Easter Frustrations

At the top of my list of frustrations is the Evangelical push to shape all of church life into some form of man-centered entertainment. I am already seeing it in the mail box and social media ads. Sadly, the week that should be one of the most sober, joyful and sacred is ramping up to reflect some of the worst priorities in pop culture. Many churches are trying win the advertising and entertainment war, and trading their birthright for a pot of stew- Easter attendance.

Pastors, please remember that offering entertainment and self-help is not your calling. Having record attendance is not your calling. Please take advantage of the opportunity of having additional visitors on Sunday to preach the risen Christ. And remember, if you do it like the apostles, some will be convicted, some may get saved, and some may want to throw you in jail.

Here is an inspired reminder of your calling from 2 Timothy 4:1-5

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." (ESV)

Don't Mow the Weeds

In Fresno during the spring weeds grow effortlessly. And if we have had a lot of rain, they emerge from the ground with a quick vengence. In outlying areas where the homes have large properties, residents are required to remove or kill the weeds around their homes before summer to prevent dangers from grass fires.

Yesterday at our house, my wife mowed our lawn, by which I mean, our weeds. The last few years have seen a drought in central California and most of the grass has already died. But the weeds are virile and healthy due to ample rain.  She has already mowed them several times in the past month. But they keep coming back. When you mow weeds like this, what you get is a few days of cosmetic appeal. For a while, the yard looks like manicured grass. Green and lucious. But give it some time and the ugly weeds will be back revealing the truth. And through some diabolical mechanism, the action of the lawnmower actually helps to spread the seeds faster than nature would have done it.

This reminds me of the different ways we approach immoral behavior. Often in the church we want to use external rules, shame, or peer pressure as the primary, and sometimes exclusive method of dealing with bad conduct. We mow the weeds.  We end up with is people appearing moral for a while. I say “appearing” because very often legalistic church culture just drives the behavior underground. People are still as sinful as ever, they just can’t be honest about it or get real help. 

But there is another way. When we address sin with the gospel, we can acknowledge both it’s ugliness and its “treatableness." With the gospel we see that sin is not a problem simply for those people, it is a problem for all of us. When we seek to help a brother or sister with the gospel, we come with humility as fellow sinners. When we approach sin with the grace of God, we can offer a serious diagnosis and a strong treatment. Grace gives us power to change. And it gives us hope for the struggle that takes place in our hearts. It also gives us a different motive for change. When we are motivated by grace, we pursue change out of a higher love rather than a fear of being caught or punished. We are constrained by the love of Christ.  

When we use the gospel as our primary approach for dealing with sin it looks different it because it isn’t only concerned with appearances. It aims for the heart.  It goes beyond the expressions and social effects of sin to ask about the thoughts and intents of the heart. And it offers something that the heart longs for. It is concerned with roots. It sees the stalk, flowers, leaves, and fruit of undesirable actions as effects of deeper causes. The roots are the real problem. All our sinful actions spring from things like pride, unbelief, idolatry, lust, etc.  The size of the weeds is significant as an indicator of a problem.  Short weeds look better, and might fool someone taking a passing glance, but they are still a serious problem. In fact, short weeds can be worse than tall ones because they are easier to ignore.  When character problems are hidden they are typically more dangerous because they avoid notice. When we are armed with the gospel, the revelation of the problem can be regarded as a mercy.  

The church is in a precarious position. It shouldn’t seek to drive sin underground through hypocrisy and shame (legalism). But neither should it celebrate or tolerate it through indifference (license). But it should welcome the honest reality of our struggle with sin.  It should treat sin with a grace and power that is greater than sin. And it shouldn’t focus merely on externals. It must aim for the heart, the root of all behavior. In many ways this is far more radical. Doing this will slowly effect the outward actions. But it often takes longer. Much like planting new seeds takes time to see growth, the slow process of pulling weeds instead of mowing them produces long term health and beauty in the soul.

What Should the Church Say About Abortion? Some Thoughts and Free Resources

It is not an understatement to say that abortion may be the most divisive issue of our generation. The deep emotion that clouds this issue tempts us to lose reason and truth in a forest of political ideology. Further, the church cannot avoid the question about its own role on this issue because of the politics, emotion, or past abuses. Even when churches and pastors decide not to engage, they have taken a side, often the side of cowards.  And while most political support for the prolife cause comes from Catholics and Evangelicals, it is sadly true that most churches do very little to engage on the abortion issue, especially at a spiritual level.

For some Christians, cultural issues like abortion are THE mission of the church. In my opinion, this is a mistake as well. The church has a mission to testify to the truth of Christ and through this, to make disciples. And while our good works also play an essential role, we cannot escape the New Testament emphasis on speaking the word of God to every creature. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim 3:15). We are to make and teach disciples (Matt 28:18-20). We are to witness to the risen Christ (Acts 1:8)

But we have to see that the gospel is only good news if there is a problem to be remedied. Mercifully, the gospel always comes with a call to repentance. It is a call to trust in Christ, and to stop trusting and serving our idols (I Thess. 1:9-10).  If we are to be like the apostles, we must call all people to “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:32). Because of this, any church that perpetually neglects the abortion issue is failing to call the culture (and the church) to repent. And it is failing to offer the healing medicine of the gospel to areas of guilt and shame that need it most. Men and women who are suffering from abortion as part of their past are betrayed when the church is silent.

At Free Grace Church we have been committed from the very beginning to engage on the abortion issue in ways that are wise, compassionate, prayerful, materially-supportive, bold, and grace-filled. In addition to supporting and partnering with prolife organizations, each year on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we take time to address the abortion issue directly. We address it at other times, but we feel it is important to come back to speak truth against one of the darkest sins of our generation.

We welcome you to join us this Sunday as we address the issue again. We will be looking at why abortion is wrong, and why you don’t even need a Bible to see this. Our services start at 10am on Sunday morning, and we meet at 3385 E. Shields Ave near First St. (next to Target). You can find more info here.

We would also like to offer these free messages from previous years to help you think through the issue.

Is Abortion Selfish? This is a controversial question and even asking it is offensive to our generation. But what if we take seriously what prochoice authors themselves say about their motivations for abortion? Listen to the message here. http://bit.ly/1OqpMTt

Abortion and Lies? Our society is awash with misinformation and falsehoods when it comes to the abortion issue. What are the foundational lies that abortion culture is built on? Listen here. http://bit.ly/2jNubcG

Also, several years ago we preached on "Abortion and the Charge of Hypocrisy" and that resulted in a discussion on Life Report with Josh Bram. You can listen below.

Why is the "Church" A Mess? Are You A Part Of The Problem? Or Part Of The Solution?

It is easy to see problems and weakness in the church. And this is true for any local church. The flaws are so obvious. The body of Christ often seems sick, underfunded, under-appreciated, and ineffective. In fact, it is easier for us to complain than to do something to fix the problem.

I have heard pastors talk about the “90-10” phenomenon. This is the idea that 10% of the people do 90% of the work in the church. Overall, I don’t think this is accurate for a number of reasons. That is a topic for another time.  But this idea points to an unfortunate reality. Large numbers of church goers are simply consumers. And they are doing exactly what they have been trained to do. Too many of the voices advising pastors focus on how to increase attendance by creating consumers. And sadly this includes offering services (entertainment, children’s programs, inspiration, etc) in order to get people to show up.  We have done a good job at getting people to ask if their needs are being met.  Too often, this results in crowds of people that expect to be served rather than an army mobilized for service and sacrifice.

When we look at scripture we see something different (Read Ephesians Chapter 4). We see that Christ has risen from the dead and given each member of his church gifts for the good of the body. We see that the savior is at work through his people to build one another up and prepare them for usefulness, both inside and outside of the church.

Ephesians 4:15-16 says this, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Each part of the body needs to be connected to Christ AND to one another. And when each part is working properly the body grows and builds itself up in love. That is easy enough to understand. When a person is healthy, all of their organs and body tissues are working together to maintain health and usefulness. When a doctor evaluates a sick person one of things they check is the health of the various body systems. Sick body parts make for a sick person.  

Maybe the body is sick because some of its members are not connected? Maybe the body is sick because some of the body parts aren’t working properly so that the body cannot “build itself up in love?” If the church is weak and ineffective, maybe the reason is that the members of the body aren’t working for the health of the church? 

The truth is, if you are a Christian, you have been entrusted with gifts and graces that the rest of the body desperately needs. Jesus has arranged the church so that we help to complete what is lacking in one another (Phil. 2:30).  And he wants to work through you to make his body healthy.  

If you see problems in your church (I see them in ours!) then the first step is to start with yourself. Are you functioning to promote the health of the body or are you acting like a consumer?  I want to invite you to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

A Lesson From My Dog: How NOT To Choose A Church

Our family loves dogs, but some would say we are not very good at making our dog follow the rules. I am told that you aren’t supposed to give dogs “people food,” and we generally avoid this indulgence. But once in a while, in a moment of weakness, an unmentioned family member will give our dog a treat.  The person who does this has earned the name “Weak Link,” for obvious reasons. Our dog is highly motivated by food and has learned how to work the system. She will ignore everyone else and follow the “Weak Link” around the house in order to get what she wants. She knows that the other family members won’t indulge her bad doggy manners, so she ignores them. But she knows how to act very cute and beg in order to get what she wants from me.

I thought of this while reading from 2 Timothy 4 this morning.  After exhorting Timothy to preach the word (v. 2), Paul says “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching , but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” (4:3) People who don’t want to hear the truth won’t stop going to church or listening altogether. They have passions and desires that must be satisfied. So they will act like my dog and seek out teachers and churches who will scratch their itching ears. And what do they want? What is the standard criteria for deciding which teachers to listen to? It is their passions (v. 3b). 

Evidently there were people in the church who had a set of sinful desires and attractions, and instead of indulging these desires, the teaching of the apostles (called “sound teaching”) confronted them and called them to repentance.  Jesus routinely taught that many of the things we naturally desire are violations of God’s law, are bad for us, and end up becoming substitutes for God himself (Matt 5:21-30 & 6:24-33).  These people put up with the truth for a while, but eventually act just like my dog. They ignore anyone who won’t tell them what they want to hear. 

One of the lessons for us is to beware of choosing a church, podcast, blog, etc. based on our desires. Don’t choose teachers who refuse to confront your darker appetites. Especially watch out for the ones that are willing to encourage or normalize the passions and desires that are condemned in scripture. Beware of anyone that that tells you that Jesus wants you to be happy indulging greed, hatred, lust, envy, covetousness, or pride.

By Pastor Matt Troupe