Fixing the Mess in Church World-

 They went far from Me, and walked after emptiness and became empty– Jeremiah 2:5b NASB

The Western Church is in crisis. 

Somehow over last century or so both Church-goers and Church leaders have lost sight of what a real spiritual win looks like (Judges 21:25). As a result, there is little actual spiritual power in the lives of most church-goers.  Our lack of spiritual power has left the church incapable of transforming people and society.   

Sigh. 

The average church-goer has gone after the wrong objectives (Jeremiah 2:5). For many the primary aim of the Christian life has become one of personal fulfillment. In the minds of the average Western church-goer God exists mostly to meet human needs and fulfill personal desires. Many feel God’s job is to make us happy and fix our problems. If God fails to provide what we want in a timely manner or in the way we want it we find a new spiritual model, hobby or cause that gives us more of what we think we need. Sometimes, this involves Christians making flowery proclamations on social media stating their intention to “reimagine”, “reconstruct” or “reinvent” their faith. Those expressions are all just twenty-first century colloquialisms for willfully choosing to create a new god in. our own image. The “reimagined” or “reconstructed” God is always a little more progressive and tolerant than the God of the Bible. The new God is always willing to put His (or Her) blessing on self-actualization that leads to selfishness, sexual sin and bitterness. 

Christian leaders have looked to God primarily for a sense of achievement.  When leaders lack an understanding of their purpose God becomes a means to an end rather than the whole goal of the Christian life.  Leaders who lack purpose kingdom build. However, instead of building God’s Kingdom they build their own. These leaders end up working really hard to create a cool place for people to hear them speak. On the surface this can appear to be a good thing. But, the environments these leaders construct inevitably lack the power to bring Christians and non-Christians out of their sin and selfishness and into right relationship with God.  

It’s a hot mess. 

The answer to the problem is simple. However, that does not necessarily mean it will be easy to actualize the solution. In order to solve it we must rethink a whole bunch of different things including our perspectives on what God is for, what the church is for and what the outcome of Christianity is supposed to be. This will take a combination of humility, self-awareness and a willingness to make hard changes.

Unfortunately, most humans suck at all that stuff. 

Mercifully, what is impossible for man is possible with God (Matthew 19:25-26, Luke 18:27). The Western church will regain its purpose and spiritual power when God’s people go back to the Bible and seek to understand what God really says about the mission of the Church. 

The gospel message is the mission. Period. The average Christians job is to tell everyone they know how Jesus can transform a person and change the trajectory of their life (Matthew 28:18-20, 2nd Corinthians 5:17). Ephesians six commands Christins to “put on the shoes of the gospel of peace”. That directive is a statement of our mission as believers. We exist to take Jesus into every interaction we have and every situation we find ourselves. In order to do that well we must live lives that reflect the goodness, kindness and moral purity of Jesus. 

Christian leaders are to be in the business of building and growing people spiritually, morally and in their gifting’s and abilities. Leaders must emphasize the importance of spiritual growth, emotional health and holiness in their teaching, preaching and interactions with church people.  Leaders must encourage and teach their people to maximize their giftings in such a way they build up the church body. The goal of every Christian leader should be for every person in their body to be told “well done good and faithful servant” on judgment day by Jesus (Matthew 25:21).  

If we want to win the world to Jesus everything we do as believers must be done in a spirit of humility. Church-goers must tell the world about Jesus with an attitude of grace and love that shows the world that everything we say about our God is true. Church leaders must manage their lives and ministries in such a way that church people become a natural reflection of the leaders in their lives (Romans 12:8).  

How does God work in a Godless Time?

Our wrongdoings testify against us, Lord, act for the sake of Your name! Our apostasies have indeed been many. We have sinned against You– Jeremiah 14:7 NASB 

A couple of months ago I concluded that I had been spending way too much of my Bible reading time in a few New Testament books. 

It was time to broaden my horizons. 

So, I dusted off the books of 1st and 2nd Kings. The first few chapters of 1st Kings is mostly just palace intrigue. It covers the death of King David and the opportunistic scheming that occurred around his passing. The book reaches a high point early on with the installation of David’s son Solomon as his replacement. Solomon started strong with a heart for God. God blessed his efforts and Israel thrived economically and militarily under his leadership.  

It all kind of goes down-hill from there.

Despite his wisdom and worldly success, Solomon was a dismal failure when it came to all the things that really matter in life. The Kingdom split following his death and both Israel and Judah wandered far from God.  Most of the rest of 1st Kings is just a glum recounting of one bad, evil, idolatrous king after another bad, evil, idolatrous king. The book gets slightly more interesting with the introduction of the prophet Elijah in 1st Kings 17 but then 2nd Kings devolves into a serious of weird and disturbing stories that cover topics as diverse as floating ax heads and cannibalism. The weird stories are interspersed here and there with more recountings of more crappy kings. In chapter seventeen Israel falls and is taken captive by Syria. King Hezekiah begins ruling Judah in chapter eighteen. Hezekiah and Josiah were the last of Judah’s even halfway decent kings. However, their leadership was not enough to keep the country from falling ever deeper into idolatry and ruin. King Nebuchadnezzar makes his first appearance in chapter twenty-four and that ushers in the Babylonian captivity and the end of Jewish sovereignty. 

Sigh. 

I was surprised by how depressed I was when I was finished reading the books. It wasn’t the first time I read either book. However, it was the first time either book hit me in such a soul-crushing kind of a way.  

I did have a couple of realizations concerning the books.

First.

The book of 1st Kings is just a sad recounting of Israel’s long slide into apostasy, unbelief and sin. 2nd Kings tells the story of how God worked in the lives of those who lived faithfully for God when everyone else had turned their backs on Him.  The books hit me hard because I am also living in a season of apostasy. We don’t call it that, that of course, we call it “living in a post-Christian culture”, which sounds way nicer than “apostasy” but it’s the same thing. Whatever you call it, it sucks. It sucks living in a declining culture. It sucks watching the whole stupid world devolve into moral and intellectual chaos. It sucks seeing people degrade themselves with stupid ideas and even stupider behavior. It sucks watching people do everything possible to deny the reality of God. Most of all, it sucks feeling overwhelmed by the darkness and ugliness of a post-Christian world. 

That being said. 

We are not without hope.

We aren’t Israel and God hasn’t left the building (metaphorically speaking of course). He’s still on His throne and He is still working in the hearts of His people, which means He is still working in our culture. Revival could be just around the corner. In the meantime, following are four lessons I gleaned about living in a post-Christian culture from 1st and 2nd Kings.  

Community is critical in a season of apostasy– 

In 1st and 2nd Kings God works most powerfully through little communities of prophets who banded together to support and encourage one another. Community, connection, partnership and close friendship is an ongoing theme throughout the book. The takeaway for contemporary believers is clear. The key to remaining spiritually strong and emotionally healthy while the world is literally going to hell around us is making Christian community a priority in our lives. 

When the going gets tough God shows off– 

All the depressing historical truths aside, one of the high points of both books is seeing God work among the believing remnant in 1st and 2nd Kings. From Mt. Caramel in 1st Kings 17 to the ax head incident in 2nd Kings. God showed His power and provided for His people in fresh new ways. We should have hearts of faith that expect Him to do the same in our time. 

 God works in surprising places in dark times- 

One key theme of both 1st and 2nd Kings is provision for gentiles in general and gentile women in particular (1st Kings 17:9-20, 2nd Kings 4:1-37). Both books make it clear that when previously believing people turn their backs on God, He shows Himself in mighty and life-giving ways to people groups we wouldn’t necessarily expect Him to work through. I believe with all my heart we should expect a movement of God in unexpected places in the coming years. 

And finally: 

Relentless leaders bring hope and healing to a graceless age – 

Two bright spots in 2nd Kings are the stories of Hezekiah and Josiah. Both men were hardworking, tenacious, God-fearing leaders who had the insight to recognize the serious nature of times they lived in and the grit to do something about the problems at the root of Israel’s trouble. They understood it was idolatry and the sinful practices that accompany idolatry destroying the people they loved (2nd Kings 18:1-6, 2nd Kings 23:1-24). Their love for people, steadfast leadership and determination to serve God wholeheartedly resulted in revival that brought social change and kept judgment at bay. 

So. 

All that to say, one of the key takeaways from 1st and 2nd Kings is that God is always at work even in a post-Christian world that feels like it’s going to hell all around us.  Usually in ways we least expect. 

The Crisis of Functional Atheists in the Church-

  Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching- John 14:23-24 NIV

A couple of things: First of all, dear reader, I really do appreciate you. The fact that anyone would read what I write every week is honor and privilege God has allowed me to have that never ceases to blow my mind. Second, many Christians are, for obvious reasons, leaving social media sites. If you are considering making an exit from the social media site where you found A Wise Life, or even if you are not, please consider subscribing. All you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of the page and type in your email address. A Wise Life will be delivered to your in-box every week for as long as the Lord allows me to continue this ministry or until you unsubscribe. I promise to never sell or give your email address to any other business, blog or ministry. 

Lisa

Now for this week’s post: 

A while back someone asked me if I thought Christianity was losing its power. The person asking was not a hater. On the contrary, the person asking is a believer who’s genuinely concerned that the Christian faith appears to losing its ability to change people and transform the chaotic situations that are becoming increasingly more common in our world. The Christian faith has made massive inroads into the world in the last century but at the same time the people are becoming more evil, more creative in spreading evil and far less interested in learning what God has to say about much of anything.  

Sigh.

I will not lie. Their question shook me. Seriously. It forced me think about the how and the why of where we have landed. After some thought I decided that I simply cannot accept the notion that Jesus has somehow lost His ability to transform people or heal situations. If Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and I believe He is then problem can’t be with God (Hebrews 13:8). 

The problem is with us. 

Too many Christians have become what I call “functional atheists” or Christian atheists. Functional atheists are people who believe in God and attend church. Some functional atheists even routinely read their Bibles and pray. However, in their day-to-day lives they don’t live like they believe God is real.  Functional atheists have come into the kingdom of God but have never had the deepest areas of their lives touched by God’s transformational power. They make Christianity weak because most of the time God chooses to do His most powerful work through people. Therefore, if Christians are spiritually weak then God’s power will be limited in certain situations. Not because God lacks power but because He will only work through those who are faithful and obedient (Mark 6:4-6).   

Following are five signs you might just be a functional atheist. 

You have ongoing struggles with sexual immorality- 

Fear of God is a clear indicator that a person is in the process of being spiritually transformed. Fearing God is not about being afraid of God (1st John 4:18). Someone who fears God genuinely believes God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. God has nothing good to say about sexual immorality or those who make a practice of it (Romans 1:18-28, 1st Corinthians 5:9-11, 1st Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19). Because God is so clear about how He feels about this issue, sexual sin is an indicator that person does not really fear God. When a person doesn’t fear God they inevitably end up living like an atheist. 

Misplaced faith-

Christians are commanded to put their faith and trust in God alone (Proverbs 3:5-6, Nahum 1:7). Too often, as believers we do trust God but we trust other things just a little bit more. We trust things like political figures, education, our finances, our social standing and jobs to protect us, give us peace and provide comfort in times of trouble. When we put our trust in anything but God to give us comfort, protection and peace those things inevitably end up functioning as idols in our lives. Idols never deliver what God can and trusting them causes us to live like the atheists around us.  

You feel contempt rather than compassion for most people-  

This world is full of sin and hate. Christians are called to hate sin and cast-off  foolish and sinful behavior (Matthew 7:24, 2nd Corinthians 6:14). It is all too easy to allow our hatred of sin and desire to be free from worldly ties to morph into contempt for sinners and their stupidity. The problem with this is we are never called to feel hate or contempt for anyone and when we do we look more like our atheist neighbor than Jesus. 

There are places in your life that are unknown to others and untouched by God- 

Becoming a Christian is supposed to be a comprehensive, life transforming event. The only catch is that God will only change the parts of our lives we give Him access to. We give God access to our lives when we make regular practices of Bible reading, self-examination and prayer. This is how it works: When we read the Bible, we learn how God wants us to think and live. When we make a regular practice of examining ourselves to see if our lives match up with Scripture God will then tell us when we pray what needs to be changed in our lives in order for us to grow into the people He has called us to be. If we aren’t constantly seeking to grow we will go backwards in our spiritual maturity and eventually our lives will look more and more like the atheists around us. 

Because the world is so broken it is more important than ever that Christians live lives that embrace the truth of Scripture because it is only way people will see the power of God in this world.