Four Changes the Church Must Make Now-

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord– Colossians 3:15b-16 NKJV

By any measurable standard the last year and a half was bumpy for everyone. The world was collectively awestruck at how quickly a weird little virus could lead to compulsory lockdowns, financial uncertainty, social unrest, church closures and the shutdown of most schools. The gloom brought on by those unwelcome changes took a heavy toll on everyone, including most Christians (James 1:2-3). 

Unparalleled world events swiftly exposed a whole host of systemic and potentially lethal problems lurking in Western churches. Most believers lacked the spiritual tools and community support necessary to keep their faith vibrant over a year of forced isolation. Even fewer Christians were prepared to answer the questions that surfaced out of the COVID crisis. Questions like: where is God when we suffer? What role should government play in faith communities? What does honoring authority look like in a global pandemic (Romans 13:4-6)? Is online church a suitable substitute for the real deal (Hebrews 10:25)? Furthermore, local churches struggled with an unprecedented loss of attendance and financial support. Many pastors suffered a crisis of identity when they learned exactly how expendable most political and public health authorities felt their contribution to society was.

Sigh.

Thankfully, the worst seems to be passing. I am personally overjoyed, no one hated COVID world more than this girl. That said, we should all have some very real reservations about churches returning to the “normal” we foolishly embraced pre-COVID. Our Western Church version of normal was anything but healthy and live-giving from a spiritual perspective. The last thing the church needs is more of what created the problems that became evident during COVID.  Instead the church needs a twenty-first century reformation that begins with:

An end to the Christian celebrity culture- 

Little good has come from idolizing Christian pastors, musicians, and influencers. Most of the men and women put on pedestals by the Christian community have become prideful and arrogant and proven themselves to be completely unteachable. Too many “celebrity Christians” have embraced a life of sin and destroying the reputation of Jesus and other Christians in the process.  Some have become so addicted to media attention that they eventually denounced Christianity altogether to keep the spotlight on them. It’s time for Christian to say “no more” to the celebrity culture.  Instead we must be intentional about looking within our own local churches for faithful men and women to hold up as examples of the faith (1st Corinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17). 

No more shallow teaching-

A shocking lack of doctrinal depth has become standard in Church world.  Like most of our mistakes this one was made with good intentions. Dumping discipleship programs (Adult Sunday school) and replacing them with small groups was intended to build community and make unbelievers more comfortable in the church. It did neither. All it did was shrink the Church and produce a generation of genuinely ignorant and spiritually immature Christians. If we want to save the Western Church we need to find ways to make Sunday school cool again. 

Theology that empowers the church to deal with secular authority in a biblical manner- 

It’s simply a fact that Christians are called to obey secular authorities.  However, early Christians continued to meet together (sometimes daily) despite the fact it was forbidden by “authorities” on and off for more than three centuries.  If they hadn’t the church probably would have disappeared altogether early in the first century. Leaders and individual Christians need to do some soul searching and decide what sort of edict is worthy of violating the command to “gather together” before the next round of shutdowns. 

An openness to a movement of the Spirit of God- 

Sadly, there are two equally stupid views of the Holy Spirit that have prevailed in most denominations over the last century. On one end of the spectrum there is a history of gross excess. This group has taken 1st Thessalonians 5:19Do not quench the Spirit” to mean that almost anything done in the name of the Holy Spirit goes with or without any biblical precedent. Period. This has been a huge turnoff for those on the other end of the spectrum who have declared anything they see as out of the ordinary (speaking in tongues, raising hands in worship, prophetic utterances) as evil and “of the devil” even if that thing has biblical precedent. Both attitudes are wrong, Truth lies in the middle. It is not our job to manufacture the work of the Spirit in the name of “having an experience”. Neither is it our job to dictate to God how He can or cannot work. Our job is to seek the Spirit with an open heart asking Him to reveal more of Himself and His truth to us. However, we also need to understand that any genuine work of the Holy Spirit will be accompanied with a greater desire to obey God. The Holy doesn’t do anything without the purpose of bringing greater obedience and purity to God’s people. 

Community- 

We are made in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:26). We need each other. Period. Churches have to figure out how to create authentic faith communities in the midst of twenty-first century busyness. If we don’t the church will continue to lose people. 

It is the churches responsibility to be ready to offer hope, help and healing when the worst happens. Most churches weren’t ready for any of that with COVID. Welcoming a movement of God, building community in the church and being prepared to answer  tough theological questions is how we get ready for whatever comes next. 

Some Hard Counsel for Christian Women-

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate– Psalm 127:4-5 ESV

Okay, so.

 Generally speaking my ambition is to live a quiet life and tend to my own affairs (1st Thessalonians 4:11). Truly.  As a rule, I have zero desire to be a busybody or to butt into another person’s affairs (2nd Thessalonians 3:11).  On the infrequent occasions I have made it my thing I usually end up feeling sorry.  

Today, I’m willing run that risk. So, here goes:

In recent years, I have noted an attitude making its way into the church. It has become quite common for Christian women to minimize and disparage the roles of wife and mother.  As an older woman I clearly see this thinking is a tool the enemy is using to weaken Christian families. The attitudes developing in the church are potentially detrimental to the future of the church and the family because the Christian family has historically been God’s most powerful and fruitful means of evangelism and discipleship.  

Please understand—I do not believe that wife and mother are the only truly significant roles a Christian woman can or should play in this life. In my experience, when a Christian woman is walking in step with the Holy Spirit she will fulfill many functions and play a variety of different roles throughout her life. Some of those roles will be in the home, some in the church and others will be in the workplace. That being said, the role women play as wives and mothers is critical and should never be demeaned. So, my dear sisters in Christ, today I’m going to share some direct counsel that I believe is desperately needed in this cultural moment. 

First: 

Don’t be weak- 

As a mother of four, I get that being a Mom is a demanding job. This is particularly true in the early years of motherhood when money is often tight and children have lots of needs and no real ability to manage themselves. That being said. It’s not that hard and I’m very disturbed by the “Mommy needs a drink” mentality that has drifted into the church. No one needs to become a drunk in order to manage the pressures of motherhood. Seriously. Women have been caring for children since the dawn of time without modern conveniences such as disposable diapers, baby swings and iPads. This generation is no less capable than our predecessors. Though, I suspect we are less resilient and tough-minded. It is critical we understand that a Christian woman is a soldier of Jesus Christ (2nd Timothy 2-4, Ephesians 6: 10-13).  If a Christian woman has children her primary mission in life is to teach and train her children to fear the Lord and walk in His ways.  The early years of parenting are critical. Kids need a Mom to create a stable, loving environment for them to learn about God, themselves and life. No one can provide any of that wasting precious energy whining about how hard and miserable it is to be a Mom. 

It’s critical we understand children are the only real legacy we leave- 

It’s a clichéd saying that became a cliché because it’s so dang true: “No one has ever laid on their deathbed and wished they had worked harder on their career”. However, lots of people die wishing fervently they had put more energy into the only legacy that really lasts: their kids.  I have done a lot of things with my life, some of them significant by worldly standards. I am not sorry I put my energy into any of them. They were worthy endeavors.  That said, none of the things I have done will have a greater impact on this world than the children I have raised.  

Marriage should not be a rivalry- 

A Christian marriage is intended to be a partnership where each partner sacrifices for the good of the other and the family they create together (Ephesians 5:21-33). A Christian marriage should not be about which spouse has the most impressive career or the most degrees. Those are temporal things that should be viewed as tools to build a legacy for the kingdom of God not as the desired end in its self. 

You can do it all but not all at once-  

Seriously. A woman can have a solid marriage, be a faithful Christian, raise amazing kids and have a rewarding career. However, attempting to do all those things all at once practically guarantees something critical will get lost in the shuffle and done poorly. Sadly, it’s the kids, marriage or relationship with Jesus most likely to get lost. Wise women recognize there really is a season for everything. It’s not wrong to have a job when kids are young as long both parents are committed to being really attentive to the kids during non-working hours. 

It is critical Christians guard their hearts and minds from adopting the attitudes and mindsets of the culture. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of how we view children and family. (Psalm 127:3-5). When we allow the world to dictate how we view these issues it’s the enemy who wins. 

Four Changes the Church can Make that Will Help Save Both the Church and the Culture-

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction– 2nd Timothy 4:2 NASB

The culture is clearly in trouble.  

Seriously. All you have to do is turn on any news channel anytime day or night and it quickly becomes apparent we are a culture on the threshold of moral and civil ruin. We are more divided than we have ever been. Few non-Christians are able to reason through even the most basic and obvious of moral or even common-sense truths. The majority is bound and determined to scorn anything even remotely healthy or wholesome especially if it is thought to be traditionally “Christian”. 

The church is also in trouble. 

 Many Christians have foolishly absorbed the values and messages of the culture. Rather than being brokenhearted by the moral absurdity, many Christians have adopted the same values as those in the culture. Some actively encourage the church to conform on a myriad of issues that were once considered settled from a biblical standpoint. 

The outcome of these two intersecting realities has been disastrous for the church and the culture the church is called to influence and reform. There is little chance for improvement without a speedy course correction. 

That being said.

God is still on His throne and He still good. God is still in the business of redemption and He still does His best work through His people.  God is calling us be the reforming and healing presence this world needs right now. In order to do that we must take a hard look at what is being taught in the church as well as the values the church has absorbed from the culture.  Some corrections are needed. The following four changes would be a good place to start. 

Teach church people that truth cannot become a slave to feelings- 

For a long time, our society accepted the idea that there was no such thing as absolute truth (post-modernism). There were some clear problems with this perspective. The existence of literally billions of easily demonstrable facts being one of the most obvious issues. In recent years many people who argued against the notion of absolute truth have come around and now believe there is such a thing. However, those same folks say truth doesn’t matter, because an individual’s feelings concerning an issue are more important than truth. In other words, truth has become a slave to feelings.  This has been a disaster. It is the number one reason our culture is in intellectual and spiritual chaos. The church cannot control what the culture does or dictate how people think. However, churches can and should teach their own people that feelings, as powerful as they might can will never matter more than what is true. 

Teach the depravity of man- 

Christian leaders made a conscious decision years ago to ditch or at least deemphasize the doctrine of absolute depravity. Absolute depravity is the belief that human beings are completely corrupt and sinful and incapable of saving themselves through good works (Mark 10:18, Job 25:6, Romans 3:12). However, most churches kept teaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation. This led to a great deal of confusion in both the culture and the church. Many think they are awesome “just the way they are” and conclude they don’t need really need Jesus to save them. Others commit themselves to Jesus, not because they are convinced they need Him, but, because they hope Jesus will make them a little bit better than they already are. Without a clear understanding of our need for Jesus (complete depravity) salvation becomes optional sin becomes much easier to both justify and celebrate. Until we return to teaching this critical truth there will be confusion in both the church and the culture concerning the role Jesus plays in our lives.   

Make church a place where questions are welcome but some answers are fixed and unchanging- 

Asking questions is how people learn. Therefore, questions, even tough questions should always be welcome in Christianity. That said, there are some answers that can never change. Christians must stick to their guns on the trustworthiness of the Bible, the way of salvation, the absoluteness of moral truth and what God says about gender and sexuality. If we don’t, all will be lost.  

Embrace the complexity and struggle that comes with loving people like Jesus loved people- 

Jesus routinely spent quality time with sinners’ others were quick to spurn. However, that does not mean He was willing to endorse sinful choices or celebrate depravity. Jesus was quick to remind those He loved they were on a path that would eventually lead to their destruction (John 8:11, Matthew 4:17, Luke 3:7-9, Luke 13:1-5). A willingness to love people while telling them the truth about where their choices will lead them captures the essence of authentic Christian love.  This kind of love is complex and difficult to walk out. Nonetheless, we must find ways to live out our faith in such a way we communicate both love for people and disapproval of their sinful actions.  

As long as we are drawing breath there is always hope and I have hope for both the church and the culture. That said, hope is not a strategy. Christians must work to bring truth back into both the church and the culture. If we don’t we will lose both.    

Why we all Need to get our Butts Back in the Church Building-

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  – Acts 2:42 NIV 

According to Pew Research Center as of March 2021 almost half (forty-three percent) of church members have yet to return to in-person church services. A forty-three percent loss of almost anything is at best unsustainable. At worst such a loss could prove fatal. 

Think about it. 

If a family were to suddenly lose forty-three percent of their savings, the loss would create untold chaos in their financial future. If a nation were to lose forty-three percent of their population the nation would inevitably become weak, ineffectual and find themselves at the mercy of their enemies. The church is no different. A forty-three percent loss of regular attenders is no small deal. 

I totally get that there are some individuals who cannot or should not go back to in-service church attendance at this time.

For the record; 

Elderly folks unable or unwilling to get the COVID vaccine, get a pass on returning to in-person services. The immune compromised, or parents with an immune compromised child are also exempt from returning to in-person services at this time. Those with serious comorbidities who cannot or do not wish to take the vaccine, get a pass on resuming in-person church attendance at least for now. 

Everyone else needs to get their butts back in the church building. 

Pronto. 

Here’s why:

It’s not necessarily going to be smooth sailing from here- 

I do not fancy myself a prophet. That said, the culture has taken a turn for the worse and every fiber of my being tells me that the shaking God has given our world over the course of the last fifteen months is not even close to being over (Hebrews 12:25-27). God will continue to shake our world until people respond to Him in repentance (Revelation 9:20). What the shaking will look like and where it will end are questions far above my meager paygrade.  Nonetheless, it’s not over. More trouble and hardship is coming and the body of Christ will likely not be exempt from the trouble (1st Peter 4:17). If I’m right Christians will need the encouragement and connection they can only get from the body of Christ in order to continue their growth as believers (Hebrews 3:13, Hebrews 10:24-26) When Christians fail to grow spiritually they run the risk their faith will die a slow and painful death that could end in apostasy (Hebrews 6:1-9, Matthew 24:9-11).  Church community is critical because it prevents apostasy.  

The church needs all hands-on deck to accomplish the mission of the Church- 

The mission of the church is clear (Matthew 28:18-19). The church is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. To accomplish this end church leaders are commanded to teach and train all believers to live out the truth of the gospel so they can reach their unsaved friends and family with the gospel (Ephesians 4:10-12). This task is massive. It demands the whole-body work together to accomplish the mission (Romans 12:4-6, 1st Corinthians 12:17). If one person stays home or refuses to do their part a ball gets dropped that ensures the whole body is less effective than they could have been. 

Christians need the church to stay anchored and spiritually healthy-

Without a solid church to anchor a person to the faith individual believers either drift away from Christianity altogether or they begin to adopt strange theories and attitudes regarding God and Scripture. Strange beliefs make it very difficult to reach others with the gospel. These things happen without the person even realizing they are happening. Regular community involvement in a local church is the only way to prevent drift from taking place and eccentric beliefs from taking root. 

There are some things you cannot experience while watching a screen- 

Online attendance has its limits. It is possible to get the essence of a sermon from an online format. That said, it is impossible to experience unity and connection with other believers alone in your living room. It is also impossible to experience the knitting together of the body that takes place when the whole church worships their God in one accord (Acts 2:42-47, Revelation 7:9-10). It is also impossible to effectively use one’s individual gifts to grow the body of Christ while isolated from the body of Christ. We need each other for all these things.  

This pandemic is winding down- 

An estimated thirty percent of the population has recovered from COVID-19 and has natural immunity, another fifty percent of the population has had at least one COVID vaccination. This is a clear indicator it is time for God’s people to ditch their fear and get back to the business of living hard for Jesus.  

The bottom-line in all this is that we go to church because God tells us to and it is the pattern we see throughout the entire Bible. We cannot say we love God and refuse to do what He says (John 14:15, 1st John 5:2, Hebrews 10:25) at least not without experiencing dire consequences. In this case consequences could include a slow separation from God that gives the devil a foothold in our lives and place for sin and even apostasy to take root. Nobody who really knows Jesus wants that. In order to prevent it we all need to get our butts back into the church building. 

Now.  

Some Hard Truth for all of us-

No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turned to his own course, As the horse rushes into the battle- Jeremiah 8:6 NKJV

A couple of things: 

First of all, Dear Reader,

 I really do appreciate you. The fact that anyone would read what I write is an honor and privilege that never ceases to blow my mind. Second, many Christians are, for obvious reasons, leaving social media sites. If you are considering making an exit from the social media site where you found A Wise Life, please considering subscribing. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in your email address. A Wise Life will be delivered to your in-box every week for as long as the Lord allows me to continue this ministry or until you unsubscribe. I promise to never sell or give your email address to any other business, blog or ministry.

Lisa

Now, this week’s post:

I have had innumerable conversations over the course of the last couple years with all sorts of people that have all gone in exactly the same direction and ended in exactly the same way. These conversations have accelerated in recent months, sadly they are become a reoccurring theme in life. 

It typically begins with me and another person complaining about the brokenness of our political system and culture. We whine about what a flaming-hot mess everything is right now and marvel at how quickly it got this way. We grouse about big government, big business, and the creepy relationship that’s evolving between the two. We debate where we think all this is going and it never lands anywhere positive or encouraging.  We moan about the collapse of our republic and bellyache about how our leaders have taken to using the Constitution as toilet paper (metaphorically speaking of course). We discuss marriage, family, children, gender, education and the general lack of interest most people have in God, repentance or the church. We marvel at the idiotic lies our culture believes about just about everything. Then just as we come to the point of exhausting these issues one or the other of us will inevitably say:

“I sure wish someone would standup and fight all this craziness”. 

It hit me out of nowhere (as truth usually does) the other night that there are people fighting. There is chorus of good, godly, positive voices fighting the foolishness and evil that has stubbornly taken root in our culture. Moreover, good people have been fighting this crap for decades. For as long as I can remember there has been a plethora of organizations and ministries one-hundred-percent dedicated to fighting myriad of social and political evils of our time. Furthermore, most conservatives I know routinely contact their legislative representatives about bills related to political and social issues. Those same people also regularly vote, sign petitions and donate money to political and social organizations that fight for conservative values and biblical truth. 

Then it hit me out of nowhere (as truth usually does) that all our do-gooding, generosity and battling for righteousness has had zero, zilch, nada impact on our politics and culture. The people who need to listen aren’t listening and those who need to change aren’t changing (Matthew 3:8). The people who need to know truth just don’t care and it’s not due to a lack of effort or money spent. 

As I was processing through all that, I was struck with an even harder truth: This is happening because the people who do know truth aren’t repenting of their sins or seeking to make changes God has told them to make. The truth is our culture is rotting from within because those in the church have wanted everyone else to change while choosing to stay exactly the same.

At this point my mind was flooded with questions. Like: 

Maybe, things are the way they are because we moaned about all the filth and depravity in the world while we watched all the same movies and television shows other people do? Maybe children are embracing the lies our culture is feeding them because we didn’t take the time to teach our own children truth? Perhaps, taking our kids to church once or twice a month, as is the habit of most “serious” Christians, is not enough to protect them from all the deception in the world; let alone make them the missionaries the world needs right now?  Maybe, our political leaders are sellouts and moral weaklings because we are? Maybe, our culture has embraced the folly of identity politics because the church has not done a good enough job walking out racial unity, reconciliation and fairness?  Maybe, God isn’t answering our prayers because we aren’t praying? Or maybe we have just been praying for all the wrong things?  Then it occurred to me that maybe, things would be different if churches had more prayer meetings and fewer planning meetings? 

I don’t know for sure. I’m just spit-balling here. 

 That said, one thing I do know for absolute certain is that many Christians (including myself) have longed for a political leader or group of political leaders who would step in and change laws so we wouldn’t have to do the hard work of changing people’s hearts so they believe and do the right things.  I know that many Christians have depended on the courts and the constitution to do things only God Himself can do and will do only with our cooperation, like keep our country Christian.  I also know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s time for Christians to repent of the sin of looking for anyone or anything except Jesus to be our savior. Instead we need to take a hard look at our own lives and our own choices. Then we need to start begging God to change us and our churches so we can be the difference makers we were called to be in this world.  

How Unity in the Church has become a Problem-

 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared”- Matthew 13:24-26 NIV

 There are things I believe with all my heart, mind soul and being. I believe God is, always has been, and will always be (Jeremiah 10:10, Revelation 21:6). I believe God is one God with three distinctive expressions of Himself. He is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all at once (Genesis 1:26, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 28:19, 1st Timothy 2:5). Jesus came to earth as a baby, grew into a man, lived a sinless life and sacrificed Himself to liberate the human race from the bondage of sin and death. In doing so, Jesus created a new people out of those who place their faith and trust in Him (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11, 1st Peter 2:4-6). These people are the Church and they serve as God’s ambassadors on earth (2nd Corinthians 5:20). The primary responsibility of the Church is to show the unbelieving world through their holiness, words and demonstrations of grace that God is who He says He is.  In my view the Church is at its most influential when Christians choose work together towards the common goal of making Christ known to all the world.

  I do not believe Christians should divide over trifling doctrinal issues or stupid stuff willy-nilly. (John 11:52). Back in the day, I worked as the director of a Pregnancy Resource Center. The position afforded me many opportunities to work closely with believers from many different expressions of Christianity. I very rarely felt the differences in beliefs were so great I could not work with leaders from other churches.

 That being said. 

This week I was forced to do some thinking about some of my beliefs. It all began with an article about a podcast. That article inspired me to listen to the interview between Jen Hatmaker and Max Lucado. For those not “in the know” Jen Hatmaker is a very touchy-feely, fairly well-known author, blogger and Christian influencer who hosts a popular podcast. She markets herself as an Evangelical but promotes liberal views on theology, gender issues, and is a supporter of gay marriage. She has said on more than one occasion she believes homosexual relationships can be “holy”.

 Max Lucado is a much-loved and well-known Evangelical author and pastor who has a reputation for being conservative in his views. He implied several times during the interview he doesn’t agree with her on every issue but he was incredibly generous with his praise and he essentially endorsed her ministry.

 Throughout their discussion Max Lucado made it clear he believes unity in the Body of Christ should be a very high priority for believers. As long as Christians agree on the “fundamentals of Christianity” little else matters. The fundamentals include belief in the life, sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Max Lucado is not the only Christian who feels those issues are the only issues Christians should divide over. Those have been the standard for Christian fellowship for decades.

 So, a couple of things.

 I would never encourage professing Christians to be unkind to other professing Christians or anyone else. The Bible is clear that Christians should be known by their love for one another. Therefore, meanness and hate is never acceptable (John 13:35).

 However, I do think it is time for Christians to think long and hard about where we draw the line on endorsing ministries, influencers and Bible teachers. What a person teaches regarding sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular really does matter. It should be taken into consideration before we follow, align ourselves with or endorse anyone.  

 Here’s why.  

  Not every issue Christians disagree about is black and white. There are shades of grey and room for differences of opinion concerning some issues (eschatology, politics, Calvinism, Arminianism, expressions of worship, etc.). However, issues pertaining to sexuality, homosexuality and the number of genders that exist are settled issues. The Bible clearly teaches homosexuality is a sin. Moreover, God made humans in His image, male and female, only, period. (Genesis 1:27, Leviticus 20:13,1st Timothy 1:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9)

 It is true that homosexual sin is no more or less sinful than heterosexual sin (1st Corinthians 6:18). That said, homosexuality and gender are not up for debate from a biblical perspective (for more on this issue I highly recommend: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality, by Kevin Deyoung). To teach otherwise is more than just an affirmation of “love”. It is an all-out-full-frontal assault on the inerrancy of Scripture. It is impossible to say we believe the Bible in its entirety and then teach that it is completely wrong on issues of sexuality.

 The Bible calls for unity in the Church. However, unity should never come at the expense of truth and sound doctrine. The books of Jude, 2nd Timothy and 2nd Peter all predict there will come a time when teachers will slip into the church and teach false doctrines and half-truths that will appeal to the fleshly (sinful) nature of humanity and lead people away from the true gospel (2nd Timothy 4:3, 2nd Peter 2:1 Jude 4). Christians are advised to avoid those kinds of teachers.

 The Bible says what it says about sexuality. We do not get to rewrite the opinions of our Creator. When we try we end up in a place where everyone in the church does what is right in their own eyes. When that happens, standards of right and wrong are lost and the Church loses its spiritual power and ability to change the culture.  

 

  

The Wrong Way to Handle a Celebrity Conversion-

 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” ~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NIV

Kanye West shocked pretty much everyone in the Christian and secular world when he “came out” as a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. A week later he released a Christian album entitled Jesus is King. In the six weeks or so since his big reveal he has spoken out about his new-found faith on late night television, on at least one news program, appeared at numerous Christian events and was interviewed by Joel Osteen at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. 

A few weeks back one of our older daughters asked me what I thought about Kanye’s conversion to Christianity.  She wanted to know if I thought it was the real deal and if I believed it would last. 

It’s tempting to lie but I won’t. 

My initial (admittedly sinful) inclination was to list in grim detail all the celebrities over the course of my lifetime who have made “heartfelt” commitments to Jesus only to break those commitments in a spectacularly horrifying fashion that ultimately brought incalculable shame to Jesus. I was also tempted to bring up all of the “celebrity” Christians who have presented themselves to the world as Christian role models and then proceeded to live like heathens before they finally “came out” as unbelievers. 

I get that this confession makes me sound like an awful person and an even more awful Christian. In my defense (which I admit is pathetically weak), I am not the only Christian who has been a bit skeptical of Kayne’s conversion story. The internet has been buzzing with opinions (many of them negative) on this subject.

The good news is that before I had a chance to open my stupid pie-hole and spout-off my rather self-righteous opinion on the subject the Holy Spirit caught me up short. In the space of about ten seconds God reminded me in a not-so-gentle way that people can change and I am living proof of that fact. 

Sigh.  

So, all this begs the question. How should a Christian respond to the news that an unlikely person has made a commitment to Jesus? I believe we should respond in four ways anytime anyone makes a commitment to Jesus. 

In faith-

As believers in Jesus we should have the faith to believe that God has the power to change anyone He really wants to change. If we believe in the gospel we also have to believe that God really can change people, even people we see as unlikely candidates for change (2nd Corinthians 3:18). The Bible is packed with examples of people who most of us would have written off as utterly hopeless (Acts 9). It’s critical we remember that without faith in God’s ability to do what He says He can do it is literally impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). 

With prayer-

This is a tough a time to be a Christian and it is likely that things will get worse before they get better. The struggles Christians experience are mostly spiritual in nature (Ephesians 6:12-18). Because our struggles are mostly spiritual, prayer is the most powerful thing one Christian can do for another Christian. This is especially true for new Christians who have never experienced difficulty or persecution. Our prayers really will make a difference in how well they walk out their commitment to Christ.  

With a sense of awe and wonder-

Every conversion is literally a miracle and the second we lose sight of that fact we lose sight of what it means to be a Christian. All human beings (even the really nice ones) have hearts that are hard, indifferent and even hostile toward God. When someone submits their life to Jesus Christ and repents of their sin God changes their heart (Ezekiel 36:26). This begins a process that eventually transforms them into an entirely new creation with a whole new set of priorities and desires (2nd Corinthians 5:17). It doesn’t get any more miraculous than that. 

With understanding-

Baby Christians are, more often than not, flaming-hot-messes, practically speaking. They do things they shouldn’t do, say things they shouldn’t say, their motivations tend to be all over the map and they can be oddly judgmental for people who clearly don’t get what Christianity is supposed to “look like”.  It is the job of more mature believers to prove their maturity by being there in practical ways for new believers. This means treating them with grace and mercy as they maneuver through the always challenging process of maturing in Christ (Philippians 2:12). 

Jesus’ came to earth to transform sinful, pigheaded, foolish people into something better than we could ever be in our own power (2nd Corinthians 3:17-18).  All too often Christians (especially Christians who have been Christians for a long time) forget that God changed us and that He is still very much in the business of transforming messy people into messages of His grace, truth and love.

Six Reasons Christians are Leaving the Church

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart- Jeremiah 29:12-13 NIV 

Recently there has been an upsurge in individuals who have abandoned Christianity and renounced their faith in Jesus Christ. Some have been influential Christians like Joshua Harris, Katy Perry and Marty Sampson. There has also been an uptick in average Joes and Janes who have walked away from the faith. Most Christians know someone (or several someone’s) who were once actively involved in church who haven’t attended church in years.  

Most lay the blame for this problem at the feet of church leaders.  I have personally pontificated on more than one occasion and in more than one blogpost about all the ways I believe the church and church leaders have failed to the last two generations of church goers. 

However.

In the interest of objectivity and because it’s critical I do my part to prevent more spiritual fatalities. I feel it is imperative I point out the fact that with a few notable (and incredibly sad) exceptions’ churches have not driven people away.  People have chosen to leave. Individuals who make a heartfelt commitment to Jesus do not just wake up one day and decide to stop serving God. 

There is a process involved in departing the faith that ends with a hardening of the heart and a defection from the faith (Hebrews 3:12-15). It begins with the adoption of attitudes and behaviors that open the door to apostasy. Christians should be on the lookout for those attitudes and behaviors in their own life and they should be ready to come alongside other Christians that are struggling with behaviors that can eventually lead to apostasy.  Those behaviors include: 

 You put a lot of faith in human leaders- 

Human leaders are, under the best of circumstances, a gift from God. If a human leader is fully obedient to Jesus they can lead others into greater understanding of the faith, provide inspiration and give moral direction to other followers of Jesus. However, human leaders are sinners just like everyone else. They lie, have affairs, are tempted to embezzle, become prideful and they get things hopelessly wrong sometimes. Wise Christians never put more faith in a human being, (no matter how wise or knowledgeable that person is) than they do in Jesus. If our love for Jesus is dependent on the virtue of a human leader our love for God will grow cold at some point (Matthew 24:11-12). 

You don’t pray-

According to surveys most Christians (over half) spend less than three minutes a day in prayer. That means most Christians pray over their meals (maybe) and when they find themselves in dire emergencies.  As Christians have begun praying less, more are leaving the faith (Matthew 26:41). I strongly suspect there is a correlation as well as causation between these two issues (Jude 20-21). 

You never really committed to a local church-

Church attendance cannot and will not save anyone from their sin (only Jesus can do that). That said, a Christian who chooses not to connect in a local church will probably at some point be tempted to leave Christianity altogether. This is because church is the place where Christians build relationships and acquire the accountability necessary to get them through seasons of temptation and difficulty.   (Proverbs 27:17). 

You have not done the work necessary to transform your thinking- 

Because we are all sinners from the moment we are born wrong thinking is an integral part of our human operating system. One of the primary tasks of a new Christian is to begin the process of renewing their mind and changing their thinking about just about every subject under the sun (Romans 12:2, 1stCorinthians 14:20, 2nd Peter 3:1). If your attitudes towards sex, relationships, politics and work haven’t changed since you became a Christian it’s possible you are not a Christian or you are in danger of falling away (Hebrews 5:11-12)  

You love secular advice- 

Christians are called to live life by a different set of rules and values than the rest of the world. Non-Christians and immature believers know very little, if anything about how Christians are called to live (Matthew 5:43-48, Romans 12:12-14, Colossians 3:5-6). When we take most of our counsel or direction from those who are ignorant of Christian values (secular talk show hosts, women’s magazines, non-Christian counselors)  our thinking will remain stuck in a secular mindset. No one stuck in a secular mindset is capable of bringing glory to God or bringing anyone else into the Kingdom. (Colossians 3:1-3).  

You love the world a little too much- 

We “love the world” when we take our cues about how to live, love and function from the world’s system rather than from the Bible (John 2:15, Romans 12:2). Loving the world means the values of the world are influencing us and we are not influencing the people God has put around us.  

Sometimes I am overwhelmed to the point of tears that God loves every human on earth with an absurd and crazy passion. However, people have a responsibility to respond to God’s love in humble faith, obedience and with a heart that is determined to persevere in the faith. It’s imperative Christians remember that no one will get a free pass from Jesus on judgment Day because the church disappointed them (Revelation 20:11-15)

The Idols Christians Worship-

They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them~ Psalm 106:35-36 NIV

Whatever biblical book I happen to be reading tends to have a discernible impact on my writing. Sadly, I usually only see this in hindsight.  Last summer I studied Jeremiah. Looking back, I clearly see that the blogs I wrote during those months tended to be glum, cynical screeds against the evils of the culture. While I was writing a devotional on Galatians I frequently wrote about the wonders of grace and the hazards of legalism, racism, hypocrisy and self-righteousness.

The primary difference between those blogs and this one is that this time I am intentionally connecting a biblical topic I have been studying with a cultural phenomenon we are experiencing in the church.  

So. 

I have been reading the book of Hosea. A key theme of Hosea is idolatry. This got me thinking about idolatry in general and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see in the Old Testament. 

As I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a bit). The book of Hosea makes a clear connection between the act of idolatry and the act of apostasy (Hosea 13:2, Zephaniah 1:3, 2nd Kings 17:11-13). In the Bible there is not a single case where apostasy occurred in a void. No person or nation just up and decided to stop believing in God. Apostasy followed a lifestyle of idolatry. 

Some idols we worship today are unique to our generation. Some tend to more of an issue among Christian leaders while others affect most Christians in some way. The idols we worship are directly related to the apostasy we are experiencing. When we stop committing idolatry we will see fewer people leaving the church.  

 Christians worship the idols of:

 Ambition- 

Ambition is not sinful until it becomes THE primary motivating force in our lives. If ambition is not kept in check it swiftly mutates into covetousness.  Covetousness then becomes an all-consuming focus on whatever it is we long for.  Ambition is particularly dangerous in the church world because unbridled ambition often disguises itself in Christians and Christian leaders as a healthy desire to see churches grow. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for recognition.    

Success-

Christians have merged worldly measures of success with Christianity. Being wealthy, sought after and liked is perceived to be success in our Christian culture. Even though biblical standards for success are vastly different (Isaiah 66:2, Matthew 22:36-40, Hebrews 11:36-38).  A person who has made success into an idol will do anything to hang on to the attention, money and adulation that comes with success. This includes compromising what they believe or even renouncing their faith in Christ so they can increase the size of their audience and number of followers. 

Grace- 

 God is insanely complex. He is good, merciful and kind. Like it or not, God is also unapologetically judgmental.God judges people who refuse to humbly repent and embrace Him as the sovereign Lord of everything (1st Corinthians 6:8-10, Jude 14:16-18, Revelation 20:13). When we insist on making God out to be all sunshine and good vibes we aren’t really worshipping God anymore. We are worshipping the grace God offers only to those who choose to repent (Matthew 4:17, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:29-31). We know grace has become an idol when we buy the lie that a loving God cannot or will not judge people who refuse to play by His rules.   

Judgment- 

There are Christians who really, really want God to smite the daylights out of anyone who has committed certain acts of wickedness. They also want Him to do it without so much as a smidgen of mercy. If the notion that God would withhold judgment from someone just because they have repented bothers you; you just might worship the judgment and wrath of God rather than God (Ezekiel 18:23). 

Marriage-

In Mark 2:23-27 the Pharisees chastised Jesus and his disciples for picking grain on the Sabbath. This was a technical violation of Exodus 16:23. Jesus informed the Pharisees that the Sabbath was intended to be an institution that benefited and blessed people rather than an institution people became a slave to. I am not “soft” on divorce. I believe marriage is critically important and that most marriages could be saved if both people in the marriage would simply stop sinning. That said, I also believe many contemporary Christians make the same mistake with marriage that the Pharisees made with the Sabbath. We worship marriage when we put the institution of marriage above of the welfare of the people in the marriage. 

Freedom-

Freedom (especially where sexuality is concerned) is an idol that has been worshipped with wild abandon in Western culture for decades.  In recent years Christians have followed suit. Those who worship freedom do not believe even God Himself has the right to tell anyone that old-fashioned ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage are true and that some behaviors are simply unacceptable. 

Youth- 

1st Timothy 3:6 cautions Church leaders against placing new converts in positions of leadership. This is because when new converts become leaders they also become prideful. Eventually they may even begin to believe that they have more wisdom and insight than other Christians and even God. A twenty-year-old is by the nature of their age a new convert (even if he or she was raised in the church). Joshua Harris was nineteen when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbyeand twenty-one when the greater Christian community dubbed him a leader. Marty Sampson was barely out of his teens when he began leading worship and writing music for Hillsong.  In one sense it is not surprising that these men have decided that they have moved beyond Christianity.  Until we stop elevating every young kid with talent or a good idea into “a leader” we will continue to have problems with those leaders as they age. 

Idols must be cast down. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to humble obedience that can only be born out of pure love for God rather than the blessings He gives. Getting there will require ruthless self-examination and honest prayer. 

Why Christians Must Stop Worshipping the Idol of “Being Nice”-

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols~ 1stJohn 5:21 NIV

“Being nice” has become an idol we worship with wild abandon. 

Before you exit out to write me a long comment listing detailing the countless ways people have become rude, vulgar and belligerent, read on. 

I have not lost my mind.  

It is true that there are many people in our culture who become aggressively rude, foulmouthed and abusive at the tiniest provocation. However, if you look at the context of their aggression; their hostility is nearly always directed at people who they categorize as hateful, rude or disrespectful. 

It is never acceptable to be “not nice” anymore. Unless, of course someone else is determined to be “not nice”. Once the judgment of “not nice” has been established, literally anything goes. It is then acceptable to unleash untold hell on those judged to be “not nice”.  

This insight came as I was reading an article. The writer of the article believes evangelical support for the President (rather than the churches lack of holiness or the average Christian’s reluctance to share the gospel) is hurting our Christian witness in America. He believes that it would be best for Christian voters to dump the Trump and take our lumps with whoever gets elected next; rather than continuing to discredit the reputation of Christianity with support for the President. 

The primary grievance the writer seemed to have with the President is not his with policies but rather his lack of politeness and absence of niceness. It is true there are those who do have issues with Trump’s conservative policies. However, they rarely attack his policies. Instead they focus endlessly on his lack of decorum, dignity and niceness.  

Sigh. 

Our collective obsession with niceness transcends the realm of politics.  Despite laws safeguarding free speech there is an influential movement afoot to shut down any and all speech thought to be “not nice”.  Racist, sexist and homophobic speech has been deemed the least “nice” speech because that sort of speech is categorically awful.  Clever individuals have recognized that the most efficient way to silence speech they don’t like and to be given the go ahead to be “not nice” to the person speaking is to twist their speech into something racist, sexist and/or homophobic. Universities routinely suppress the speech of students who hold views considered “not nice”. These same schools regularly disinvite speakers whiny students feel are “not nice”. Professors have actually been fired from jobs for openly sharing views decreed “not nice”.

There’s more:

The Berkley city council has prohibited the use of gender specific pronouns in their city code because it is “not nice” to call someone a pronoun they don’t identify with. Berkley has determined that it is categorially “not nice” to offend a gender confused person or a woman or anyone so now a manhole cover will be called a “maintenance hole” and manpower will be termed “human effort” and brothers and sisters will now be called “siblings”. 

Welcome to 1984 folks. 

The entire west coast is being taken over by homeless people. Sections of entire cities are no longer fit to live in. Nothing is being done to correct this problem or help the homeless because it has been determined by mostly democratic leadership in those cities that it is “not nice” to make judgments about the lifestyle choices of others. Medical professionals will admit in their more vulnerable moments they are reluctant to tell patients they are overweight or that their lifestyle choices are going to kill them because they do not want to be perceived as “not nice” or “judgmental”. 

The idol of nice has slipped into the church and is creating chaos.  For years now, churches, even evangelical churches have systematically softened language concerning sin. In some situations, churches have stopped discussing topics—no matter how biblical those topics might be— because someone— somewhere might possibly feel those topics are “not nice”. The teachings of Calvinism have made serious inroads in recent years, even in denominations that are not traditionally Calvinistic. I suspect one of the reasons Calvinism has become popular is because Calvinism teaches Christians they never have to tell unbelievers they are going to hell or even evangelize them (decidedly “not nice” things). Calvinists believe it is the sole responsibility of the Holy Spirit to reach unbelievers and He does not want or need our help. If these strategies were effective I would support them, but they are not. Church attendance has plummeted and authentic conversions have become rarer. The vast majority of church growth in recent decades has been what experts call “transfer growth” or Christians simply transferring from one church or denomination to another church or denomination.   

Idols must be dealt with decisively.  

This does not mean it is okay to be rude, abusive or foulmouthed. It does mean that we stop allowing our fear of man to take precedence over our fear of God. 

Christians must balance “niceness” with truthfulness in a culture that is literally dying before our very eyes (Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25). It is the ultimate in fiddling while Rome burns to worry more about being labeled “not nice” than to worry about the souls of people or the future of our civilization.