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). 

Six Weird Lies Christians Believe

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free~ John 8:32 NIV

 Lies are bad and we all know it.

 Even the foulest heathen on earth will react with righteous indignation when they discover that they have been deceived by another liar.

 Seriously. It’s just true.

 That being said, in a culture where obvious lies are routinely accepted as truth it is easy to forget just how bad lies really are. Satan himself is the architect of the whole concept of lying (John 8:44). It was a lie (and the choice to believe a lie) that caused man to become separated from God (Genesis 3:1-6). Ultimately, lies are at the root of idolatry, sexual immorality, murder, greed, selfishness and pretty much every other foul sin and form of foolishness man has managed to devise (Romans 1:25-32). Lies are by their very nature so hideously deceptive that most people who believe a lie actually believe that the lie is truth. Perhaps, the worst thing about lies is that when a person chooses to believe a lie they enter into spiritual and intellectual bondage (John 8:32). Because no one (in their right mind) voluntarily enters into bondage most people living in bondage to a lie have no idea they are even in bondage.

 Sigh.  

 Christians are not immune from believing lies all sorts of weird lies. Because we are God’s ambassadors (1stCorinthians 5:20) and because the most pernicious lies all have a spiritual component to them. The lies Christians believe make life and ministry much more difficult. Following are six lies Christians routinely believe:

 God doesn’t care about __________________________ anymore-

 Feel free to fill in the blank with whatever issue you (or someone you know) has decided God stopped caring about over the course of the last century. On one level, it actually makes sense that unbelievers would choose to think that God has somehow moderated His stance on issues like hatred, lust, adultery, greed, selfish-ambition, homosexuality and covetousness. Heathens have a vested interest in buying into that line of thinking. However, anytime Christians buy into this lie we lose our individual and cultural moral authority. Even a small loss of moral authority seriously hinders our ability to be obedient to the command to act as witnesses for Jesus (Acts 1:8). 

 Christians who grow-up in a Christian home are spiritually superior to those who grow-up with pagans or vice-versa –

 A lot of God’s people (including me) have bought into one version or another of this lie at some point in their Christian life.  Christians who come from a long line of Christians and Christians who grew up in the spiritual ghetto (metaphorically speaking) are the ones most likely to believe this lie but for entirely different reasons. The first group sometimes has issues with spiritual pride and self-reliance and the second doesn’t always have the faith to believe God can turn their mess into a message. Both versions are categorically wrong. God uses anyone open to being used (Numbers 22:26-30).

 Deception and hypocrisy are fine so long as we keep it on the downlow-

 I am convinced that most Christians do not consciously choose to begin living a double life. It just kind of happens. One moral compromise leads to a another, coverups become a way of life and before they know it fakery, duplicity, and pretense are their standard operating procedure. This particular lie hurts everyone because even unbelievers understand instinctively that Christians are called to live life at a higher standard.  When Christians choose hypocrisy and deception over sincerity and authenticity it quickly becomes painfully obvious to everyone and unbelievers judge God, the church and other Christians for the duplicity of a few (Numbers 32:2, Acts 5:1-10).   

 If I believe something to be true, it is-

 This is without question one of strangest lies to take root in the history of humanity, just because it is so stinking easy to fact check. Nonetheless, most of the world has bought into the notion that truth is self-determined. Even many Christians have hopped on this bandwagon and believe that the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE should alter His opinions regarding homosexuality, adultery, premarital sex and dozens of other issues simply because lots of people feel differently than He does about those issues.  

 Church is a waste of my time-

 This is a clever lie courtesy of the devil that keeps believers from reaching their full potential in Christ. Church does matter. It matters because it is one of the primary places we go to learn about God’s plan for our life. Church is also the place we learn to accept and love people who are different from us. Ideally it is where we got to encourage and be encouraged and where we grow mentally, spiritually and emotionally (1stThessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:13).

 My gifts are stupid-

 This lie is perhaps the devil’s cleverest lie ever. It keeps good and gifted Christian people on the sidelines thinking the only gift they have to offer anyone is an occasional casserole brought to a potluck. This is simply not true. If a Christian is breathing God has a purpose for that person in the body of Christ (1stPeter 4:10, Romans 12:3-8). It’s up to each one of us to find those gifts and use them. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving the Past Where it’s At

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland~ Isaiah 43:18-20 NIV

 Recently I heard a powerful and thought-provoking quote that left me feeling more than a bit navel gaze-y: 

 Always look forward. Remember there are no birds in last year’s nests~ Don Quixote  

 For the record, I am not opposed to looking backward as long as it is done for the right reasons. We should remember the events of the past because we’re incapable of learning anything from anything we willfully forget. I also believe the heroic acts of the past ought to be honored in the present; and it pretty much goes without saying that Christians should be mindful of the good things God has done for us in the past (Deuteronomy 32:6-8, 1stChronicles 16:11-13).

 All that being said.

 It is fair to say that far too many of us get stuck in the past in an unhealthy way. In doing so we give the past more power than it deserves which inevitably prevents us from accomplishing the tasks God intends for us to do today (Ephesians 2:10). Most of the time there is profound wisdom in leaving the past where it’s at and choosing to get on board with what God is doing right now. Following are seven reasons to let go of the old so God can do whatever new things He’s looking to do in the future:  

 Getting stuck in the past creates bitterness-

 Most of the time we get stuck in the past because we are hurt or angry about something unpleasant that happened there. The sense that we were cheated or wronged can lead to bitterness in the present. It is critical Christians keep the sin of bitterness from taking root in their lives (Ephesians 4:31). Mostly because bitterness makes Christians utterly and profoundly useless (Hebrews 12:15, Acts 8:23) and no genuine believer wants to be useless.  The key to getting free from bitterness is taking time to prayerfully process painful events from our past and then making the choice to live life with our hearts and minds firmly rooted in the present.

 An unhealthy perspective on the past stops spiritual growth in the present-

 Whenever we develop an unhealthy perspective on the past we naturally become neurotically focused on our own personal stuff. We become obsessed with our feelings and when we focus heavily on feelings we become blinded to our own faults and junk. That typically leads to blaming others for the things we choose to do. Transformation occurs when we see our faults clearly and ask God to give us the power to change the things that need changing in our lives.

 Living in the past makes us sentimental in all the wrong ways-

 Sentimentality is certainly not a sin. However, it can easily cross the line into sinful territory if we make the object of our sentimentality into an idol we worship. The classic worldly example is the former high school football star who cannot move forward in life because he simply cannot stop pining for his glory days. The timeless church example is the Christian who cannot enjoy church or serve effectively today because he or she cannot stop pining for the church services of the past.   

 Getting stuck in the past makes it impossible to effectively lead others-

 Christians are called to be leaders. Leaders look to the future and take people to places (physically and spiritually) they have never been before. Christians are called to lead others into biblical thinking, righteous living, healthy relationships and most importantly, relationship with Jesus (Colossians 3:16, 2ndTimothy 2:24, Titus 2:7, Hebrews 5:12). Everyone leads someone. Profession, gender and age are irrelevant to the call to lead others into spiritual health and relationship with Jesus. It is critical we remember that no one in the history of forever has ever led anyone forward while looking behind them.   

 Focusing on the past keeps us from being grateful in the present –

 Gratitude is all about noticing stuff (Colossians 4:2).  Grateful people don’t typically have more than ungrateful people they are just more aware of God and what He is doing for them. We are the most grateful when we are living in the moment and choosing to see what God is doing for us right now. It is impossible to see God work in the present when we are distracted by the past.  

 We lose our ability to forgive when focus heavily on the past-

 We will never be free do what God is calling us to do in the here and now while we are living in bondage to past hurt (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is hard because it always involves letting go of anger and hurt that in a worldly sense we have a “right” to hold on to. Forgiveness rarely happens quickly and without some processing. In order to forgive we need to walk through the hurt and then ask God (sometimes repeatedly) to empower us to let go of the feelings of anger and resentment that are keeping us stuck in past.

 

Persecution of Christians Might Just be the New Normal- Here’s What We Can do About It

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you~ John 15:17-19 NIV

 We live in strange and strangely terrifying times.

 This statement was recently proven true by an incident that should cause even the marginally intelligent to pause and wonder if Western society is devolving into a dystopian nightmare.

 The strange (and strangely Orwellian) event took place following the 46thannual March for Life in Washington D.C.  A group of Catholic students (all boys) from Kentucky were preparing to return home following the march. As they waited for a bus they were verbally harassed by a group of protesters. The group began hurling anti-white, anti-Trump and anti-Catholic slurs at the boys. The insults were far-too demeaning and obscene to repeat here.  After forty minutes or so of said abuse a Native American man began drumming his drum in between the two groups in a very weird attempt to “bring calm to the situation”. As he was endeavoring to “bring calm to the situation” he also verbally harassed the boys, throwing more insults at them.

 One boy stood motionless with what can only be described as a very peculiar smirk on his face as the Native American man drummed his drum directly in front of the teen. An edited video of the much older (Native American) man drumming and the much younger (white) man smirking hit Twitter like a rabid bat flying straight out of the bowels of hell and promptly went viral.  Because of the teenager’s (admittedly weird) facial expression the media (and most of America) jumped to the conclusion that the boys were the instigators in said situation.

 Because that’s what we do these days. We jump to conclusions. 

 In this case jumping to conclusions included vicious accusations of white privilege, vile anti-Christian rhetoric, death threats against the boys and calls for shutting down their Catholic school (because the school must be teaching hate. Duh.). Ultimately, it was proven that the situation was not what it seemed. A longer video proved the teenagers behaved in a remarkably nonaggressive fashion especially considering their ages and the bizarre nature of the situation.

 Some of the haters have officially back peddled. A few even apologized but many have doubled down on their animosity and are calling for the closing of the school and nothing less than the abject humiliation and/or death of every single Christian/Catholic/Conservative currently residing on planet Earth.

 For those of us in the Christian faith community (Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic) hate and suspicion of our faith has become the new normal. Christians and conservatives (even non-religious conservatives) are now the only group left on the planet that is okay to hate, abuse or humiliate. Hostility towards Christians is not a new thing (Luke 21:17, 1stJohn 3:13-14). Therefore, we should not be surprised by recent developments. That said, Christians do need to know how to navigate the new normal. Following are five things Christians can and should do as persecution and hatred of Christians intensifies.

 Defend God and His people-

 Try really hard not to be an insufferable jerk when you do it, but do defend God, the Bible and fellow believers anytime the need arises (1stPeter 3:15). An engaging and thoughtful combination of defending what we believe and praying for those who persecute us is the only way hearts and minds are ever changed (Matthew 5:44). Be as gracious as you possibly can as you speak the truth (2ndTimothy 2:15, Ephesians 4:15). The reputation of God and the church literally hangs on the tactics of God’s people at this point in human history.

 Pray for revival-

 Pray for people you know, pray for people you don’t know and most importantly pray for those in authority (1stTimothy 2:1-3). Without authentic revival we’re pretty much done for as a culture. Best case scenario we will likely devolve into a dystopian nightmare without some powerful and prompt divine intervention.

 Prepare for more persecution-

 Without God’s intervention the odds of the spiritual and/or cultural climate improving on its own anytime soon are pretty much zero.  So, draw close to God, and let go of anything that is obstructing your relationship with Him (Hebrews 2:1, Romans 13:11, Hebrews 12:1). Close relationship with God could become vital in the coming years.

 Stop rushing to judgement-

 Some have developed the nasty habit of doing what the world does: running off half-cocked after receiving a minimal amount of information on a given subject. Stop it. It makes us all look like a bunch of ignoramuses. ALWAYS assume you are only getting half the story. Furthermore, you do not have to be the first one to state your opinion on Twitter or Facebook, especially if your opinion is based propaganda and faulty information. 

 Use the courts to protect the civil rights of conservatives-

 Being born into a Democratic Republic is a gift. We should take advantage of that blessing for as long as the law will allow.

Rejoice-

Seriously. It may not feel like it, but it is a distinct honor and a profound blessing to be chosen to represent our God at such a pivotal point in history (Matthew 5:11-13, Philippians 4:4-9, Esther 4:14).

 

 Own it.

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

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. 

Five Ways The Church Has Failed at Loving People

 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love- Ephesians 5:1 NIV

There is simply no subject that has been more thoroughly discussed or more hotly debated in the church today than the subject of love. My personal library contains at least a dozen volumes on the subject and hardly a day goes by when I do not come across an article or blogpost encouraging (sometimes even shaming) church people into behaving in more loving ways.

That being said, it could easily be argued that the Church is failing epically at this very basic and fundamental task (Matthew 22:36-40). The comments section of articles pertaining to hot-button issues (abortion, homosexuality, the death penalty, immigration) reveal that the world views most church people as a bunch of angry, hard-hearted, insensitive meanies. 

Christians clearly have an optics problem when it comes to the subject of love. 

This problem has created angst in the hearts of most Christians and with good reason. It is simply impossible for those inside the church to convince those outside the church that God loves them if they do not first believe that Christians love them. Unless people believe that God loves them they will reject God; and willfully rejecting God’s love never ends well for anyone (Matthew 25:46, Romans 2:5-11, Hebrews 2:1-3, Revelation 20:11-15). 

Sigh.  

Our current optics problem came about as a result of some missteps on the part of Christians. Most of those missteps are not a result of deliberate mean-spiritedness; just a sad combination of obliviousness, biblical ignorance and misplaced zeal (Romans 10:2).  There are five mistakes Christians make that the cause the world to see us as fundamentally unloving:  

We do not love each other-

In the Christian world there is a huge emphasis placed on loving non-Christians. There is nothing at all wrong with Christians loving non-Christians. Loving non-Christians is always a good and necessary thing. However, God also wants Christians to love each other. God intends the church to be a place where believers treat each other with the utmost love, grace, respect and patience (John 13:34-35, Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:2, 1stPeter 3:8) so that our churches are a safe place for baby Christians to grow. God also wants churches to be places where unsaved people can clearly see the love and respect Christians have for each other. When unbelievers see authentic love and grace in our church communities they will want what we have. Sadly, many Christians are not always loving, patient or even courteous towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead, many Christians publicly criticize their churches and treat other Christians with open contempt.  This breaks the heart of God and God will not bless the Western Church with revival until His people repent of this sin.  

We lack patience-

1stCorinthians 13 is basically just a treatise on loving like God loves. The very first thing the Apostle Paul tells us about love is that it is patient (1stCorinthians 13:4).  Too often we forget that genuine love gives people room to grow and develop and does not demand that people mature on our timetable. It is critical we correct those who are straying morally (2ndTimothy 3:16, 2ndTimothy 4:2). However, it is equally critical we temper our corrections with the patience, kindness and grace of God (1stThessalonians 5:14). 

Our corrections lack context- 

 In my experience, most Church people are good people who love God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37-28). However, there are some church people who are a bit overeager when it comes to getting and keeping others on the straight and narrow. Church people forget sometimes that correction is best done in the context of relationship and should NEVER be attempted on church visitors or strangers. Period. It does not matter what the person is wearing or how many piercings or tattoos these folks happen to have. The only truly loving thing to do when someone shows up at church is to celebrate the fact that they are attempting to connect with God on some level. Their appearance (even if it’s inappropriate) should be irrelevant (Luke 15:15-31). 

Some of us think tough love is always the answer- 

Sometimes tough love (and tough words) really are the answer. There are situations in life where people need to be told the truth in a loving but straight-forward, no-holds-barred manner (Ephesians 4:15). However, most of the time a kinder, gentler method is far more effective and should always be attempted before tough love is applied (Proverbs 15:1 Titus 3:1-3, Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:1-2). 

We avoid truth telling- 

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of Christians in this world. The ones who say too much about sin and the ones who say nothing at all about sin.  Sadly, the ones who say nothing often feel justified in doing so because of the damage done by the ones who say too much. Further complicating the situation is the fact that we have been conditioned by our society to believe that telling people the truth about their behavior is mean and unloving. That said, it is a fundamentally unloving thing to lead people to believe that they can continue to sin without consequences (Galatians 5:16-21).   

Four Very Real Reasons Why the Church Is Not Experiencing Revival

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land~ 2ndChronicles 7:14 NIV

 Last Sunday our congregation sang a great song about revival. The entire service was one of those services where God’s people got to see God move in powerful and life-changing ways. The whole thing was beautiful and it got me pondering all sorts of things. But mostly it got me thinking about revival and why the Western church is not experiencing revival.

 Heaven knows we are long overdue for one.

  All one has to do is turn on a television set, attend a public high school dance, or read the comments section of a political article and it becomes abundantly clear very quickly that we could use a little supernatural intervention in our world.

 Like now.

 I like to define terms and according to the online dictionary revival is:

An improvement in the condition or strength of something.

An instance of something becoming popular, active, or important again

 Historically and Biblically speaking, authentic revival is always more than just a string of lively church gatherings. Genuine revival moves beyond the four-walls of the church and has a positive and prolonged spiritual effect on the culture surrounding the church.  

 One would be hard-pressed to find a Christian serious about their faith who would make a case against the need for Christianity making a serious comeback or Christianity becoming stronger or more popular again.  There is no one I know in church world who would not be thrilled to see Christianity affecting the culture once again.

 I do not pretend to know everything there is about everything (it’s too exhausting). However, there is one thing I do know for absolute certain. The lack of revival is not due to a lack of need. Arguably, we are a flaming-hot-mess. I could go on all day about all the social, spiritual and moral problems plaguing the Western world at this point in history.  In spite of those problems the church has not witnessed a genuine revival: one that affected the culture as well as the church in more than a century. It could be argued that the fact our culture has not experienced genuine revival in my lifetime is sign of God’s disapproval (Exodus 9:12, Proverbs 28:14, Jeremiah 5:3), because robust spiritual health is always an indication of God’s blessing.

 I am convinced that without revival our culture will simply continue to spiral deeper and deeper into state of spiritual and moral darkness.  Sadly, there are some very valid spiritual reasons Christian churches are not experiencing revival in North America. First and foremost:  

 We aren’t asking for it-

 True revival always comes about as a result of God’s people asking for it (Daniel 9:4-17, 2nd Chronicles 7:14). Regrettably, about twenty-five years ago corporate prayer ceased to be a thing in most churches (Matthew 18:19-20). Most large churches do not have a prayer group and the prayer groups that do exist tend to be very poorly attended. For whatever reason God moves when people pray. If we want to see real and lasting change in our families, churches, politics and culture we need to start praying for revival like it’s the most critical thing in the entire world, because it is.  

 We are praying for the wrong things when we do pray-

 Okay, I totally get that it’s not my job to judge other people’s prayers. I also get that it makes me something of a jerk that I do sometimes judge other people’s prayers (sorry). That being said, I don’t get why when we gather together corporately we are praying for things that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of eternity (the health of our pets, good weather for vacations, our own prosperity, etc..). There is nothing wrong or sinful about praying for personal needs (even trivial needs). However, those types of prayers should never be the sum total of all our prayers, especially when we pray corporately.

 We aren’t repenting-

 In the Bible revival always began when one or two people who didn’t really look like they needed to repent, repenting (Daniel 9:19, 2ndChronicles 6:21, 2ndKings 22, 2ndChronicles 32:26). There are few (no) people in this world (including Christians) who can honestly say that they are without sin in some area (gossip, judgment, hardness of heart, jealousy, greed, sexual immorality, hatred, discord, selfish ambition, etc.…). It might be time for the church to do a little soul-searching to find out what it is God is calling us to let go of.

 We are looking for it in the wrong places-

 Most Christians believe in their heart-of-hearts that only unsaved heathens need revival. So, we wait for the world to repent rather than taking the lead and showing them the way.  Sadly, too many in the church have bought into the idiotic notion that once a person is saved (has a relationship with Jesus) that no further repentance is required or that personal spiritual revival is never necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.  We all need revival in our lives from time-to-time and in the past revival and repentance has always started with believers and then moved to the world (Hebrews 12:5-7, 2nd Chronicles 7:14, Deuteronomy 8:5.  

How One Bible Teacher Got it Wrong This Time

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

  In recent years I have witnessed seismic shifts take place in evangelical churches. I have also learned that even God-fearing Christian people can get it wrong sometimes (Jeremiah 17:9). As a result, there is little that happens in the church world that shocks me anymore.

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

 One of the podcasts I listen to regularlyfeatured as their guest pastor and guru of all things evangelical Andy Stanley. Like most American Christians I have read several of Andy Stanley’s books. Some I liked okay, 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 stupidity and 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.

 

 

Four Ways Churches Unintentionally Promote 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 we 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 too many decisions out of impulse or reflex. Sadly, most of us do not put any more thought into the unintended consequences our actions than anyone else does. 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 really have a problem with an engaged couple having sex before marriage (so long as they are careful keep it on the down-low). However, some of these same people are appalled at the mere thought of two Christians living together before marriage.

 Conversely, there are churches and Christians whose entire religious 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 unintentionally promote 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 essential in every situation (Matthew 6:15). However, marital reconciliation should only take place if the one who was sinned against 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 consequences in specific situations (1stCorinthians 5:11).

 We do not treat pornography like a serious sin-

 If I hear one more Christian leader refer to pornography as “just pornography” I will need to be medicated and/or physically restrained. Sixty-eight percent of all Christian men routinely view pornography precisely because it is regarded 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 even an inability to perform the “marital duty” (1st Corinthians 7:3).

 The church is still 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. Every accusation should be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities (the Elder or Deacon board does not count). Yes, this is hard, yes it makes the church look bad but not nearly as bad as it does when the church covers-up sin. 

 We don’t help young adults to date-

 The Bible is clear that marriage is a virtuous, 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 (dating).  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.