How Should Christians Confront the Culture of Death in the Age of Covid-19?

Better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men; And the living will take it to heart- Ecclesiastes 7:2 NKJV

 I have seen some crazy stuff in recent weeks.

 I have seen individuals so committed to sanitation they wear face masks driving alone in their car. Last week I saw a store clerk with a weed sprayer filled with what I can only hope was hand sanitizer shooting it into the air and at shoppers who happened to be passing by.  I have concluded there are people who believe germs die instantly upon hitting the surface of a glove of any kind. It’s the only reasonable explanation for the people I have seen wearing plastic gloves and sticking their fingers in their mouths.

 Just wash your hands people.  

 On a more serious note the outbreak of Covid-19 has brought our culture’s deeply conflicted attitudes concerning death to the surface.  On the one hand, our culture embraces death (Proverbs 8:36). Over half of all Americans consider abortion and euthanasia to be inalienable human rights. Over the course of the past month many critical medical procedures have been declared “unnecessary”. The reason given is those procedures “waste” valuable medical resources like masks and PPE’s.  However, in some states including my own, abortion clinics that “waste” those same resources have remained open for business. Even more shocking, there is an active campaign within academic circles to place a thirty day “waiting period” on the lives of all newborns (Psalm 127:3-5). Parents would be free to end the life of their newborn son or daughter anytime and for any reason within that thirty-day period with no earthly penalties or consequences.

 Conversely, many of the laws passed in recent decades expressly forbid adults from doing stupid things that might cause them to accidently take their own life (seatbelt laws, helmet laws, warning labels on tobacco products). I, like many people my age was taught growing-up that open casket funerals were icky and wrong because it was “cruel” to force funerals-goers to look at a dead person for an hour (Ecclesiastes 7:2). No one says “died” anymore. Instead we’ve developed dozens of idiotic euphemisms like “expired” “passed” or “moved-on”. Even a casual perusal of social media clearly indicates many people, even some Christians are absolutely terrified at the possibility of dying from COVID-19. The most persuasive argument that’s been made for the widespread quarantine of healthy people is that it is “unacceptable” for anyone no matter how old or sick to die from Covid-19.

I am not suggesting we allow anyone to die without a fight from Covid-19 or anything else. Nor, am I suggesting human life becomes less valuable at its end. That being said, there are no words for the horror I felt at the macabre hypocrisy of Andrew Cuomo losing his mind over the prospect of even one unnecessary death from COVID-19, just fifteen short months after he gleefully signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country.

 Covid-19 is forcing our culture to examine its view of death. For that reason, this is a good time for individual Christians to do some soul-searching concerning their views concerning death. Christians should never do anything to cause death before God wills it and it is perfectly reasonable to feel a certain level of fear over the possibility of something we have never experienced before. However, it is not natural or reasonable for a physically healthy believer in Jesus Christ to be so terrified at the prospect of their own death that they cannot live life joyfully (albeit somewhat more carefully) during the outbreak of an illness with a relatively low death rate (Revelation 12:11) such as the one we are experiencing.  Any Christian who has an excessive fear of death should carefully and prayerfully examine that fear (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 1stJohn 4:18). 

In a culture where life expectancies have shot up in recent years it is easy to forget that we will all eventually die of something. Christians and Christian leaders must become more comfortable gently confronting people concerning their fear of death. It’s time for all of us to stop avoiding the subject of death and what happens after we die. In a very real sense death is the best evangelistic tool we have in our toolbox and it’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus to use it.  

 It is critical Christians be willing and able to articulate the hope that we have in Jesus Christ (1stThessalonians 4;12-14) 1st Peter 3:15). It is our high and holy responsibility as believers to tell the world that death is not an end. Death is a beginning. For those who choose to put their faith in Jesus Christ death is the realization of hope and the beginning of every good thing imaginable (Romans 5:1-5). That said, it is every bit as critical we tell others the hard truth that death is the beginning of eternal punishment for those who foolishly refuse God’s free offer of salvation (Matthew 13:24-36, Mark 9:43-47, Hebrews 9:27).

 God loves people enough to force them into situations where they must decide what they think about key issues. It’s clear to me God wants people everywhere to think a little harder about what happens after they die. Christians should be ready to give answers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

How Hospitality Kills Community-

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. It occurred to me that the aforementioned shifts have 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 but lost its simplicity and doctrinal purity. When Luther posted his theses, the Church gained a much-needed anchor (biblical truth) but lost its unity, cohesiveness and eventually its authority. 

As the modern church shifts due to technological, social and political changes Christians have no control over, we are in danger of losing 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. It was community that fueled the evangelistic fire of the early Church (Acts 2:42-47)

The church is losing community because Christians have adopted a non-biblical view of the Christian concept of hospitality. This is doubtless due to the influence of wildly popular cable channels like Food Network and HGTV. These networks have drilled into us that hospitality is simply preparing tasty food and decorating our homes in an appealing manner. Hospitality is the glue that binds community together. Following are misunderstandings Christians have about hospitality that kill community:

Hospitality and entertaining are the same thing-

Hospitality and entertaining guests look similar 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, 3rd John 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 rather than a suggestion (Hebrews 13:2, 1st Peter 4:9, 1st John 2:3). When we practice hospitality, we not only show people we love them but we also demonstrate that God loves them too (Galatians 5:22-23, John 13:34). There is nothing optional about loving and caring about people if you’re a Christian.  

Hospitality has nothing to do with Evangelism- 

Hospitality is intrinsically connected to 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 the husband and the wife both work outside the home. Kids are frequently involved in extracurricular activities and sports teams. These activities eat up much if not all of our spare time.  Most are overwhelmed at the prospect of managing and maintaining close family relationships. Adding yet another relationship to the mix 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 don’t have time to care, we need to cut something else out so we do have time to care. 

 Hospitality is not about getting it’s about giving (1st Peter 4:9). Christians should always be ready and willing to provide a listening ear, a warm meal, a soft heart and an open door.  When we don’t have time for those things we’ve lost the essence of being Christian.  

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. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Church

On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it ~ Matthew 16:18b NIV

 Churches today are beset with some seemingly insurmountable problems.

 In many churches attendance is down, conversions are down, baptisms are down, tithes are down and the number of people willing to serve in leadership positions is down. According to the Barna Research Group, few adult Christians can adequately articulate the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and even fewer are willing to live out the traditional teachings of Christianity.

 An appalling number of Millennials are leaving the faith of their parents and grandparents faster than rats deserting a sinking ship for a new belief system they call “spirituality”.

 Whatever the heck that means.

 Millennials aren’t the only group leaving local churches at a troubling rate. Many empty nesters (45+) claim they no longer feel needed or wanted at church for anything other than financial support and pew warming. As a result, countless previously active church members are ditching Sunday morning services for Sunday morning brunches.

 Sigh.

 Despite the aforementioned doom-and-gloom I really am genuinely hopeful for the future of the church. The church is not a scheme of man but the plan of God and God’s plans have a way of working out (Psalm 33:10-11, Micah 2:1-3) despite the failings of people.

 We all bear some responsibility for the state the church is in today. Contrary to popular opinion churches are not buildings, nor are they denominational dogma residing in a building. Churches are groups of people who have come together around a common leader (Jesus) and a common cause (the gospel). Jesus passed on the responsibility and privilege of building His Church to individual believers (Matthew 28:18-20).

 Therefore, if Churches are struggling it is to some extent the fault of the folks in the church, because we are the church. I believe there are three changes that can be made in the way we do church. First we need to…

 Adopt a more biblical model of church-

 The New Testament church is not a seeker centric church model. The New Testament church is a believer centric model (Acts 2:42-47, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1st Corinthians 5:11-13, 1st Corinthians 11:21). The church was designed with the growth of the already converted person in mind. Unsaved people were welcomed into the church but they were not the primary emphasis, rather they were a consideration (1st Corinthians 14:23). New Testament churches focused on teaching, preaching and creating occasions for fellowship so that the people of God would grow spiritually and reach the people around them with the good news of Jesus Christ. The contemporary church has turned the biblical model on its head; we aim most of our programs and preaching at unsaved people rather than saved people. In the process we have neglected to teach the already converted the deeper truths of Scripture that they must know to become productive members of the body.

 Turn the responsibility of evangelism back over to laypeople-

 The biblical model of evangelism is for Pastors and teachers to train laypeople to do the work of reaching un-churched people with the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-13) and then for those folks to bring their friends into the church family. Most churches expect their congregants to invite their friends to church with little or no evangelistic preparation. This means most of the un-churched people who come to our churches are not prepared to hear the gospel or make a commitment to Jesus. As a result few make commitments and the ones that do tend to fall away rather quickly.  

 Do what Jesus did-

 It’s no secret we live in a culture filled with broken, hurting, people. Christians are called to minister to hurting people, regardless of who they are, where they come from or what they’ve done. Period. The knee-jerk response most of us have for brokenness is love. Clearly, we do need to love the lost as well as the less than lovable. However, love is a feel-good response and only half the solution. We also need to invest our time, energy and treasure into helping broken people to become as whole and spiritually healthy as possible (1st John 3:18). Becoming whole and spiritually healthy is not something that happens in a twelve-week, ten-step mentoring program. Discipleship that changes lives and transforms people into the image of Jesus requires a long-term commitment of authentic friendship to a messy person.

 The solutions to the church’s problems will require a shift in our thinking and the way we view church and the discipleship process. We need to go back to the biblical models of training laypeople to do the work of ministry and trust God to work through them.