The Seven Churches Series- Ephesus

Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart- Proverbs 3:3 NIV

I have this theory that all Christian churches, denominations and organizations follow the same basic development pattern.

It always begins with a dream, desire or idea God plants in the heart of a person or a group of people.  This dream ultimately produces the birth of something new and beautiful (Isaiah 43:19, Acts 2:42-47).

Then comes childhood.  

Childhood is an exhilarating time in a church or ministry. Childhood is all about beginnings and growth. All the activity of this phase is born out of genuine love for Jesus, passion for the mission of Jesus and a desire to honor and glorify Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).   Leaders seek to obey Jesus above all else and as a result this phase typically results in an abundance of fruit. The childhood phase is also marked by some chaos. Leaders don’t always know what they’re doing, important things don’t get done and there can be disputes between key leaders (Galatians 2:11-14).  Because this stage is naturally volatile, if an organization stays in childhood for too long the ministry or church will die. No ministry or church can endure the disorganization and volatility of the childhood stage for long. 

It’s just too dang messy. 

If the organization or church survives the birth and childhood phase (some don’t). It moves into adulthood. Adulthood is the sweet spot for a ministry or church. There’s still a lot of excitement but there is also a clear vision for where the ministry is going. The vision is firmly rooted in biblical principles and prayer. The ministry is still very Jesus centered but there’s more discipline than in the childhood phase. The policies and leadership structure developed in the early adulthood phase provide the stability necessary to keep the thing from flying off the rails. This is typically a very long phase that is even more effective and fruitful than the childhood phase. The organization or church earns a good reputation in the community and it does a lot of good. People are saved, lives are transformed and Jesus is glorified in a big way (Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-10, Titus 3:5). 

Then comes middle age.

If an organization makes it to the middle age stage everything is going super well from an optics perspective. Money is being raised, there are a ton of volunteers and the stated mission is still solid. 

However. 

There is a subtle shift that begins with leadership. Leaders become, usually without realizing it, much more focused on building the organization than they are on Jesus and glorifying Jesus. Jesus is still valued, but Jesus is no longer the main thing. He’s more of a figurehead at this point. Passion for Jesus and devotion to the mission gets lost in the day-to-day of “doing ministry”, “raising money” and “growing the church” (Matthew 28:18-20, Matthew 10:7-9, Ephesians 4:11-16). It not unheard of for shady conduct to become a common occurrence at this point, and because leaders are focused is on how things LOOK rather than holiness, righteousness and pleasing Jesus, it is also not all unusual for shadiness to be swept under the rug, rather than being dealt with.   All or most of the ministry work of this phase is centered on programs and fund raising rather than transforming people and glorifying Jesus.  On the surface the ministry activity APPEARS to be people and Jesus centered. However, most of it is focused firmly on keeping the ministry machine going, raising money and justifying the continued existence of the organization. 

This is exactly what happened to the church in Ephesus. 

The first church Jesus addresses in Revelation chapters 2-3 arrived at middle age and their love for Jesus and concern for the spiritual and emotional needs of people became lost in their desire to maintain the status quo. Jesus called this “losing their first love” (Revelation 2:4-5).

But here’s the thing: 

No one looking at the Ephesian church from the outside would have suspected there was a problem. Even most folks who attended the Ephesian church were likely unaware of the issues. The leaders were undoubtedly clueless. Leaders at this stage almost always lack any kind of real self-awareness. As a result, they thought everything was fine. And why not? All the externals looked awesome. The pastors were skillful, polished and well-educated. The doctrine was solid.  They avoided getting involved with problematic or divisive issues. The people attending gave money and willingly suffered hardship for Jesus (Revelation 2:2-3).  

But. 

Their hearts were far from God. The people stopped caring about the things Jesus cared about. The Ephesian Church was still very busy kingdom building. It was just the wrong kingdom. It was a human kingdom instead of Jesus’ kingdom.  

Jesus’ instruction to the Ephesian Christians is straightforward: “do what you did at first”.  

Jesus knew that one of two things happens at this crossroads.

Most of the time the ministry continues a slow drift further and further from the original mission. Bit by bit it loses its ability to make a spiritual impact on the world. The church remains but the power it once had to make disciples and transform the culture is gone. The people lose their saltiness and the church or organization becomes spiritually worthless (Matthew 5:13). If it endures it becomes more of a social service agency than an actual ministry. 

Or.

There is a spiritual awaking.  The people who attend and lead these churches recognize the problem. They see the drift. It breaks their hearts and they repent. They fully rededicate themselves to the cause of Christ. Jesus becomes the main thing once again and the church or organization continues to be a vital part of the body and a solution to the brokenness in this world (Revelation 2:7). 

However.

Spiritual awaking’s don’t just happen.  

We need to ask God to help us see the drift in our lives and our churches and our ministries. It’s imperative we pray daily for wisdom and self-awareness and a heart that is willing to see the problems and our role in those problems. Most importantly, must be eager to do what we did at first (Jeremiah 17:9-10). We have to fight to go back to that childlike state of spiritual existence where Jesus was our everything and our obedience was a gift we joyfully gave Him.  

How Peace can Become a Bad Thing –

Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace- Jeremiah 10b-11 NIV

We are hardwired to pursue peace. 

Deep down in our souls we know every good and valuable thing human civilization has to offer was developed, advanced and flourished during times of peace. The finest art, music, theology, medicine and literature are all the outcome of extended periods of peace. Minus peace marriages dissolve, mental health declines, churches splinter, governments breakdown and societies crumble.  

Peace is a critical element of Christian doctrine. 

Jesus’ official title is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He got that title by coming to earth, dying on the cross and rising from the dead in order to pay the penalty for human sin and rebellion. His purpose in doing all that was to broker peace between a sinless God and sinful humanity. Because Jesus is the bringer of peace Jesus’ followers are instructed to make peace whenever possible (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18, Hebrews 12:14). The Bible teaches that the mere presence of an obedient Christian has the power to bring peace to a place or situation. (Matthew 10:13). One of the most profound benefits of knowing Jesus is the peace He brings to our hearts even in the midst of the worst kinds of trouble and chaos (John 14:27, John 16:33). 

Because peace is so vital to human flourishing most folks will go to super human and sometimes even sinful lengths to get it and keep it. A craving for peace is why we have divorce lawyers. Peace is the reason our culture loves pharmaceuticals so much. It’s why society collectively spends billions on police and it explains the existence of the military industrial complex.  Peace is so critical to human health people will fight wars just to keep it.  

It’s critical we understand. 

 Peace has a dark side.  It’s not all sunshine and gummy bears. There are situations in life when the presence of peace is neither good, beneficial or life-giving. Peace quickly becomes toxic anytime we: 

Get it in the wrong way-

Interestingly enough, the most totalitarian and repressive countries on earth are also, at least on the surface, some of the most serene and peaceful places on earth. You don’t see a lot of dissent or griping in dystopian regimes. The people in those places are not peaceful because they are thrilled with their circumstances. Beneath the veneer of peace and tranquility, there is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist. No one is allowed to tell the truth or say what they believe unless the tyrant gives them the go ahead. The same thing can happen in our families, churches, businesses and friendships. A strong personality or leader keeps the peace, not by leading well, working through interpersonal problems or helping people to figure out their conundrums. Rather, the leader keeps the peace through intimidation and coercion. Sometimes the coercion is stated verbally. Most of the time it’s implied. Sometimes the threat is physical, but usually it’s social or relational. Typically, anyone brave enough or dumb enough to refuse to “submit’ to the leaders demands ends up on the “outside” of the church, family or friend group. The only way to deal with a leader who sows false peace is to refuse to leave the situation. 

Want it for the wrong reasons-

Some people make peace simply because they are so averse to any kind of conflict, even healthy conflict they will do anything tolerate anything just to avoid the social discomfort that comes with rocking the relationship boat. Psychologists call this kind of peacemaking: codependence. Codependence is bad. The peace we broker through codependent capitulation never leads to anything healthy or lifegiving. Instead, codependent peacemaking always leads to repressed anger, game playing, bitterness and passive-aggressive revenge seeking, none of which pleases God (Hebrews 12:15, Matthew 5:37). The only way to achieve real peace is by moving forward with hard conversations in spite of any personal embarrassment or discomfort we feel.  Hard conversation is hard but it allows us to work through the issues in the relationship honestly and come to a place of real peace where people can flourish and grow.  

Take shortcuts to get it-

There are all sorts of shortcuts we can take to achieve a pretense of peace in our marriages, churches, friendships and workplaces. We can gloss over real problems, limit hard conversations, crush dissent, hide the conflict, avoid people who make us uncomfortable or pretend everything is okay when it isn’t. All of these shortcuts do give an illusion of peace, at least for a season. The problem with shortcuts is they also inhibit intimacy, limit growth, and kill straight forward communication.  There really is no shortcut or easy way to achieve real, authentic and lasting relationship health. We just have to be willing to be patient as we work through the conflict to get to the good stuff (cooperation, intimacy, friendship, trust). 

The pursuit of peace is a good, upright and noble thing—if we go about it in the right way. If we go about the wrong way we might get a short-term payoff that feels good in the moment but is in reality a cheap counterfeit, that brings with it a lot of long-term pain. 

America is a Dumpster Fire: Here’s what Christians can do About it-


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

America is in decline. 

Once trusted institutions are now looked at with scorn, cynicism and even fear. Many politicians have become corrupt, narcissistic and self-serving.  The economy is in crisis. Inflation is raging. Crime and violence are becoming disturbingly routine events.   Personal freedom is often a cover for evil and selfishness. Government has responded by restricting and regulating personal freedom at every turn.  The military is weakened. A once robust educational system is collapsing. Families are broken. Children are confused about who and what they are.  Drug use is endemic. Men and women are literally fighting for the right to kill their own children.  Truth tellers are despised. These ugly, irrefutable, painful realities clearly point to a state of growing decline. 

Sigh. 

What the heck? How on earth did the freest, richest and overall greatest nation (in my humble opinion) on earth transform into such a raging dumpster-fire so quickly? 

 As tempting as it is we cannot in good conscience lay the blame for the chaos entirely at the feet of our increasingly inept and morally bankrupt political leaders. In a democracy decline is never entirely the fault of the people in charge, voters get what they accept and vote for. Additionally, from a biblical standpoint bad leaders are always an indicator of judgment and are therefore just a symptom of a greater problem.   

Sin is the problem. 

Sin is always the ultimate cause of moral and spiritual decline (Romans 1:18-32). If an individual, family or nation is deteriorating or declining you can bet sin is at the root of the issue.  Anytime anyone turns away from God and starts to do their own thing they separate themselves from God and the moral code faith in God brings with it.  Eventually, the whole memory of that moral code fades and the person, family or culture is left with the ethical equivalent of a raging dumpster fire. What we’re looking at in the world today is what you get when people turn away from God, reject His moral code and choose to do their own thing. 

Unfortunately. 

Our situation will not be improving anytime soon. The decline America is experiencing will continue until we have a massive revival that fundamentally changes our trajectory or the eventual end of America as we know it. Obviously, we are all rooting for a revival. Here is what we need to do to get it:

Stand up the right way- 

 Christians are frequently told everything will improve when they “stand up” and “fight” for what’s right.  The problem is that no one can really explain what that means or how to do it in a way that brings God glory and facilitates change in the culture. Do we lead an insurrection? Do we focus on the political realm? What exactly does standing up for our faith look like in 2022? I believe this is where we can take a page from the early churches’ handbook. The early church didn’t take a political or even a moral stand against the Roman government. They didn’t rally or rage against anyone or anything— no matter how wicked or evil that somebody or something was. As a powerless minority rallying and raging would have done little good, it might have even gotten them killed. Instead they simply refused to conform to the culture around them (Romans 2:12). They lived such good, right and moral lives within their culture that they slowly won the culture over to their way of thinking, believing and behaving (1st Peter 2:12). We must seek to do the same. 

Have a realistic perspective on the limits and potential of politics-

Politics are important in a democracy and we have to remember that living in a democracy is a gift from God. Nevertheless, it is critical Christians understand all political leaders (including conservatives) are flawed and cannot be depended on to bring about ethical change.  Every Christian living in a democracy or a constitutional republic is biblically obligated to do their part for the country they live in. That includes praying fervently for political leaders, choosing to vote only for the best and most principled candidate available. Doing our part means being a good citizen who follows all laws that do not contradict God or His laws. We must do our best to improve the political realm but politics should never take the place of God in our lives. Nor can we depend on human leaders to bring righteousness, justice or peace to our land. Only God can bring healing to our world. 

 Take spiritual risks- 

This is not the time to sit back and hope good wins out in the end. This cultural moment requires Christians be spiritually proactive. We become proactive by sharing our faith boldly, loving the lost boldly and doing what’s right in God’s eyes no matter the cost to us personally.  

Our job as followers of Jesus is not to demand our rights or spend our time cursing the darkness (1st Corinthians 4:12) . Our job is to be Jesus to our world. We must seek to represent Him well in our homes, churches and communities.  

How we Got Here and What Will Bring Change-

My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins– James 5:19-21 NASB 

Sometimes writing about one thing will cause me to think more deeply about another thing. 

Such was the case this past week. 

Last week’s post was all about “the new normal” and my own stubborn resistance not just to the expression “the new normal” but also to all the changes the “new normal” has brought to everyday life. It has been tough for me to accept that the way we do life has changed dramatically all because of a stupid germ and our weird response to that germ.  However, over the course of time I have come to accept the reality that life will be different for a while, perhaps even forever. 

I do not believe the “new normal” is an accident of fate. It is the direct result of God’s judgment and rebuke. We are where we are due to the moral rebellion of those outside the church as well as the complacency and disobedience of those inside the church. Much of the “new normal” including the fear, political division, confusion and loss of freedom is simply the result of a loving God working overtime to get our attention before we destroy our stupid selves. It’s time we started paying a little closer attention.   

The world is a mess:

 We live in a time and a place where basic knowledge concerning God and morality is still very much part of the Western cultural norm. Thanks to the internet there has never been a time when more people had more access to the Bible and Christian teaching. Sadly, all this access to information has had little impact on how most people approach life (Romans 1:18-21, 2nd Timothy 3:5). 

Most non-Christians view themselves as free moral agents who are unaccountable to anyone or anything. The mere suggestion of God’s existence raises the hackles of some. The God our culture does embrace bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. He is weak, tolerant, unfailingly nonjudgmental and very kind. As a result, most non-Christians have literally cast off all restraint. They fight against the notion that anyone, including God has the right to tell them what to do or how to run their lives.  It is routinely argued by politicians, thought leaders and “average Joes” that anything God has declared to be true and good is actually wrong, stupid and repressive. The mere suggestion there should be moral limitations in any area but especially in the area of sexuality is met with open outrage and hostility (Romans 1:21-32). 

The church has its own set of issues. 

For the better part of the last century the church has behaved much like Adam did in the garden (Genesis 3). Christians (including me) have been passive as their friends, neighbors and family members have played around with ideas and behaviors that we were fully aware would lead to their eventual destruction.  We watched the public schools teach our children the lie that Western civilization is evil and unredeemable, and did little, if anything to stop the madness.  We allowed the entertainment industry to lead our families into a hellish upside-down morality that calls evil good and good evil.  We passively watched our culture fall down the rabbit hole on nearly every issue from drug use to the break-down of the family to gender issues.  

Our reluctance to confront these and other issues was been born out of fear (Isaiah 41:10-13). We were afraid of being labeled as “hateful”, “backward”, “anti-science” or “mean-spirited” by our peers (John 15:18).   On the rare occasions when Christians have boldly confronted these and other issues it has rarely been done the way God designed it to be done. It hasn’t been a parent challenging their child or one neighbor or friend gently confronting the sin of someone they care about. Instead Christians have outsourced hard conversations to pastors, books, big Christian organizations and ministries who have had the discussions concerning virtue and morality that individual Christians should have been having one-on-one with their friends and family.   As a result, many in our culture are convinced Christians have no real interest in individual people but only care about righteousness in a nationalistic sense. 

All that being said.

Because God is good and unfailingly merciful all is not lost. We have hope.  God is eager to forgive those who are quick to repent. He will send revival, He will heal our land but first church people must make changes (2nd Chronicles (7:14). The church must do some serious soul searching. It’s time to ruthlessly root out the sin in our own lives and repent. If we don’t we will never have the moral authority necessary to confront sin and have hard conversations with others. It’s way past time to let go of any discomfort we feel about discussing moral issues with our children, friends and neighbors. And lastly, it is imperative we stop expecting pastors and ministry organizations to do the job of making disciples and confronting sin. It’s not their responsibility, it’s ours (Ephesians 4:10-12). If we lean into that responsibility we will see the culture change and our churches grow into something healthy and strong. 

How to Flourish Regardless of the “New Normal”-

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age- Psalm 92:12-14a NIV

 Among other notable distinctions 2020 has produced some annoying but unique catchphrases and buzzwords. Thanks to the “Rona” even those generally unfamiliar with medical jargon are now familiar with terms such as “self-quarantine”, “contact tracing”, “social distancing” and “flatten the curve”. 2020 has also given us some notable catchphrases such as: “show you care, mask-up” “spread kindness not COVID-19”, “we are in this together”, “remember to wash your hands”, “staying apart is the best way to stay connected” and “stay home to stay alive”.

Sigh.  

However, the award for the most annoying new slogan or catchphrase of 2020 goes to the expression “the new normal”. I resisted this phrase from day one. I was horrified at how quickly people simply accepted the idea a GERM should automatically change everything about everything. Germs are not a new thing. Germs have existed since the fall and we have managed to survive quite nicely despite them.

Furthermore.

This is the twenty-first century for the love of all that is good and decent! We are not living in the stinking dark ages for heaven’s sake! At this point in history humans ought to be sophisticated enough to cope with a stupid virus, even a novel virus without it destroying the best parts of our civilization (free speech, sporting events, live entertainment venues, face-to-face communication, free exercise of religion, unrestricted travel). Acquiescing to the notion that a virus with anything less than a twenty-percent mortality rate could change EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING is a kind of spineless defeatism I was and still am very uncomfortable with.  

Nevertheless. 

As time has worn on, I have been forced to acknowledge reality.  COVID-19 really has shaped a new normal that will doubtless continue to affect our daily lives for some time to come. Unfortunately, little of the new normal is healthy, pleasant or life-giving. In fact, most of it is corrupt, unhealthy, illogical and extremely distressing in some way.  So far, the “new normal” includes a lot fear, an appalling lack of logic, political division, hostility, hate, rioting and government control. 

I am still not a fan. 

That being said. Because God promises He will never leave us or forsake us, Christians will ALWAYS have the ability to flourish spiritually even in the most challenging of times (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).  The book of Jeremiah demonstrates this reality.  Jeremiah is mostly a grim and unpleasant book.  After generations of idolatry, sexual sin and open rebellion against God the people of Judah were finally faced with the consequences of their sinful lifestyle.  God lifted His hand of protection and the nation was conquered by the Babylonians. Jeremiah prophesied that this would not be a short-term inconvenience. Israel would remain in captivity to the Babylonians for seventy years. However, Jeremiah also assured the nation that even in the midst of their painful and ugly “new normal” God still loved them.  He promised God would still hear their prayers, He would continue to dwell among them, He would continue to bless them and He still had good plans for their future (Jeremiah 29:10-14). 

What was true for God’s people in 605 B.C. is still true for God’s people in 2020 A.D. God is still God and God is still good. He has plans for His people and they are good. 

This is without question a season of rebuke and judgment. God is not dealing just with those outside the church but also with Christians who have become disobedient and negligent in their devotion to God (1stPeter 4:17). During a season of rebuke and judgment it is vital we ruthlessly root out the idols in our lives and seek to become active participants in the sanctification process (2nd Corinthians 13:5, 2nd Peter 1:5-11). We must examine our lives and repent quickly so we can be a peaceful and life-giving presence to non-Christians who have reached the end of their own coping mechanisms and false belief systems. Our ultimate obligation before God is to live holy lives and seek the good of the culture we have been placed in, no matter how corrupt or sinful our culture happens to be (Jeremiah 29:4-7, Matthew 5:16, Matthew 28:18-20, 1st Peter 2:12). That means being spiritually ready when God  brings revival to the unbelieving.  

 Historically, God does His best work in the darkest of times. Our time is no different. God promises to do great things in and through the faithful.  The seventy years of captivity gave us some of the most heroic, encouraging, and instructive stories in all the Bible. The books of Daniel, Esther and Jonah are all stories that tell how God worked in and through those who remained faithful during their season of rebuke and judgment. If we cling to God and stay open to what He is attempting to do in us through this season we will not lose heart we will see God do great things in us and in our culture. 

We will flourish. 

Satan’s Diary- September 13, 2020

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil– Ephesians 6:11 NASB 

Dear Diary, 

I love lies! I love politics! I love COVID-19! I love hate! I love Marxist teaching! I love sexual deviancy!  I LOVE 2020! 

But, mostly I love the 24/7 news.

Decades ago I took control of most print and broadcast media. The task was not difficult to accomplish. I had been heavily influencing college professors for decades. Under my watchful eye journalism schools became strongholds of liberal thinking in no time at all.   

It’s been nothing but sunshine and blue skies ever since. 

Thanks to 24/7 news channels most human beings are being gaslighted every moment of every day. Stupid fools never think beyond what my toady’s in the media tell them.  It’s beautiful.  Those who report the “news” insist what people see with their own eyes isn’t truth. Every day, all day, the media tells the public the thugs burning down cities, destroying business, attacking police and harassing innocent bystanders are not the problem. Those people are peaceful protesters. The demonstrators never articulate what kind of change would make them alter their behavior and newscasters tell viewers it’s the police who are the problem. If the police ceased to exist crime would be eliminated and the looters would fade into the woodwork.   

As if!

Even I know most Americans are decent people who welcome immigrants of every skin color and people group. Immigrants give up everything they know to go to America, some spend their life savings getting there. They do it because they know they will enjoy more freedom and economic opportunity there than in any other place on earth. The news media tells viewers those facts mean nothing.  The media has those moronic fools despising themselves for racist attitudes most of them don’t even have! The “everyone’s a racist and doesn’t know it” movement is actually causing the races to become more suspicious and even fearful of each other. 

LOVE! 

Speaking of fear. I just adore COVID-19.

That lovely, little virus has made more people afraid of more than things than anything I’ve seen in a millennium. My pets in the news media have becomes experts at increasing fear over Coronavirus. They do it because they believe it will get and keep their preferred political party in power. Not that I mind, their beloved political party just happens to be my personal darling right now.  Those fools are so delightfully misled and so intent on misleading others!  The media refuses to discuss politicians who refuse to follow their own rules regarding coronavirus. Stupid humans don’t realize that when a politician does anything that’s prohibited for “normal” people to do, like go outside without a mask, get their hair blow dried, or eat indoors at a restaurant they reveal their true beliefs about the dangers of COVID-19. They tell the world with their actions they don’t really believe COVID-19 is as deadly as they insist it is. Legislators wallow in hypocrisy and no one questions their motives for making the rules in the first place. It’s literally the most beautiful thing ever. Seriously.  

Okay, so, politics is good but it’s not actually the most beautiful thing EVER. The most beautiful thing EVER is the normalization of pedophilia! I have been working towards this goal for decades and I am on the edge of success.  A small but vocal minority wants to begin calling perverts and child molesters “minor attracted persons”.  How beautiful is that? I chose it myself. I simply adore how wonderfully clean sounding it is. I have been busy influencing Hollywood producers regarding children and sex. A full-length movie recently came out that sexualizes pre-teen girls and makes conservative parents look like a bunch of abusive kooks. If I play my cards right in another year-or-two there will be a full-length cartoon with a truly delightful child who is “in love “with a “really nice” and “really loving” adult character. By the end of the movie the star-crossed lovers will realize love really is love. Idiots easily swayed by emotional twaddle will soften their stance on “minor-attracted persons” and the kiddies will be more open to adult “love”.  I can hardly wait!  Parents have actually been very helpful to me in this crusade. They purchase phones for their children that give them access to every kind of lie and perversion the world has to offer long before their kids have the wisdom, discernment or self-control to sort through those messages.  Then those chumps trust their kids to never look at anything questionable. They wonder why their kids are so sexualized and such easy prey for perverts, oh, I mean “minor attracted persons”.

Ha! Ha! I literally crack myself up sometimes! 

Then there’s the Christians. Thankfully, most don’t have the slightest clue as to how much power they have to bring about change in the world. They complain about the culture but very few are actually praying about much of anything. Christians are actively consuming the worst of their toxic culture through television and internet; this habit makes it almost impossible for them to live the kind of holy righteous lives that draw the world to their stupid savior and protect them from my deception.

WINNING!

 Half of all Christians have used coronavirus as an excuse to drop out of church and not just the old people. Christians under forty, are mostly healthy and most likely to believe online church is a reasonable substitute for the friendships, community and accountability in-person services provide. The idiots deliberately separate themselves from the body of Christ not realizing that when they do that they become easy prey for my demonic minions.  If they don’t make a daily practice of examining themselves in light of Scripture they won’t pray and they won’t repent. If they don’t pray and repent there’s zero chance of revival. No revival means big VICTORY for me.  😁

Satan

How we Bring on Moral Change-

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me– Psalm 51:10 NIV

 Our world is a flaming-hot mess right now.

 This is not a new thing.

 Sin and the messiness sin inevitably creates is as old as the human race (Genesis 1-3). However, it could be argued the world has been in a spiritual and ethical freefall for the better part of a century.

 Hedonism replaced Christianity as the predominant worldview in Western society years ago. As a result, the average person does not know how to think about life from a moral and ethical perspective. Abortion is believed to be a human right by the majority. Marriage is one of many options available for sexual fulfillment and individuals are free to define marriage any way they wish.  Attitudes towards sexuality have changed dramatically in recent years, with pedophilia being the latest in a long list of sexual behaviors that have become normalized, or are quickly becoming normalized. Most children are raised by google and YouTube these days while Moms and Dads blithely chase down self-actualization. Each new generation is more godless than the last. 

 Sigh. 

 The moral and social upheaval has accelerated at an unsettling pace over the last six months. Coronavirus is at least partly to blame. Coronavirus has ravaged the economy of every nation on earth. The psychological distress brought on by economic hardships has shone a spotlight on the social dysfunction festering beneath the surface of society for decades.  COVID-19 has also accelerated the political corruption that already existed. Politicians have used the pandemic as an excuse to grab power and make rules they themselves refuse to follow. Democracy hating revolutionaries have seized on the confusion brought on by the virus and are using underlying racial and economic tensions as an excuse to loot, burn and murder.  These rioters say they want a better, more just society but their real aim is to create a new social order with a godless government.

 The world clearly needs a revival.  

 Our world is in a state of chaos because most people are spiritually dead.  They don’t know God or care about right and wrong. Most individuals do what they want with no regard for God or what will happen to them after they die (Romans 1:18-32, 1st Corinthians 1:18).  Revival is something that occurs in those who do not know God.  When authentic revival takes place, people who are spiritually dead and unresponsive to spiritual truth (non-Christians) have a spiritual awakening and are brought to spiritual life (Ezekiel 37:1-14). When this happens, their heart undergoes a profound change. They fall in love with Jesus, repent of their sins and begin to see life the way God sees life. As their thinking is transformed their behavior is as well (Romans 12:1-2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18) One consequence of widespread revival is that attitudes towards sin undergo a profound change and eventually every part of society is affected in some way.  Historically, anytime genuine revival has taken place alcohol sales go down, divorce rates plummet and crime rates drop dramatically.

 Here’s the thing:

 Revival generally does not occur without renewal first taking place. Renewal is a spiritual work that occurs in the hearts of those who do know God (Psalm 51). Renewal is when God begins to work in the hearts of people who know Him and have drifted from Him and become disobedient or even just apathetic towards spiritual things. Renewal makes our faith fresh and new again. When renewal happens, Christians have a fresh hunger for holiness, a desire for correct doctrine and have a renewed longing to see revival take place in the culture. God always brings renewal before revival because renewal prepares the church to meet the needs of the new believers that come out of revival.  

 The church needs God to renew His people because for the most part, Christians have ceased to care about revival. Instead of praying for a movement of God we have settled for isolating ourselves from the sinful masses. The church has become far too focused on our own needs. This is demonstrated by the fact that most Christians are more worried about having their personal rights respected than in doing what’s right. We tend to see the world in terms of us (Christians) and them (non-Christians) and many of us would likely struggle to come up with one thing we would willingly give up to see someone else saved. Christians rarely pray and when we do pray our prayers tend to be fairly self-motivated, as a result we rarely feel personal conviction and when we do we seldom act on it.  

 Sigh.

 The need for revival is always obvious when its required. The need for renewal is generally much less obvious but more critical because we will not get the first until we get the second. Renewal comes on God’s people when they collectively pray and ask God for it. God moves when His people seek Him with all of their heart, soul and strength (Jeremiah 29:13, Matthew 22:37). Renewal occurs when Christians do the things they did when their hearts were on fire for God and when individuals couple right behavior with asking God to give them the right attitude (Revelation 2:5). I believe God wants to bring both revival and renewal to our world but He won’t do it until Christians around the world collectively ask for it.


Like we really mean it.

 

 

 

 

Could God be Attempting to Correct Us?

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account- Hebrews 4:13 NIV

Coronavirus is generating tremendous chaos throughout the world. Not since God put the kibosh on the Babel building project have so many individuals been so greatly affected by a singular event (Genesis 11:1-11).

People are anxious and going to pieces in ways rarely seen in our modern age.  Full-grown adults are fighting over toilet paper and tuna fish with no outward indications of shame. People are openly aggressive towards anyone who sniffles in a public place.  An Arizona man died from ingesting fish tank cleaner because he believed it would protect him from Coronavirus. Economists warn of impending doom if economies don’t return to some semblance of normal soon and yet some leaders are advocating quarantine orders be enforced for six months to a year. 

Some of the fear connected to Coronavirus is reasonable and even wise. Coronavirus is dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health problems, it is also highly contagious. Large groups of people get it all at once and it overwhelms healthcare systems. That being said, some of the fear is clearly out of bounds with the level of danger. There are seven-billion people on earth, 33,841 people have died from Coronavirus. That number is relatively small in comparison to the world population. Please don’t misunderstand, none of the people who died from this awful virus were insignificant or unimportant. They were all real people with stories, each was loved by someone and all were image-bearers of God. The loss of an image bearer is always a tragic event. That said, it could be argued that locking down the whole world indefinitely over the Coronavirus threat is a form of insanity that should be closely examined. 

So, a couple of things: 

Coronavirus could have been contained if the political will had existed when the virus first emerged. With few exceptions world leaders simply ignored the problem. The few who did act to contain the threat were condemned as bigots. Additionally, each of the nations (and regions) hit hardest by the virus displayed a high level of foolishness concerning the virus. Washington state (where I live) is a hub for air travel to China and yet little attention was paid to the virus until it started killing large numbers of people. Italy caved to political correctness and sponsored “hug a Chinese person” events even after it was clear the virus was being spread from Chinese tourists.  New York gave into greed and refused to cancel parades even when it was clear the virus was a looming problem (Isaiah 57:17, Luke 12:15). Iran refused help from other nations even when it was painfully clear they needed it to contain the virus (Proverbs 16:18). 

It is simply a fact that wisdom, common sense and good judgment are indicators God’s Spirit is present in the life of individuals, leaders and nations (Proverbs 9:11-12, Ecclesiastes 2:26, Jeremiah 4:22).  Conversely, willful foolishness is a clear sign a person, leader or nation has no fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7).

 Now that world leaders have finally decided to take this virus seriously, the whole world is in a mad panic to stop it using any method deemed necessary, even if it destroys lives and brings about abject poverty and suffering.  I know Christians aren’t supposed to use the J-word anymore. Nevertheless, I feel compelled by the Spirit to point out that in the Bible confusion, fear and overreaction to circumstances is one method God uses to bring judgment on obstinate people (Jeremiah 51:34). The Israelites were promised that if they persistently rebelled against God they would be afflicted with “madness and confusion of mind” (Deuteronomy 28:20). There are many instances in the Old Testament where God used confusion to defeat Israel’s enemies when they refused to turn from their sin.  (Joshua 10:9-10, Judges 6, 1st Samuel 14:20)  

This virus could very well be a corrective judgment brought on by a lack of human wisdom. Corrective judgments are warnings given in love.  God brings trouble, misery and hardship in an attempt to get people’s attention and bring them to a place of repentance and obedience (Jeremiah 15:19). In a corrective judgment God is always quick to forgive those who are eager to repent (Psalm 103:2-4, Jeremiah 15:19. Considering the state of our world it would be strange to think God is not demanding people everywhere to turn away from the sins of pride, sexual immorality, greed, abortion and unbelief (Psalm 50:4).  

Let me be clear:

I do not believe people who get or die from Coronavirus are under God’s direct judgment. God is not singling out particular people, nations, or people groups. The whole world is being negatively affected by this calamity.  God is always slow to judge partly because the righteous and the wicked all suffer equally under judgment (Ecclesiastes 9:2, Matthew 5:45), this reality breaks the heart of God.  Christians should not despair that life is hard right now. Instead we should rejoice that we know Jesus and have a secure future in Him. Christinas should be leading the way by examining ourselves and repenting of any sins we have in our lives.  We should seek God on behalf of our world and ask Him to show mercy by bringing a spirit of repentance and revival (1st Peter 4:17).  

The How-to of 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

Our world is a dumpster fire (metaphorically speaking). 

 Sinners have literally invented new ways to sin (Romans 1:29-31). 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 not much better.

 Conversions are down and scandals are up. Millennials 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 view the church as a force for good in the world. Pastors and Priests are at the bottom of the list of professions people trust most.

There is no end to the theories regarding the whys and how’s of what got us here. Some church-goers blame the materialistic mindset of many Christians. Others blame weak preaching, sinful pastors, 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 the problem lies with all the changes that have taken place within the church in recent years.  

Sigh.

Clever theories do nothing to resolve the real issue. The real issue is that we are way past the point of no return in the culture and the church. Real and lasting change will only come through a revival. Political change is important and should be something we seek but political change will do nothing lasting without widespread heart change.  Historically, revival has always begun with Christians. (Luke 10:27) Getting widespread 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. These stories have become appallingly common in the church world, especially in larger churches. It is time we rediscover the fact it is not an act of leadership to bully subordinates and it is possible have excellence without intimidation tactics or sexual misconduct. Church has become an industry. 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 are ultimately responsible for this nonsense. Board members and elders need to get their priorities in order and demand more of Pastors (1st Timothy 3:1-13) from a moral and leadership perspective.  

Think biblically about worldly things-

There are behaviors and attitudes the Bible does not necessarily forbid but are not wise or beneficial from a spiritual perspective (1st Corinthians 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). 

And finally:

Christians need to PRAY like they have never prayed before.

Seriously. No revival in the history of the church has ever taken place without God’s people beseeching the throne room of heaven and begging God for it (Google it). Christians need to make every kind of prayer a priority: corporate and private, Christians must obey the command to pray without ceasing (1st Thessalonians 5:17, Matthew 26:41, Acts 10:2-4)). Our prayers need to start with asking for revival: not for the world we live in but for us. For God’s people first (2nd Chronicles 7:14) and everyone else second because change always begins with the family of God taking on a higher level of obedience.

Why Some Kinds of Churches Just Need to Go-

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

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

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

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

Sigh.

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

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

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

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

The first time I attended an Evangelical church service, the whole thing was a flaming-hot-dumpster-fire of a mess from a seeker-friendly standpoint. The service was long (nearly two hours). The sermon was straight out of the scary part of Revelation. The pastor talked about hell. No one bothered to explain terms or activities that were strictly Christian.  It was clearly not the best service for a clueless unbeliever to walk into (to be honest, I was more than a bit mystified by the whole thing).  For the record: I do not believe churches ought to begin modeling their services after that one (at the very least churches should explain confusing terms). However, it’s important to note that I did not run screaming for the door, nor was it my last visit to that particular church. Some church leaders underestimate the curiosity and intelligence level of non-Christians as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to draw people when that’s His intent.

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

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

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

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

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