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. 

Five Things Church People Do that are Wrecking the Church

 

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

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

 It should be.

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

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

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

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

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

 Church people do not model healthy male-female relationships-

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

  Church people worry about protecting institutions rather than people-

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

 Church people tolerate pornography-

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

 Church people don’t evangelize-

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Christians Are Asking All the Wrong Questions Concerning Millennials

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

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

This week I am breaking the rule.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where exactly did we go wrong?  

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

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

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

How do we get millennials to think and behave biblically? 

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

Why Church People Need to Hurry-up and Get It Together Now

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 madness pales in comparison to the news that came out of the 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 (1stCorinthians 6:20, 1stCorinthians 8:9, 2ndTimothy 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 back in the day (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 to remember that God is to be feared-

 Seriously.  He knows stuff and He will judge everything. Including things 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 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 Reason Christians Don’t Overcome Addiction (It’s Not What You Think)

Those who worship false gods turn their backs on all God’s mercies~ Jonah 2:8 NLT

 No rational and/or marginally informed person would waste time arguing that addiction is not a massive and growing problem in our society.

 One in eight Americans are clinically dependent on alcohol. 12.5 million Americans abuse prescription (legal) opioids (Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone, Methadone Morphine, Oxycodone). Heroin addiction has reached a twenty year high. Gambling, pornography, food, phone, video game, shopping and sex addictions are affecting millions of people from every walk of life and the vast majority of those individuals are not winning their personal battle with addiction.

 Sigh.

 If addiction were an issue only non-Christians struggled with then there would be little point in me (or any other Christian) addressing the problem.  What non-Christians do and don’t do should not be the concern of those inside the Church (1stCorinthians 5:11). It is not our job as Christians to attempt to modify the behavior of those who do not profess faith in Christ. Christians are commanded to pray for non-Christians and share the gospel with them. Period. Forcing a non-believer to act like a believer before they become a believer causes (in my opinion) more spiritual harm than good. Forcing non-Christians to act like Christians simply produces well-behaved heathens with a false sense of security.     

 But that is another topic for another day.     

 Christians struggle with the same addictions as non-Christians and addicts in churches affect everyone in the church. Christians are all individual parts of a body (1stCorinthians 12:12-27, Ephesians 4:4-5, Romans 12:4-5) so when one part of the body is sick, hurt or sinning the consequences of the sickness, hurt or sin are felt throughout the rest of the body.

 Christian addiction causes the church to lose its credibility and also its voice in the culture when the people in the church struggle with the same stupid stuff everyone else struggles with. Christians cannot legitimately advise others on the saving power of Jesus (or anything else) if we cannot adequately manage our own junk. 

 Furthermore, anytime one member of the body of Christ struggles with sin the whole body becomes corporately weaker. Spiritual weakness in the body makes us all less able to fulfill our calling as salt and light in the culture (Matthew 5:13-16, Luke 14:33-35). Christians with addictive behaviors lead Christians and non-Christians alike to believe that Christ has no real power to change our nature or keep us from sin (2ndKings 17:15). This leads to fewer conversions and fewer people who were raised in the church sticking around. I am convinced that the mass exodus of Christian kids leaving the church in recent years has more to do with the lack of power to overcome problems (including addiction) they have witnessed in the lives of their parents and parent’s friends than any other single issue.

 If we want to see spiritual revival in the Western world (and most Christians do) then addiction is an issue that must be addressed in our churches. We will never lead the unbelieving world to spiritual freedom until we experience it in our own lives. Dealing with any addiction in the church does not begin with starting a support group or an accountability program it begins with the recognition of the true nature of addiction.

  Contrary to popular belief, addiction is not simply a bad habit, a sign of poor coping skills or a genetic predisposition gone awry. Addiction does have physical, emotional and genetic factors but ultimately addiction is a deeply spiritual issue. The addicted person gets something real and tangible from the addiction (usually a sense of peace or ability to cope) in exchange the addict becomes physically and/or emotionally dependent on that thing. They eventually grow to love that thing more than they love God or anything else.

 I am not, nor have I ever been a “there is a demon behind every beer bottle” kind of a Christian. However, I do believe we need to acknowledge the reality that there is a deeply demonic aspect to the issue of addiction. At the root of all addiction is the sin of idolatry. Addicts receive a sense of comfort, wellbeing, peace or an ability to cope with stress, etc. that they should only receive from God. The addict must figure out exactly what their addiction gives them and why they aren’t going to God to have those needs met.   

 With a few notable exceptions most of what the church has done to combat addiction has not worked all that well.  I believe that is because we have adopted the world’s view that addiction can be overcome with nothing more than a healthy self-image, more accountability and lifestyle changes. Lifestyle changes and accountability are good, helpful and necessary things but without an acknowledgment of the underlying spiritual issue they are powerless to permanently change much of anything.  

 Freedom from addiction can only be achieved through right thinking about the problem (sinful behaviors are always a choice). Freedom comes with a deep commitment to living in complete obedience to God and His commands and the love, acceptance and grace of a healthy Church family.

 

 

 

 

Four Things the Church Needs Right Now

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power~ 1stCorinthians 2:4-5 NIV

 I have observed that there is oftentimes in life a great chasm between what we think we need and what we really need.

  Nowhere is that truer than in the church.

 Most Christians (including me) spend a lot of time asking God for a lot of things. We pray for safety and protection for ourselves and our families. We pray that God’s favor will be on our lives. We pray that Christians will have greater political and social influence in the world. We pray that God will bless us with better jobs and more prosperity.  We pray that God will bless our churches with behinds in the seats and bucks in the offering plate.

 There is certainly nothing wrong with asking God for things (1stJohn 5:14-15, Hebrews 4:16) and none of those things are bad things. Some of them are actually noble, helpful and even necessary. No sane person would spend a lot of time arguing against the benefits and blessings of personal safety, financial security, influence, or growing churches.

 That said.

 I can’t help but wonder if maybe our desire for good things has caused us to lose sight of some better things that we actually need more than the good things we spend so much time and energy going after. Following are four things the church (and the people in the church) need more than safety, security, financial blessings or influence.

 What we really need is more:  

 Power-

 Early Christians lived during a period of history that was unbelievably dark and violent. The cruelty of what they endured simply defies comprehension. Early believers were victimized by both a despotic government with literally unlimited power (Rome) and a corrupt religious system that should have known better (the Sadducees and Pharisees).  (Acts 4:1-21, Acts 5:17-41, Acts 6:8-7:60, Acts 13:50, Acts 19, Acts 20:18-20). The government of Rome and the religious system of Palestine were hellbent on eradicating the fledgling new faith and were endlessly creative (and cruel) in their attempts to do so. Identifying as a Jesus follower was so dangerous that early Christians created a series of secret symbols to recognize each other in the hopes of avoiding swift and brutal deaths. A speaker recently blew my mind and forced me to modify my thinking on a whole slew of issues when he pointed out that nowhere in the book of Acts will we find an example of a Christian praying for their personal safety or protection. Instead early Christians prayed continually for a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit’s power so they could do what God had called them to do (convert a culture and glorify God). We would do well to follow their lead.

 Challenges-

 Okay, I hesitated to add this one because I get that this isn’t exactly the sort of thing most (sane) people pray for. However, sometimes challenges and difficulties are exactly what we need (2ndThessalonians 1:2-5, James 1:2-4, 1stPeter 1:4-8).  Challenges and difficulties force us to grow-up and problem solve. Challenges prepare us for future ministry opportunities (2ndCorinthians 1:3-7) and they are oftentimes the motivation we need to seek God on a deeper level. We need to embrace the challenges we face for what they are: an opportunity to become more like Jesus, preparation for heaven and the thing that will make us grow (Acts 14:21-22, 2ndCorinthians 4:17, 2ndCorinthians 4:7-12).

 Influence with ordinary people-

 Political influence is not bad or wrong, so long as it is used for the right purposes and handled with wisdom and integrity. The apostle Paul used his status as a Roman citizen to gain an advantage on more than one occasion (Acts 16:37-38, Acts 21:31, Acts 22:22-29).  That said, no revival or enduring cultural change (that I have ever heard of) has ever started among the political elite and trickled down to ordinary people who were just living their lives. Lasting revivals always begin with ordinary people and eventually lead to political and societal change. Rather than praying for influence in high places we ought to be praying for revival among the ranks of the common man and woman.

 Discernment-

 We live in undeniably strange times where evil is routinely called good and good is called evil (Isaiah 5:20). Oftentimes the arguments made for calling good evil and evil good appear convincing and feel credible from a purely human perspective. Discernment is the ability to judge right from wrong by God’s standards. Discernment also gives us the insight and wisdom to see-through and argue against persuasive arguments that run contrary to biblical teaching (Colossians 2:4-8). Without discernment we are sitting ducks for the devil’s schemes (2ndTimothy 2:25-26) and almost certain to fall into wrong thinking that inevitably leads to wrong behavior (sin).

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four (little known) Reasons the Church Is Not Having A Bigger Impact On the Culture

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 conversations with Christians where the discussions ultimately devolved into a dissection of the present-day cultural landscape. Just about everyone I know is trying to figure out why Christianity is not having a bigger impact on our culture.

 All of the obvious causes were debated in detail at one point or another. Among other things, the effects of powerless-preaching, unloving Christians and the anemic moral standards of most churches were all hit upon at some point in each of the conversations. During those exchanges, I would find myself listening intently, chiming in from time-to-time and nodding along enthusiastically at most of comments.

 It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that most of the problems we discussed were actually just symptoms of much bigger problems that no one (or at least no one I know) ever talks about. It also 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.

 Part of the problem is that church people tend to blame the culture for problems that we are mostly guilty of creating. Some of those problems are:

 We fall all over ourselves to tell people they are okay just the way they are when God is attempting to tell them something radically different-

 I used to do this a lot. The scenario would go something like this: I would be talking with someone and they would confess exactly how awful, flawed and sinful they were and how guilty they felt about it (James 5:16). Because I love people and I genuinely hate to see them suffer, I would proceed to tell them how awesome they are, give them a hug and urge them to be kinder to themselves. In the process, I unwittingly undid all the work God was attempting to do in their situation. It’s critical we remember that sometimes people feel guilty because they are guilty (Leviticus 5:5). We also need to remember that the only spiritually healthy way to get free of guilt is to confess sin and then to repent (Psalm 34:1-6, Psalm 52, Luke 13:5). Any time we tell others that they are awesome (when God or circumstances are telling them otherwise) we are assuming (in a kindhearted but prideful way) that we know the person better than they know themselves and that we know more about the situation than God does. I am not suggesting that we respond to heartfelt confessions with shaming or the heaping on of even more guilt. That said, rather than 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-

 Somehow a lot of church people have bought into the worldly notion that no one should ever feel bad about anything. Because the word “sin” universally makes everyone feel terrible about themselves, now 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 (guilt) leads to something good (repentance and restoration).

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

 It has become trendy for Christians to stridently declare how awful Christianity is to anyone who will listen. According to them ALL Christians (themselves being the singular exception) are mean, awful, judgmental people who bear absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Jesus. It is true that some Christians (especially the immature or ignorant) 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 reform in the church (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 a broad and 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).

 We have forgotten we are in a war-

 Ephesians chapter six tells us that we are in a battle for the souls of men and women. This battle desperately needs Christians who are willing to fight.  However, we won’t win if we fight using the weapons and methods that the world uses (2nd Corinthians 10:3-4). Rather, we are called to stand firm in the truth, live righteously, correct gently, love fiercely and lead people to the Savior (Jude 17-22).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!