Can Anyone Ever Really Be Free?

 If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed~ John 8:36 NIV

 Two things:

 First, I have an unwritten but firm rule against criticizing Christians and Christian leaders by name in my blog posts. On the rare occasion I do feel the need to say something critical I generally stick to criticizing positions, actions and ideas, rather than individual people. With one notable exception (that I still feel kind of bad about) I do not believe I have ever criticized another Christian by name in this blog. Personal attacks get clicks and generate Internet traffic but do not help me sleep at night.

 For the record, I am really into sleeping at night.

 Secondly, I am not much of a planner when it comes to writing. My typical “writing schedule” is as follows: The idea fairy comes calling sometime late Monday or early Tuesday. I begin writing on Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday) and do my best to be done by Friday (sometimes it’s more like Saturday). I publish on Sunday night. Because I never really plan ahead, I rarely deviate from this timetable and once I start a blog I nearly always finish it without making major changes to the content.

 I say all that to let you know that this week God changed the plan and I’m breaking my rule (sort of).

 It all started late Wednesday when I read an article that got me so irked I was literally unable to continue with a post I had made significant progress on. The writer of said article is a fairly well known Pastor with a large church that I will not name here (on account of the rule). I will sort of break the rule by giving you the title of the article: Can Christians Eliminate Same-Sex Attraction Feelings?  

 My issue is not with the premise of the article.

 Whether or not Christians can successfully eliminate same-sex feelings is a valid question. A question worthy of theological discussion and a well thought out and prayerful answer. My issue is with the answer the author claims to give to those who are grappling with this painful emotional, spiritual and theological question.

 He leaves them hanging.

 He tells men and women struggling with same-sex attractions that he knows for a fact that they can control their behavior and remain celibate if they really want to (true). However, he makes it clear that he believes feelings are an altogether different animal. He tells them that flat out that it may or may not be possible to change their feelings.  

He ends the article with a flaccid “I don’t know” and “what do you think” addressed to the reader of said article.

 If this guy is telling the truth about what goes on in his counseling sessions (I pray he’s not), then he just owned-up to a heartless form of spiritual malpractice. Leaving a confused and hurting person to decide for him or herself whether or not they have any hope for real and lasting change is at least fifty different kinds of wrong.  

 It’s become a popular play on the Socratic method of teaching for spiritual leaders to ask hard questions in both private and public forums and then not to give answers to those questions. Challenging folks to draw their own conclusions about tough questions is an entertaining exercise that works well with pimply-faced young students in an Intro to Theology class. However, it is clearly not the job of a spiritual leader (Acts 20:28, 1st Peter 5:1-4).

 The job of a spiritual leader is to lead people to the God who brings freedom from the sinful thoughts and feelings that inevitably lead to sinful actions and behaviors (Matthew 5:28). It is the job of a pastor (shepherd) to teach hurting men and women the truths clearly laid out in Scripture and then to walk them through the steps necessary to get free from whatever sinful bondage they have gotten themselves tangled up in (Hebrews 12:1).

 The Bible is clear that freedom from sinful bondage is possible, but not necessarily easy (Romans 6:22-23, Galatians 5:1). There is no tea we can drink or magical formula we can follow to eliminate same-sex attraction or any other sinful desire (sorry).

 Freedom from bondage requires effort on our part. The work begins with repentance (a change in our thinking) but also has to include a change in our behaviors and habits (Philippians 2:12). To be completely free from bondage we must train our hearts and minds to think differently about life and sin so that we eventually start to see things the way God sees things. (2nd Corinthians 10:5, Romans 12:2).

 Christian leaders are called to give confused and hurting people the hope the gospel offers. If they can’t (or won’t) they should get out of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Christians and Social Media

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets~ Matthew 7:12 NIV

 I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

 I love that social media is free. I love that Facebook has allowed me to stay connected to friends and family I would have likely lost touch with prior to the advent of Facebook.

 I love that social media connects people from every walk of life and every corner of the world. I love that disseminating information to large groups is now as simple as pushing a button. I love that Twitter and Facebook have played pivotal roles in recent social revolutions. I really love that it is now possible for any monkey with an opinion, rudimentary English skills and a laptop to write a blog and gain an audience.

 Sadly, the list of things I hate about social media is twice as long.

 I hate that sites like Backpage and Craigslist have made it easy and lucrative for evil people to exploit others. I hate that social media has more-or-less taken over much of our lives. I hate that some people actually sleep with their phones and that many of us are more engaged with electronic devices than we are with the people around us.

 I hate that social media has made it possible for lies and fake news to spread quicker than germs do. I hate that social media has made it easy for people to isolate themselves from ideas that stretch their thinking. I hate how it is now possible to “unfriend” a real live person without so much as a discussion as to why.

 And finally,

 The thing I hate most about social media is how stinking easy it is to be mean.

 It happens at least a million times a day.

 A reasonably decent person writes something on Facebook or shares something Twitter so mean-spirited and awful that only a certified nut-job would dream of saying the same thing out loud in a face-to-face encounter. Sadly, all this verbal savagery has created an environment where cruelty now feels absurdly normal.

 Most of us tend to believe only really dreadful people do this sort of thing. Sadly, it’s just not true. Most of us, (even many Christians) have been guilty at one-time-or another of writing something on social media we would never say out loud to another person.

 I am not opposed to frank dialogue and truth telling. I believe with all my heart that our culture would benefit a great deal from a little more of the right kind of honesty. That said, I also believe we need a lot less of the kind we are rapidly becoming accustomed to. So, in the interest of creating a little more civility in our world, I want to offer a few guidelines for interacting with others on social media.

 Remember four things…

 You don’t stop being a Christian on social media.

 Like it or not, most social interactions now occur on Facebook and Twitter. This means unsaved people are making-up their minds about Christianity and the church by what Christians say and post on social media. Be vigilant about how you present yourself, your political views and Jesus on social media. Our job in this world is to lead people to Jesus, build-up the body of Christ, and motivate others to positive change. There’s a fine line between making a valid argument, defending the faith or calling for change and tearing others or the Church down. Don’t cross it.

 For the love of God—just be kind.

 I’m not suggesting we soft-peddle truth. I am advising Christians to heed the warning given in Ephesians 4:15 and speak hard truth in a loving and gentle tone. There is a real live human being with feelings out there in cyberspace somewhere that may be hurt by how you choose to say something that really does need to be said. Ask yourself if Jesus would write the same thing in the same tone before you push the enter key.

 Hurting people are weird sometimes.

 Every single person on this planet is living with painful personal junk they are attempting to manage. The weirdly vitriolic woman freaking-out on the other end of our “abortion is murder” comment might just be overwhelmed with guilt from a past abortion. Anytime we choose to take a heartless and militant tone over any sin issue, we might be missing out on an opportunity to bring spiritual healing into the life of a hurting person.

 Keep private situations private.

 Do not air personal problems you have with another person in public forums (Facebook or Twitter) if you aren’t willing to discuss the issue with them in private first (Matthew 18:15-17). Only cowards and mean people air their personal grievances in front of strangers.

 If you are a believer in Jesus, treating people civilly (even people you don’t like or agree with) is not about you. It’s about Jesus. When Christians name call, use foul language, treat others with contempt, or “unfriend” people for no good reason on social media we hurt the cause of Christ and each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Election Nightmare is Over-Now What?

 For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him~ 2nd Chronicles 16:9a NASB

 I was not going to write a blog this week.

 I am on vacation. My only plan for the week was to reconnect with friends, catch-up on some much-needed sleep, replenish my rapidly dwindling stores of vitamin D and indulge my love for tacos in the great state of Arizona.

 However.

 Events have compelled me to break with the plan and attempt to communicate my hopes, fears and thoughts concerning the future of America, and more specifically, the church in America in light of the election results on Tuesday.

 After arguably the weirdest, most contentious election in modern history, the people have spoken and Donald J. Trump has been chosen as leader of the free world.

 To say I have mixed feelings about a Donald Trump presidency understates my feelings to such a degree that I literally do not have words to describe my feelings (and I always have words, having words is my thing). On the one hand I am thrilled Hillary Clinton will not be President of the United States.

 Hillary Clinton is a corrupt and godless woman. Her behavior as Secretary of State repeatedly crossed the line into criminal territory. I am opposed to the vast majority of her policy positions and I find it highly disturbing that those positions can and do change on a dime. Furthermore her irksomely smug assumption that she somehow deserved to be President because it was “her turn” irritates me to no end.

 I am beyond relieved she lost the election.

 Despite my well-documented misgivings, Donald Trump has some qualities that give me hope. He has raised four loyal, hard working, adult children, (no small feat in this world). Throughout the campaign he has chosen to surround himself with some very wise and godly people. He has promised to restore sanity to the Supreme Court and he clearly loves our country. His Presidential acceptance speech was genuinely moving and exhibited a deep desire to unite and heal the country.

 However.

 My concerns have not vanished. Some are directly related to Donald Trump as a man. The other concerns are a bit squishier and harder to put into words.

 But I will try.

 My concerns regarding Donald Trump are mostly related to his temperament and lack of consistency on issues. He has changed his mind more times on more issues than a tired toddler coming off a sugar-high. Humility (a necessary quality in a leader) is quite clearly not his greatest strength. He has said some extraordinarily “indelicate” things regarding women and appears to relish offending people unnecessarily.

 However.

 God has had lesser men to work with and still accomplished the impossible. I may not entirely trust Donald J. Trump but I do trust God.

 My concern for the country runs deeper.

 We are a deeply divided nation of dreadfully immature people. We are no longer capable of agreeing to disagree on the issues and behaving like adults. Over the course of the last week I have seen posts on social media that have left me stunned and disillusioned with the human race. There has been gloating on one side and inexcusably ugly vitriol on the other. Some are threatening to leave the country because their candidate didn’t win; others are literally setting things on fire and shutting down our cities.

 The childishness is appalling.

 Confounding the situation further, we have reached a point in America where many have come to believe that good is evil and evil is good. Every sort of depravity is encouraged by those in authority and celebrated by the masses. In recent years government agencies have begun to mandate Christians go along with the never-ending onslaught of degeneracy or lose their freedoms. Historically God has not had a lot of patience with societies that reach our level of contempt for decency and human freedom.

 Despite all that, I believe God is giving the Christian community a much-needed opportunity to regroup and get our churches, communities and families healthy again. We cannot sit back and assume a Trump win is a mandate from God to continue on with the business-as-usual mentality that has infected our homes and Churches for decades. The time has come for Christians to get serious about serving God, deal decisively with sin, live righteously, pray for wisdom and tell others about Jesus.

 It is essential we make the most of the opportunity we’ve been given. It might be the last one we get.

Why the Church Isn’t Experiencing Revival

 

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

 One does not have to look far these days to find something to be appalled at or bummed-out by.

 A short list of the issues vexing our culture and depressing me would have to include such things as: radical Islam, bigotry, bogus outrage, drug legalization, sex trafficking, divorce, government corruption, baby daddies, political correctness, anemic Christianity, anarchy, religious repression, and a government that openly encourages every sort of immorality imaginable; and don’t even get me started on the parade of dysfunction, festival of lies, flaming hot dumpster-fire election the American people are being forced to endure this year.

Sigh.

 Every Christian I know talks about the need for a spiritual revival. Sadly few of us are doing the things that typically bring about an authentic movement of God. Revival always begins with God’s people. God brings about needed spiritual and moral transformation when God’s people get real with Him about their private spiritual condition. There are at least five things all of us can do right now to expedite a much-needed movement of God.

 First:

 Stop committing idolatry- 1st Corinthians 10:14

 For what feels like eons now believers have endeavored to elect a flawless human leader who will liberate our culture from the chaos created by our own foolishness, rebellion and spiritual lethargy. Others want to bring back an America that, for the most part, ceased to exist long ago. Both yearnings are a dangerous form of idolatry. Rather than look for a leader who will fix the mess or pine for a past that is clearly in the rear view, we need to seek God for wisdom and direction to make the world a better place.

 Get your spiritual house in order- Acts 17:20, 2nd Corinthians 12:21, Revelation 2:5

 Christians are called to be the moral and spiritual leaders of whatever culture they live in (Matthew 28:18-20). Sadly, our generation has failed at this task. We’ve failed because we have amused ourselves with entertainment, adopted philosophies and participated in behaviors that are hostile to biblical Christianity and heartbreaking to Jesus. In some cases we have even accused those calling for repentance of being judgmental, unsophisticated and even un-Christian. The world won’t change until we change. It’s time to get our spiritual houses in order. Authentic social transformation begins in the hearts of people. The process of getting our spiritual lives in order always begins with asking God to reveal the attitudes and behaviors we need to repent from and then doing it.

 Vote wisely- Proverbs 28:2

 I want to begin with a couple of disclaimers. First, I do not believe any political leader can or will save us from ourselves. However, I also believe who we elect to office seriously impacts the moral and spiritual direction of our country. Second, I do not like Donald Trump. In his best moments, he is a narcissistic train-wreck of a man. It literally makes me stupid with rage that with all the choices we had available we chose him to represent the conservative movement in America. However, he is also the figurehead of the Republican platform (sigh). The Republican platform includes respect for human life, the family, the Constitution and religious liberty. It is immeasurably superior to the Democratic platform. Supporting the Republican platform also means checking the box for Donald J. Trump. So vote for Trump (sigh). 

 Pray- Matthew 26:41, 1st Thessalonians 5:17

 It’s time for all of us to start praying some uncomfortable prayers. Pray God will enable you to see life from His perspective. Pray God shows you the sin in your life. Pray God helps you to hate sin and love righteousness. Pray for the wisdom to do God’s will. When you get done praying about all that pray for the spiritual health of your church and Pastor. Pray for our leaders. Pray for the spiritual health of your kids. Pray for your neighbors and their kids. Pray God will be merciful and send revival.

 We need it.

 Reset your priorities- Matthew 6:33, Jeremiah 29:13

 There is nothing inherently wrong or sinful with watching football, sleeping in, kids’ sporting teams, making money, or Hallmark movies. However none of those things should ever take priority over prayer, Bible study and church attendance.

 We all agree that our world urgently needs revival. I believe revival will come when believers make a concerted effort to let go of idolatrous attitudes, pray like crazy, and seek God with all our hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why We Cannot Do the Christian Life Solo

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing~ 1st Thessalonians 5:11 NIV

 When I was in the third grade I missed winning the classroom spelling bee by one word. I remember the stupid word as if it was yesterday.

 Banana.

 It was the n’s that messed me up. They still do. More often than not, I still spell banana with three n’s. For some reason banana with two n’s still feels a bit sad and inadequate to me.

 Although I did not win the third grade spelling bee that year, the taste of a near-victory ignited within in me a fiery-hot passion to dominate at the next year’s spelling bee. I vividly imagined the sweet victory I would bask in as I sauntered into my house sporting the snappy blue ribbon the teacher awarded to the winner. I believed with all my heart that if I could win the classroom spelling bee I would surely go on to win the school spelling bee and then the regionals, perhaps even nationals. I would be the spelling-bee champion of the entire universe.

 Every human being on earth would bow to my spelling prowess.

 Unfortunately, I lacked commitment to the one component essential to any sort of academic success, studying. My intentions were noble, but I was kind of lazy and had yet to make the connection between short-term sacrifice (studying) and long-term payoff (spelling bee champion of the universe).

 Since then I have learned that there is more often than not a connection between commitment to one thing and success at something that feels completely unrelated. This is particularly true of spiritual growth.

 If you have been a Christian for longer than fifteen minutes you have likely heard the tried and true formula for Christian growth and maturity.

 Bible reading + prayer + church attendance = Mature believer in Jesus

 Bible reading, prayer and church attendance have long been thought to be the holy grail of Christian growth, and with good reason, all three are vital to spiritual growth. However, I am convinced it takes more than just those three things to grow into the people God has called us to be.

 We need people.

 Sadly, most of us have all but forgotten the fact that spiritual maturity is a complicated process that takes place most successfully in the company of other believers. Bible reading, prayer and church attendance absent of close relationships with other Christians can easily devolve into reading without understanding, prayer without power and the awful sensation of being utterly alone in a gathering of people.

 That is a recipe for hopelessness.

 Spiritual growth happens when we are exposed to people who have successfully walked through the junk we are currently walking through. This takes place most effectively in small groups or classes where we really get to know people, where we have our ideas about the Bible and life challenged by people who know more than we do and who have experienced things we have not. We grow when we learn to love people, and we cannot truly love people we do not know.

 Some things simply cannot be accomplished alone. It is almost impossible to encourage ones self without sounding like a crazy person. But without encouragement there is a very real danger our hearts will become hard towards God (Hebrews 3:13). We will never become wise without the ongoing influence of wise people in our lives (Proverbs 13:20) and it is only in the company of others that our faulty thinking is exposed and rough edges made smooth.

 Nothing worth having occurs without some sort of sacrifice, and relationships are no different. Building relationships with other Christians might mean giving up a night of television or having your kid cut back on sports so you can make time for a small group. Building relationships might mean dragging your weary butt out of bed an hour earlier on Sunday mornings so you can attend an adult Sunday school class. It might mean volunteering to lead a small group in your church or inviting a group of people over for dinner so you can get to know them better.

 Building relationships is time consuming and tricky but the payoff we receive is well worth the effort it takes. Because God has designed the universe in such a way that it is only within the context of Christian friendship where we find the support and encouragement we need to grow into the people God has called us to be (Acts 2:44-46).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Church Peeves

My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge~ Hosea 4:6a NIV

 

I am not new to the church world.

 My husband and I have been Christians for the better part of three decades and I have been privileged to teach the Bible in enough settings to understand that even the most capable Pastor or Bible teacher is going to have an off message or poor delivery every now and again. For that reason, we have endeavored to give all but the weirdest churches (like the one where folks would spontaneously jump up and dash around the sanctuary during the service) a fair shake and have tried most at least twice. We understand that churches are made up of people— and people are by their very nature flawed, imperfect beings.

 We do not demand perfection from people in churches or from the pastors in the pulpit.

 That said, over the course of our recent church search we have had enough identical experiences enough times, in enough churches to know there are some developments in the church world that qualify as trends. Some trends are of little eternal consequence and my exasperation with those particular trends is doubtless at least a bit petty (e.g. peeves 1, 4 and possibly 5).

 Other trends are worrisome. Churches are the primary sources of biblical teaching in our culture. Churches are also the first place many unbelievers go to learn about God and salvation. How churches present truth can either cloud or enhance our ability to understand and receive the truth of the Bible. I chronicled some of our experiences in a blog post entitled “Church Peeves”, and in recent weeks I have come up with a few new peeves for you, beginning with:

 1. Long instrumentals in the middle of a song-

 I get that it’s rewarding for a musician to have the opportunity to showcase his or her skills. If I possessed musical talent of any kind I would probably be inclined to showcase my skills too. However, long keyboard or guitar solos create nothing but awkwardness for the worshipers in attendance. It’s impossible to know what to do when it’s over. Does one clap or cheer, or simply smile appreciatively? It feels weird not to show some sort of appreciation for the musician but it feels even weirder to clap for anyone other than God during a worship service.

 2. Misplaced vision-

 Jesus never built a building, wrote a book, or implemented a system. He did spend three years investing heavily in the spiritual lives of twelve men. Those twelve men turned around and literally transformed nearly every aspect of the world they lived in. We would do well to reexamine our fascination with one-size-fits-all spiritual growth systems and erecting large buildings. Rather, we should emulate Jesus’ example of focusing on the growth and spiritual development of individual Christians.

 3. Lack of genuinely relevant teaching-

 Intact families are becoming increasingly peculiar. It is now taught that there are sixty-three known genders. The number of folks who classify themselves as unbelievers is expanding rapidly. Race relations are collapsing. We are in the middle of one of the most befuddling and contentious elections in history. During 2012 the American porn industry generated 13.33 BILLION in revenue, and drug use is being legalized in most states. The world is clearly going to hell right before our very eyes. And yet most sermons preached on Sunday mornings can be reduced down to two incredibly trivial themes: we ought to love God and be nice to people. We need to go deeper.

 4. Pastors who dress like homeless people-  

 Three words. BUSINESS CASUAL FRIDAY. Seriously.

 5. Poking fun at tradition-

 Poking fun at how churches operated in the past bothers me, not because I believe we ought to do things the way they have always been done. Rather, because it displays a thorough lack of respect for the accomplishments of the past, and it ignores the reality practically shrieking in our face: We are not exactly hitting this leading the world to faith in Christ thing out of the park in our age. It could be argued that churches were far more successful at practically everything a generation or two back. We need to up our own game considerably before we earn the right to poke fun at anyone.

 6. Speakers who assume their listeners are shallow-

 Most people who attend church do so for the specific purpose of learning about the Bible. Contrary to popular belief, they actually enjoy getting a little history lesson or learning something about the original languages as long as the information is presented in an interesting and engaging manner. Assuming otherwise is patronizing and offensive.

 I long to see churches be successful, however I have become convinced that churches will not be successful until we let go of our adolescent obsession with “being cool”. The church was never called to be cool. The church is called to be a hospital for sinners, a school for Christians and safe place for kids to grow-up.

All else is a waste of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

They come intent on violence. Their hordes advance like a desert wind and gather prisoners like sand. They mock kings and scoff at rulers. They laugh at all fortified cities; by building earthen ramps they capture them~ Habakkuk 1:9-10 NIV

 Last Sunday morning I woke to the sad but not terribly shocking news that there was yet another terror-attack on American soil. This time forty-nine people were killed in an Orlando, Florida nightclub.

 There are no words for the sorrow I feel for those who lost someone they love in this senseless tragedy. My heart breaks for the family and friends of the victims who will undoubtedly continue to experience fallout from this tragedy for years to come. I pray that each one will find the peace that only Jesus can bring in the midst of their pain and loss.

 I watch a lot of news.

 So far this week I have heard analysts and legislators on both sides of the aisle blame the attack in Florida on guns, politics in the Middle East, homophobia, the sorry state of our mental healthcare system, loose gun laws, the shooter’s Dad, the internet for “radicalizing the shooter”, sexual repression, morality in America and the sin of “Islamaphobia”.

 Whatever that means.

On and on it goes.

 Sadly, everyone is working so hard to find an excuse for the inexcusable that nobody is asking the one question that really needs to be asked. What is the one common denominator nearly all extremists and their sympathizers share in common? No one asks, because truth-be-told no one wants to discuss the elephant in the room.

 Islam

 Every time a terrorist attack occurs anywhere in the world every ignoramus with access to a microphone or a keyboard rushes in to say “Islam is religion of peace”, and that a few bad apples have hijacked an otherwise wonderful religion. The implications are clear, anyone who dares to disagree with the notion that Islam is a peaceful religion is a racist hater. It has become a highly effective tool for shutting down the conversation.

 But is it true?

 Is Islam a religion of peace? It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that Islam is religion of violence that has been hijacked by a whole lot of peaceful people who wish to transform Islam into something it is not- at the very core of it’s teaching.

 I do not hate Muslim people. Nor do I believe that the vast majority of Muslims are violent individuals. However, I have come to believe that the religion of Islam is a profoundly violent and tyrannical belief system that seeks to control and dominate every individual on this planet.

 Sharia is the heart and soul of Islam. The word Sharia means “way’ or “path” and is the body of law that flows out of the Quran. Sharia directs every facet of public life for Muslims and much of their private lives. The vast majority (two-thirds) of the worlds 1.6 billion Muslims believe that Sharia law ought to be the law of the land EVERYWHERE.

 Sharia teaches:

 The penalty for rejecting Islam is death~ Quran 9:29-31

Husbands are to beat disobedient wives~ Quran 4:34

Muslims are commanded to terrorize non-Muslims~ Quran 8:60

Men are superior to women and meant to rule over them~ Quran 4:34

Murdering innocents is a valid form of inspiring terror~ Quran 9:14, Quran 9:5

The penalty for homosexuality is death~ Quran 7:80-84

Torture is demanded for apostasy, adultery, and refusal to convert and during times of war~ Quran 24:2, Quran 22:19-22, Quran 9:73, Quran 5:33, Quran 8:12

 The worldview that develops as a result of Sharia translates into a living nightmare for non-Muslim’s residing in Muslim countries. Even in so-called “moderate” Muslim countries such as Pakistan “blasphemy” laws ensure that no non-Muslim has authentic freedom of speech, assembly or worship. Nor are non-Muslims ever really free from the threat of imprisonment, torture or death.

Blasphemy laws in Pakistan are responsible for the murders of at least two hundred Christians (including children) since 1994. Remember, Pakistan is a “moderate” Muslim country; their government is extraordinarily progressive in their treatment of non-Muslims compared to, say, Iran or Iraq.

 As Christians we should not fear or shun Muslims, nor should we ignore the reality of they believe or buy the lie that Islam is a religion of peace, because it’s not.

 Every Christian ought to be educating themselves on the basics of Islamic doctrine, so that we can effectively pray for the salvation of Muslim people. Muslim men and women need to know the love and spiritual freedom that only Jesus Christ can offer them. It’s our responsibility as believers in Jesus to reach them with that truth.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Is Being Nice Really What Jesus Would Do?

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere should repent~ Acts 17:30 NASB

 My daughter has joined a gym. Her fitness goals are commendable and realistic.  She wants to gain muscle, increase her endurance and best-case scenario: drop a few pounds.

 Last night she confessed she’s run into a bit of a glitch in reaching her goals. The problem lies less with her than with the gym she belongs to. The staff is pleasant, but hands off when it comes to assisting clients.

 The staff does not help with technique or correct the wrong use of machines. There are no scales anywhere in the building. There is an enormous dish of candy at the front desk and the gym serves pizza on Fridays. If a client wishes to munch on a jelly donut while running on the treadmill, the management is perfectly fine with that. They do ask that you wipe the goo off the machine once your workout is completed.

 The goal of this organization is a noble one. The want to create a safe place for out of shape people to get into shape, without even a hint of disapproval or judgment from anyone.

 As always the only hitch is the curse of unintended consequences.  

 The employees are so wary of causing offense that the clients are not getting the help they need to make the changes they want to make. This is a legitimate problem when you consider that any gym anywhere in the world would assert that their sole purpose for existing is to help out of shape folks lose weight and get into shape.

 Her tale of woe reminded me of a blog post I read this week.

 I read quite a few blogs in a given week. Every once in a while I come across one that sticks with me and causes me to think on a deeper level.

 This was one of those.

 The writer (a Christian) shared that one afternoon while she and her husband were out shopping, they ran into a guy she had attended youth group with when she was a teenager. Except the guy wasn’t a guy anymore. He was a girl.

 Awkward.

 The writer handled herself with composure considering the delicate nature of the situation. She did not cast judgment, give disapproving looks or hurl Bible verses at him. Nor did she inform him he was headed straight for hell.

 She went out of her way to make friendly conversation and set him at ease. She asked about his family and inquired about what he had been up to in recent years. She introduced her husband, shared some of her own story, gave him a couple of big hugs and went on with her day.

 It was a nice exchange and frankly it’s probably what I would have done given the same set of circumstances. So, please don’t accuse me of judging her or anyone else, because I’m not. That said, as I pondered her story I was overcome with a deep sense of spiritual conviction and left wondering:

 Is being nice enough?

 Being nice or “showing love” to sinners is bandied about as the latest and greatest in “being like Jesus” and “loving the unsaved”. But again, I wonder is it enough? And is it really and truly “being like Jesus”?

 I am not questioning whether or not Christians ought to be kind, respectful and compassionate towards all people, including those people with obviously sinful lifestyles. Jesus was and I believe being kind is a given. If you are a Christ-follower and do not routinely treat all people with respect, you have a serious sin problem called pride and you should deal with it.

Today.

 That being said, I do wonder if simply “showing love” to people who are obviously stuck in a sin spiral is doing more harm than good from an eternal perspective. I’m not proposing we stop being nice. I am proposing we stop helping sinners to feel safe in their lost state. Our compassion and acts of kindness need to be followed up with loving, but truthful conversations about the eternal consequences of choosing a lifestyle of sin over a heart of repentance. We forget that Jesus (arguably the nicest guy ever) made it uncomfortably clear on more than one occasion that an unrepentant sinner is anything but “safe” from a spiritual standpoint (Matthew 4:17, Luke 5:32, Mark 9:47).

 I fear that we have we have traded the hard work of evangelism and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) for the path of least resistance: being pleasant and inoffensive. In the process we have become a lot like my daughter’s gym. We are safe and welcoming to sinners, but nothing significant ever really happens and no one ever changes anything that matters.