How One Bible Teacher Got it Hopelessly Wrong This Time-

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path~ Psalm 119:105 KJV

  Seismic shifts have taken place in evangelical churches in recent years and it is true that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). Because of these two realties there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

 Nonetheless, every once in a while something happens in church world that is so peculiar or awful that I am profoundly shocked by it. This occurred last week as I was catching up on some old podcasts.

 A podcast I listen to regularly interviewed Pastor Andy Stanley. I, like, most American Christians have read several of his books.  I liked some of his books, others not so much. To be perfectly truthful, up until about ten minutes into the podcast I would not have classified myself as either a fan nor a detractor. I was fairly middle-of-the-road on the topic of Andy Stanley.

 But then.

 He began to make a case for minimizing the use of the Bible in preaching and evangelism.  Mr. Stanley believes that rather than steering people towards what the Bible says about issues that we ought to simply point them to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and teach them to love others. The following quotes were taken directly from the interview. They sum up the essence of the program fairly succinctly:

 The Bible did not create Christianity. Christians created the Bible…. What created Christianity was the first Easter morning…”

“In the culture and in the marketplace and in the public square, we have to shift the focus from the Bible to the Resurrection. Because the Resurrection is completely defensible now just as it was in the first century.

“I think [some people] put [the Bible] in the place of Jesus.”

 All the New Testament imperatives that we find after the gospels are simply applications of Jesus’s new covenant command to love as I have loved you. The Apostle Paul wasn’t coming up with new rules and new laws.”

 Sigh.

It is not my intent to malign, besmirch or vilify Mr. Stanley (I try really hard to avoid that sort of thing). Rather, I want to share five things that inevitably happen anytime Christians intentionally or unintentionally choose to minimize the importance of the Bible.

We lose our true north-

 The Bible is more than just simply a book filled with dusty old ideas. The Bible is our true north. It is the one thing fallible humans can count on to act as a reliable guide anytime human wisdom fails us (as it inevitably does). Without the Bible to act as a compass we quickly begin to lose our way and devolve into doing our own thing. Without the Bible guiding us through life we become like the Israelites in the book of Judge where every person did what was right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25).

 We devolve into myth and superstition-

 Andy Stanley correctly points out that few (if any) early Christians had access to personal copies of the Bible. This is because few people could read and books as we know them today simply did not exist. The scrolls that did exist were prohibitively expensive for all but the most outrageously wealthy of people.  However, this situation was far from optimal. Because few people had access to the Bible the church frequently fell into fits of heresy and individual Christians were prone to superstition, mystical thinking and believing all kinds of weird myths about God.  This problem reached an apex just prior to the reformation when even well-educated church leaders were commonly biblically ignorant and spiritually lost. Without an ongoing emphasis on the Bible we will assuredly follow their path.

  We construct our own standards of right and wrong-

 The great thing about the Bible is that it spells out in no uncertain terms exactly what is right and what is wrong. This prevents Christians leaders from playing favorites (most of the time) and applying standards of behavior to some people and not to others. It also keeps Christians from simply adopting the standards of an everchanging culture.

 We become hopelessly reliant on subjective definitions of right and wrong-

 We know exactly what sin is because sin is clearly defined in Ephesians 5:3-7, Galatians 5:19-20, 1stCorinthians 6:9-10 and Romans 1:21-31. We know what love is because God spelled it out for us in 1stCorinthians 13. We know when divorce is morally acceptable because of Jesus’ teaching on the subject in Matthew 19:4-9. Without these and other teachings found in the Bible we are left to decide for ourselves the definitions of key issues. Anytime foolish humans are left to define right and wrong for themselves there will be some monster who decides that it is a loving act to kill people he or she finds distasteful or burdensome. It’s simply a fact that life gets really weird, really fast without hard and fast definitions of right and wrong.   

 We doom ourselves to repeating the mistakes of the past-

 Most of the New Testament letters were written to correct wrong thinking concerning various doctrinal issues. When we willfully ignore the vast storehouse of wisdom and knowledge contained in the Bible, we doom ourselves to make the same mistakes early Christians made. The only difference between those early believers and us is that we are without excuse because God has graciously given us everything we need in the word of God to avoid the doctrinal errors of the past. 

 All we have to do is study it.

 

 

Five Ways we Can Limit God’s Power in our Lives-

 

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down~ Psalm 145:13b-14 NIV

 Fear is weird.

Most people fear absurd things that are unlikely to cause them harm. They fear spiders, the judgement of people they don’t know, wide-open spaces, missing out on stupid stuff and going to the dentist.

  I have my own fair share of (mostly) irrational fears. I am terrified of snakes (even the non-poisonous ones) and I avoid enclosed spaces like the plague. If there happens to be an enclosed space (like a cave) that might possibly be home-sweet-home to a snake you can totally forget about it. I will not, under any circumstances, willingly go within a hundred feet of that den of iniquity.  Conversely, most people do not fear things that can actually hurt them such as: dark alleys, lack of situational awareness, evil motives, and taking terrible advice.

 For the most part, healthy, growing Christians experience less fear than most people (Romans 8:15, Romans 13:3, 2nd Timothy 1:7, Hebrews 2:14-15, 1st John 4:18). That being said, there is at least one thing every Christian ought to fear, we should fear limiting God’s ability to work in our lives.

 For the record, I do not believe that people can prevent the All-powerful God of the Universe from doing anything He decides to do (Psalm 33:11, Proverbs 19:21). Nonetheless, we can and often do hinder God from working in our lives through our own willful sinfulness, egotism and stupidity. Following are five ways Christians can limit God:

 We limit God when we live out our fallenness rather than our righteousness-

 We are all born fallen. This simply means that we are sinners who delight in doing things God has declared to be wrong (Romans 1:18-33, Romans 3:23). Because of this people have no intrinsic righteousness of their own (Romans 3:10). Nonetheless, if a sinner puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ they are made righteous at the moment they truly believe (Romans 4:5, Romans 10:4, 2nd Corinthians 5:21, Titus 3:4-6). As Christians we must decide daily to either live out the righteousness we received at salvation or to live out the fallenness we were born into. Sadly, too many Christians choose to live as if they were never made righteous by Christ. This is tragic because we stop growing spiritually anytime we regularly choose to live sinfully rather than righteously (1stJohn 3:7). Furthermore, it is nearly impossible for a Christian who consistently lives according to their fallen nature to fulfill the primary mission all Christians have to tell others about the life changing power of Jesus (2ndTimothy 4:2, Matthew 28:19-20)

 We limit God when we refuse to take advice or we only take advice from people who are just as ignorant as we are-

 The only thing dumber than refusing to take advice (Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 20:18) is to only seek counsel from people who are every bit as ignorant as we are. The Bible urges us to seek wisdom and advice from those who are older, wiser, and more knowledgeable than we are rather than our own peer group (1stKings 8:1-18, Proverbs 13:20).  Wise people understand that no one knows everything and so they seek guidance on subjects such as parenting, marriage, career, spiritual growth, etc. from those who have acquired wisdom and who have effectively navigated those undertakings (or learned enough from their failures to effectively counsel others).

 We limit God when we separate ourselves from the church-

 Regular readers of this blog know that I am not shy about criticizing what I see as the missteps of the modern church. However, this does not mean I believe that the church is somehow irrelevant or unnecessary. To the contrary, God designed people to mature physically, mentally and spiritually within the context of community. We learn and grow by being in the company of those who have navigated areas of life we have not. A child is inspired to walk by watching the big people in his or her life walk. Conversely, a young Christian is inspired to grow spiritually by observing mature believers live out their faith.  For that reason, we will never reach our full potential in Christ outside of a community of other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25).

 We limit God anytime we choose to hang on to an offense-

 It is not sinful to be hurt or to get offended. Some things really are offensive and hurtful.  Hanging on to hurt and/or coddling an offense is sinful (Ephesians 4:31, James 3:14). Offense and hurt that is not processed and forgiven in a reasonable period of time inevitably mutates into bitterness. Bitterness not only ruins the bitter person it also destroys the people the bitter person loves most (Hebrews 12:15).

 We limit God when we do not believe enough to obey-

 Clearly, anyone who labels themselves a “Christian” believes in God. However, there is more to believing in the New testament sense of the word than simple intellectual agreement to the existence of God. In the Bible believing in God always meant doing what God commanded or taught (John 14:23-24) New Testament Christians would not have understood the notion of a Christian who refused to obey the teachings of the New Testament (1stPeter 1:22, Hebrews 4:2, 1stJohn 4:6). They understood that no one who consistently chooses to disobey God really believes in Him. They also understood the nearly forgotten truth God cannot effectively work in the life of anyone who willfully ignores revealed truth.    

 

 

 

 

How Churches Actually Encourage Sexual Sin-

Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. So, watch yourselves~ Luke 17:1 & 3 NIV

 Most of the stupid things people do are not done deliberately.  Most people just kind of fumble around blindly doing stuff without putting a whole lot of thought into the long-term consequences of their actions.  

 Sadly, this is even true of some Christians.   

  Too many Christians make decisions out of impulse or reflex. This unfortunate reality has merged with a tendency to look at what the culture is doing rather than thinking through issues from a Biblical perspective.

 Sadly, these predispositions always play themselves out in one of two equally wrong responses. Either Christians do a “Christian” version of whatever is popular with the culture; or conversely, we go so far in the opposite direction of what the world is doing that we become a peculiar, cartoon-like version of what God intended the Church to be.

 Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sex.

 On one end of the spectrum, there are churches that have lowered their sexual standards in an effort to help unbelievers feel more comfortable in church settings. As a result, these churches have unwittingly adopted the same attitudes towards sex that non-Christians have. In other situations, Christians have been guilty of embracing a slightly more “Christian” version of a worldly standard. For example: many believers do not care if an engaged couple has sex before marriage (as long they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, many of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches whose identity is built around preventing sexual activity of any kind from taking place in the lives of unmarried people. Those churches (and Christians) spend more time addressing the spiritual threats of swimsuits, hand-holding and premarital front-hugs than they do discussing salvation and related issues such as repentance and discipleship. This is not only a serious derailment from the churches principal mission (Matthew 28:17-20, 2nd Timothy 2:4, Matthew 10:8) it also makes Christians look like a bunch of sex-obsessed weirdos.  

 Sigh.

 The absurdity of all this aside, perhaps the biggest problem with how churches handle sexuality these days is that we have gotten to a place where we encourage sexual sin in four ways:

 The church is far too soft on the sin of adultery (especially where men are concerned)-

 The immense pressure placed on Christian women to forgive their cheating husbands simply cannot be overstated. Women are too-often coerced by well-intentioned but ridiculously overeager clergy to forgive their husband’s infidelity and restore the relationship right away. This typically happens long before the woman has processed her grief or the man has demonstrated sincere repentance. This has resulted in a shocking number of Christian men and some women who appear to have no qualms about committing adultery over and over again (Proverbs 6:32). It has also created a subculture of women and a few men who have been shamed into doing something they are under no biblical obligation to do (Matthew 5:32). Forgiveness is always required of Christians (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the injured party is truly willing and the adulterer (male or female) has demonstrated sincere repentance and a readiness to grow into a better spouse and Jesus follower.  Anything less simply encourages sinful behavior in the church by minimizing the consequences of sin (1st Corinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like the sin that it is

 If I hear one more male Christian leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is treated as a lightweight and trivial sin. Choosing to view pornography is not only a categorically icky form of sexual immorality (Hebrews 12:16, Hebrews 13:4) it is also a clear violation of Matthew 5:28. Like most sins, the sin of viewing pornography leads to other sins such as hypocrisy, adultery, dehumanizing others through lust, spiritual and social isolation and sometimes even an inability to perform the “marital duty” (1st Corinthians 7:3). Sigh. 

 Some churches are inclined to cover-up pedophilia-

 The Catholic church has gotten a lot of bad press over this issue recently. However, it is far from unheard of in Protestant and Evangelical churches.  A valued leader gets accused of touching a child inappropriately and the church decides to deal with the problem “in-house”. At that point the whole messy mess gets swept under the rug or the leader is simply asked to leave the church. This is never okay. When this is happens the leader simply goes somewhere else and more little lives are ruined. Every accusation should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities (the Elder or Deacon board is NOT the proper authorities). Yes, this is hard, yes it makes the church look bad but not nearly as bad as it does when the church fails to protect the most vulnerable in a congregation (Luke 17:2, Matthew 25:45). 

 We don’t help young adults to date-

 The Bible is clear that marriage is a noble and necessary thing (Genesis 2:24, Proverbs 18:22, Hebrews 13:4). That being said, for some inexplicable reason there is a ton of shame in the Christian culture surrounding Christians participating in the process of finding a spouse.  Because dating is taboo in many Christian churches most churches do not give Christian kids a lot of instruction on how or who to date and there are literally no opportunities for Christian young people to get to know each other inside the church. As a result, most young people date outside of the church which leads to a lot of missteps (Tinder, bars, campus parties, drunken hook-ups). Those missteps inevitably end in sexual immorality and sometimes even a departure from the faith. Maybe it’s time for churches to be intentional about setting-up opportunities for young Christians from similar denominations to get to know one another so they can get married; rather than shame them for having a natural desire to find a spouse.

Seriously. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four More Reasons the Church Isn’t Getting the Job Done

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace~ Acts 20:24 NIV

The evolution of a blog-post can be a chaotic thing for me. 

 This week’s post was originally going to be on parenting.  Then I decided that the issue I was writing about was not primarily a parenting issue. At that point the piece mutated into something far more inclusive. Then early Wednesday morning I came across something on Facebook and all bets were officially off. I immediately felt compelled to write about something entirely different.

 Sigh.

 There are a few things I would like to clarify about the Facebook post I came across. It was posted by a friend who is a decent person but categorically not a Christian. This friend frequently posts things critical of Christianity and occasionally those posts are annoyingly insightful.

 This post was one of those posts.

 I will not share exactly what was posted (it was far too foul). That being said, I will tell you that it was a critique of the church that was undeniably obscene but sadly spot-on. The post reminded me (for the millionth time) that the church is not impacting our culture with the message of Christianity and that we have (at least to some degree) become a sad caricature of ourselves. Here are four (more) reasons we aren’t getting the job done (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Our priorities are a flaming hot-mess-

 I am not a Catholic. However, I do believe that when one segment of Christianity has a problem we all have a problem (1stCorinthians 12:26). The Catholic church has a huge problem that really is a problem for the entire body of Christ.  There is a huge scandal developing in the Catholic church regarding children, sex and gay priests. The sin that has gone on for years in some Catholic churches is simply heartbreaking (on every level). Alas, most evangelical Christians are either apathetic towards the issue or entirely ignorant of the problem. On top of all that most Christians appear to care more about Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem (and a million other idiotic things) than they do about the thousands of kids who were raped by or pressured into sex by their spiritual leaders. Christianity is in a sorry state when the body of Christ gets more worked-up over a deal a football player made with a company that sells shoes than we do about the long-term implications of the countless sex scandals that have plagued Catholic and Evangelical churches in recent years. Christians of all denominations should be praying for justice and should be insisting we deal with the sin in our camp before anyone else gets hurt.

 We have forgotten the point and purpose of church-

 I know this sounds heretical in this day-and-age but I do not believe Church was ever meant to be a place where unbelievers go to get evangelized. Church was intended to be a place where Christians go to learn the Bible and grow in their faith, so they can evangelize their friends, coworkers and family members (Ephesians 4:11-16).  Churches ought to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of non-Christians when planning their services (1stCorinthians 14:22-23). That being said, services should never be planned primarily around the spiritual needs or personal preferences of unbelievers because Church is not really about them.   

 We butcher the Bible to get it say what we want it to say-

 This is the one that could ultimately be the ruin of the modern church. Too many pastors and Bible teachers search the Bible looking for verses to back-up what they think about an issue or want to say rather than going to the Bible and doing the study necessary to find out what it actually says about a given subject. This has created a situation where there is almost a Medieval level of biblical ignorance in some Christian circles. Christians and non-Christians are not really learning what the Bible really says about much of anything. Instead, they are learning the opinions of people and quite frankly we don’t really need to learn each other’s opinions. We need to learn the word (1stPeter 2:2, Hebrews 5:11-14).

 We are weirdly infatuated by celebrity-

 Over the course of the last four decades there have been innumerable scandals (mostly over sex) in the Evangelical Christian community among “celebrity” pastors. The Church in America has come to the pathetic place where a guy who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate can get away with almost anything.  Sadly, too many otherwise intelligent people will completely overlook sloppy doctrine, preaching entirely devoid of hard truth and even catastrophic moral failure if it keeps their Churches growing numerically.  Because we have become enamored with superstar pastors many newer Christians have looked to celebrities to be their spiritual examples rather than their pastors or the faithful men and women in their own congregations (1stCorinthians 11:1, Philippians 3:17, Titus 2:2-4). This has created a state of moral illiteracy in the church that hurts everyone.

 Sadly, we will continue to get more of the same until we come to place where we expect better from our leaders and ourselves.

 

 

Five Things That Must be Done Right Now to Make the Church Healthy-

We can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth~ 1stJohn 2:2-4 NLT

 It’s been a long depressing week.

 A cursory glance at the news would quickly convince anyone that the whole stinking world has lost its mind.

 The rabble-rousers at ANTAFA have been protesting racism and fascism by lighting things on fire and punching strangers in the face. The news media is aiding and abetting this chicanery by openly defending ANTAFA’s methods and claiming that some punches are more “moral” than others (What?). Several American universities have begun stocking their men’s bathrooms with tampons in the name of gender equality and fairness (seriously, I am incapable of making this stuff up).    

 Sadly, that carnival of dysfunction pales in comparison to the news that came out of church world this week. Bill Hybels, guru of all things evangelical and lead Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church resigned after allegations of adultery, duplicity and ongoing sexual idiocy were confirmed. The resignation of the entire board of Willow Creek Church quickly followed when it was disclosed that they had dismissed and covered-up allegations of abuse from dozens of women over the years. Immediately following the news of that flaming-hot-dumpster-fire it was revealed that the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania lied about and aided in the systemic sexual abuse of thousands of children over the course of several decades.

Sigh.

 All this would be less worrisome if it weren’t simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to shady behavior, sketchiness and sin in the church. It is not unusual for local church leaders to openly behave in ways that are questionable at best and downright sinful at worst. It is even more common for Christian laypeople to totally disregard clear instruction given in the Bible. Some have taken to treating bad behavior by other Christians as if clear-cut cases of sin were simply a matter of Christian freedom or lifestyle choices (1stPeter 3:16).

 This is not about freedom in Christ or the right some post-modern Christians think they have to be uninhibited by any and all rules (1st Corinthians 6:20, 1st Corinthians 8:9, 2nd Timothy 2:5). This is about people who do not know Jesus and probably never will because too many Christians flatly refuse to control their baser urges. It pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that it is highly unlikely that even one of those little kids who were molested by their parish priests grew-up to become Christians. If we want to turn things around we need to do five things fast:

 We must redefine what qualifies as suitable entertainment for Christians-

 Recently, I watched a television show that was wildly popular twenty-plus years ago. Fifteen minutes in, I realized the real success of that program was in normalizing sin, especially the sins of pornography and homosexuality. When the devil can get us to giggle at behaviors that God forbids or to identify strongly with characters who are openly sinful and deeply flawed we are well on our way to accepting those behaviors as normal and even healthy. Over the course of the last two decades Christian attitudes towards sin has changed dramatically. Our entertainment choices are at least partly to blame.

 We need a return to church discipline-

 I get that this a touchy issue. I also get that we live in a ridiculously litigious society where few people (including most Christians) are willing to accept correction anymore. I also understand that Christians should be slow to judge and quick to forgive. I also know that too many churches have abused the notion of church discipline and used it as a means to bully, control and intimidate other Christians. That being said, Paul made it clear that certain behaviors are not be tolerated in Christian churches. He also gave clear-cut instructions on healthy church discipline and restoration of the repentant (1stCorinthians 5, 2ndCorinthians 2) 

 We should less time fretting about legalism and more time focusing on obedience-

 About two decades ago believers went on a crusade to eliminate every possible hint of legalism from the church. This is not a bad thing, so long as we do not equate obedience to New Testament commands with legalism. Until we recognize this has become a problem the church will continue to struggle with sin.   

 We need to stop thinking that attendance is the measure of a leader-

 Since the emergence of the first mega-church in the late 1980’s the ability to draw a crowd has become the gold standard for Christian leadership.  There is nothing wrong with having a guy on staff who can put butts in the seats and bucks in the offering plate. However, it is critical we remember that nowhere in the New Testament are those things considered a requirement (or even a consideration) for biblical leadership. Rather, we are told to look for leaders who serve as examples of morality, love, grace and human decency for the rest of us (1stTimothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-7)

 We need fear God-

 Seriously.  God knows everything and someday He will judge everything. Including the things people fool themselves into thinking are being done in secret (Hebrews 4:13, Revelation 20:12-13)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four Reasons the Church Is Not Impacting the Culture

 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge~ Romans 10:2 NIV

It’s been a week.

 It all started last Sunday night when the overlords at Facebook decided that my last (not political at all) blog post was too political and they refused to promote it.  I was seriously irritated by this turn of events and I am not easily daunted when I’m irritated about something. So, I dug through the archives, unearthed an older post, did a little editing, published the older post and got the-powers-that-be to promote that one instead.

 Hah.

 The older post was about sex and how Christian attitudes towards sexuality have evolved over the course of the last five decades. I stated in the post that I am convinced that the majority of Christians today believe what most non-Christians in the 1970’s and 1980’s believed about sex: that the rightness and wrongness of sex is determined not by a spiritual or legal commitment (marriage) but rather by the feeling of “being in love”. This theory is backed-up by the statistic that sixty-four percent of adult Christians surveyed no longer believe it is wrong to have sex outside of marriage.

  An astute reader (Aaron Mendenhall) asked the following question regarding that statistic:

 “Has anybody bothered to ask the 64% of Christians aged 18-59 surveyed if they are aware of the Scriptures that explicitly condemn fornication (sex outside of marriage)? And, then, if they ARE aware of them, why they feel they have the right to IGNORE those Scriptures?”

 Aaron’s question got me thinking about the whys and how’s of where we are today, not just concerning the issue of sex but a whole host of other issues as well.  It is simply a (sad) fact that there are a large number of Christians who claim to love Jesus who (for whatever reason) are not taking their cues on how to live life from the Bible (John 8:31, John 8:51, 2nd John 1:9).   

 Sigh.

 It’s convenient to blame outside factors like value-free sex education and secular entertainment for problems we are having inside the church. However, outside factors cannot force anyone to do anything they don’t really want to do.  I believe there are at least four reasons why Christians are not doing what the Bible tells them to do.

 We do not use our time well-

 There are 168 hours in every week and 672 hours in the average (four week) month. The majority of church services these days are exactly one hour long. The average self-identified “committed Christian” attends church 1.2 times a month. Sunday school is no longer a thing in most churches and most small groups are more about relationships and support than Bible study. Moreover, according to a study done by Lifeway only twenty percent of “committed Christians” read or listen to the Bible daily. Conversely, the average adult spends twenty hours a week messing around on the internet, five hours a day watching television and ninety minutes a day staring mindlessly at their phone.  It should not shock anyone that we have forgotten how to think biblically, Christian teaching is not a primary influence in our lives anymore (Hebrews 10:24-25, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

  Fearing God is not a thing anymore-

 The whole notion of fearing God is thought to be rather strange and antiquated these days. We have been taught ad nauseum that the entirety of all Christian teaching can and should be summed up with “love God” and “love people” However, we have forgotten that we are commanded more times in Scripture to fear God than we are told to love Him. Loving God is noble, good and absolutely essential but we need to remember that fearing God is equally as noble, good and no less essential. Fearing God is also the first step to acquiring wisdom and the key to living a life that pleases God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 2:5, Proverbs 14:27). Fearing God simply means that we really believe (and act on that belief by being obedient) that God will do what He says He will do. This includes things like judging people.

  There’s a lot of biblical ignorance out there-

 One reason Christians don’t do what the Bible says is because they don’t know what the Bible says. It is tempting to lay the blame for this one squarely at the feet of pastors, but I am not sure that is entirely fair. It is true that most churches have adopted a “seeker friendly” model where little emphasis is placed on doctrine or the teaching of Christian ethics during Sunday morning services. However, it is also true that we live in a time and place where everyone has access to Bibles, commentaries on Scripture and books about the Bible. Biblical ignorance is truly a choice in our day and age (Proverbs 1:29, Matthew 13:12, 2ndPeter 1:5-7).

 Too many of us get spiritually stuck after salvation-

 God never intended for salvation to be the end goal of all things spiritual in the life of a Christian. Rather, salvation is meant to be the starting place of a lifelong journey of faith and transformation (Matthew 28:19-20). In recent years the whole notion of discipleship has taken a backseat to evangelism. We must focus on both.  

 Like it or not, what we do and how we choose to behave as Jesus followers matters because God has called His people (you and me) to be a preserving influence in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, 1stPeter 2:12). When we do what God tells us to do, people who don’t know God want to know God. When we don’t, those same people rightly dismiss Christianity as just another religion that lacks the power to change anyone or anything.  The good news in all of this is that we can change what the world thinks.

 All we have to do is make better choices.

 

 

The Real Reasons Christians are not Impacting Others for Jesus-

Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished~ 1st Chronicles 28:20 NIV

 Recently, I have found myself in a number of conversations with other Christians where the discussion ultimately devolved into an analysis of the church and culture. We were all trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact. All of the obvious causes were debated in grim detail. We discussed powerless-preaching, mean Christians and the pathetically low moral standards of many churches.  During each discussion, I would listen intently, chime in from time-to-time and nod along enthusiastically.

 Later it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually symptoms of bigger problems no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It occurred to me that until we get to the place where we are willing to acknowledge the real problems as the real problems we will never find solutions to the symptoms the real problems are causing.

Sigh.

One major problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that Christians have created. Those problems include:

 We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God wants to tell them the opposite-

 I have been guilty of this from time-to-time. The scenario always goes something like this: I will be talking to someone and out of no where they begin to confess in excruciating detail exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they are. Then they tell me how guilty they feel about their sin (James 5:16). Then, because I love people and I hate to see anyone suffer, I would then proceed to tell them how awesome they are. Then I would give them a big hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. Every single time I did this, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in the people I was trying to “help”. We must keep in mind that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember the only way to get free of our guilt and self-loathing is to confess sin and repent of it (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we fall all over ourselves to tell others they are awesome when God or their circumstances are telling them something different we are assuming in a kindhearted but prideful way we know the person better than they know themselves. We are also saying we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or by heaping on of even more guilt. That would be cruel. That said, rather than attempting to talk people out of their guilt we need to lead them to repentance and reconciliation with God.

 We care more about how people feel about themselves than the state of their souls-

 A LOT of church people have bought into the completely unchristian notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, even Christians use words like disease, problem, bad choices, and genetic predisposition to describe behaviors and attitudes that previous generations would have been quick to label “sin”. We need to get back to the understanding that feeling bad is good (2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Peter 3:9), if the bad feeling  leads to repentance and restoration.

 We fail to call Christians out when they tell non-Christians how bad Christians are–

 It has become fashionable for Bible-believing, church-going Christians to loudly declare to anyone who will listen how awful Christianity is. According to them ALL Christians, themselves being the singular exception, of course, are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians, especially those who are immature or untaught can be judgmental and unloving. It is also true that every Christian, myself included)has days where they could stand to act a lot more like Jesus and lot less like themselves. That said, there is a fine line between calling for Christians to do better (something I am doing right now) and turning people away from the truth claims of Jesus because we are a little too quick to paint all Christians with an ugly brush. We need to be very careful not to cross that line (Matthew 13:24-29 and 13:36-42). When judgment day comes, God is not going to let anyone off the hook for rejecting Jesus because they heard from a Christian that all Christians are bad people (Revelation 20:11-13). However, He might judge a Christian for turning others off to Christianity. 

 Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us we are in a battle. Many of us have forgotten Satan’s main goal is to win the hearts and minds of men and women with lies and half-truths. Christians must be willing to fight.  We can’t win if we foolishly try to convince people there is something wrong with the Church. Or if we attempt to convince people they don’t have anything wrong with them that needs fixing.   Instead, we must speak the truth, live righteously, correct gently and love fiercely.

Those things will lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Church Peeve

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~ Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

 I love the church.

 I believe with every fiber of my being that the local church is God’s chosen instrument for proclaiming truth to the world, training believers for works of service and transforming heathens and moral reprobates into faithful Jesus followers. For that reason, I am convinced that every Christian ought to regularly attend a local church and contribute their time, energy, and treasure into making that church a great place to worship, learn and grow.

 That said, I also have a whole host of weird pet peeves when it comes to church and how we do church at this time in history. Basically, I have an aversion to anything weird, gimmicky or shallow. Those things include (but are not limited to) fog machines, unfriendly congregations, worship songs that remind me to breathe, Pastors that dress like homeless people and a lack of relevant teaching or opportunities to learn.

 These peeves (and many others) have been well documented in some of my previous blog posts. I just sort of assumed (until recently) that I had discovered and explored every single one of my many peeves related to church and had nothing left to write about on the subject. I was wrong.

 I have discovered a new one.

 Everywhere I turn these days I am being told that I should speak the name of Jesus over my problems and worries. If I am afraid, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have cancer, I should speak the name of Jesus. If I need money I should speak the name of Jesus. If I have a drug or alcohol addiction, I should speak the name of Jesus. This advice is usually followed up with the instruction to “just walk in it”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 My concerns with this trend might appear to be a bit silly and trivial on the surface, but unlike some of my other peeves this one really isn’t all that petty. This one actually has some potentially serious practical and theological ramifications.

 Christians should understand that nowhere in the Bible are we told to speak the name of Jesus over anything. We are told to believe in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). We are told to openly profess the name of Jesus (Hebrews 13:15). We are also told to baptize people into the name of Jesus (Acts 10:48, Acts 19:5) and we are commanded to speak the name of Jesus as we teach the truth about God and call people to repentance (Matthew 28:16-20). Not once are we told to speak the name of Jesus over our problems, anxieties or doubts.

 Speaking a word (any word) over something in an effort to change it, is a practice that has more in common with witchcraft than it does with Christianity. I am NOT suggesting that someone who tells you to speak the name of Jesus over your problems is a witch or is active in witchcraft. I am saying that simply speaking the word ‘Jesus’ over a problem, worry or concern will not solve it and might even distract you from doing the things God wants you to do in order to solve your problems.

 I promise you that God does not want you to speak the name of Jesus over your bratty two-year-old, job loss, addiction, crumbling marriage or serious medical condition. That’s just not how God works. Instead, God wants you to do these three things:

 Understand that tests and trials are simply a part of this life-

 We live in a fallen world, and sadly bad things happen in our fallen world (1st Thessalonians 3:2-4, 1st Peter 1:6). People get hurt and sick, they lose their jobs, and sometimes they turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with negative feelings and traumatic experiences. Other times people are evil and cruel and the innocent get hurt or exploited. On the positive side of all of that, God will use those trials to make you a better, wiser more compassionate person if you ask Him to (James 1:2, James 1:12, 2nd Corinthians 1:3-6).

 Seek God on a deeper level-

 More than anything God wants you to work at getting to know Him better in the midst of your trial. He wants you to become a student of the Word and someone who runs to Him in prayer with all your fears, sinful inclinations, insecurities and problems. Doing that will give you a supernatural source of strength, knowledge and wisdom that will empower you to deal with whatever trial has come into your life, in a way that pleases God and benefits you.

 Become increasingly more obedient to God-

 We solve our problems in this life by first identifying areas of sin in our lives, repenting of those sins and then doing more and more of what God instructs us to do in His word. Romans 12:1-21, 2nd Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 3:1-26 and Ephesians chapters 4-6 give believers abundant instruction on the behaviors Christians should be embracing and eliminating in their lives. However, eliminating sinful behavior is not enough. We also have to ask God to help us (sometimes repeatedly) change our hearts, hate sin and see life the way He sees it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread”~ Matthew 6:9-11 NIV

 This week I enjoyed a very long lunch with an old friend. This particular friend is not just an old friend in the sense that we have known each other a long time. She is also an old friend in the sense that she is a good bit older than I am. I don’t know if it’s because she’s older than I am or if it’s because she’s acquired some wisdom in life (or a combination of the two), but this woman never fails to challenge me. The truly maddening thing is that I’m fairly certain she does it without even trying.

 This visit was no exception.

 We spent some time catching-up on our families and grumbling about all the madness in the world, then we moved on to the topic of church and ministry. I shared a little bit about what’s going on in my life right now, she shared what she’s doing and a couple of “back in the day” stories.

 I will not lie.

 There was a time (to my eternal shame) when I would sigh quietly anytime an older Christian began to wax eloquent about how ministry was done “back in the day”. I assumed like all youthful idiots that there is nothing significant to be learned from how church or ministry was done in the past. However, my generations’ complete and utter failure to make meaningful spiritual inroads into to our culture has humbled me a bit. I am now much more inclined to listen to those with a few years on me.

 It didn’t take long for me to recognize that all of her stories had a shared theme. The theme did not include tales of strategic outreach, careful planning or exciting gimmicks used to lure the unsaved into church buildings or a relationship with Jesus. Rather, the common denominator to all her stories was prayer. In every story she told, Christians prayed really hard and then crazy-cool stuff would happen, hearts changed, non-Christians became Christians, sin got confessed and repented of, and miracles took place. By the end of our lunch I was deeply convicted that our generation has forgotten how to pray and screwed-up the concept of prayer in at least five ways.

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

 I am a planner. One of my favorite adages much to the chagrin of my poor children is “failure to plan is like planning to fail”. I have even been accused of over-planning a time or two. That said, I suspect we might see more success in our churches and at our events if we spent at least as much time praying for events and services as we do planning for them.

 We just don’t-

 According to a bunch of self-surveys I looked at, Christians admit to spending an average of three minutes a day in prayer. The ugly underbelly of that already ugly fact is that it tells us that at least half of all Christians either don’t pray at all or routinely pray for fewer than three minutes a day.  

 We don’t really believe anything will happen when we do pray-

 Over and over again in the New Testament we are told that God is much more inclined to answer prayer when the person praying actually believes that something will happen because they prayed. I will be the first to admit that God does not answer all our prayers the way we want Him to answer our prayers. However, that does not mean we should stop believing that God will answer when we do pray.  

 We pray for dumb stuff-

 Seriously, the world is going to hell right in front of us (literally and figuratively) and I have been at prayer meetings where people requested prayer for the health of their pets and for a relaxing vacation. God does care about pets and rest (He cares about everything). However, I suspect He cares more about the souls of the lost and is more inclined to answer in the affirmative when we pray about stuff that actually matters.  

 We don’t pray corporately-

 Even when we do gather to pray corporately, most of the time we wander off by our selves and pray alone. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about “two or three being gathered” in His name.

 I think our generation has screwed-up prayer because we have lost touch with the purpose of prayer. Prayer is not about convincing God to do what we want or getting a blessing from God. Prayer is about getting our purposes aligned with His and receiving the spiritual power we need to do the things that really matter to God.

More Church Peeves

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

 

I am not new to the church world.

 My husband and I have been Christians for the better part of three decades and I have been privileged to teach the Bible in enough settings to understand that even the most capable Pastor or Bible teacher is going to have an off message or poor delivery every now and again. For that reason, we have endeavored to give all but the weirdest churches (like the one where folks would spontaneously jump up and dash around the sanctuary during the service) a fair shake and have tried most at least twice. We understand that churches are made up of people— and people are by their very nature flawed, imperfect beings.

 We do not demand perfection from people in churches or from the pastors in the pulpit.

 That said, over the course of our recent church search we have had enough identical experiences enough times, in enough churches to know there are some developments in the church world that qualify as trends. Some trends are of little eternal consequence and my exasperation with those particular trends is doubtless at least a bit petty (e.g. peeves 1, 4 and possibly 5).

 Other trends are worrisome. Churches are the primary sources of biblical teaching in our culture. Churches are also the first place many unbelievers go to learn about God and salvation. How churches present truth can either cloud or enhance our ability to understand and receive the truth of the Bible. I chronicled some of our experiences in a blog post entitled “Church Peeves”, and in recent weeks I have come up with a few new peeves for you, beginning with:

 1. Long instrumentals in the middle of a song-

 I get that it’s rewarding for a musician to have the opportunity to showcase his or her skills. If I possessed musical talent of any kind I would probably be inclined to showcase my skills too. However, long keyboard or guitar solos create nothing but awkwardness for the worshipers in attendance. It’s impossible to know what to do when it’s over. Does one clap or cheer, or simply smile appreciatively? It feels weird not to show some sort of appreciation for the musician but it feels even weirder to clap for anyone other than God during a worship service.

 2. Misplaced vision-

 Jesus never built a building, wrote a book, or implemented a system. He did spend three years investing heavily in the spiritual lives of twelve men. Those twelve men turned around and literally transformed nearly every aspect of the world they lived in. We would do well to reexamine our fascination with one-size-fits-all spiritual growth systems and erecting large buildings. Rather, we should emulate Jesus’ example of focusing on the growth and spiritual development of individual Christians.

 3. Lack of genuinely relevant teaching-

 Intact families are becoming increasingly peculiar. It is now taught that there are sixty-three known genders. The number of folks who classify themselves as unbelievers is expanding rapidly. Race relations are collapsing. We are in the middle of one of the most befuddling and contentious elections in history. During 2012 the American porn industry generated 13.33 BILLION in revenue, and drug use is being legalized in most states. The world is clearly going to hell right before our very eyes. And yet most sermons preached on Sunday mornings can be reduced down to two incredibly trivial themes: we ought to love God and be nice to people. We need to go deeper.

 4. Pastors who dress like homeless people-  

 Three words. BUSINESS CASUAL FRIDAY. Seriously.

 5. Poking fun at tradition-

 Poking fun at how churches operated in the past bothers me, not because I believe we ought to do things the way they have always been done. Rather, because it displays a thorough lack of respect for the accomplishments of the past, and it ignores the reality practically shrieking in our face: We are not exactly hitting this leading the world to faith in Christ thing out of the park in our age. It could be argued that churches were far more successful at practically everything a generation or two back. We need to up our own game considerably before we earn the right to poke fun at anyone.

 6. Speakers who assume their listeners are shallow-

 Most people who attend church do so for the specific purpose of learning about the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, they actually enjoy getting a little history lesson or learning something about the original languages as long as the information is presented in an interesting and engaging manner. Assuming otherwise is patronizing and offensive.

 I long to see churches be successful, however I have become convinced that churches will not be successful until we let go of our adolescent obsession with “being cool”. The church was never called to be cool. The church is called to be a hospital for sinners, a school for Christians and safe place for kids to grow-up.

All else is a waste of time.