Thursday, April 26, 2012

Follow Jesus, Forget the Church?

Forget the Church, Follow Jesus” was the command from Newsweek’s April cover story.  The cover (and article) featured an unscarred urban Jesus, a grand moral teacher that would shun the church in America today.  The church in America has its faults for sure, yet the author, Andrew Sullivan, neglects (perhaps ignores) the genuine good Jesus’ church is doing in the world and disregards Jesus’ intent to bless the world through His church.  Jesus proclaimed to Peter, “upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18), and the apostle Paul declared that the church of the living God “is the pillar and support of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)  Why does Sullivan neglect such passages in the Bible? The answer may be that he has the wrong Jesus.  We rarely have to deal with polytheism in our southern Californian culture, but we do need to deal with what I call “poly-Jesus”.  There seems to be as many views of Jesus as there are people sometimes.  Many people want to affirm Jesus but not the organized church, yet when they describe Jesus, he comes close to being merely a reflection of themselves or their own cherished philosophical views.  Sullivan’s “Jesus” seems to be a mash-up of both Thomas Jefferson and St. Francis of Assisi’s view of Jesus.  Jefferson saw Jesus as a good moral teacher devoid of a divine nature, whereas Francis’ rule was “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.”  The difference between Jefferson and Francis is, in part, that Jefferson carefully used a razor to cut-out biblical passages that he thought did not reflect the teachings of Jesus the Nazarene. However, Francis worked hard to follow the whole of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible while emphasizing his call to a life of poverty and preaching.

While there are things to learn from Sullivan’s article, there is more to lament.  Sullivan affirms Jefferson’s aim that one should be “a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”  But what are those doctrines?  Sullivan proclaims those doctrines are “not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations.” Sullivan skillfully uses the same Jeffersonian razor to remove the good that Jesus and his church has done throughout the history of the world.  Historian and sociologist Rodney Stark at Baylor University argues that the Christian church that Jesus started has given the world the Protestant reformation, modern science, freedom, capitalism, and the Western abolition of slavery. 

In his book The Victory of Reason, Stark advances what can be described as “a revolutionary, controversial, and long overdue idea: that Christianity and its related institutions are, in fact, directly responsible for the most significant intellectual, political, scientific, and economic breakthroughs of the past millennium.  On Stark’s view, what has propelled the West is not the tension between secular and nonsecular society, nor the pitting of science and the humanities against religious belief. Christian theology, he argues is the very font of reason: While the world’s other great belief systems emphasized mystery, obedience, or introspection, Christianity alone embraced logic and reason as the path toward enlightenment, freedom, and progress.” This has made all the difference. 

It is true that the institutionalized church has led to witch hunts—Stark’s discussion of this is very interesting—and abuses of power.  And to that end we can agree with Sullivan to “forget the church and follow Jesus”.  But I must add that the reliable, biblical portrait of Jesus still calls out to us today and Jesus says, “Follow Me, and Be My Church.”  I continue to be grateful that NewSong remains a faithful community of Christ-followers that worships the scarred yet risen Lord Jesus who is more than just a good man willing to suffer an unjust execution or merely a good moral teacher.  He is the resurrected Lord, Savior, and King who laid down his life to bring people back into the family of God and who now are calls upon his Church to be his winsome ambassadors of reconciliation to the world (2 Cor. 5)

George Haraksin
Lead pastor
NewSong Church

Monday, May 30, 2011

Graduates Differ. Do You?

As the school year comes to a close for many thoughts may move towards what we value as graduates.  I recently attended a Baccalaureate service for my nephew and the speaker exhorted the graduates to “seek first the kingdom of God.”  Is this what some graduates seek?  If not what do they “seek first”?  Here is a study that provides some empirical evidence as to what private school administrators think:

WASHINGTON -- The graduates of Protestant Christian schools have different traits than those who attend Catholic and non-religious private schools, U.S. researchers say.  Sociologist David Skunk of the University of Notre Dame and the public policy think tank Cardus says the two-year study surveyed a representative sample of U.S. religious school graduates ages 24-39 to determine the impact of Christian schools on adults.

More Catholic school administrators ranked the university as the top priority, while more Protestant school administrators ranked family as the top emphasis of the school, researchers say.
The research team also surveyed more than 150 Catholic and Protestant school administrators in Canada and the United States to assess the aspirations.

The study found Protestant Christian school graduates:
-- Divorced less and had more children than their Catholic and private school peers.
-- Participated in more relief and development service trips.
-- Have lower incomes, but were more thankful for what they have in life.
-- Attended less competitive colleges and attended fewer years of college.
-- Talked less about politics, participated less in political campaigns and donated less to political causes.

G. Haraksin
Lead Pastor
NewSong Church

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Natural Disasters

Here is an article relating to the issue of natural evils.  Eliot Miller is the editor for the Christian Research Journal.  This article was penned back in 2005 yet it applies in 2011 in light of the quake in Japan --and other natural evils.  The content may benefit you personally and as you discuss such issues with others.  Read, learn, be equipped and benefit. G. Haraksin NewSong Church

Putting the Tsunami into Perspective
Elliot Miller
 The following article is adapted from the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, volume 28, issue 1 (2005).
 We are all riveted to our televisions the past several days as we watch the devastation of the nation of Japan after it experienced a 9.0 earthquake off its Sendai coast last Friday. As more than 1,000 bodies wash ashore, and fears mount of a potential leak of nuclear material after a possible nuclear plant meltdown, it’s natural for people to ask why God allowed such a horrific tragedy. Natural disasters, wars, man-made tragedies (9/11, the Holocaust) continue as history unfolds but biblical answers to spiritual questions regarding them don’t change. Back in an early 2005 issue of the Christian Research Journal, editor-in-chief Elliot Miller wrote an article giving biblical perspective to the then Indonesian Tsunami of December 2004. We hope this article equips you with a cogent and biblical explanation of how we should view natural disasters.
           When I first heard news of the tsunami that struck the Indian Ocean region on December 26 it stopped me in my tracks. “This could be the biggest natural disaster of our time,” I thought. On that first day the estimated death toll was “only” around 14,000, but as I write six weeks later it is approaching 300,000.
           Who has not been profoundly affected by the video captures of the approaching wall of water, the apocalyptic pictures and reports of devastation and death, the seemingly capricious fates of those who were taken and those who were spared, the heart-wrenching losses suffered by natives of the region as well as visitors, and the unbelievable evil of those who have seized orphaned children to sell them into the sex slave trade? Who has not been moved by the heroism of those who did not think of their own safety in order to save (or try to save) the lives of others, and the compassionate efforts of people from around the world to help those who have been struck?
           Whenever a major disaster hits, whether natural or man made, the question is raised about God’s role in it. An Internet search for the words “tsunami” and “God” yields Web pages that contain every conceivable answer to this question. For some people the disaster is an occasion for embracing or returning to faith in God; for others it is an occasion for losing faith or feeling justified in their unbelief. Comments such as the following caught my attention:
           “Amid tidal waves or tsunami, earthquakes or floods, outbreaks of disease or other natural disasters, where is God?”
           “Thanks for the tsunami, God! Do you realize what God just did?”
           “Is the tsunami God’s judgment?”
           “Tsunami: God’s Anger Revealed.”
           “Tsunami = God’s wrath on non-Christians. “
           “God used what unsaved Chinese people call a ‘tsunami’ to wipe out over 100,000 unbelievers in one fell swoop.”
           “Did God send this tsunami because of the paganisms so prevalent in South Asia…as only a hint of the cataclysm that is yet to come—the holy judgment of God?”
           “Tsunami Disaster—A judgment from God to the Islamic nations!”
           “How can a merciful God allow such disaster and suffering?”
           “God killed more than 150,000 people with a tsunami....This terrible tragedy only proves one simple thing: There is no God, only religious rhetoric.”
           Evil and human suffering do pose a problem for faith in God. There is no reason, however, to see the occurrence of a tsunami or any other disaster that takes its toll on human life as a direct act of God. The earthquake that displaced ocean water and produced the tsunami resulted from the very structure and normal operation of God’s creation, in which geologic plates grind against each other and eventually shift to release tension. We know from observation and experience that disturbances in nature often occur, sometimes with tragic results for human beings and other forms of life.
           If anyone is going to believe in God in the first place, it has to be against the backdrop of this knowledge of our perilous universe; in other words, one’s reasons for believing in God must withstand the reality of evil and human suffering. The occurrence of any particular disaster, then, should have no effect on one’s belief in God.
           If one knows that God is, and what He is truly like, no event should cast doubt on that knowledge. Natural revelation affirms that God exists; biblical revelation confirms what God is like. The account of the fall of man in Genesis 3 reveals that God is not responsible for human suffering, and the Bible’s record of His acts of mercy—especially in the cross of Christ—assure us that He is a God of love. We know that this is so despite the existence of tsunamis and earthquakes or terrorists and holocausts. Scripture also assures us that a time will come when suffering, sorrow, and death will be no more (Rev. 21:4).
           I am not denying that God sometimes does use natural disasters to execute His judgment. The problem, however, is one of presumption: the canon of Scripture is closed and no one today speaks with the authority of the biblical prophets; no one can say with certainty that the tsunami or any other disaster is an example of God’s judgment. In God’s sovereign purpose, there can be many reasons for allowing humans to suffer, and it is not always as a punishment for their sins (consider the example of Job). If we proclaim that the tsunami is a judgment of God against pagans or Muslims, we might find ourselves having something in common with the Jews Jesus rebuked: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (Luke 13:2–3 NIV).
 —Elliot Miller

Monday, October 25, 2010

Garage Sale God

I had a garage sale last week. It had been 3 years, and it was time. I respect garage sales-and I really like garage sale people. Some of the buyers see the obvious: the choco-brown plush jacket, bought and never worn; the vacuum seal Food Saver in virgin condition. And then there are those who see the good in what is less-than new: a large TV with a broken VCR-but who still has videos on their shelves (besides me)? A very-dated-but-not-yet-antique Singer sewing machine, a well-used toilet snake and a smaller one for sinks (not quite sure how it really works), and 4 partial quarts of paint from 2003. Then there was the creative woman who spied a box of jars: some for canning, some just washed out salsa bottles, with other odds and ends thrown in. She wanted them all. People on an overcast weekend, looking for the treasure in another person's "junk"--the cast offs, the no-longer wanted, the "what is it?", the broken and seemingly beyond repair things.
Garage Sale People display the image of their Creator, because God sees beyond the obvious, beyond the external. He looks at what we call junk, sees Divine Design, and reclaims it for divine purposes, whenever we let him. God has an eye--and a heart--for the broken, the cast off, the seemingly useless, the old and tired, the one passed among many owners.
Every analogy about God breaks down at points, so don't push too hard. But this one is strong at it's center point of redemption. God is a Rummage Sale Redeemer! Have you experienced that yet? If you have, you know that "you are not your own; you were bought at a price"--the highest ever paid--on a darkly overcast weekend, long ago.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40: 1-3a

Diann Elyse Enderby
NewSong Church
Director of Care & Missional Development

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Child's Question

"How did God become so powerful?" was the question I received this past weekend from one of our children in the congregation.  She wrote with intensity on  one of our communication cards.  Here is my response (before you read my response, think what would yours be?)

Thank you for the great question you wrote on your communication card this last week.  I always encourage both kids and adults to ask the best questions they can about God, His creation, and His relationship to us.  Your question is a good one.

You ask, “How did God become so powerful to be able to make the world what it is today?”  You could probably write a whole book on this question but here are some thoughts for you—feel free to respond back to me with further questions.

In short, God never “became” anything but, rather, has always existed from everlasting to everlasting.  God is eternal, that is without beginning or end.  So God has always existed with all powers, abilities and knowledge within him.  In the Old Testament book of Jeremiah, he states that “The Lord is the only true God.  He is the living God and the everlasting King.”  (Jeremiah 10:10)  In addition, Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made.”

When God created the world he placed within the world (or universe) powers that would allow the world to grow and create all the wonderful galaxies, stars, and the planet we live on.  Some people call our planet the “special or privileged planet”.  Why? Because God set up the universe just right to have life.  The universe is very large but that is the exact size we need for it to be in order to have life exist on a planet like ours.  God wasted no space and created a hospitable place for us to live and work out His plan of salvation.

So, Caroline, God has always and forever been the greatest possible being you could ever imagine!  Though you and I have to have our bodies grow, learn how to talk and ride bikes, and scrape our knees, God has always been all-powerful, all-loving, and all-knowing.  You may be thinking or asking, “What about Jesus becoming human, doesn’t it say in Luke 2:52 that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and people?”  Yes he did but we will have to answer that one later…

In Christ,

George (Mr. Haraksin)

NewSong Church

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayer and Acts of Kindness for Haiti

The Red Cross has just reported a little bit ago that they have run out resources in Haiti.  We continue to pray and offer actions of kindness towards the people in Haiti in the midst of the horrific earthquake.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What is 'Advent'? Because people keep askin' me...

The term "Advent" comes from Latin word ad-venio meaning "arrival."  For well over 1,000 years, the Christian Church worldwide has designated the four weeks prior to Christmas as a time to prepare for Christ's coming into the world.  We seek to prepare ourselves as a community, as individuals and, ultimately, as those who anxiously await Christ's Second Advent (arrival/coming).

It is no coincidence that Advent falls during the darkest time of the year:  Until December 23, our hemisphere of the earth continues to tilt further and further away from the sun, resulting in shorter days and longer periods of darkness.  During this time, we frequently find ourselves longing for more physical light and warmer temperatures amidst the longer and colder evenings.  Consider the days when electricity and heating beyond fireplaces were unavailable—the dark and long days certainly stoke the desire for spring, light, and life.

The early Christian church did not know the exact date of Jesus' birth, but they believed that Christ was indeed the Light of the World (John. 9:1-41).  It made sense to these early Christians to celebrate the birth of the Messiah during a time of the year when everyone was most aware of the lack of light in the world.  

During this Advent season, we acknowledge the "lack of light" in our lives, the sorrow, hurt, grief, and even despair.  We cry out for God's presence, His healing and transforming touch.  We seek to prepare our hearts to be receptive to Christ, our Savior, and we eagerly await the celebration of His birth at Christmas.

We invite you to join us during this 2009 Advent season in preparing room in our hearts, minds, homes and gatherings for our Savior, Christ the Lord.
George R. Haraksin II
NewSong Church
November 2009