When I made my confession of faith in Christ, my circle of high school friends came from many different churches and they were all recruiting me. They all had suggestions about what I should do if I really wanted to serve God.
It is sad how easy it is to twist God's truth into something that builds walls, locks people in cages of hopelessness and ignores the truth of God's love and grace. This letter to the Christians in Galatia confronts the destructive authority of religious legalism and human prejudice. Paul sums up the heart of Christianity with a simple statement: “You are all God's children through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:20).
Sometimes I think I've heard it all as people confronted me with my future: tarot cards, astrology's life-shaping power, a demon-possessed man threatening my soul and a high priest of Satan describing the devil's power. There is no shortage of religion or claims to spiritual truth in our world.
The word “freedom” occurs more frequently in the letters of Paul than any other New Testament book. As Americans, we think of freedom as privacy in thinking and choices, but for Paul it was the discovery that he no longer needed to labor under the impossible demands of religious laws and practices that daily reminded him he could never completely meet God's standard.
The problem with success and prosperity is you can never get enough. We not only want to protect what we have gained, but we cultivate a mindset of self-satisfaction that smothers selflessness and wonders why others are not willing to work as hard as we have or adopt our successful values and work ethic. If everyone would work hard, take care of their own and believe in God, their problems would be resolved. Of course we want to help the needy; it's just that they should begin to take responsibility for themselves.
The needs of the world are overwhelming. When faced with a widespread disaster, such as the latest hurricane on the Gulf of Mexico coastal areas, we often think it more than we can help. Need and tragedy are not resolved by one person or organization but by the compassion and contributions of many.
Years ago I knew the pastor of what was then reported to be the second largest Baptist church in Texas. Every September was “stewardship month” and the pastor preached about giving every Sunday. Worship attendance dropped in September. The budget was pledged. The pastor commented: “They may not want to hear sermons about tithing but their checks keep coming in!”
We were hosting a group of Chinese educators at Second Baptist Church, Liberty, Mo, as part of their tour across the U.S. Some of our guests had more than one PhD. None of them had ever attended a Christian worship event and they asked about our faith and how we were organized and financed. The one point that amazed them and produced multiple questions was the fact that the church was totally funded by member contributions.
Waiting for a connecting flight in Dallas, I met an old friend headed to the opposite coast. As we sat and visited he showed me a popular book he was reading about the second coming of Christ. Obviously fascinated by the book, he asked me what I was reading about the rapture and had I preached on that subject lately.
Over the years, whether I was doing research for a sermon, preparing to teach a class or trying to understand a person's expectations for our church, various ideas about the purpose or reasons for involvement in church surfaced. People voiced a need to be wanted, a church that provided sound doctrine in its teaching and preaching, a place to escape the noise and pressures of the world, a safe place for children, excitement in the music and sermons and a place where we will be with people like us. The list is longer, but you get the idea.