The Seven Churches Series- Pergamum the Church that Compromised

Pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one- 2nd Thessalonians 3:2-3 NIV

When I was a girl my grandparents lived down the road from an old abandoned house. The house sat by itself a good distance from the main road. The paint was faded and a couple of windows had been broken out. The power had been turned off years before so it was perpetually dark and gloomy. The entire property was covered with overgrown blackberry bushes and all sorts of weird creepy bramble. My brother, cousin and I would torment each other with disturbing stories we made up about “the house”. We were convinced someone had been murdered there (we had zero proof of this conviction). Therefore, it must have been haunted by ghosts and crawling with demons. We were so terrified of “the house” we would literally walk a half-mile out of our way to avoid setting foot anywhere near that property. 

It was just too dang scary. 

Our silly fears were nothing compared to the anxiety ordinary Christians in Pergamum experienced every day of their lives. It’s not an exaggeration to say Pergamum was likely the least safe place in all of the Roman Empire to be a Christian. The city was so sinister and creepy Jesus called it “the place where Satan has his throne.”

Jesus was not overstating the dangers of the city. 

 Pergamum was a dark spiritual stronghold where Satan exerted an extraordinary level of power and authority. Idol worship undoubtedly contributed to the grip Satan had over Pergamum.

Pergamum was a city of idols. 

 On a hilltop overlooking the city sat two massive pagan temples. One was dedicated to Athena the goddess of war, the other to Zeus. The temple of Zeus was an enormous open-air altar that smoked night and day with animal sacrifices. The shape of the altar was such that it looked very much like a huge smoking throne. The “throne” was clearly visible from every vantage point in and around the city. Pergamum was also home to a famous hospital/shrine/temple to the god Asclepios. The symbol of Asclepios was a serpent (snake). Sick people from all over Asia Minor travelled to Pergamum to spend a night in a room full of snakes in order to get healed. There were also smaller shrines to different gods and goddesses dotting the entire city. Many of the shrines were dedicated to whatever Roman Emperor happened to be in power at the time. 

Pergamum was perhaps best known for its zealous dedication to Caesar worship. 

In most cities Caesar worship was a once-a-year thing. A person went to an altar in their city and declared Caesar to be god. Then they were given a certificate of compliance and that was that. The deed was done for a whole year. 

However. 

 In Pergamum Caesar worship was such a huge part of the culture of the city a person could be compelled to pay homage to Caesar daily. Anytime someone walked passed a shrine to Caesar it was expected they would declare “Caesar is Lord”. If a Roman official did not hear the anticipated pronouncement they could (and often would) force the person to say it. If the individual refused they would be sent to the arena in Pergamum where they would be crucified, torn limb from limb, fed to wild beasts or beheaded ASAP. 

The Christians in Pergamum refused to give an inch on the issue of Emperor worship.  As a consequence, there were a lot of Christians martyred there. Jesus praised the Church for not renouncing their faith in Him even when it cost them their lives (Revelation 2:13). 

However.

There is more than one way to cave to social pressure and the Christians there definitely caved. As a result, Jesus’ letter to them was not all sunshine and roses. The Christians in Pergamum had no problem dying for Jesus but many struggled to live for Him. 

Their struggle centered around practical issues of life. 

In order to obtain employment in the ancient world one was expected to join a trade union and all trade unions were associated with some pagan deity. This created a living nightmare for Christians. It was impossible to belong to a union without making regular sacrifices to pagan gods and/or having sexual relations with temple prostitutes. 

Further complicating an already thorny situation were some prominent Christian teachers/pastors in the Pergamum church who taught pagan worship was perfectly okay as long as one ALSO worshiped Jesus.  Apparently, Christians in Pergamum were all too eager to embrace teaching that both made their lives easier and room for sexual immorality (1st Corinthians 5:1-11). 

In Revelation 2:14-16 Jesus makes it abundantly clear He is not okay with Christians who compartmentalize parts of their lives in order to compromise with worldly values and ideas. 

Jesus wanted all of them not just a small part or piece. 

Jesus’ warned the Christians in Pergamum there would be serious consequences (Revelation 2:16) if they continued to compromise. His criticism not born out of an egotistical desire Jesus had to have their devotion at the expense of their personal safety.  

Jesus wanted the total devotion of the Christians in Pergamum because He loves each and every person on earth as if they were the only person on earth.  Jesus knows all eternal rewards for Christians are directly linked to our level of obedience here on earth. Jesus did not want His people to foolishly trade eternal joy, intimate fellowship with God and reward (Revelation 2:17) in order to gain the approval and acceptance of those who do not know or love God. Jesus wanted the Christians in Pergamum to make Him their everything. Because He knew in doing so they would find joy and peace here on earth and greater reward in heaven. 

Lessons we Failed to Learn From two Years of Misery-

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees- Psalms 119:71 NIV

This past week I had a moment of clarity that just sort of led to a whole bunch of other moments of clarity, some good, some profoundly unpleasant.  

It all began when it dawned on me life is back to normal.  Church is back on. Traveling is back on. Eating out is back on. Having friends over is back on.  Concerts are back on. Life is back on.  

I was so happy I celebrated shamelessly for about ten solid minutes. 

It also dawned on me most churches are back to normal as well. Most Christians are doing exactly what they did prior to March 2020.  Churches are doing the same events, preaching the same types of sermons and running all the same programs they did before the world went to hell in a handcart.  The only thing Covid seems to have changed forever was church bulletins. Bulletins are officially dead. 

Anyway.  

If we are collectively doing all the same things we did before the world literally went to pieces it most likely means we did not learn all the lessons God wanted us to learn from the world literally going to pieces. I’m just spit-balling here but it simply makes no sense God would allow all the misery we collectively experienced in 2020-2021 then be okay with His people coming out of it unchanged in any significant way.    

Choosing not to learn is never a viable option with God. He will keep going back to the same lessons over and over again until we get it. He’s relentless.  Trust me. I know. I am convinced there are three things God wants the church to learn from the events of the last two years. We will forget these lessons at our own peril. 

First: 

Community is the core of the Christian experience-

When Christians are deeply connected to other Christians they engage nonbelievers more confidently, absorb the truth of scripture, love each other sacrificially, and grow into the image of Jesus (Acts 2;42-47). It’s just how God designed the whole Christianity thing to work.  Unfortunately, the pandemic unearthed a shocking lack of authentic community in Christian circles. When the going got tough most Christians turned to Netflix, food and their PlayStations instead of the body of Christ for support and comfort. Everyone bemoans the lack of community in churches. There have been volumes written on the subject. However, little has actually been done to deal with the problem. Solving the problem will mean slowing down and stepping out of our collective comfort zones. No one can run from activity to activity in a frenzied fashion and expect to build deep, lasting relationships with other people in whatever time happens to be left over. Stepping out of our comfort zones means becoming a lot more welcoming and open to those who come to our churches. We need be intentional about developing the kind of friendliness that is genuinely curious about others. We need to seek to learn about others instead of simply hoping they will want to learn about us. Building community means inviting others in and making space for another seat at the table, even when it’s inconvenient (Hebrews 13:2). Without genuine community the body of Christ will find itself woefully unprepared for whatever comes next. 

The fear of man is a snare- 

 The pressure to conform to the morals of our time is nearly overwhelming. We have all seen what happens when someone is foolhardy enough to share an unpopular opinion or refuse to tow the party-line on some issue related to morality. As a result, we have all been tempted to keep our heads down and our opinions to ourselves in an effort to stay out of the line of fire. Consequently, evil has gained lot of ground politics, education, sexuality and law. It’s time for the body of Christ to suck it up and start being brave again (no matter the cost) because the fear of man is trap that will steal our spiritual effectiveness and our joy (Proverbs 29:25)

We have to live like the end is near

Seriously.  

This is the biggie.  I do not know when the end will be. Nobody does (Matthew 24:35-37, Ecclesiastes 8:7). That said, God commands His people to live like the end is going to be tomorrow. If we want to be sincerely obedient to Jesus we need to wake up every day and ask ourselves what would I do today if I knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow? Then we need to do those things (Matthew 24, Matthew 25:1-13, 1st Thessalonians 5:1-3). 

Thankfully, covid is no longer dominating every aspect of our lives. However, our world and the people in it are not (for the part) moving towards better things. Instead, governments are becoming more corrupt, evil is gaining ground, deception is getting stronger and hearts are growing colder. Hard times and evil days give God’s people an opportunity to shine, but in order to do that we must join together, practice bold faith and live like the end is near. 

What’s Next for the Pro-life Movement?

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord- Romans 12:9-11 NIV

Last week God graciously answered almost fifty years of heartfelt prayers in one fell swoop when Roe vs. Wade was miraculously reversed by the Supreme Court. Like all pro-life Christians, I rejoiced at the news. There are no words for how good it feels to have a wrong that’s led to the death of sixty-million human beings righted by the courts after so much evil and injustice. 

However. The reaction from abortion supporters was far less joyful. 

It was Crazy Town.

 Seriously. 

There was literal wailing and literal gnashing of teeth and I mean that literally.  Mothers marched in protest to the ruling, some with their children wearing signs saying things like: “don’t force anyone into this” (meaning motherhood). Other protesters wore t-shirts saying: “I hate babies” or “I’m not pro-choice I’m anti-baby”. News anchors immediately began making wild predictions about all the other rights (birth control, gay marriage, interracial marriage) that will vanish into thin air because Roe has been repealed. A parade of women shared their personal abortion stories in glowing terms. Some openly lamented there will be women who won’t get the opportunity to abort their offspring like they did. Activists vowed to help women living in states where abortion is banned get abortions, using any means necessary. Joe Biden promised the federal government would do everything within its power to make chemical abortions readily available to every woman in every state in America. Elizabeth Warren and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez want the federal government to set up pop-up abortion clinics on federal land and inside national parks in states that outlaw or place limits on abortion. The governors of Washington, Oregon and California formed a creepy little alliance aimed at making the entire left-coast “abortion welcoming”. One governor even promised to do everything he could to make abortion free in his state. God help us all. 

The whole spectacle was sad and gross and disheartening.

Legalized abortion has created a culture of irresponsibility around sexuality. As a result, abortion has become something many people see as a need. Overturning Roe vs. Wade will not miraculously make men or women more sexually conscientious. Nor will it change the “children are messy, gross, fun-wrecking little liabilities” outlook that’s taken over our society by storm. Overthrowing Roe won’t make the baby haters love children. Nor, will it make abortion go away. In fact, reversing Roe will likely make abortion more common, at least in some places. There will be states where abortion laws become even more permissive than they were before. 

The pro-life movement still has a lot of work left to do.

Federal law may have changed, but hearts remain hard towards unborn children and minds remain closed to truth. Sex is a creepy little idol in our culture. The average person has bought into the belief that having sex is the thing that makes us fully human and the only route to true happiness and fulfillment.  That belief that is at the root of our culture’s willingness to sacrifice the unborn on the altar of their own happiness. Idols are not easily displaced in the lives of worshipers.  

We have to get busy. 

Changing a human heart is the most difficult thing in all the universe. In this case it simply will not happen without a literal miracle. Therefore, prayer must be our first order of business. Christians must pray diligently God does whatever it is that needs to be done in the hearts and mind of our friends, neighbors and family members to give them compassion and empathy towards unborn children and a desire to be more responsible in their sexual lives.  Without genuine, heartfelt, attitudinal transformation abortion numbers will remain unchanged despite the change in the law. We must pray diligently God will help those on the other side of the abortion divide understand the nature of the abortion “choice” once and for all.  

Change is neither free or easy.  

Changing hearts and minds takes time energy and money. Lots and lots of it. Please continue to donate open-handedly to pro-life organizations, especially pregnancy resource centers. The workload for these centers will get larger rather than smaller with the repeal of Roe. In the states where abortion remains legal centers will need to double down on their efforts to help, support and educate both Mothers and Fathers on what abortion is and why parents should choose life for their child.  In states where abortion is banned or limited there will be an army of women needing help, support and care with their unplanned pregnancies. 

This is an opportunity for the church to be the church. Let’s get it done.   

Recovering our Calling as Christians-

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is- Ephesians 5:15-17 NIV

Covid-19 is, for all intents and purposes, over. 

Between vaccines, therapeutics, a rebirth of common-sense and folks finally putting their collective foot down, for the first time in a long time a mindless virus is no longer running the show. 

That doesn’t mean life is all snow cones and roses. 

The economy is a flaming-hot mess. Thanks to punch-drunk government spending post-covid, inflation is out of control and a nasty recession appears to be on the horizon. Politicians all over the world are openly flirting with authoritarianism. These realities make future hardships likely. Further complicating the whole messy mess, morally we have officially hit the skids. People are stupid with sin. All common sense has vanished into thin air. Our culture is so utterly ridiculous college educated people can no longer tell the difference between boys and girls. Literally anything goes and God help the individual dumb enough to say some behavior, lifestyle choice or way of identifying is wrong or potentially harmful. A harsh and hasty canceling is in their future. 

Sigh. 

So, what is a Christian to do? There are no easy answers to that question. What the church has been doing clearly isn’t working. The culture is devolving and the church is shrinking. Most church growth in recent years has not been conversion growth. Some churches are growing because already saved people are going from church to church desperately searching for something healthy and life-giving. The church has been shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic for decades. This has to stop. Churches have to grow again.  The church is called to be a preserving and healing presence in the culture, we can’t do that if we aren’t fulfilling the call to make disciples (Matthew 29:18-20).  In order to get back to that calling some collective self-examination is needed.   As Christians, we are called to transform the culture by living such good lives that we reveal truth and call the people around us to repentance with our actions and attitudes (1st Peter 2:12).  

To accomplish that end leaders must lead well. 

Alas, many Christian leaders have fallen into the trap of believing there is something innately special about them and that’s the reason they’re church leaders. Truth-be-told it is a leader’s obedience and willingness to serve that makes them useful to the Kingdom of God.  If a leader stops being obedient or stops seeing themselves as a servant of Jesus, that leader instantly becomes worthless to the Lord (1st Samuel 13:1-14, 1st Samuel 15:22, Psalm 128:1). Period. In these topsy-turvy times it is imperative leaders remember they are only as special as they are obedient.  Leaders cannot use any perceived specialness they have as an excuse to hurt people or skirt the rules. Neither is it okay to use Jesus as a vehicle to build their own kingdom. That kind of behavior is crushing the churches ability to be a witness for Jesus. 

Christians must think clearly, wisely and most importantly of all: biblically. 

In order to do that we must exercise some common sense about what we put into our minds because that determines how we see the world (Philippians 4:8). It is imperative Christians let go of the ridiculous fantasy that popular culture is harmless for anyone. It’s not and it never has been. Much of popular culture is meant to make us morally dumb. It’s simply a fact that no one has become more godly or wise watching Game of Thrones, The Office, Disney-plus or any other popular drivel that promotes the very stuff Jesus died to save us from. If you have any doubt about what I’m saying test it: stop watching television for ninety days, replace television watching with something live giving: Bible reading, Christian music, gardening, board games or playing with your kids. I guarantee after three months of not watching garbage you will see what you do watch from a completely different perspective.

Furthermore: 

 Christians must behave in a way that is loving towards those outside the faith (Colossians 4:5).  No one has ever been won over to team Jesus with meanness or judgment. That being said, we have to stop using “love” as an excuse to pander to the culture and keep quiet on matters of right and wrong. Ultimately, moral issues are not a matter of personal taste. They are matters of life and death. Christians do no one any favors by keeping quiet or pretending we agree on issues of homosexuality, gender, heterosexual sexual sin, pornography and the child grooming that has become commonplace by transgender activists in public schools. Nor is it acceptable for Christians to use grace (God’s forgiveness) as an excuse for ungodly, unwise or unruly living. 

Christianity is ultimately about calling—not so much the individual calling most Western Christians associate with calling. The calling I’m talking about is the corporate calling we all have to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, Ephesians 5:3) and live lives centered around the good of others (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13). If we refuse to embrace that calling we miss the whole point of Christianity and become powerless to help a dying culture find their way to Jesus. 

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.  

Four Changes the Church can Make that Will Help Save Both the Church and the Culture-

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction– 2nd Timothy 4:2 NASB

The culture is clearly in trouble.  

Seriously. All you have to do is turn on any news channel anytime day or night and it quickly becomes apparent we are a culture on the threshold of moral and civil ruin. We are more divided than we have ever been. Few non-Christians are able to reason through even the most basic and obvious of moral or even common-sense truths. The majority is bound and determined to scorn anything even remotely healthy or wholesome especially if it is thought to be traditionally “Christian”. 

The church is also in trouble. 

 Many Christians have foolishly absorbed the values and messages of the culture. Rather than being brokenhearted by the moral absurdity, many Christians have adopted the same values as those in the culture. Some actively encourage the church to conform on a myriad of issues that were once considered settled from a biblical standpoint. 

The outcome of these two intersecting realities has been disastrous for the church and the culture the church is called to influence and reform. There is little chance for improvement without a speedy course correction. 

That being said.

God is still on His throne and He still good. God is still in the business of redemption and He still does His best work through His people.  God is calling us be the reforming and healing presence this world needs right now. In order to do that we must take a hard look at what is being taught in the church as well as the values the church has absorbed from the culture.  Some corrections are needed. The following four changes would be a good place to start. 

Teach church people that truth cannot become a slave to feelings- 

For a long time, our society accepted the idea that there was no such thing as absolute truth (post-modernism). There were some clear problems with this perspective. The existence of literally billions of easily demonstrable facts being one of the most obvious issues. In recent years many people who argued against the notion of absolute truth have come around and now believe there is such a thing. However, those same folks say truth doesn’t matter, because an individual’s feelings concerning an issue are more important than truth. In other words, truth has become a slave to feelings.  This has been a disaster. It is the number one reason our culture is in intellectual and spiritual chaos. The church cannot control what the culture does or dictate how people think. However, churches can and should teach their own people that feelings, as powerful as they might can will never matter more than what is true. 

Teach the depravity of man- 

Christian leaders made a conscious decision years ago to ditch or at least deemphasize the doctrine of absolute depravity. Absolute depravity is the belief that human beings are completely corrupt and sinful and incapable of saving themselves through good works (Mark 10:18, Job 25:6, Romans 3:12). However, most churches kept teaching that Jesus is the only way to salvation. This led to a great deal of confusion in both the culture and the church. Many think they are awesome “just the way they are” and conclude they don’t need really need Jesus to save them. Others commit themselves to Jesus, not because they are convinced they need Him, but, because they hope Jesus will make them a little bit better than they already are. Without a clear understanding of our need for Jesus (complete depravity) salvation becomes optional sin becomes much easier to both justify and celebrate. Until we return to teaching this critical truth there will be confusion in both the church and the culture concerning the role Jesus plays in our lives.   

Make church a place where questions are welcome but some answers are fixed and unchanging- 

Asking questions is how people learn. Therefore, questions, even tough questions should always be welcome in Christianity. That said, there are some answers that can never change. Christians must stick to their guns on the trustworthiness of the Bible, the way of salvation, the absoluteness of moral truth and what God says about gender and sexuality. If we don’t, all will be lost.  

Embrace the complexity and struggle that comes with loving people like Jesus loved people- 

Jesus routinely spent quality time with sinners’ others were quick to spurn. However, that does not mean He was willing to endorse sinful choices or celebrate depravity. Jesus was quick to remind those He loved they were on a path that would eventually lead to their destruction (John 8:11, Matthew 4:17, Luke 3:7-9, Luke 13:1-5). A willingness to love people while telling them the truth about where their choices will lead them captures the essence of authentic Christian love.  This kind of love is complex and difficult to walk out. Nonetheless, we must find ways to live out our faith in such a way we communicate both love for people and disapproval of their sinful actions.  

As long as we are drawing breath there is always hope and I have hope for both the church and the culture. That said, hope is not a strategy. Christians must work to bring truth back into both the church and the culture. If we don’t we will lose both.    

Five Mistakes that must be Corrected Before we Lose Another Generation of Christians-

You will know how people ought to conduct themselves in Gods household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth– 1st Timothy 3:15 NIV

Every generation of Christians has had its own unique set of mistakes. The church in the1980’s was filled with dramatic personal “testimonies”. Many of which turned out to be crazy-pants lies. In the 1990’s the church became consumed with end times prophecy. This left some Christians looking a little nut-joby. The late 1990’s and 2000’s birthed the well-intended but tragically misguided purity movement. That movement inadvertently drove Christian dating completely underground and left a whole generation feeling an unhealthy level shame simply for having natural and healthy sexual desires.

Sigh.

 It is critical we understand the spiritual and doctrinal errors of our generation will have a greater impact than those of past generations. Not because we are inherently more important or special than past generations. We’re not.  But because technology has given humanity the ability to spread bad ideas, misinformation, and wrong thinking faster than ever before. This is why the church today is having such a tough time reaching the lost. Thanks to advances in technology the spiritual errors and excesses of the 1980’s, 1990’s and 2000’s had a much deeper reach into the culture than the errors and excesses of previous generations.  Following are five the most dangerous lies Christians are believing and spreading right now.

I can be a Christian and reject everything the Bible teaches- 

Nope. Nope and more nope. No one comes to faith automatically believing the “right way”. It is true all have to be taught. Growth and learning is a lifelong process. It is also true that there is some room for disagreement on some of the particulars of what the “right way” is. However, choosing to reject everything God says about Himself as well as what He has to say about sexuality, gender, right and wrong and true justice is basically just rejecting God. A person cannot reject God (and/or everything God says about Himself) and still be a Christian. Period. It just doesn’t work like that.  

Bible knowledge doesn’t matter- 

This unbelievably stupid statement is always preceded by a reference to 1st Corinthians 8:1 where Paul says “knowledge puffs up while love builds up”. Context is key here.  When we read the text carefully it becomes clear: the apostle Paul wasn’t talking about spiritual or Bible knowledge in general terms. The apostle wasn’t encouraging ignorance. He wasn’t suggesting Bible study is somehow harmful. He was talking specifically about knowledge related to a particular thing: eating food that had once been sacrificed to an idol (1st Corinthians 8:1-13). There were some arrogant Corinthian church members who had embraced the teaching that food sacrificed to idols was just food. In response they had openly and pridefully begun eating that food in public spaces, sometimes even mocking those Christians who did not feel comfortable eating food that had been sacrificed to an idol. This created all sorts of confusion for less-mature Christians who didn’t understand as long as they did not sacrifice the food to an idol themselves eating food someone else had sacrificed and then sold in a market at a discounted rate wasn’t a big deal. Some of these less mature Christians had returned to idol worship in response to the freedom they saw other Christians exercising. Here’s the thing: it is positively absurd to think the man who wrote well over half of the New Testament’s instructive passages was somehow opposed to people learning the Bible. It is true that people can become prideful about what they know about the Bible without really applying any of the biblical truth they learn to their lives. However, those unfortunate realities do not make biblical ignorance somehow superior to Bible knowledge.      

 Bible knowledge is the most important thing-

It is important, critical even. Those who do not acquire basic biblical knowledge rarely stay believers for very long (Matthew 13:18-23) and if they do they struggle big-time to live a victorious Christian life. That being said, knowledge is not the most important thing. Having our hearts transformed so we become a loving reflection of Jesus is the number one goal and objective of Christianity (Romans 12:2, 2nd Corinthians 3:18, Colossians 3:1-17). However, even that requires at least rudimentary Bible knowledge. So, there’s that. 

Christians can be spiritually formed outside of spiritual community-  

Individual believers are always at their most healthy when they are living in community with other Christians (Acts 2:42-47). This is because God designed people to be like Him (Genesis 1:27). God is a community within Himself (Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 46:16, Matthew 3:16-17). As a result, we were literally made to need other Christians in order to grow, mature and reach others for Jesus (1st Thessalonians 5:11, Hebrews 3:12, Hebrews 10:24-25). Without healthy community individual Christians either drift away from church altogether or they adopt strange pseudo-biblical beliefs that make it very hard for them to effectively share their faith. 

We don’t need to half the Church to make the Church work- 

Men and women were intended to work together to bring about God’s purposes in this world (Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 2:18). Anytime church leaders think they can do church without the contributions of half the church something valuable and vital will be missing in that church community. That loss will affect the churches ability to effectively reach the lost and disciple Christians God has placed in their care. 

I believe with all my heart the church in the west stands at a crossroads (Jeremiah 6:16). The church can continue to embrace easy-believism and just dance down the path it’s been on for years. If we do, Christians will continue to lose influence and we will see our culture disintegrate into even more moral bedlam. The other option is to do the hard work of correcting the errors we have fallen into and embrace the hard work of holiness and becoming more like Jesus in everything we do and say.   This route will is much more challenging but it will pay dividends that will be felt for generations.   

Four Ugly Truths Covid-19 Revealed in the Church World-

Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away. A calamity will fall upon you that you cannot ward off with a ransom; a catastrophe you cannot foresewill suddenly come upon you– Isaiah 47:11 NIV 

The last fifteen months have been some of the weirdest, most challenging and most contentious of any in recent history. It feels as if the world is powder keg just waiting for the right kind of spark to set if off. Even in the Church, division over “what Christians should do” about masks, vaccines and staying home has become normal and sometimes totally contentious.  It’s convenient to blame the lack of respect, division and turmoil on COVID. It’s not as if the world were some sort of a utopia pre-COVID but it wasn’t anything like the flaming hot trash-fire we have come to know as the new normal. 

However. 

Logically, we should be moving past some of this turmoil and strife, especially in the church. Unfortunately, vaccines, higher survival rates and better over-all outcomes aren’t doing much of anything to heal the hurts of the past year. This goes a long way in proving that COVID isn’t the cause of our problems. All COVID has done is reveal the junk that has been simmering beneath the surface for decades.  Following are four issues that have contributed to the problems:

Our Faith is weak- 

One truth COVID has revealed is that Christianity in the west is a mile wide and an inch deep. From our Bible knowledge to our communities we have redefined shallow living and shallow learning. This is because few Christians routinely participate in basic Christian practices designed to keep their faith vibrant and healthy (routine prayer, reflective Bible reading, performing acts of charity, church attendance, and involvement in Christian community). Prior to COVID we were able to skate along attending Church 1.2 times a month and throwing up the occasional prayer when a huge need presented itself (Matthew chapters 5-7). Post-COVID it became woefully evident our shallow practices have not really anchored Christians to God or the church. 

There are those who love liberal social agendas more than they love God or even their own security- 

Seriously. There are. Our culture has actually come to a place where large numbers of people would rather suffer personal financial harm than implement a single traditional principal or idea. We see this most often in states where the economy is floundering and the people are badly overtaxed but residents keep reelecting leaders who support liberal social agendas because they love those agendas more than they want economic security.  This reality is a symptom of much bigger spiritual problems that will only be solved through repentance and revival.  

Christians want a single leader who will lead us into a “golden age of Christianity”- 

This sinful desire is at the heart of the celebrity culture that Christians have embraced with abandon over the course of the last three or four decades. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament Christians have longed for a “king” who will lead the modern church into an age of respectability and acceptance with the unsaved world (1stSamuel 8:5).  In a misguided effort to find a “leader” who will bring us the worldly status we crave, Christians have thrown themselves behind every twenty-year-old with a half-way decent idea or any smooth-talker who can build a big audience (1st Samuel 16:7). Then we wonder why these men and women inevitably end up in bed with someone they aren’t married to or denouncing Christianity altogether (1st Timothy 3:6-7). God isn’t going to bring a leader to save us. He already did that. His name is Jesus and the one the one thing we are promised is that following Jesus will not make us popular with anyone anywhere in the world (John 15:18). It’s time for us to embrace that reality and if we do God probably won’t bring us respectability but He will bring us a new level of effectiveness if we follow hard after Him rather than pine for a fallible human leader.  

Christians want a political savior- 

The desire for a powerful human leader is not limited to Church world. Many Christians long for a conservative political figure to step onto the scene to unite us as a people and fix the long list of social, legislative and moral problems we are currently grappling with. It’s not going to happen. At least not in the way we want it to happen, any leader who shows up on the scene at this point is almost guaranteed to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing (John 10:12). Rather than looking for a quick political fix Christians must learn to pray for wise leaders who will point people back to righteous living and personal responsibility. 

The season of COVID-19 ruling every aspect of our lives is hopefully coming to a close. However, that does not mean that the church should simply go back to all the things that got us to a place where we lacked the spiritual resources necessary to cope with a curveball like COVID-19. Instead, we should be looking to Jesus as our source of wisdom and direction in all things. We must seek out spiritual practices that lead to growth so that we can find ways to help other people grow.

This is the only effective way to prepare for what lies ahead. 

What Can’t Government fix our Social Problems?

For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it- Hebrews 12:11 ESV

A while back a thirteen-year-old-boy believed to be brandishing a gun was shot by police at 3:00 a.m. in Chicago. Three weeks later a sixteen-year-old girl in Ohio was fatally shot by police as she stabbed another girl.

These events are hardly outliers.

Reports of minor children being killed either by other minors or by police officers attempting to keep minors from committing a crime have become a fairly routine occurrence.  Many blame police and police tactics for these heartbreaking events. Anytime there’s a tragedy involving a kid and cop a glut of Monday-morning quarterbacks crawl out of the metaphorical woodwork to second-guess prevailing police tactics and/or the character of the officer involved in the shooting. Others are eager to blame “society” for not caring more about the kids involved. Typically, the lack of care is attributed entirely to the child’s race, sex or socio-economic status. 

 Blaming either feels like the easy way out to me. 

 When we blame society for our problems what we are really doing is blaming the government. One of the more peculiar qualities of modern thought is the belief that government is the answer to all our problems.  We tend to forget that “the government” is a heartless, soulless, nebulous machine entirely lacking in human feeling, wisdom or insight. There are good people who work in government. I know some of them. However, the government is not emotionally nimble enough to view people as individuals. Neither is government capable of teaching good habits, imparting insight or training a child to put others first or think wisely about life. 

Neither is it fair to lay the blame for these situations at the feet of the police. Truth-be-told the police are not, nor were they ever intended to be anything other than the last line of defense between lawbreakers and law-abiding citizens. By the time a police officer is involved in a person’s life a long line of choices has been made that the officer had no control over. There are bad cops and everything possible should be done to weed them out of the ranks. However, most police are decent people who got into their line of work because they genuinely care about people and want to make the world a better place. 

The government or the police are not to blame when a sixteen-year-old girl feels stabbing someone is a reasonable response to her frustration or when a thirteen-year-old has access to a gun and the freedom to roam about at three a.m.

Seriously. 

That sort of thing is the fruit of a lifetime of horrible parenting (Proverbs 17:25, Proverbs 19:13). 

Somewhere over the course of the last couple of decades two equally bad but entirely different kinds of parents have emerged on the scene. The first sees their children as an extension of themselves and believes it their job to orchestrate and micromanage every aspect of their child’s existence. These parents would rather be gunned down than have their kids experience anything painful or difficult. Their greatest fear for their children is trauma.  They have bought into the lie that people are not resilient and that any kind of trauma, even relatively minor trauma will devastate their children for life.

All humans experience trauma but for some reason many in our world believe trauma (even minor trauma) is not something people can recover from. Because they have ALL experienced some sort of trauma they see themselves as less than whole and want to prevent their own children from experiencing the same fate.  This group of parents is responsible for raising the pearl-clutching millennials who scream “CANCEL” at any idea or opinion that makes them even vaguely uncomfortable (emotional discomfort is a form of trauma).  The other group of parents are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They tend to think that once a kid can feed and dress themselves their job is done. These parents typically did experience deep and genuine trauma that was never really addressed (Psalm 147:3) and are self-involved to the point of being completely checked-out of their child’s life. These are the parents who say they can’t stop their thirteen-year-old from doing what they want to do and they’re right. They cannot get their teenagers to obey because they never took healthy authority over them as young children (Hebrews 12:14, Proverbs 5:23). 

There are no easy answers to systemic parenting problems in a culture. 

The government is incapable of helping. The government is stumped by how many genders there are. They don’t have the wisdom or skills to lead people to better parenting choices. The police can’t help. Police are the last line of defense we slap on a problem before it gets completely out of hand. 

The world needs the kind of transformation that only relationship with Jesus can bring. Christians must make a regular practice of praying specifically for families in their communities because parents of all income levels need the kind of wisdom that can only come from God. It’s also imperative Christian parents get their own lives and homes together so other parents start looking to the church for answers. We can’t lead anyone to health if we aren’t healthy. And finally, churches need to get into the business of teaching parents outside of their own walls how to parent instead of focusing on the already healthy parents in their own congregations. When the parents in our communities know what what love really looks like so they will lead their children well. 

The Real Problem with Lil Nas X and his “Satan Shoes”-

The serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”- Genesis 3:4-5 ESV

Last Friday, the rapper Lil Nas X debuted his latest single “Montero”. At the same time, Mr. X released the “Satan shoes”. Each shoe allegedly contains a drop of human blood somewhere in the sole of the shoe and are decorated with all sorts of satanic symbols. The limited-edition shoes sell for $1018.00. They sold out in less than an hour. 

I watched the video. 

Mostly because it felt false to write about something I hadn’t actually seen. The video felt long, was really disquieting, and kind of dumb. It probably won’t win any awards for creativity. When it was over it occurred to me that I will never get that three minutes of my life back. 

I deeply resent that reality.  

The video centers on a struggle between the protagonist (Mr. X) and the devil. Throughout the video Mr. Nas X repeatedly attempts to use his sexuality to gain power over Satan. The video ends with Lil Nas X giving the devil a lap dance. Immediately following, Mr. X breaks the neck of Satan and abruptly kicks him off his throne, steals his crown, places it on his own head and evidently takes over the administration of hell.  It was disturbing to watch a godless fool who obviously does not understand the choices he’s making writhe around with the devil in a sexually suggestive way for three solid minutes.  Nonetheless, by far the most troubling aspect of the video was not the obvious Satan-worship but rather the humanism and subtle self-worship rooted in the song. 

Modern-day humanism is a world-view that has its roots in the Renaissance. In recent years it has taken firm hold of western civilization. Humanists do not believe in the sinful and fallen nature of mankind. Humanists believe people are inherently good and know what is right and what is right for them. Humanist doctrine is not especially rigid except on one point: humanists believe there is unlimited potential in all human beings for goodness. 

Insert eye roll here. 

It is not a huge leap to go from a humanistic belief system to the sin of self-worship. If one accepts the notion that all human beings are born good the next logical step is to think that our individual perceptions of reality are always right and infallible.  If a large number of people in a culture begin to believe their perceptions of reality are always correct; most of those people will stop questioning their own assumptions or asking for second opinions. Once that happens even intelligent people begin dismissing any opinion that does not appeal to them or fit into their narrow view of the world. People begin to lean on their own understanding to figure out life. They stop acknowledging God or if they do acknowledge God they stop seeking Him for wisdom (2nd Timothy 3:5, Proverbs 3:5-6).  

That is the point where worship of self begins.  

Once worship of self takes root in a life deception of every kind begins to grow in that person’s mind and lunacy suddenly becomes the new normal. That is when it becomes possible to believe gender is fluid rather than binary or that literally everything is racist. Or that if someone sincerely believes something is true then it is true even if there is no evidence at all for that belief. 

Sadly, this is the cultural moment in which we find ourselves. 

At the heart of self-worship is the belief “my beliefs and desires are always good and it is always right for me to get what I want”.  Self-worship is at the root of every addiction under the sin. Self-worship is at the heart of self-centeredness, resentment, child neglect and abandonment, abortion, adultery, pornography and every other kind of sexual immorality and deviancy.  

In a very real sense it does not matter what the world does or thinks. If the average unbeliever wants to embrace the humanist delusion that people are good without God, it’s not really the concern of the church (1st Corinthians 5:12-13). That said, the health of the church ultimately has an impact on society at large. We are where we are right now partly because the church has failed to be the light this world so desperately needs.  

The church should be worried about the church right now (Mark 9:42, 1st Corinthians 8:13, 1st Corinthians 12:12-13, Ephesians 4:4, Galatians 5:8-10). The body of Christ is only as healthy as its weakest member and sadly, self-worship is not just for the unsaved or nominal Christians. Even serious Christians can easily fall into the sin of self-worship. Anytime we begin to believe getting what we want is more important than obeying God we have become worshippers of self. 

Self-examination is the only way to prevent self-worship and repentance is the only cure.