When Unity Hurts the Church-

 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 some 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). 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 tends to be 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. 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)

Four Stupid Things Christians Settle For-

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom- Psalm 90:12 NIV

Humans do weird things. 

There is zero judgment in the aforementioned statement. I am speaking as a humble human who has been guilty of doing all sorts of weird things at various times in my life.  

Most of us will fight to the death for stupid stuff we don’t really want, need, or care anything about. Just about everyone has been guilty at some point of driving away the people they care about the most. And the majority of us have acted in a passive-aggressive way at some point in our lives. Passively-resisting, avoiding direct communication, faking compliance and forgetting things on purpose rather than simply asking for what we want is a very weird thing. Unfortunately, those weird things barely scratch the surface of what humans are capable of when it comes to weird things.  

Seriously.

We also settle for things that are far inferior to what God really wants us to have. We become spiritually lazy and rather than going after the best we settle for things that look and feel “good enough”. Settling for less than God’s best limits our spiritual growth and potential for doing good in this world. Furthermore, evil is accelerating at a startling pace in our day. (2nd Timothy 3:1-3). If Christians want to have any impact at all in these times we cannot afford to settle for anything less than God’s best. Following are four things that have the potential to ruin you spiritually if you choose to settle for them:

Losing influence-

Christians are redeemed for the purpose of influencing others (Matthew 5:14-16) and making a difference in this world (Ephesians 2:10). However, it is possible to forfeit our God-given influence by choosing to blend into and take on the attitudes and behaviors of our culture. If we blend in for long enough we eventually become powerless to effect change and spiritually useless (Matthew 5:13).

Makeovers

Humans are extraordinarily perceptive when comes to sensing social patterns. No sane individual wants to be branded as a weirdo, so we carefully monitor and regulate our public behavior. Christians are pros at this. The minute we get saved we take a look around at what other Christians are doing or not doing and dutifully fall in line. If none of the other Christians are dropping F-bombs we stop dropping F-bombs (at least in front of people). If none of the other Christians are drinking beer we steer clear of beer. If the other Christians are going to Bible study, we get our butts to a Bible study.  We alter our external behavior to fit into whatever Christian culture we are a part of, oftentimes without changing the attitudes of our heart (Romans 12:2).  Regulating behavior is not necessarily wrong or sinful. There are times when it is even healthy (Proverbs 16:32). However, simply copycatting good behavior falls painfully short of God’s will for our lives. God wants more for His people than wrong thinking covered-up with right behavior.  He wants to transform our thinking so that our behavior falls in line with what the Bible says rather than simply settling for behavior that “appears Christian” on the surface. Transformation cannot happen without effort on our part. We have to want it, pray for it and work our tails off to get it (Philippians 2:12, Ephesians 4:17-32). 

Being smart- 

Everybody understands what it means to be smart. Smart people can read, write and solve tricky mathematical equations. Smart people speak well and they know how to get things done. Smart is good. Wisdom is better and infinitely harder to define (Proverbs 2:12-16). Wisdom empowers people to think like God thinks and to see problems, situations and people from His perspective (James 3:17). Wisdom enables people to look at every side of an issue and think through all the conceivable outcomes of issues. Wisdom enables people to know good advice when they hear it and teaches them to tactfully ignore bad counsel (Proverbs 13:10) Wise people know when to give a little so they can get a lot and they know when they should go to war to eventually achieve peace. Wisdom is gift. God bestows wisdom on those humble enough to admit they don’t have it (2nd Chronicles 1:7-12, Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 2:6, James 1:5). 

 Approval–  

It is human nature to hunger for approval and acceptance. However, there are times when that aspect of our human nature bumps up against God’s will for our lives. Anytime a Christian chooses being liked over the freedom to speak out against anything God clearly labels sin we break the heart of God and limit our usefulness for the Kingdom. 

Our world is getting darker and scarier by the day and the darkness is not going anywhere anytime soon (Matthew 24:7-13). In a world where sin is celebrated and there is a clear and present danger that biblical Christianity will be criminalized. It is imperative God’s people do not settle for anything less than being the world changers we are called to be. 

Satan’s Latest Diary Entry-

You live in the midst of deception; in their deceit they refuse to acknowledge me,” declares the Lord- Jeremiah 9:6 NIV

Dear Diary, 

Life is perfectly splendid here in hell. 

This morning, I received month-end reports from all department heads. My scheme to distract humans from the truth of God and completely destroy them in the process is exceeding even my wildest hopes and expectations.

 Western civilization has bought into the absurd notion that sexual pleasure is the key to happiness and self-actualization.  I have managed to get half the human population so fixated on their own genitals that they are incapable of thinking about much else. The pornography industry has been incredibly useful to me in this area. A few decades back lobbyists for the industry convinced the courts that pornography is a harmless form of “free speech”. Now pornography is available on every smartphone in the land. Generation Z has been exposed to so much pornography that many of them would rather watch other people have sex than actually have sex. The ones that do have sex tend to have some pretty creepy ideas about the whole thing.  Thanks to my efforts and the help of the porn industry many humans will never be capable of having normal, healthy relationships. 

WINNING!

I love a good lie and I hit on a winner a few years back. I actually persuaded educators, parents and activists that the science of biology is an irrelevant “social construct”. Ridiculous humans now “choose their own gender”. The concept is so obviously preposterous I secretly questioned whether or not I could pull it off. Nevertheless, I am pleased to report that gender confusion is “a thing”. Schools teach children there are dozens of genders to choose from. The results have been magnificent. It is now trendy for children in elementary school to” identify” as “transgender” or “gender fluid”.  I am most pleased with how I convinced some parents they should allow their children to “transition”. “Enlightened” parents give doctors (who ought to know better) the go-ahead to pump their kids full of powerful hormone blockers and perform irreversible surgeries on their beloved children. I love it when kids transition. It destroys their natural sex drive and ensures their developing bodies will be mutilated beyond repair. It also guarantees that kids will never be capable of producing children of their own.  I am tremendously eager for those children reach adulthood. They will soon recognize all that was stolen from them thanks to their parent’s desire to appear openminded to their progressive peers. I predict those kids will someday loathe their own parents.  I amaze myself with my own ingenuity. I really am that smart. Seriously. 

But, I digress. 

 Thanks to fake news and self-absorption I haven’t seen so much social turmoil and class envy since the days of the French Revolution (good times).  Americans have the highest standard of living of any country on earth and yet all they do is demonstrate and demand free stuff. It looks as if socialism might be taking root. I adore socialism.  What’s not to love about a system motivated entirely by envy that leads free people to hand their God-given rights over to godless bureaucrats who crave power and control? All I need is a few more of those idiots in power and all my dreams for that stupid country will finally come true. Thanks to media lies they are hovering on the brink of civil war. I LOVE civil war. It’s s just so magnificently bloody and destructive. Christians in America send out more missionaries than any other nation on earth. War will bring that nonsense to a screeching halt and there will be more souls in hell. I see nothing but potential in this situation.

 LOVE IT.  

I was a wee bit disappointed to discover that the abortion rate is down a bit in the U.S.  All is not lost. I am on it.  I have influenced a number of celebrities to glamorize and celebrate their own abortions. Young girls read those glowing testimonials and want to be like the women they admire.  The abortion rate should be rebounding any day now. 

The church has aided me greatly in my efforts in recent years. I have nothing but gratitude towards those stupid but well-meaning Christians who bought my lie that talking about sin will keep the church from reaching the lost. Those fools go on and on about the love of God without ever realizing that it is only when people understand their own depravity that they seek God and are healed. Then there are the Christians I convinced that God doesn’t care about how they live. They live exactly like their unsaved neighbors and coworkers. Literally no one is being drawn to Jesus by those people.

WINNING SOME MORE!

You can be assured I see to it those silly Christians never question themselves, pray about whether or not they are right or wrong or read their Bibles to find out what God thinks of their views or how they live. I like to keep Christians stubborn and convinced of their own righteousness.  As long as I can keep those stupid Christians from self-examination and repentance there will never be the revival they all say they want. As long as I can keep revival from taking place the church will continue to flounder and I will continue to WIN. 

Satan   

Seven 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 book I happen to be reading in the Bible tends to have a discernable impact on my writing. However, I usually only see the impact 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 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. Hosea got me thinking about idolatry and how contemporary idolatry tends to differ from the standard bow-down-to-a-creepy-little-statue variety of idolatry we see throughout the Old Testament. 

While I was reading Hosea, Joshua Harris (author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye)and Marty Sampson (writer for Hillsong) both abandoned their faith in Christ and “came out” as unbelievers (Marty Sampson has since back-peddled a tiny bit). The book of Hosea and other prophetic books make 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 always 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 get a handle our tendency towards idolatry we may see fewer people leaving the church.  

Sadly, there is something in the following to offend pretty much everyone. Beginning with:

 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 and godly desire to see churches grow and Christian beliefs spread. However, sometimes ambition for church growth is really just a ravenous appetite for celebrity and 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; although the biblical standard for success is 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. He is also unapologetically judgmental. Like it or not, God judges any person who declines 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 lollipops, 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 need to be cast down and ours are no different. The only way to cast these particular idols down is a return to Bible study and prayer. When we study the Bible, it enlightens our minds and empowers us to see life the way God sees life. Prayer ensures that the attitudes of our heart truly reflect the heart of God. 

How “Nice” Has Become an Idol We Worship We with Wild Abandon

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

“Being nice” is an idol we worship with abandon in Western culture. 

Before you tag-out to write me a long rambling comment listing in horrific detail the countless ways people have become rude, vulgar and belligerent, please hear me out. 

I’m not crazy.  

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

It is never acceptable to be “not nice” anymore unless, of course someone else is determined to be “not nice”. That said, 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”.  

Sadly, this phenomenon has turned many Christians into a horde of craven fraidy-cats (more on that later).  

This insight came as I was reading an article. The writer of said article believes evangelical support for the President (rather than the churches lack of holiness or the average Christian’s reluctance to share the not-nice parts of the gospel) is hurting our Christian witness in America. He believes that it would be best for Christian voters to dump the President and take our lumps with whoever gets elected next. Rather than 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. There are opponents of the President who really do have issues with conservative policies. However, they rarely attack those policies. Instead they focus endlessly on the Presidents 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 and for good reason. Clever individuals have recognized that the most efficient way to silence someone else’s speech (and to be given the go ahead to be “not nice” to that person) is to twist that person’s speech into something racist, sexist and/or homophobic. Universities have made a practice of suppressing the speech of students who hold views that are thought to be “not nice”. Schools routinely disinvite speakers deemed problematic due to their lack of niceness. 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 do business in. Nothing is being done to correct this problem (or help the homeless) because it has been determined by 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 it IS hurting our witness.  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 trendy is because Calvinism teaches that Christians 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 as have authentic conversions to Christianity. 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.  That does not mean it is okay to be rude, abusive or foulmouthed. Christians should strive to treat ALL people with the respect, dignity and the consideration that is due any being made in the image of a holy God. It does mean that we stop letting our fear of man outweigh our fear of God. 

It is critical Christians learn to balance “niceness” with truthfulness in a culture that is literally dying right 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.  

Why Saved People Still Need to do Good works

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do~ Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

If you are a Christian and reading this blog-post you can count yourself blessed because God has granted you the privilege of living in the age of Grace.

This simply means that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection paid the penalty for your sins (Acts 13:38-40, Romans 6:23, 1stPeter 3:18).  You do not have to follow a bunch of rules, preform weird rituals or submit to the Old Testament law to get God to like and accept you (Galatians 2:19-21, Galatians 3:1-6, Galatians 5:6). If you have trusted in the finished work Jesus did on the cross and repented of your sins, when God looks at you He sees the righteousness, virtue and goodness of Jesus and that is more than enough for Him (Romans 10:10, 2ndTimothy 1:9). 

He totally digs you. Happy sigh. 

For the average Christian this is not exactly new news. Contemporary Christians have been inundated with the message that it is grace rather than works that save us from our sins and make us right with God. This is not in and of itself a bad message.  It is critical we remember that good works cannot save anyone from anything (Isaiah 64:6). During the Middle Ages the church lost sight of this vital truth and as a result the church (and the people in it) also lost sight of its purpose in this world. The spiritual and ethical chaos that resulted from this error is still being felt in our world today.

Sigh.

 That being said, humans tend to be creatures of weird extremes. We rarely do, think or believe anything in a halfhearted fashion. As a result, the current emphasis on grace has caused many Christians to view good works as an optional activity for Christians at best and as an affront to the grace of God at worst. Some Bible teachers and Pastors have inadvertently encouraged this flawed thinking by leading people to believe that salvation is an end rather than a beginning. Many Christians sincerely believe there is nothing left for us to do but glory in our salvation and wait for heaven once we have become Christians.  

Nothing could be further from the truth. 

God could not be clearer in His word: we were saved by grace but we were created for the express purpose of doing good works (Ephesians 2:9-10, Matthew 5:16, 1stTimothy 6:18, Hebrews 10:24). Those good works include (among other things) living righteously, building the church (body of Christ), providing for the physical needs of the poor, sharing truth, loving the lost, fighting for fairness in an unfair world and helping Christians and non-Christians who need help. Today I want to make a biblical case for good works. Not so that we can get saved but because we are saved. Christians should do good works because:

Good works reveal who we are- 

In Genesis chapter 24 Abraham sends his most trusted servant to find his son Isaac a wife. The instructions Abraham gave the man were insanely hazy and vague. Mostly, Abraham did not want Isaac’s wife to come from outside of his clan. The servant very wisely prayed that he would find a woman who voluntarily did good deeds (my words) for strangers. He prayed that he would find a woman who would offer him (a complete stranger) water and be willing to water his camels as well (a time-sucking act of kindness that went above and beyond prevailing social expectations). Abraham’s servant understood that our behavior towards others (especially strangers) reveals our inner nature more effectively than words ever could (Matthew 12:35).  When Christians do good deeds for the right reasons (because we love God) it shows the world that there is something different about us and they tend to find that difference intriguing, perplexing and appealing (Matthew 7:18).   

Good works reminds us of who we belong to and what we are all about- 

Anytime we choose to go above and beyond for someone our good deeds also serve as a reminder to us that we are not called to live for ourselves. Rather, we are called to live beyond ourselves for the glory of God and the good of others. 

Good works point people to a good God- 

Human beings are for the most part motivated by selfishness, impure motives and greed. Because humans are self-serving and greedy good deeds that require personal sacrifice are a rare and noteworthy occurrence in our world. When Christians are open about being Christians and they do good things for no other reason than God wants them to do good things, our acts of righteousness inevitably point people to Jesus. 

Good works are a way to say thank you for a gift we could never earn-

It is simply a fact that no quantity of good deeds could ever make up for our innate sinfulness and pride. We needed Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins so that we could enjoy the benefits of salvation both now and in eternity. When we choose to do the good deeds God commands us to do (Deuteronomy 5:33, Matthew 25:31-40, Luke 6:27-36, Romans 12, 1stCorinthians 10:24, Galatians 2:10) it is a small way to tell God that we appreciate the sacrifice that was made on our behalf. 

Five Things Church People Do that Wreck Church-

 

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord~ Acts 3:19 NIV

 Recently, I have been wondering why the church is not having a bigger impact on our world.

 It should be.

 Seriously, the Church should be hitting it out of the park right now. The advent of the internet has made the Bible widely available to nearly everyone.  There are more solid Christian resources (radio, television, podcasts and books) available to more people in more languages than at any other time in history. Higher rates of literacy mean more people are capable of accessing and making the most of available resources. But, sadly no one could accuse the church of setting the world on fire (metaphorically speaking) at this point in history.

 This means that the church is not completing the one task that Jesus commanded us to accomplish (Matthew 28:16-20). I understand that one very real danger in talking about “the church” in broad terms is that sometimes we forget the church isn’t a building, group of leaders or an institution. The church is people who identify as followers of Jesus (1stCorinthians 12).  So, if the church isn’t getting the job done it means that individual people are the problem rather than some nebulous institution or group of leaders.

 The problems the church is having are not the fault of every person in the church. However, there are too many people in the church who do things or allow things that are simply unacceptable for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3-18). The list includes:

Church people have not really dealt with the sin of racism-

 The whole notion that some skin colors, genders or races are somehow superior to others is a weird and sinful social construct that has no place in churches (Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28, John 3:16). Every person regardless of race, skin color or gender is both equally loved and equally in need of a savior in God’s eyes. Therefore, prejudice and bigotry have no place in the church. Alas, some church people have failed to really take hold of that message and live it out in their day-to-day lives. The church’s reputation is suffering as a result.  

 Church people do not model healthy male-female relationships-

 I do not understand why a place filled with people who are commanded to practice self-control (Galatians 5:22, Titus 2:11-12, 2ndPeter 1:5) is the only place on earth where men and women cannot work together without things getting decidedly weird. By “weird” I mean sex becoming an issue in some way. Christians have managed to convince themselves that men and women are incapable of actually practicing self-restraint where sex is concerned and this has become a self-fulling prophecy in many Christian circles. We do need to be vigilant concerning the appearance of evil and I know all about the Billy Graham rule (conceived by Billy Graham rather than Jesus). That said, I do not believe separation of men and women in church settings is either biblical or the answer to the problem of sexual immorality in the church. That standard has created at least as many problems as it has solved. It does not require adult Christians to practice self-discipline (a biblical mandate) and because of that standard church people tend to become suspicious anytime they see men and women together (even if they work in the same church). Female opinions have effectively been silenced in the church out of fear that if a woman is near a man who is not her husband sexual sin of some sort will swiftly commence. We must do better. Even the pagans have figured this one out. We should too because it’s hurting our effectiveness and our witness.

  Church people worry about protecting institutions rather than people-

 Too many Christian women have been pressured into staying in marriages that really should have ended (due to sexual sin or physical abuse) because some church leaders care more about the institution of marriage than they do about the woman in said marriage. Then there are the thousands of children who have been sexually abused and deprived of justice because too many people in the church care more about the institution of the church than the souls of abused kids (James 1:27, Isaiah 10:1-3). Not cool. Not biblical. Not okay.

 Church people tolerate pornography-

 Anytime a Christian man is caught in sexual sin the first question asked is always: “Is it just pornography?”.  Every. Stinkin. Time. The “just” is ALWAYS put in front of the word pornography. As if pornography without some other form of sexual deviancy attached to it is somehow less sinful than other sexual sins. Pornography is every bit as sinful as “having an affair” (maybe even worse) because “having an affair” (unless the sex is with a prostitute) is almost always a consequence of some sort of a problem in the marriage. Affairs rarely occur in a vacuum, something else is always wrong: communication is poor, the couple is not connecting, the couple is unkind to one another, eventually one partner pursues companionship with someone else.  Conversely, pornography and sex with prostitutes is a result of lust, lack of self-discipline and covetousness. I am categorically not stating that an affair is acceptable simply because a person is in a difficult marriage (it doesn’t work that way). I am saying that the church will never have a measurable spiritual impact on the culture unless we deal with the sin of pornography in our own ranks.

 Church people don’t evangelize-

 Seriously, we just don’t. A recent study revealed that forty-seven percent of all millennials actually believe it is wrong to evangelize the lost. Sadly, very few Christians have ever shared their faith with anyone and sixty-four percent believe that evangelism is an optional activity for Christians. Until we change this one thing we won’t change anything.

Why Some Kinds of Churches Just Need to Go-

His (God’s) intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord~ Ephesians 3:9-10 NIV

Okay, so, a fun fact about me is that I have been a Christian for decades, but I was not raised in church. I attended a mainline Protestant church (with my Grandmother) a handful of times prior to converting to Christianity as an adult. Because I converted to Christianity rather than being born into it I tend to have a slightly different “read” on church than some of my peers who have lived their entire lives in Church. 

For the record, no one is born a Christian, anyone who wishes to become a Christian must repent of their sins and put their faith in Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15, John 1:12, John 3:36, Acts 17:30). That said, I have observed that the conversion experience of someone who became a Christian in their early twenties (like I did) tends to be markedly different from the conversion experience of someone who attended church for the first time during their first week of life (like all of my kids did). 

Church has changed radically in the years since I became a Christian. Some of the changes were much needed and not at all wrong or sinful. There is no reason I can think of to ever return to the bad-old-days of mauve carpeting, sweaty, scream-y preachers, uncomfortable pews, unfettered legalism and Bible translations no one really understands. 

Sigh.

By far, the biggest change has been the rise of the seeker-friendly model of church. Champions of this model have sought to make church easier to understand for those who might be “seeking” God.  Some of the efforts to make church more user-friendly have been good. Others have (in my opinion) stripped away some of the mystery and much of the beauty of the church experience. In some cases, church has become so simple and so easy to understand that nobody on the outside is the least bit curious about what’s going on inside the church. I put much of the blame on the rise of seeker-friendly model of church. There are at least five reasons this model ought to be abandoned:

The seeker-friendly model has filled churches with people who don’t get church-

In any given American church at least half the attendees don’t pray, don’t give, don’t serve, don’t forgive, don’t love, and don’t even routinely attend services. Obviously, none of those things make one a Christian. However, those things are the defining marks of a Christian (Romans 12:12, 2ndCorinthians 9:6-7, Matthew 6:15, Matthew 5:43-46, 1stJohn 2:10, Hebrews 10:25). Churches teeming with unsaved people would not be a bad thing if most church leaders were aggressively encouraging folks to join discipleship groups and insisting on seeing at least some fruit in the lives of people before allowing them to take leadership positions. However, the seeker-friendly model aggressively avoids any and all judgment and has actively encouraged a “less is more” approach to teaching and training in the church. I fear we have made the same error church leaders made when the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity.  We have opened our doors wide and filled our churches with pagans (a good thing) but now those pagans are converting the church to their way of thinking rather than the church converting them to God’s way of thinking. 

The seeker friendly model assumes that non-Christians are numbskulls incapable of learning anything new or overcoming a less-than-ideal church experience-

The first time I attended an Evangelical church service, the whole thing was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell. No one bothered to explain terms or activities that were strictly Christian.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (to be honest, I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  For the record: I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). However, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Some church leaders underestimate the curiosity and intelligence level of non-Christians as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that’s His intent.

Seeker friendly churches tend to produce shallow believers who have no root- 

Churches are supposed to produce mature believers who are capable of discipling others. They also supposed to teach believers how to stand strong when times get tough and their faith is tested (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 7:24-25, Ephesians 4:9-16). The very structure of a seeker-friendly church makes these aims nearly impossible to achieve. In seeker friendly churches services are almost always limited to a one-hour time frame, teaching is intentionally inoffensive (shallow) and most of the small groups are focused on fellowship rather than growth. Without a background of solid teaching most Christians flounder, cave to heresies or drop-out altogether when times get tough or they are confronted with false teaching. Anyone who has not been equipped with solid teaching will be rootless and in constant danger of drifting away (Matthew 13:6, Hebrews 2:1).

Seeker-friendly churches have transformed church into a consumer experience-

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the seeker friendly movement is that it has transformed three generations of church-goers into customers rather than investors. A customer is constantly on the lookout for a better experience and is therefore willing to leave if at any point they become disappointed in a church or the people in the church. An investor is in it for the long haul and will only leave if they can clearly see that the church (and the people in it) has deviated from biblical truth.  

The seeker-friendly model has been tried and found wanting. It’s time for churches to let it die and move back to the biblical model of discipleship.  When we do that we will see the church (and the people in it) become strong and healthy again.