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. 

Why We Still Need Church

I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV

There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to made a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.    

Sigh. 

I am under no illusions regarding the church. The church is made up of people. People (even redeemed people) are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably be flawed. Church people (sometimes even church leaders) have done terrible things and promoted appalling attitudes in the name of the God who would categorially denounce those behaviors and attitudes. 

My understanding of the shortcomings of the church run so deep that I have a sizable collection of blogs under the category of “Church Peeves”. That being said, I have nothing against the church. 

To the contrary, I believe that church is the most critical institution to grace the face of the planet. I do not believe a church must be a mega-multi-site-church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who include more than one or two families) is learning, growing and keeping one another accountable. The size and structure of the church doesn’t matter all that much. What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church. Here’s why:

The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth- 

In spite of its flaws, church is intended to be the place sinners go to find their way to God and the place the redeemed go to be strengthened and sustained in their faith journey. Without the church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save. 


Church is where Christian community becomes a reality- 

Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5) by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online. Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we learn to love others (John 13:35), control our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13) 

Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-

Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out. For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people. 

Church is something Jesus told us to do- 

Seriously.  Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).  

Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-

There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)  

Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-

Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love.  This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like (and sometimes even love) people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.   

When the Church dies moral and spiritual truth dies with it-

When that happens moral chaos and human suffering inevitably follows.  

Six Things The Church Must Do To Bring Revival

 Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found- Isaiah 59:13-14a NIV

The world is a pretty messy place right now. 

A reputation can be ruined and anyone can be vilified simply by using a few simple trigger words to describe that person (racist, sexist homophobic). Clever sinners have literally invented new ways to sin especially in the arenas of gender and sexuality.  Furthermore, all one has to do is watch five minutes of any news program on any channel and it becomes painfully obvious that no one in the political sphere is even pretending to get along with anyone else anymore.  

Christianity is also pretty messy right now.

 Conversions are down and scandals are up. Millennial Christians left the church years ago and show no signs of returning any time soon. Now many of their parents are following suit and trading Sunday services for Sunday hikes. Few view the church as a force for good in the world.  Pastors and Priests are no longer at top of the list of professions that people trust most. Just a few years ago clergy were thought to be above reproach by the vast majority of people. 

There is no end to the theories regarding the whys and how’s of what got us to this place. Some church-goers blame the materialistic mindset of many Christians. Others blame weak preaching, scarcity of Bible study, lack of care for the poor and the less than saintly lifestyle choices of many Christians. Others are convinced the fault lies with too much focus on Bible study and the emphasis Christians place on the lifestyle choices of others. Some say the problem lies with churches (or the people in the churches) who have been reluctant to change with the times. Others argue just as passionately that the problem is with all the changes that have taken place within the church in recent years.  

Sigh.

Okay, so, some theories make a little more sense than others. That said, none do anything to resolve the real issue. The real issue is that a church in crisis can do nothing to help or heal a culture in crisis. Real and lasting change in the culture will only come through a movement of repentance that leads to revival.  Historically, revival has always begun with a movement among individuals in the church to repent, love the unlovable and embrace spiritual obedience (Luke 10:27). 

Getting there begins with:

Getting our spiritual stuff together-

There are a massive number of people who attend church consistently who simply do not have their spiritual stuff together. Sadly, no one can do this for anyone else. It’s something we all have to do for ourselves.  There is an epidemic of moral compromise in the body of Christ and where moral goodness does exist there tends to be a great deal of life-choking, joy-killing legalism. Change is never easy and, in this case, it will require a willingness to take a hard look at our own lives and then repent of things that need repenting including pointless legalism (Colossians 3:5-14, Galatians 2:16, Hebrews 7:19).

Stop tolerating bad leaders because they deliver results- 

This week the lead Pastor at Willow Creek Church in Wheaton stepped down after publicly acknowledging that he “has an intense drive to see results in the ministry”. He also disclosed that he “pushes others ruthlessly” to achieve the results he wants. Six months of coaching and therapy did nothing to correct his self-confessed leadership deficiencies. His predecessor, Bill Hybels was fired after a multitude of women came forward over the course of many years alleging inappropriate sexual behavior. Unfortunately, these stories have become all too common in the church world, especially in larger churches. We have forgotten that it is not an act of leadership to bully subordinates and it is possible have excellence without intimidation tactics or sexual misconduct. Church has become an industry. All too often Pastors who prove they can achieve results (butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate) are allowed to bully and harass so long as people keep coming, giving and writing five-star-reviews on Yelp. Church board members need to get their priorities in order and demand more of Pastors (1stTimothy 3:1-13) from a moral and leadership perspective.  

Start thinking biblically about worldly things-

There are many behaviors and attitudes that the Bible does not necessarily forbid but are not wise or beneficial from a spiritual perspective (1stCorinthians 10:23). It’s time we made a practice looking down the road and thinking through the potential long-term cost of today’s choices. 

Expect more from new converts- 

For whatever reason, it has become standard operating procedure to do everything possible to keep new Christians from identifying themselves as new converts to Christianity. It’s as if we think that somewhere there is a safer place to “come out” as a Christian than at church. We have nixed the embarrassing altar calls and pesky talks about the importance of repentance and living a holy life. We just wait for conviction to come along on its own.  Is it any wonder new converts to Christianity aren’t impacting their world for Jesus? 

Find ways to give back-

Change will come as we learn to contribute, help and do rather than criticize, compromise and protest the chaos in the world (Matthew 22:37-40). 

Pray- 

Seriously. None of this will happen without prayer. 

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.  

The Most Misunderstood Word in the Church

We cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well~ 1stThessalonians 2:8 NIV

There is a theory circulating in the academic corners of Christianity that every four to six hundred years God shakes things up and the result is a seismic shift in the way Christians do church. The first shift occurred at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325. The second transpired when the Eastern and Western Churches parted ways in A.D. 1054. The third occurred on October 31st 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses in the sleepy little hamlet of Wittenberg Germany.

 It is being theorized by the wise and learned that the Church is in the middle of one of those seismic shifts right now. Recent political and social changes could have a dramatic impact on the way church is done a hundred years from now.

I am by no means a scholar. However, I do have a keen interest in Church history and a passion for weird theories. I have observed that the aforementioned shifts have also resulted in a net loss and a net gain of something enormously significant to the church. At the council of Nicaea, the Church gained respectability and opportunities for influence but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the result was that the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and a good deal of its authority. 

I am concerned that as the church shifts due to technological, social and political changes we have no control over; Christians are in danger of losing some critically important things we do have control over.  One of those things is community. The sense of community the early church experienced was the beacon that drew both gentiles and Jews into a life-changing relationship with Jesus. In a very real sense it was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

We are losing our sense of community in Christianity partially because Christians have adopted a worldly view of a Christian concept: hospitality. Hospitality is perhaps the most misunderstood concept in the Bible. This is doubtless due to the influence of cable channels like the Food Network and HGTV. Thanks to these networks many have come to believe that hospitality is nothing more or less than preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is more than all that. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. There are at least five misunderstandings most Christians have about hospitality 

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar on the surface because one piece of hospitality is entertaining guests in our homes (Acts 16:15). That said, it is possible to have guests in our home on a regular basis and not actually practice biblical hospitality. Hospitality in the Christian sense of the word means caring deeply for the emotional, physical and spiritual needs of other people in an intimate setting (Acts 18:26, Romans 12:13, 3rdJohn 1:8). An intimate setting can be a home, a coffee shop, a church foyer, a street corner or a public park because intimacy is about the emotional and spiritual environment we generate with our presence, not our physical location.

Hospitality is optional-

 Hospitality is a command (Hebrews 13:2, 1stPeter 4:9, 1stJohn 2:3). When we practice true biblical hospitality, we show people that we love them and that they matter to us and to God (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people in church world.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Like it or not hospitality is a form of evangelism. Caring for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of others is the fertile ground where the seeds of faith take root and grow (Colossians 4:4-5, Galatians 5:14).

I don’t have time for hospitality- 

This is by far the most common reason given for not practicing hospitality and on the surface, it looks and feels legitimate in our culture. People are busy, in most households both the husband and wife work. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These undertakings can easily eat up much (if not all) of our spare time.  Many feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding more relationships to the mix simply feels like an unreasonable burden.  All of these objections are perfectly defensible if the definition of hospitality is entertaining. However, if the definition of hospitality is caring for the needs of others in an intimate setting (and it is). Then all of a sudden, the reasons we give for not being hospitable sound more like poorly constructed excuses than rock-solid reasons. We are commanded in Scripture to make time to care about people, to listen to their problems and find out what’s going on in their lives. Saying we do not have time to be hospitable we are essentially saying we don’t have time to care.  I openly question the salvation experience of a “Christian” who says that they do not have time to care about the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of others (Matthew 22:39, John 13:34, 1st Thessalonians 2:8, Matthew 25:31-37). If we do not have time to care, it’s time to cut something so we do have time to care. 

Hospitality is something other people should do for me-

 Hospitality is something Christians ought to strive to do for one another (1stPeter 4:9) by providing a listening ear, soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t we are the ones missing out. 

How “Help” is Hurting People

Do to others as you would have them do to you~ Luke 6:31 NIV

Albuquerque has a problem. 

The city has become littered with hypodermic needles. Not the clean, shiny needles you get from the needle factory or a doctor’s office but the kind of needles that have been used to shoot heroin. This is an issue because used hypodermic needles are dirty. Used needles oftentimes harbor unpleasant and sometimes even incurable bloodborne diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, syphilis and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 

Yuck. 

Like many American cities, Albuquerque boasts a “clean needle” exchange program. Needle exchange programs allow intravenous drug users to get a free clean needle anytime they want to inject drugs. Until recently if a drug user wanted to acquire a clean needle in Albuquerque they had to turn in a dirty needle. This policy did nothing to reduce drug use but it did incentivize drug users to dispose of their dirty needles safely.  Thanks to a recent policy change, trading in dirty needles is no longer a thing in Albuquerque. Now if a drug user wants a clean needle all they have to do is ask for one and they get it. No questions asked.   

 The policy change has resulted in dirty needles being left wherever the drug users happened to be when they used their drugs. Ballfields and parks just happen to be popular places for drug users to inject heroin. Despite the valiant efforts of parents and coaches to keep local ballfields needle-free a little girl playing softball was stuck with a dirty needle as she was sliding into home base. Doctors say that it will be at least three months before they know for absolute certain whether or not she is infected with anything. 

Sigh. 

A long list of random thoughts ran through my mind as I was reading this story. The mama-bear in me felt a crushing compassion for the little girl and her family (Romans 12:15). I simply cannot imagine the torment they are experiencing and will continue to experience for three agonizing months. My heart literally aches for them. The analytic, business-minded part of me wondered about liability issues for the city. That side of me suspects the city of Albuquerque may be embroiled in a nasty and potentially very costly lawsuit soon. The vacation organizer in me who is always thinking about new places to visit made a mental note not to vacay anywhere near Albuquerque, New Mexico anytime soon. The fussy, pedantic worrier in me (she’s a bit prone to hysteria) was seriously freaked out by the idea that someone could get stuck with a dirty needle at a ballfield or park. She was reminded once again that walking around barefoot is never a good idea.  

Then the God-follower in me stepped-up and asked a question that no one seems to be asking:

When exactly did our society give-up on actually helping people? 

For the record, I am not a dolt, nor am I the public-health equivalent of a flat-earther. I get the shared benefits of needle exchange programs. I understand that diseases passed by dirty needles are also sexually transmitted. I get that people who are high are not likely to stop and think about practicing “safe sex”. Nor, are they likely to remember or act on the warnings they heard in the abstinence-based sex education class they attended in high school. I understand that needle-exchange programs save lives and prevent diseases. I am one-hundred-percent on board with saving lives and preventing diseases, especially diseases like HIV, Hepatitis C and MRSA. 

That said. 

I can’t help but feel that needle exchange programs (as well-intended and necessary as they may be) are the ultimate in giving-up on people and writing them off as not worth saving or helping. When we offer drug users a clean needle to shoot a substance that will eventually kill them off without also offering some sort of help or hope we are not treating drug users the way we would want to be treated.  This breaks my heart. We have become so callous as a society that we have decided there is an entire segment of the population not worth saving or helping (Romans 15:1, 1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Seriously.  

There’s a lot of talk these days about the very real problem of homelessness. Experts on the subject universally agree that homelessness is nearly always a byproduct of drug use. If a drug problem can be dealt with in a person’s life it becomes much easier to work on the problem of homelessness. Conversely, as long as a person is using drugs their emotional growth halts and no other issues in their life can be dealt with effectively. No has ever actually been helped by mollycoddling the problem of addiction. 

Voters ought to be demanding local governments do more than simply hand out clean needles to drug users. At the very least local municipalities should require drug users to turn in a dirty needle in order to get a clean one This rudimentary requirement serves the purpose of reminding drug users that they are human and as members of the human family they have an obligation to do their part (no matter how small) to be helpful to the rest of society.    

As Christians the growing problem of addiction ought to break our hearts the way it surely breaks God’s. We must never forget that we are called to be the voice of Jesus in our culture and advocates for those without a voice.  It is our holy obligation to fight for those the world has written off as not worth saving. As Christians we should demand a return of anti-drug education in public schools and we must challenge the relaxing of drug laws and the movement towards complete legalization. Most importantly, we need to remember we have something to offer drug users the government can never give. Freedom from addiction and hope for a better future through a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ (Luke 19:10, Acts 16:31). 

Another Major Church Peeve

 

 My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 There is a really weird debate taking place right now.

 A growing number of elite female athletes are contending that transgender women (men identifying as women) should not be permitted to compete against women who were born women in athletic competitions. These women assert that women who were born men have some distinct physical advantages over women who were born women. Those advantages include greater overall physical size, superior muscle mass and improved lung capacity.  

 Those who argue for allowing transgender women to compete against biological women in athletic competitions maintain that when a man declares himself to be a woman he is a woman and no one has the right to dispute his interpretation of himself.    

 This is a very weird argument for several reasons:

 First, a generation ago no one would have believed that rational human beings would even be entertaining this discussion. As little as ten years ago it would have been considered utterly daft to argue that a person can change who they are simply by making a declarative statement. Period. It really is that weird. Furthermore, clear-headed people know in their heart-of-hearts that declaring one’s self to be something does not (nor, will it ever) affect reality or change that person’s situation. The fact that this discussion is taking place at all goes a long way towards proving exactly how far we have fallen down the rabbit hole (metaphorically speaking) as a society. Lastly, these crusaders are arguing for something and they have no idea what they are arguing for but they are managing to do it quite well.

 They are arguing for the existence of objective truth.

 Those arguing against allowing biological men to compete in female sports are attempting to hold up two fairly rudimentary standards of objective truth. The first being that men and women are fundamentally different. The second is that desiring something to be true cannot and will not alter the reality of what is true. The problem with these standards is not with the standards, the standards are both perfectly reasonable and demonstrably true. The problem is that all this truth telling is just a little too little and a little too late. The secular world has been denying the existence of objective truth for several decades now. The longer a person (or a society) chooses to believe a lie the less likely they are to believe the truth when they are confronted with it. In other words, the secular world is in no mood to be set straight after a half a century of being allowed to party it up in the land of make-believe.

 Sigh.

 Okay, so here’s the thing:

 It is easy for good Christian people to look at this situation, roll their eyes and feel superior to those who have willingly bought into obvious chicanery and are now paying the price for it.

 However, some of the same disdain for objective truth has crept into Church world.  It is not at all uncommon to hear Christians of all ages use the terms “my truth” and “your truth” as if there are versions of truth that all have equal validity and should be taken equally seriously. It is true that people can interpret the same event in two entirely different ways but only one of the interpretations can actually be true. It is also not uncommon for Christians to say things like “that may be true for you but it’s not true for me”. It is true that there are times when God convicts a Christian that a behavior not forbidden in Scripture is wrong for them, because that thing could become a gateway for them for truly sinful behavior (Romans 14, 1stCorinthians 8:9-13, 1stCorinthians 10:23-31). However, that is an entirely different breed of cat from one person deciding that they should not be held to the same moral standards as every other believer on the planet because they have chosen to believe that God’s judgments on moral issues are wibbly-wobbly and open to interpretation (Judges 21:25). In most evangelical churches love has been held up as the highest value (and for good reason) but we have forgotten that love not built on a foundation of truth inevitably devolves into a puddle of messy, inarticulate sentimentality.  

 All of this really comes down to a weird form of willful ignorance.

 For at least two decades now, Christians have been told that what they believe is irrelevant so long as they really love Jesus and other people. Some teachers and preachers have even argued against the attainment of biblical knowledge because they have misunderstood 1stCorinthians 8:1. Some have taught that Paul was criticizing all biblical knowledge as something that puffs people up with pride. Paul was simply stating that the Corinthians (who are a prime example of Christians who lacked love) (1stCorinthians 11:20-22) “knowledge” concerning the fact that idols are nothing had made them prideful. Their understanding of truth was causing them to ignore the needs of those who had not reached their level of understanding concerning THAT PARTICULAR ISSUE.  If Paul were asserting that biblical knowledge inevitably leads to pride he would have been refuting his own teachings about knowledge found in Ephesians 4:13, Philippians 1:9, Colossians 1:9 and 2ndTimothy 2:25.

 Church world needs to do some intense soul searching on the subjects of truth and love and come to a more balanced conclusion soon, or it will only a matter of time before even evangelical churches fall down the same rabbit hole as the rest of the world.

Seriously.

 

Five Things Church People Do that are Wrecking the 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.

Another Church Peeve: Why Some Kinds of Churches need to Die

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 where lifestyle is concerned 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, pretty much everything was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was too long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the super scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell, and no one bothered to explain terms or goings-on most non-Christians wouldn’t understand.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). All that being said, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Sometimes church leaders underestimate both the curiosity and intelligence level of human beings as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that is 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. 

Why Christians Are Asking All the Wrong Questions Concerning Millennials

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it~ Proverbs 22:6 NKJV

As a general rule, I do not jump onto bandwagons when it comes to choosing subject matter for this blog page. My aim as a Christian blogger is NOT to talk about what everyone else is talking about. My desire is to talk about the issues nobody else is thinking or talking about because I have observed that it is typically the things we choose to ignore or overlook that ultimately become our downfall.    

This week I am breaking the rule.

I chose to break the rule for a couple of reasons. First, because, sadly, I am a rule breaker. Secondly, I came up with the silly rule and I can break it if I want to (I already confessed that I’m a rule breaker). Mostly, I decided to break the rule because this past week I read three different articles published by three different Christian organizations all asking the same question:

 How do church leaders, pastors and parents entice the millennial generation back into the church? 

  The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) have abandoned the Christian faith in what can only be described as seriously distressing numbers. It is estimated that upwards of sixty percent of the millennials raised in church have left and most express zero interest in ever returning. Their reasons for leaving typically boil down to a few key issues. Millennials as a group tend to believe that the church is anti-gay, sexually repressive and far too rigid in its teachings and leadership structure. Most also think that the majority of churches have not done enough to help the poor and marginalized in society. 

Some of their criticisms have validity. Others are only reasonable if you remove God and the Bible from the equation. For example, only a fool would argue against the notion that the American church has abdicated much of its responsibility to care for the poor and the government has picked-up the slack.  However, calling the church anti-gay, sexually repressive or overly rigid in its teachings is only fair if one is willing to completely divorce God and the Bible from those issues and teachings. It’s basically impossible to be openly for something God clearly opposes (1stCorinthians 6:9, Romans 1:21-28, Galatians 5:19-21, 1stTimothy 1:9-11, Leviticus 20) and still be squarely on God’s side of the issues. 

All the articles I read this week were entirely focused on finding clever ways to lure the millennials back to church. Some suggested tailoring small-group curriculum and preaching just for that particular demographic. Others recommended making services shorter, using secular music during worship services and making church government more democratic and inclusive. A few even went so far as to intimate (or say it outright) that the church ought to soften its stance on issues (like homosexuality) in an effort to make Christianity more palatable to millennials.   

Some of the ideas were not terrible, others were actually pretty good, a few were clearly stupid. That said, all the recommendations were (in my view) jumping the gun. Before we begin the process of attempting to lure the millennial generation back into the fold, we need to do a thorough postmortem and figure out what went wrong in the first place. The first question that must be asked is:

Where exactly did we go wrong?  

Results do not lie and the results clearly indicate that the Church failed the millennial generation.  We cannot lose sixty percent of a generation to secularism, atheism and every other weird belief system and declare it a win for God’s team. We need to figure out exactly how this happened. Clearly, the problem was not a lack of resources. Between Christian books, videos, Christian curriculum, children’s church and youth groups more money was spent on evangelizing the millennial generation than any other generation in the history of Christianity. I suspect there were two key issues that contributed to the loss of the millennial generation. One lies squarely with parents the other with churches. First, there has been a shocking absence of healthy spiritual modeling in many Christian homes. Parents and Grandparents have taken their kids and grandkids to church and the adults have acted very “church-y” in the presence of church people but a whole lot less “church-y” behind closed doors.  People can fool church people into believing they are better than they are but they will never fool the people they live with into believing that lie. The second problem lies with the churches training methods. We did an adequate job of telling young people what to believe but did not effectively explain why those things were true or how living by Christian principles can make a difference in their lives. In a world with nearly endless competing worldviews, churches must give an adequate explanation as to why Christianity is superior to other belief systems (1stPeter 3:15).  Moreover, it is not enough to simply say something (Darwinism, homosexuality, promiscuity, adultery, trans-genderism, atheism) is sinful or foolish, we have to be able to explain what the physical, spiritual, phycological and practical consequences of adopting a particular belief system or behavior will be. 

What are we going to do differently with the next generation?

If the church continues to do the same things we will continue to get the same results. Churches simply must do more teaching and training. It’s definitely time to stop telling sanitized bible stories and start teaching doctrine. If nothing else Christian kids need to be able to clearly articulate what they believe about life and God and why they believe it by the time they graduate from high school.

How do we get millennials to think and behave biblically? 

This is a much more critical issue than simply luring them back to church. In fact, if we jump to find ways to fill our churches with a group who do think or behave biblically (just to get them back) we will be complicit in the destruction of the Church. The answer to the millennial conundrum is not to soften the churches stance on hard issues. The answer is to do the hard work of clarifying biblical truth to a (mostly) biblically illiterate generation.