Friday, May 6, 2011

Training for the Mission Like a Navy Seal

Most Americans are very proud of our Navy Seals, who this past Sunday were able to locate and kill Osama bin Laden, the most wanted man in America for the past 10 years. It ends a decade of searching for the man who perpetrated so much evil on our nation on September 11, 2001, and also before and after that date, both here in the United States and against our citizens around the world. 

So we salute the courage and commitment of the Navy Seals who went on this mission, along with all of our military men and women who put their lives on the line in service to our country and liberty around the world. Many of them - along with others working behind the scenes and even some civilians - have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives to protect our people and our freedom. We honor and uphold them with our ongoing support and prayers.

With the successful elimination of bin Laden, we've seen the importance of the right training and equipment for a vital mission. These soldiers trained and sharpened their skills because they would be facing an enemy who would use any means to resist them and indeed, kill them. If captured, these Navy Seals knew that they would very likely be subjected to torture and eventually death at the hands of terrorists who have taken innocent life all around the world. They are dealing with people who are evil. They have to be prepared - they have to be trained and equipped in order to survive and win.

The Church is in a similar battle against evil. Jesus gave us a mission to accomplish, a battle to fight, if you will. He said to go into the world and make disciples - make followers of Jesus Christ - and the process of making disciples involves baptizing them, but also teaching them; training and equipping them to also go out and be one of God's 'soldiers' on the front lines of battle.

The battle is against evil. It is spiritual evil, but it is made manifest in our daily, physical lives. It It is experienced as selfishness, greed, hunger for power, sexual abuse, lying, and stealing. It is in self-destructive behavior like worry, fear, self-pity, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Jesus called us to share the good news that he can defeat evil within us and in our world when we follow him and obey his commandment of love. Jesus makes it possible to fulfill the the Old Testament covenant ideal: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:28, New Revised Standard Version). 

The Church has become squeamish about military metaphors in recent times. But it wasn't that long ago that the church worshiped with songs like "Onward, Christian Soldiers" and "Soldiers of Christ, Arise" (both of these are still in our hymnal).

The sad fact is that today, the Church is failing to accomplish the mission for which Jesus called and conscripted us. We fail to understand that, while we have new freedom in Christ, we are under his authority as our Commander-in-Chief; he has commissioned us to train and equip for the mission.

How do I know we're failing? Here's one disturbing statistic: while 80% of the American public claims to be Christian, and affirms that Jesus is the Son of God, only about 20% are in worship on any given Sunday. Someone recently said, "Christianity is dying in the West in the shadow of church steeples." 

George Barna, head of The Barna Research Group, is one of the most respected analysts of our culture today. In his 2010 research, he identified six "Megathemes" related to Christian faith and our culture. I want to briefly mention three of them:

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans - especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the finding that few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence.

2. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
Our biblical illiteracy and lack of spiritual confidence has caused Americans to avoid making discerning choices for fear of being labeled judgmental. The result is a Church that has become tolerant of a vast array of morally and spiritually dubious behaviors and philosophies. This increased leniency is made possible by the very limited accountability that occurs within the body of Christ.

3. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
Christianity has arguably added more value to American culture than any other religion, philosophy, ideology or community. Yet, contemporary Americans are hard pressed to identify any specific value added. Partly due to the nature of today’s media, they have no problem identifying the faults of the churches and Christian people. Christians have bought into this propaganda, and fail to see how much we could continue to influence our culture for good.

Barna's research confirms what many pastors are seeing: their church is failing to fulfill the mission. In many churches, our ministries and budgets aren't focused on making disciples at all.

Pastors are sidetracked by all kinds of busy work and fruitless activity - nothing more than entertainment designed to draw a crowd on Sunday, or therapuetic pats on the head to help ineffective Christians feel good about their broken lives so absent of anything recognizable as Christian discipline.

The apostle Paul saw the spiritual leader's ministry very differently. Paul wrote:
"Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13, New Living Translation)

Today, we Christians are so focused on God's grace that we've gotten lazy - we think that because God is loving and gracious, we can slide through life. But we have failed to understand that God's grace is useless if it is not appropriated. That is, we must cooperate with God's grace, working with grace in order for it to change us and make us like Jesus Christ.

God's grace "equips" us through worship, Bible study, accountability, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. Unless we engage in this kind of training and equipping on a regular basis, God's grace is useless.  Please read that last sentence again. Like military training, spiritual training and effectiveness takes discipline: effort, time, attention, and priority.

My concern as I look around our church is that there are many persons I know are Christians; I don't doubt their faith in Christ. But they are not committed to getting trained and equipped for the mission of the church. And they aren't equipping the next generation - their children - to live a victorious, mature and fruitful Christian life. In many cases, they are literally pushing their children away from faith, by making other activities a higher priority in their children's lives!

I know this because of irregular worship attendance patterns. I know this because their children are at sports training on Sunday mornings more often than they're here for spiritual training in Sunday School.

I know because I'm watching Christians in my church struggle in their marriages, deal with alcohol abuse, have financial problems, and just "live" with a lack of the joy of Christ on their faces. Instead I see worry, criticism, anger and a sense of being overwhelmed by their daily circumstances. Is this all we as Christians have to offer to a lost world?

Until we the Church -  the body of Christ - begin to put God's grace to work in our lives - through serious Christian disciplines like weekly worship, passionate prayer, serious study and sacrificial stewardship - we will not experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. We will not bear the fruit for the gospel due to the Holy Spirit working through us.

God's work simply will not get done;
evil will continue to win - in us and around us.

I pray that you will sense God's conviction as appropriate in your own life, and you will repent and make the necessary changes in your life in order to become " a soldier of the Cross":

Am I a soldier of the cross,
a follower of the Lamb,
and shall I fear to own his cause,
or blush to speak his name?

Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
while others fight to win the prize,
and sail through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
to help me on to God?

Sure I must fight, if I would reign;
increase my courage, Lord.
I'll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by your Word.

By God's grace, for your sake and for your children's sake, please...get connected, start training, and

Stay connected,

Pastor Mike

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