Six Things Christians Can Do To Bring Revival-

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

The world is a pretty messy place right now. 

 Clever sinners have literally invented new ways to sin in the areas of gender and sexuality. And all one has to do is watch five minutes of any news program on any channel and it becomes painfully obvious that no one in the political sphere is even pretending to get along with anyone else anymore.  

The Church is also pretty messy right now.

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

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

Sigh.

Okay, so, some theories make a little more sense than others. That said, coming up with clever theories do nothing to resolve the real issue. The real issue is that a church in crisis can do nothing to help or heal a culture in crisis. Real and lasting change in the culture will only come through a movement of repentance that leads to revival.  Historically, revival has always begun with a movement among individuals in the church to repent, love the unlovable and embrace spiritual obedience (Luke 10:27). Getting to a place of revival begins with:

Getting our spiritual act together-

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

Stop tolerating bad leaders because they deliver results- 

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

Think biblically about worldly things-

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

Expect more from new converts- 

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

Find ways to give back-

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

Pray- 

Seriously. No revival in the history of forever has ever happened without God’s people beseeching the throne room of heaven and asking Him for it. 

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 We Lost the Millennial Generation-

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

 I try hard not to jump onto bandwagons when it comes to choosing subject matter for this blog page. In general my aim is NOT to talk about what everyone else is talking about. I want to talk about the issues nobody else is thinking or talking about because I believe it’s the things we ignore that ultimately become our downfall.    

This week I am breaking the rule.

I am breaking the rule for a couple of reasons. First, I am by nature, a rule breaker. Secondly, I came up with the stupid rule and I can break it if I want to. But, mostly, I decided to break the rule because this week I read three different articles published by three different Christian organizations all asking the same question:

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

 The millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 1996) have abandoned the Christian faith in seriously distressing numbers. 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 come down to a few key issues. Millennials 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 those criticisms are clearly valid.

Others are only reasonable if you remove God and the Bible from the equation. For example, it is impossible to argue coherently against the idea that the American church has abdicated its responsibility to care for the poor and the government has stepped in and done the job the church was tasked with.  However, calling the church anti-gay, sexually repressive and overly rigid in its teachings is only fair if we completely divorce God and the Bible from the issues. It’s basically impossible to be openly for something God clearly opposes (1st Corinthians 6:9, Romans 1:21-28, Galatians 5:19-21, 1st Timothy 1:9-11, Leviticus 20) and still be on God’s side of the issues. 

Every article I read was focused entirely 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 say the church ought to soften its stance on issues like homosexuality to make Christianity more palatable to millennials.   

Some of the ideas were not terrible, a few were actually pretty good, others were clearly stupid. That said, all the recommendations were putting the cart before the horse. Before we begin the process of luring the millennial generation back into the fold, we need to do some self-examination and figure out where we went wrong in the first place.

The first question we must ask 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 ism and declare it a win. The problem was not a lack of money or 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 two key issues contributed to the defection of the millennial generation. One lies with parents the other with church leadership. 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 other problem lies with the churches. Churches have done an adequate job of telling kids 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 that particular belief system or behavior will be. 

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

If churches continue to do the same things they will continue to get the same results. Churches simply must do more teaching and training. It’s definitely time to stop telling children and teens 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. Truth-be-told 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 destroy Christianity. 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 biblically illiterate generation. 

Why the Church is not Impacting our 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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Ways our Generation has Screwed-up Prayer

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

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

 This visit was no exception.

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

 I will not lie.

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

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

 Beginning with:

 We plan instead of pray-

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

 We just don’t do it-

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

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

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

 We pray for dumb stuff-

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

 We don’t pray corporately-

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

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

Does Truth Matter Anymore?

 

The Word (Jesus) became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth~ John 1:14 NKJV

 It’s been a long, hot week in the the Pacific Northwest. Most of our region is literally on fire right now and the city I live in is so smoky and gross that our whole house smells like we’ve been barbequing in the basement. The local health department has classified our air quality as “hazardous”.

 The heat, smoke and air quality have left me feeling more than a little unmotivated. As a result I found myself struggling to come up with a topic for this weeks blog-post. Inspiration came early Tuesday morning when I opened Facebook and ran across what I felt at the time was a rather innocuous quote from Bible teacher, Beth Moore…    

 You will watch a generation of Christians—OF CHRISTIANS—set the Bible aside in an attempt to be more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be, perhaps, the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice truth for love’s sake, you will rise or fall whether you will sacrifice one for the other.

  Beth Moore literally could not to be any more correct on this point. The spiritual tension that exists between biblical truth and the current human definition of love is the greatest theological conundrum of our generation. I am convinced (and have been for a long time) that if the church doesn’t get its proverbial act together and figure out a way to communicate the truth concerning this issue, biblical Christianity will all but vanish with this generation. If that happens, our culture will enter a spiritual and moral dark ages, the likes of which the world has not seen since the dawn of the Christian age.

 It was not the quote that got me spoiling for a smackdown. It was the absurd responses to her quote that I found frustrating.  To my astonishment, most of those who commented disagreed with Beth Moore, some vehemently. All the dissenters called her unloving and accused her of lacking compassion. A few even criticized her for making an idol out of the Bible.

 Seriously. Is that even a thing?

 The comments were a reminder of a reality I frequently bump-up against when I’m interacting with some Christians. Sadly, too many in our generation have twisted love into something that is not found anywhere in the Bible.

 There are two truths we need to acknowledge concerning Jesus, love, and the Bible. First, we simply cannot separate the words of Jesus from the rest of the Bible. In the book of John, Jesus is referred to as The Word. By using that particular designation to describe Jesus, John is making a powerful statement about who Jesus is and how He fits into Scripture.

 John is declaring that Jesus is the personification and expression of the word of God. Jesus was the substance and incarnation of all that had been written in the Old Testament law and all that was to be written in the New Testament letters.

 What that means is that the statements Jesus made in the gospels (the red letters that contemporary Christians get all wound-up about) are no more or less significant than the Old Testament Law and the New Testament letters. Jesus is the perfecter of our faith and the author of all of Scripture. Not just the Scripture we feel comfortable with or those that reflect our current cultural values and sensibilities (Hebrews 12:2, 2nd Timothy 3:16, Luke 24:27).

 Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial requirements of the law and we no longer live in a theocracy, so as 21st century Christians we no longer sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Jesus took care of that for us) or follow the civil laws that were given specifically to the nation of Israel. However, that doesn’t mean that the entire Old Testament should be tossed out because much of the Old Testament FEELS unloving to contemporary readers.

 The second truth we need to understand is that the good news of the gospel is wrapped up in a lot of really bad news. The good news is that God loves people so much that He sacrificed His only son so that we could be forgiven and spend eternity with God (John 3:16).

 The bad news for us is that God is a holy and perfect God who really hates sin. God decided a long time ago what actions were sinful and He has not modified or relaxed His standards on what sin is and is not. The penalty for for sin is awful: eternity in hell forever separated from God and all that is comforting and good. All people are sinners who cannot under any circumstances get right with God and be forgiven unless they are willing to leave their life of sin and follow Jesus wherever he leads (John 8:11, Mark 8:34).

 Those are at least two of the truths we need be honest about as we share the love of God with people. When we don’t tell the whole truth about life and sin and eternity we are really telling a lie that will eventually lead to the spiritual death of those we claim to love.

 There’s nothing loving about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Aren’t Connecting

 All those who had believed were together and had all things in common. They were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved~ Acts 2:44a, 46b, and 47 NIV

 Connecting people is a passion of mine.

 I served as a Connections Coordinator for a couple of years. But long before all that, I recognized that the people most likely to stick around a Church or a group in a church were those who felt deeply connected to the people in the church or church group.

 The high school kids who had friends in the Sunday school class I taught were the ones who showed up week after week regardless of what I was teaching. I learned early on that if I could help a woman make a friend in the Bible study I was leading, the chances were pretty good that woman would come back and sometimes she would bring a friend.

 Legitimate research has backed up my observations.

 Research done by Thom Ranier reveals that roughly half (49%) of all people stay in their current church because they have a deep connection to the people in the church. According to some of my own less-than-legitimate research (asking a bunch of nosy questions about why people stayed in or left their church) the number two reason people gave for leaving a church (number one was weak or shady leadership) was lack of connection to people.

 Even the most introverted among us were created to connect with one another. It’s a fundamental part of who we are and a reflection of God’s nature in us. Most adults who convert to Christianity do so within the context of friendship. Many who began attending church looking for friendships have found Jesus in the process.

 Hospitality and developing healthy relationships is a basic and often overlooked aspect of evangelism and we all bear some responsibility for the task. We build healthy groups churches by doing five simple things consistently.

 First:

 Show up-

 Sadly, many of the same people who attend services once or twice a month also grumble about not feeling a sense of belonging in their church. No one in the history of forever has ever grown spiritually, made a friend or become a functioning part of a church body without first committing to consistently attending a church service (Hebrews 10:25).

 Join a small group-

 It can be an adult Sunday school class, weekday Bible study or a small group that meets in a home. Go and do more than show-up. Show-up early, stay late, participate in the discussions and invite people in the group into your home, your heart, and your inner circle. Do your part to make that group into a family and then encourage new people to become a part of the family (1st Corinthians 12:28).

 Be real-

 God only made one you. Being authentic about who you are and what you’ve experienced (without being excessively detailed or graphic) is honoring to God and can be useful (if it’s done right) to those who are struggling on their spiritual journey (2nd Corinthians 1:3-4).

 Don’t judge others for being real-

 Just don’t. Judgment destroys community. Our role as Christians is to encourage, correct, redirect and cheer-lead (Galatians 6:1, Hebrews 3:13, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). We must leave the judgments to God. He knows more than we ever could. However, it’s equally critical we don’t buy into the lie that correction or redirection is the same thing as judgment. Correcting sinful or spiritually dubious behavior is NOT the same as judging. Correction is biblical AND necessary in a healthy Christian community (James 1:21, James 5:20).

 Use the gifts you have-

 My fondest wish for every Christian on earth would be for them to know and use their gifts to grow their local church (Ephesians 2:10, Romans 12:6-11). Sadly, many Christians have all but stopped serving and churches are dying as a result of our disobedience. Volunteering to teach a class, hosting a group in your home, baking cookies for VBS or serving on the greeting team or in the food pantry is about more than filling a spot. It’s about bonding with other believers, building community and being the hands and feet of Jesus in a broken and hurting world (Matthew 25:44-46).  

 Don’t close your circle-

 Building connections with people is both horribly complex and enormously rewarding. Keeping our hearts open to people and finding creative ways to meet their needs is one of the most significant and basic ways we serve God (1st Peter 4:9). It’s also the only way to build a healthy Christian community.

 

 

Should Christians and Non-Christians be Friends?

 Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character~ 1st Corinthians 15:33 NIV

 I subscribe to a number of Christian leadership blogs, podcasts and websites. Most of the stuff I subscribe to is pretty good. A few are hit or miss and one or two are just kind of meh. The best ones consistently tackle issues I have never thought very deeply about, challenge my biases, and help me think more imaginatively about problem solving. The not-so-great ones tend to hit on the same dozen or so issues over and over again and never really give any answers, just raise a lot questions.

 Over the course of the last couple of years, I have noted a clear trend regarding the subject matter of many of the blogs I subscribe to. All of them have been encouraging Christians to be bolder in their pursuit of authentic and meaningful friendships with sinners (their word, not mine). A few have openly scolded other Christians for not having and pursuing more intimate friendships with non-Christians. Every article I’ve read on the subject holds Jesus up as the example we ought to follow when it comes to pursuing friendships with “sinners”.

For the record, I believe with all my heart Christians ought to pursue friendships with non-Christian people (more on that later). However, I am convinced this teaching trend has become dangerously unbalanced because it presumes without offering cautions.

 I will begin with the presumptions.

 The most common presumption is that Jesus spent most or all of His time just chilling with sinners. To hear many pastors and teachers tell it, Jesus spent every moment of His life on earth at the local bars, crack houses and brothels hugging and high-fiving the local riff-raff.  

 He didn’t.

 A careful reading of the gospels reveals that Jesus did indeed attend events and parties where “sinners” were present (a very big deal in His world). We also know that Jesus was kind and welcoming to everyone (including sinners) and He definitely wasn’t shy about interacting with sinners or building meaningful relationships with very messed-up people (Luke 19:1-9, John 4). However, that was one part of His over-all ministry. Jesus spent most of His time with the twelve disciples and others (Luke 8:1-3, Luke 10:1) who were interested in following Jesus and learning to live a holy life.

 The second assumption many make is that the culture Jesus ministered in was exactly like the culture we live in.

Its’ simply not true.

Jesus lived in and ministered to a predominately Jewish culture where even the most messed-up “sinners” understood exactly what the Bible had to say about sin (John 4, Luke 9:1-9). This meant that the pre-evangelistic work of helping folks recognize the reality that they are sinners in need of redemption was done long before they came into contact with Jesus. We live in a post-Christian/atheistic culture where few people know or care about what the Bible has to say about much of anything. Even fewer feel guilt or remorse over their behavior. This difference is subtle and may seem trivial. However, it’s a difference that dramatically affects the dynamics of interacting with non-Christians. At the very least it makes spiritually productive conversations more difficult, and relationships trickier to navigate.

 And finally:

Some are assuming we are all a heck of lot more like Jesus than we actually are. Jesus was the perfect, sinless Son of God on a mission to save the world from the bondage and consequences of sin.

We are not Jesus.

 Even in our redeemed state we are still people who possess a sin nature (1st John 1:8). We are people who have been saved by the kindness and mercy of  a seriously benevolent God and nothing else (Ephesians 2:9). We are also people who have been commanded by a holy God to live a life of purity, holiness and righteousness (1st Corinthians 1:2, Ephesians 5:3, 1st Thessalonians 4:7, 1st Peter 1:14-16, Hebrews 12:14). Our calling to holiness is sometimes made more difficult by our choice of friendships (Proverbs 13:20, Psalm 1, 1st Corinthians 15:33).

 All that being said, I still really believe Christians ought to be intentional about seeking out friendships with non-Christian people. People have to be led to Jesus and the only way that will happen in this culture will be through cultivating relationships. However, we need to initiate relationships with non-Christian people wisely and prayerfully, keeping two truths firmly in mind.

 First, the Bible warns us repeatedly concerning the dangers of spending an inappropriate amount of time around those who may tempt us to sin (Jude 22, 2nd Corinthians 6:14-15, 1st John 2:15-16). Secondly, we need to remember that we will NEVER lead anyone to Jesus if we make a habit out of sinning with them.

 

The Actual Purpose of Church-

 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us~ 1st Peter 2:12 NIV

 Over the course of the last month, I have heard the same quote repeated three times, by three different speakers in three entirely unconnected settings. It did not take me long to discover that the quote in question came from the book Christianity and The Social Order, written by William Temple (1880-1944), it reads:

 “The Church is the only organization that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

 It’s important to note that every speaker citing this quote used it to make a case for the belief that the only real mission of the church is to evangelize the lost. Each one stated (in slightly different ways) that the church exists to reach those outside the church and every activity the church engages in ought to be focused entirely on reaching people who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus.

 Period.  

 This is a bit off-topic, and I’m more than a little reluctant to bring it up at all. Mainly because I know that pointing out the following pesky little detail makes me sound like a smarty-pants-know-it-all jerk-face.

 That said…

 In context the quote had nothing at all to do with with evangelism, reaching the lost, missions, or becoming a mission minded church. In his book Mr. Temple was attempting to make a case for his view that churches and ministers ought to support the implementation of state-sponsored welfare systems. Whatever you believe about state-sponsored social welfare, it is not exactly an evangelistic enterprise.  

 Now back to the actual point I was attempting to make here.

 Long before I knew anything at all about Mr. Temple’s beliefs or motivations, the quote did not sit well with me (which is super weird because I’m typically all about reaching the lost). Admittedly, I had a hard time putting my finger on why I was struggling to agree with the statement. I agree that the church is not to exist for it’s own selfish gain nor is it to devolve into a spiritual “Club Med” for the redeemed. The New Testament is painfully clear that Christians and the churches they belong to are to be other-focused (Romans 12:5, 1st Corinthians 9:19, Galatians 6:10, Philippians 2:4).

 But does that mean evangelism is the churches only purpose?

 I think not.

 Contrary to popular belief, the church does not have a single purpose or mission. Rather, it has several. Some of those purposes are spiritual in nature (evangelizing the lost, worshiping God, proclaiming Jesus until He returns). Others are more down-to-earth (teaching believers, providing for the poor, widows and orphans, spreading peace, bringing justice to unjust situations). Essentially, every purpose of the Church will fit fairly neatly into one of three categories:

 1. Glorify Jesus (make Him look good)- Romans 15:6, Romans 15:9, 1st Peter 2:12

 2. Encourage the spiritual growth of Christians- Ephesians 4:11-14, Colossians 1:9-11, 1st Peter 2:2, 2nd Peter 3:18

 3. Reach the un-churched with the gospel- Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Timothy 4:1-3, Romans 10:13-15

 Our inclination to rank the significance of tasks or purposes is a big part of what’s killing the church. Anytime we begin ordering the significance of a set of tasks or purposes, a priority list is formed in our own mind and something always gets pushed to the bottom of the list.

 In the case of the 21st century church, the priorities of glorifying Jesus and developing spiritually mature believers have taken a backseat to reaching the lost. Somewhere along the line we got it in our heads that teaching a saved person what the Bible says about how to live a holy life is somehow less vital than getting that person saved in the first place. The sad result of our prioritization of the purposes of the church is that fewer people are getting saved, and the ones who do are more likely to fall away.

 I do not believe that any one of the above listed purposes of the church are any more or less important than any of the others. However, I did list them in a particular order because I believe we never effectively evangelize the lost if we are not equipping Christians for works of service (Ephesians 4:10-12) and glorifying Jesus by living holy, God honoring lives.

 Period.