sees your acts of devotion and your quality decisions.
  • He is aware of your commitment to live for Him in a world that is awash in unbiblical ideals.
  • He hears your prayers.
  • He knows the compassion that breaks your heart for others.
  • He is grateful that you are His.
  • Yes, He will continually call us to follow Him better and love our fellow-man more, but He is also forever committed to helping us reach those ends.

The Hole in our Gospel Reading Program Chapter Twenty: A Letter to the Church in America