Author Archives: JMorgan

Is it Possible to Like Jesus?

Feb 14, 19
JMorgan
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Muslims think Jesus is a great prophet, but that’s all.  Spiritual types believe all roads, including Jesus, lead to God.  Cultural Christians go to church occasionally but never surrender their lives to Him.  Public schools tolerate Christians as long as they never audibly utter the name of Jesus.  A Barna Group study found that 47 percent of Christian Millennials agree “it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”

It would seem that many people like Jesus but don’t love Him.  Our culture appears to accept those who like Jesus but not those who love Him.  However, according to Jesus:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) 

“Whoever is not with me is against me.” (Luke 11:23)

Those statements, taken at face value, characterize the available options (for one’s feelings about Jesus) as binary – love or hate.  C.S. Lewis’s trilemma (lunatic, liar or Lord) actually paints a binary picture – “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

In this era of fuzzy lines and political correctness, we want to believe in a third option, but it doesn’t exist.  Man’s thinking may evolve but God’s does not.  A world that adamantly rejects distinctions and absolutes attempts to pull everyone toward the middle, where there is no truth, opinions or controversies.  Jesus, on the other hand, says that everyone must take a position on either end of the spectrum, such that even “brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child”.

As we will see, modern church growth models are contributing toward the mistaken impression that it is possible simply to like Jesus.

What’s Wrong with Liking Jesus?

How someone feels about Jesus can be distilled by examining where that person’s confidence, trust and hope lie:

  • Confidence – In human intellect or in (seeking to know) God’s will
  • Trust – In man’s conventions or God’s Kingdom
  • Hope – In this life alone or in life after death

Each of us is fundamentally dependent on self or the Holy Spirit.  We worship and serve God or money.  We give credit and thanksgiving to God or we don’t.  We hold a world view that’s perceived either as normal and acceptable or unreasonable and (possibly even) uncivil.

Whereas each of those alternatives boils down to a matter of choice, most churches ignore the warnings to the church in Revelation 3:16 – “So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”  Pastors hesitate to challenge congregants to take sides, concerned that raising expectations to biblical levels risks an exodus of biblical proportions.  In an effort to attract and retain congregants, they leave churchgoers with the impression that straddling the line – in effect, “liking” Jesus – is acceptable to the Lord.  They define church as a place, throttle back on discipleship, encourage inviting more than evangelizing, and rarely confront sin.  Those unwilling to choose sides come and go as they please, dipping their toes in the proverbial water without commitment for years on end.

Is Hate Too Strong a Word?

Lukewarm believers and non-believers alike have made their decision – they value the world more than Jesus.  Attempts to push them closer to Jesus are met with strong resistance.  Requests to change their lives or make personal sacrifices are quickly brushed aside – armed with excuses, opinions and agendas.  Those unwilling to follow Jesus – and all that entails – are not casual in their reluctance to surrender.  It’s not a matter of like or dislike – it’s love or hate.  People either want Jesus (an authentic picture of who He is and what He said about how we should live) as close as possible or as far away as possible.

Media

We see countless references to God and Christianity in the news, TV shows, movies and online media outlets.  The amount of attention our faith garners shows that secular media is preoccupied with Jesus, but not out of a love (or like) for Him.  Most of those allusions are cast in a negative light, with an agenda of discrediting Christianity.  In the same breath, they sell and glamorize sex, celebrity and greed – showing their anti-God platform is rooted in being pro-sin.

Advertisers

In their marketing, businesses today play on selfish ambition (“You’re just one product away from self-respect, popularity and happiness.”), self-absorption (“You deserve it.  You’re worth it.”) and selfishness (“Be the first of your friends to have this.”).  Companies profit from poor or overblown self-perceptions, serving money and defying God by exploiting our deepest, darkest temptation to choose self over Jesus.

Educational Institutions

Schools at all educational levels, particularly universities, have become altars to human intellect.  Only observable fact may be taught on a secular campus and the existence of a Creator cannot be proven via scientific method.  Talk of faith is ridiculed as ignorant or vilified as offensive.  My son was told last week that he could not talk about God at his middle school, yet the expletive “G.D.” was used in a movie shown to his class a couple days earlier.  Apparently, students can only mention God’s name if they are cursing Him.  It takes a tremendous amount of faith to place such an enormous bet on human intelligence in light of the expanse and complexity of the universe, DNA or even the ability to reason.  Yet in their contempt for God, most educators abandon intellect and choose a belief system that requires even greater faith – that we are all cosmic accidents.

Special Interest Groups

Many segments of society have something to gain by placing their confidence, trust and hope in man-made conventions.  If their focus is primarily or exclusively on this life, then they will value government leaders over the Lord’s authority and our legal system over God’s commands – all for their personal benefit.  Those grounded in the here and now are highly attune to their personal rights and needs, fighting vigorously to ensure human institutions protect and provide, rather than looking to God first.

Self-Absorbed

Selfism drives today’s culture.  Its adherents find it impossible to love (or like) God because they cherish principles in direct opposition to scripture:

  • Each individual has the power to define his/her own truth and identity
  • Elevation of self rather than dying to self
  • Freedom from customs, rules or subservience to authority (of God, in particular)
  • Inalienable right to do whatever brings happiness or pleasure, without criticism

Under the guise of compassion, Selfists vehemently speak out on behalf of others in defense of those principles to ensure their preservation, strengthening the “force field” insulating themselves from subjection to God’s principles.

Can We Love Haters to Jesus?

The world demands we do nothing more than “like” Jesus.  Truly loving Jesus makes people, even many believers, very uncomfortable.  Selfism associates love with diligent efforts to make sure no one feels uncomfortable.  So how can we lead those who hate (whether they know it or not) the authentic, life-changing picture of Jesus to know and love Him?

The first step is to understand that God’s definition of love (Agape) is not the same as society’s definition.  The love (from God) that fuels evangelism to bring hope to the hopeless far surpasses the worldly “love” of avoiding discomfort.  God is love, so speaking truth about Him in essence is acting in love.  However, sharing about God’s love can be done in an unloving way.  Jesus demonstrated His love first (through acts of service like feeding and healing) before telling people who He is.  Jesus had the perfect words so we can’t possibly “outpreach” Him; therefore, we should follow His example and precede “sharing” with “caring”.

Once our acts of compassion have opened ears to hear about the source of the love we’ve shown them, we should share about Jesus with both boldness and kindness.  As Colossians 4:6 says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”  John 14:1 says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth”.  Those who do not know Jesus do not know truth or grace.  Grace understands that their words and actions are opposed to Jesus only because they don’t have a relationship with Him.  Truth understands that they are most likely to begin a relationship with Jesus if they hear truth blended seamlessly with grace.  We must compromise in neither grace nor truth in our presentation of the Gospel to those who (maybe unwittingly) hate Jesus.

It’s Your Turn

Do you know of examples of people who (from your perspective prior to reading this blog post) “like” Jesus?  Has this article changed your view on the feasibility of “liking” Jesus?

How Self-Obsession Became a Virtue

Jan 31, 19
JMorgan
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You deserve it.  You’re worth it.  You’re beautiful.  You’re powerful.  You’re wonderful exactly like you are.  And don’t let anyone tell you anything different.

We’re told by culture that there is no higher goal than being who you are meant to be – as defined by you.  We’re taught that our compassion is best directed at the one person who matters most – ourselves.  Music, movies, magazines and other media portray self-preservation and self-actualization as the greatest of all endeavors.

Selfism takes all the credit for making yourself who you are.  You pulled yourself up from your own bootstraps.  In pride, Selfists give no thanks to the Lord.  Yet it was God who gave them life itself and all of their abilities and possessions.

True to Yourself vs. Truth

In our culture, the mantra is “you be you”.  Any attempts to define an absolute is intolerant.  Whatever is done in pursuit of fulfillment and happiness is not only permitted but applauded.  The only recognized sin is attempting to impose beliefs on someone else.  The epitome of courage is taking a stand to defend self against Christians and other would-be assailants.  In the absence of authentic meaning and value, society ascribes disproportionate importance to each individual’s opinions and perceptions.

In contrast, rather than deifying self the Bible teaches dying to self, self-denial on behalf of others, and emptying self to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Selfist and biblical philosophies are polar opposites.  The truths of scripture are Selfism’s cardinal sins – and vice versa.  The world desperately clings to the right to self-absorption without consequence and to self-expression without criticism.  Meanwhile, the Bible promises consequences and levels criticism at those who reject God’s truth and form their own (version of truth) out of self-interest.

In their unwillingness to acknowledge sin, Selfists implicitly tell the Lord that He overestimated the cost required to reconcile mankind to Himself when He sent His Son to die for us.  Rather than thank God for grace and forgiveness, they deny their need for a Savior.

Who We Are vs. Whose We Are

The fundamental assumption underlying Selfism is that we are our own creation.  Since we are cosmic accidents with no Creator, we control and own our minds and bodies.  We reserve ultimate authority over our lives and our primary objective is to take care of ourselves.

However, we didn’t put ourselves on this earth, nor did we make ourselves who we are.  We don’t own anything, even our own minds and bodies.  Our physical existence and perceived ownership rights are only one car accident or heart attack away from termination.  “Self” could end tomorrow, leaving no hope beyond this life.  But the fact is who we are does not consist solely of our “earth suit”.  We are also eternal souls.  Defining who we are as mind, body AND soul changes everything – there is value for today and hope for tomorrow.

Yet that definition also brings with it an assumption of a Creator and accountability beyond personal agendas.  If we are not our own, then we don’t have the right to choose what we do with our minds and bodies.  We were created by God in His image and therefore should forfeit our right to make decisions that consider only our own interests.  The shell we inhabit is rented to us by our Maker – there is no lease-to-buy or layaway plan.  We are stewards of the capabilities and possessions God has let us borrow for a short time – the Owner will be upset if we don’t use them well.  Because Selfists falsely claim 100% ownership, they often pursue self-serving activities that abuse and devalue what God entrusted to them.  Not recognizing their eternal souls, many search for hope in happiness and temporary escape in habits that work to the detriment of their mental, physical and spiritual health – like drugs, alcohol, overeating and affairs.

Here and Now vs. There and Then

Selfism lives for the here and now, because that’s all we have.  Christians look forward to the “there and then” because this planet is not our home and we don’t claim ownership of anything.  We see everyone as a soul destined to live forever and not just flesh and bones.  We can love everyone regardless of their actions, behaviors, appearance and words because we look past the exterior and see a soul in God’s image longing to return to its proper Owner.

The great heroes of faith recounted in Hebrews 11 all found the courage to sacrifice in this life for Jesus because they had a “there and then” perspective.  We can cling to the “here and now” as hard as we can, but it will elude our grasp.  There is more to the story than what we behold right in front of us.  We see shiny lures all around us vying for our attention – they’re attractive, but they have a hook.  “There and then” subscribers are grounded in God’s word and recognize His ownership interest; far less likely to fall for the bait (of temptation), knowing the hook is hidden and waits to snag us in the “here and now”.

Love of Self vs. Selfless Love

To reach those caught up in popular culture, unaware of their rightful Owner, living in the “here and now” and hooked by sin:

  • Rephrase the Great Commandment, returning it to its biblical origin. As opposed to “love myself” and “love those who don’t criticize me”, show Selfists the power of a higher form of love commanded by Jesus: to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”.
  • Adopt an approach to evangelism that exhibits a love which cannot be found in the world’s system. Eros (sexual) and Phileo (brotherly) and far less worthy than Agape (unconditional).  We express Agape by not judging but by demonstrating forgiveness and compassion to those who are self-obsessed, understanding that their actions and words are what you would expect of those who do not know they have a soul and are incapable of loving by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Recognize that Selfists are fiercely individualistic and tend to reject institutional models and teachings. Therefore, equip and empower church members (though discipleship) to BE the embodiment of church between Sundays, in accordance with the biblical definition of “church”.
  • Convince them that they are more beautiful and valuable in the eyes of Christ than they can ever be in their own eyes. Searching for meaning and purpose in self-preservation or through one’s own moral goodness or even spiritual enlightenment is a dead-end road.  “Your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” was the first lie in the Garden of Eden and is the prevailing lie today.

Yet studies show that most Christians do not even know what the Great Commission is, much less live it out.  Our churches, in their efforts to build institutions, build few disciples.  So cultural Christians miss the Great Commission mandate or they see it as optional, and let their disagreement with society’s politics and morality keep them from sharing the Gospel and making disciples.  Like Jonah, we stay at arms-length and withhold the love and hope they so desperately need.

It’s Your Turn

How can your church play a bigger role in shifting the cultural tide away from Selfism in your community?

Consequences of Teaching Kids They’re Cosmic Accidents

Jan 17, 19
JMorgan
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It’s no coincidence that the rise of Selfism comes on the heels of removing faith from public schools.  Children are implicitly informed (with scientific evidence presented as indisputable fact) that they are cosmic accidents with no purpose or value, destined for dust.  How would we expect them to react to the worst possible news a human being can receive?  Naturally, you’d predict rampant escapism, in all of its forms, from such a harsh reality – drug abuse, teen suicides, illicit sex, identity confusion, avatars, virtual reality, incessant distraction through social media, etc. 

However, no amount of escapism can completely cover the gaping hole left open by the absence of God and meaning.  So our popular culture invented a new religion to assign artificial value to those who deny their authentic worth in Christ.  This religion, Selfism, makes each person his or her own god.  Omnipotent determination of one’s own version of truth, morality, and even gender is a clever innovation to replicate importance where there would appear to be none.  With no Creator in the equation, the creation is free to build its own conception of how the world works.  As the supreme being ruling over a self-conceived world, subjects in their kingdom dare not question any of the monarch’s opinions.  Those with such audacity run the risk of retribution in the form of vilification in social circles and the media – instant characterization as hateful or zealots.  Christians of course by definition fall into that camp in our Selfist culture because followers of Jesus openly hold and express an alternative view of the world.

However, the “identity bubble” construct that Selfists build around themselves to protect and defend against unwanted intrusions is highly fragile, likely to burst when:

  • Personal crises rock their carefully-crafted world
  • Losing idealism as exposure to undesirable Selfists undermines confidence in the ability of people to define viable, personal versions of truth and morality
  • Realizing through unexpected circumstances that they are not in control

To forestall those inevitabilities, society has built a “force field” around everyone’s identity bubbles to serve as an outer layer of protection.  Christian views are mocked or silenced, with the intention of invalidating attempts to imply that anything is wrong with anyone.  The words “sin” and “repentance” are no longer acceptable or used in our culture’s vernacular, even rarely brought up or confronted within churches today.  In the name of tolerance, evangelism is seen as an imposition of conflicting values on an innocent victim by a meddling intruder.  “Snowflakes” at universities flee to safe spaces, free from the risk of hearing differing opinions.  Despite an academic setting where debate should be welcome, any dissenting views are presumed to call into question the behavior or values of others, and therefore are classified by those college students as insensitivity or hate-speech – which their delicate psyches and ears refuse to tolerate.

Yet the force field of tolerance, under the guise of compassion, is really about retaining the right to sin at one’s leisure without conscience or retribution.  The Snowflake’s fear is that the identity bubble may melt away upon heard anything that makes them aware of their sin – like Adam and Eve suddenly recognizing they were naked.  Selfists are always one head-on collision with Christ-centered truth away from watching their meticulously constructed kingdom self-destruct.

Remedy for Selfism

The cure for Selfism is simple to understand:

  • Resignation to the futility of subjective self-reliance in defining absolutes
  • Intellectual integrity to accept that truth is what truth is, not what one says it is
  • Relinquishing the “fake ID” as one’s own creation and carrying an ID card as God’s creation
  • Acknowledging the possibility that sin exists rather than conveniently expanding one’s personal moral code
  • Seeking forgiveness and repentance in Christ Jesus
  • Abandoning escapism from life’s realities and living in the light of eternity, knowing that true value lies in knowing that “whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (John the Baptist – Matthew 11:11)

Yet the cure is difficult to implement in today’s intolerant culture:

  • Jesus, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul all came out of the gates preaching repentance from sin and God’s loving offer of forgiveness 
  • But the church in America has lost its voice, its ability to speak truth in a way that will be heard by Selfists
  • Studies show that few Christians are equipped and willing to share that Gospel and repentance message (Romans 10:14)
  • Selfists are firmly entrenched in their worldly status quo, not interested in abdicating the throne of the individualistic kingdom they rule and closed to outside influences and eternal perspectives
  • Selfism places its full faith and confidence in human intelligence – remember that Ninevah, the woefully corrupt city where Jonah was sent to preach, was also the site of the first library

Essentially, the challenge is that God’s system and world’s system are polar opposites.  They have absolutely nothing in common. The currency of God’s system is humility, peace, patience, kindness and joy, grounded in love.  The currency of the world’s system is self, arrogance, greed, popularity, security and happiness.  The filter through which all decision pass is predicated on entirely different world views – either immediate gratification because life is all there is or self-denial through the hope of eternal life.

Path to Administering the Cure for Selfism

The solution to Selfism hinges on Christians regaining a voice in an era of self-centered individualism by:

  • Returning to the biblical of definition of “church”, which is more about building disciples than building institutions
  • Restoring the biblical understanding of the church’s intended “customer”, the lost in the community that each disciple should be pursuing
  • Shedding Selfist principles commonly found in churches today, bent on attracting and retaining (customers) rather than challenging and deploying (disciples)
  • Following Jesus’ model of leading with compassion and then telling them who He is.  We cannot outpreach Jesus, who had the perfect words yet knew the only way to open their ears was to meet their felt needs first.  Selfists can only be reached by disciples acting from the foundation of love and therefore living Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles.

However, American culture continues to change churches more than churches are changing culture.  As long as churches model the world’s system by putting constructs in place that promote organizational self-preservation, it will struggle to produce disciples who live out Prayer, Care, Share.  Church leaders should make each member aware of the Great Commission mandate and train them to carry it out, even at the risk of losing those unwilling to take personal responsibility for disciple-making.  Otherwise, churchgoers will not be prepared to engage in the Culture War through a Ground War with love as the chosen weapon rather than an Air War of judgment, dropping verbal bombs in failed attempts to burst identity bubbles protected by Selfism’s force field.

It’s Your Turn

Have you had a breakthrough for Jesus with someone who had been led to believe that they are a cosmic accident with no purpose or value?

Will You Pursue Joy or Happiness in 2019?

Jan 03, 19
JMorgan
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Over the holidays, many of us watched as kids ripped open presents Christmas morning, only to break or discard them a few days later.  We stressed over obligations (to shop and entertain) but missed opportunities (to share the Gospel).  We fought crowds at the mall yet ignored the lonely shut-in a few doors down.  We put energy into finding a “perfect” gift when we already had THE perfect gift in hand.

Yes, many Christians fell victim to the pull of American culture, which does its best to shift our attention from BELIEVING to BUYING, from OPPORTUNITIES to OBLIGATIONS, and from COMPASSION to CONSUMERISM.

The good news is we can “right the ship” and experience the joy of Christmas all year long in 2019.  On the other hand, we could continue to miss out on joy by setting New Year’s Resolutions aimed at increasing our own happiness.

Happiness is overemphasized and overrated.  It is incessantly being sold to us, normally by those who stand to profit from our pursuit of it.  Despite slick advertising that sounds rooted in compassion, no one selling “You deserve this!” or “All your friends have it; you should too!” is looking out for your best interests.  Pitches are also carefully crafted to convey generosity, but no one telling you “Your children will be so excited!” or “Your girlfriend will thank you!” are actually concerned about their happiness.  The world is clever at disguising consumerism as compassion and greed as generosity.

Even pastors enable a consumer mentality by redefining church as a place, invoking happiness-oriented strategies to attract and retain people.  Modern church growth models dissuade Christians from seeing themselves as the embodiment of “church”, making them likely to miss the “reason for the season” as they get caught on the holiday hamster wheel.  Pastors encourage members to leave evangelism and discipleship to the “professionals”, fueling the commercialization of Christmas, of our culture and of our churches by paying pastors to assume each Christian’s rightful responsibility for sharing Christ.  Instead they simply ask members to invite their friends to church next Sunday.

GC2 (Great Commission and Great Commandment) is a mandate and mission that Jesus lived out year-round.  We should follow His example (Matthew 20:26-28).  Normally, regifting is frowned upon, but not in this case.  Jesus gave us the greatest gift of all, and we have the opportunity to pay it forward to others on a daily basis – not just on Christmas day.  Christ came to bring redemption and reconciliation so that we could pass along that joy, hope and promise to others.  Yet studies show that few Christians take the Great Commission seriously.

In other words, cultural Christians exchange certain joy for an outside shot at happinessThey miss the joy of sharing the eternal gift of Jesus Christ and overspend on temporary ones.  They miss the joy of our Savior and overemphasize Santa.  They miss the joy of authentic faith and are overzealous for “religion.  They miss the joy of compassion and overindulge in consumerism.  Joy remains regardless of circumstances – happiness is obliterated by misfortune.  Joy endures.  Happiness is fleeting.

You can make Christmas last all year long by ending your search for happiness in what can never bring joy.  Will you pursue HAPPINESS or JOY in 2019?

  • Life – Those falling victim to consumerism at the altar of Selfism are complicit with retailers in taking Christ out of Christmas.  “You can’t serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)
  • Love – A beautiful picture of Agape love is serving and sharing Christ with the helpless and hopeless, those who (in the immortal words of Rodney Dangerfield) “can do me absolutely no good”.
  • Romance – Eros, the world’s sexually-charged definition of love, is immediate gratification or excitement about a new relationship that one day fizzles into a sense of normalcy and often complacency, leaving some wondering whether the grass may be greener in other pastures.
  • Reconciliation – Eternal joy is found in loving the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  Unlike the intimacy experienced between two people, God’s love for us never fades or fails.
  • Friends – Phileo love brings happiness as we spend time with those closest to us.  Companionship is one of God’s greatest gifts, but it was never meant to supplant our relationship with Him.  Friends may move out of town, let you down, and eventually pass away.
  • Father – Joy is found in understanding the Lord is the most reliable, trustworthy and dependable friend we’ll ever have.  He’s also a jealous God, expecting us to put nothing, or no one, ahead of Him.
  • Money – Most believe a sudden windfall would bring happiness, but studies show lottery winners typically return to their previous state of mind after the initial exuberance subsides.
  • Meaning – Joy is a result of living consistent with our Designer’s plan for us – the Great Commission.  Choosing money over God is the road to momentary pleasure, but eternal bankruptcy.
  • Success – Ambitious workaholics sacrifice time with family, God and friends, believing wealth and early retirement will bring happiness.
  • Significance – Joy is impacting the world for Christ in the few years we have on this earth.  The Great Commission may involve losing everything in the here and now, yet gaining what “moths cannot destroy…and thieves cannot break in and steal”.  That’s success in God’s eyes.
  • Popularity – When there’s a buzz surrounding us, we relish the 15 minutes of fame.  However, notoriety is fleeting and attention spans are fickle.  The question is…when we’re out of the spotlight and back at home looking in the mirror, what do we see?
  • Purpose – Joy comes in knowing God’s opinion of us never changes.  Therefore, we play to an audience of One, humbly serving and sharing Christ with others even though they may no longer look up to us if we “stoop to the level” of a servant.
  • Power – Exerting influence and authority gives us a false sense that we’re in control.  At some point age, upheaval, betrayal or circumstances outside our purview will conspire to overthrow or undermine what little control we actually had.
  • Potential – There is joy in surrendering control to the One who really had it all along.  “Fixing our eyes on Jesus” reestablishes the proper and intended order, relieving us of the responsibility of trying to force God’s hand to ensure our desired outcomes, which likely go against His will.
  • Religion – Hope once found in a man-made set of rules and empty promises to make our lives better disappears when difficult times eventually come.
  • Relationship – Joy is knowing Christ as Lord and Savior, loving and serving Him no matter what the cost.  That kind of faith endures through good and bad.
  • Worldliness – Countless shiny lures grab our attention and provide short-term happiness, yet distract us from all that would bring authentic, impermeable joy.  To no avail, we seek quick earthly fixes to satisfy an innate hunger for meaning and relational intimacy that can only be satisfied by loving and serving our Creator.
  • World-Changing – Joy is picturing all those who will be in Heaven because of how the Lord used you to reach them.  Joy is the privilege of being chosen by God to be an instrument of hope and peace in a broken, fallen world.
  • Escapism Alcohol and drugs provide a temporary reprieve for those who can’t cope without hope.  Once the effects wear off, they need to do it again quickly or risk confronting the harsh reality of a joy-free existence – and soon addicts get hooked.
  • Evangelism – Joy is finding fulfillment through a Prayer, Care and Share lifestyle, dedicated to worship and witness, not recreational self-medication.
  • Transportation – The initial thrill of a new ride wears off after a few weeks, becoming just a way to get to our next destination.
  • Transformation – The joy of being delivered from the brink of Hell to the doorstep of Heaven gives us a new (yet lasting) lease on life.
  • Vacation – Many begin planning their next vacation the minute they return from the last one.  Battling the emptiness of life without Jesus, they subsist only by making sure they have something to look forward to.
  • Victory – Joy isn’t found in relaxation but in “pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.  There’s no vacation from being a disciple of Jesus – at every corner there are fresh opportunities to lead souls toward Christ.

From this list, we see that the best stress reliever and cure for consumerism is taking our eyes off ourselves (happiness) and looking to the Lord and those less fortunate (joy).  All year long, we can #GiveAnEternalGift through acts of kindness for coworkers, neighbors or complete strangers in the name of Jesus Christ.  Christ modeled how to #GiveAnEternalGift – by first demonstrating His love for them and then telling them who He is.

It’s Your Turn

What if your New Year’s Resolution was to make Christmas a year-round experience in 2019?  What if the pursuit of eternal joy cost you some short-term happiness?  Would you still chase joy all year long?

Less Religion and More Jesus this Christmas

Dec 12, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

No season accentuates the difference between “religion” and “faith” more than Christmas.  “CEOs” (Christmas-Easter Only) show up at church for the first time in months.  Christian symbols are brought down from the attic and placed around the house and on the tree.  Believers pick up the battle where they left off the year before at the first mention of “Happy Holidays” and “X-mas”.  Christians find it tougher every Christmas to find a card with religious references.  TV commercials fuel rampant consumerism, luring even those who understand the “reason for the season” into their trap.  We’re certain to see more about Santa Claus than our Savior all around us as Christmas approaches.

Complaining about the increasing secularization of Jesus’ birthday won’t put Christ back in Christmas.  Revival won’t break out if more stores acquiesce to boycotts demanding they resume greeting customers with “Merry Christmas”.  Political pressure isn’t the way to force Hallmark to offer more religious Christmas cards and to compel advertisers to wait until after Thanksgiving dinner before kicking off Black Friday.

That’s the “religious” approach, fighting the culture war in America with an “air war” of verbal bombs.  Instead, let’s combat the commercialization of Christmas with service and evangelism as our chosen weapons – a “ground war” of love and compassion.

No, we don’t need more religion this Christmas.  We need more faith in Jesus…

  • Religion is Temporal – Christianity is not about giving us a better life and sustaining us through the hard times.  Religion focuses on this life and what God can do for “me”.  Unfortunately, that orientation dominates the thinking of most professing believers and the teachings of many pastors today.
  • Faith is Eternal – Jesus “for the joy set before him He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).  Hebrews 11 repeatedly affirms that all those enshrined in the Hall of Faith were looking forward to what lay ahead – eternity with Jesus.  They recognized that this is not our home and acted accordingly.  It was that same assurance of the next life (not promises for this life) that convinced Rachel Scott to proclaim her faith at gunpoint in Columbine.
  • Religion Defends – What should Christians do about our nation’s crumbling moral foundation?  Protests and activism have largely backfired.  Name a significant recent court decision where the Christian moral position has prevailed.
  • Faith Turns the Other Cheek – Christ doesn’t need us to defend our faith.  Jesus never defended Himself.  He was like a sheep led to slaughter.  What Jesus did was to keep on serving, loving, building disciples and preaching the gospel every day of his life.  We should do likewise.
  • Religion Judges – Religion says, “You’re wrong” and stays at arms length.
  • Faith Cares – Faith says, “You’re loved” and pursues the lost at close proximity.
  • Religion Repels – Society has come to see the defensiveness, accusations and evangelism of Christians as intolerance.  It’s ironic that Jesus had the biggest issue not with those the “religious” considered “sinners”, but with those condemning “sinners”.
  • Faith Attracts – Jesus normally healed and fed first, then said who He is.  He had the perfect words, but knew words alone wouldn’t be enough to get people to listen.  Today, if churches were still leading with compassion, non-believers would be much more interested in what Christians have to say.
  • Religion is Transparent – Religion hinges on mankind.  It tries to cover failures and look godly – obscuring the view of the one true God.  As our frailty becomes evident, Christians are seen as hypocrites, causing others weak in their faith to walk away, some never to return.
  • Faith is Impenetrable – Faith’s foundation is God.  Unlike us, God keeps His promises.  He has no moral lapses.  Most seekers don’t “buy” man-made religion – they can see through its hypocrisy.  They’re looking for truth and genuine faith that saves.
  • Religion Loses the Battle – Our culture is moving away from Jesus.  All of our lobbying, voting and venting on behalf of our religion isn’t turning the tide – it’s only galvanizing the opposition.
  • Faith Wins the War – We know the end of the story.  We’ve read the Book of Revelation.  Jesus wins.  In the war for the souls of men and women, faithful disciples of Jesus are much better equipped to be effective soldiers than the “religious”.
  • Religion Consumes – The “religious” look to be fed.  Prayers are about receiving blessings.  Emphasis is on what God (and their church) can do for them.
  • Faith Dispenses – Individual believers become the personification of “church”, living Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles, each looking to reach others for Christ.
  • Religion Clings – A focus on the temporal causes cultural Christians to hang on to what they have.
  • Faith Releases – Dying to self, crucified with Christ daily, causes disciples of Jesus to give sacrificially of their time, talents and treasures.
  • Religion Holds Back – Those who stop at simply believing won’t leave everything behind if that’s what Christ asks of them.
  • Faith Surrenders – Satan and the demons believe in Jesus too, but they won’t follow Him.  Faith is belief that converts to surrender.
  • Religion Puffs up – Hanging around other Christians more and cussing less, then criticizing others who don’t do the same, makes the “religious” feel superior.
  • Faith Humbles – Humility is the essence of our faith; the realization that we’re all sinners in dire need of a Savior, redeemed solely by the grace of God.
  • Religion Says “God will…” – Too many pastors teach that faith is having so much belief in a particular outcome that God decides to give us what we want.  When healing doesn’t come or the deal falls through, we kick ourselves for not having enough “faith”.
  • Faith Says “God can…” – Jesus asked repeatedly, “Do you believe I am able to heal you?”  The trigger for miracles was always belief that Jesus COULD, not that He WOULD.  That means deferring to God’s will – whether the outcome is good, bad or indifferent.  Only the Lord know whether it’s best if healing doesn’t come – maybe His plan is to awaken others to their own mortality, leading them to Christ.
  • Religion Caters – Asking little of churchgoers, providing an entertaining worship experience, and promising a better life is sure to keep lukewarm Christians coming back.
  • Faith Challenges – Jesus preached his most challenging sermon at the height of His popularity (John 6).  In contrast, pastors hesitate to unveil the true costs of discipleship and the Great Commission mandate for fear of driving the “religious” away.
  • Religion Builds a Church – Prevailing church growth models like “Invite, Involve, Invest” define pastors and staff as “church” and churchgoers as “customers”.  The redefinition of those terms has resulted in reallocating funds away from local missions to member retention and from intensive discipleship to small groups.  For churches today, growth does not always imply health.
  • Faith Builds Disciples – The Biblical definition of “church” requires equipping and empowering members to BE the church, reaching the lost between Sundays.
  • Religion Speaks – Being a Monday morning quarterback, bemoaning what’s wrong with the world, is easy.
  • Faith Acts – Getting out of your armchair and serving others in Jesus’ name is hard.  As the book of James says, faith without works is dead.  We’re called to be more about justice than judgment and compassion than condemnation.
  • Religion Keeps Walking – In the Good Samaritan story, the religious leaders were too busy doing religious stuff to stop and care for the beaten robbery victim.
  • Faith Stops and Helps – Instead, a man those religious leaders reviled – a Samaritan – was the hero in Jesus’ story.  “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…“ (James 1:27)
  • Religion Shuts Off – Private, Passive, Pensive Christians keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ to themselves.
  • Faith Pours Out – Powerful Christians come to grips fully with the grace and mercy of Jesus and can’t possibly keep it in.

It’s Your Turn

Rather than getting caught up in the madness, stressed by holiday obligations, and complaining about “Happy Holidays”, combat the commercialization of Christmas by serving others and sharing the Gospel.  #GiveAnEternalGift is a much better way to remind neighbors, coworkers and friends of the real reason for the season.

#GIVEANETERNALGIFT, not temporal gifts that are quickly forgotten and discarded, by following these 3 simple steps:

  • Perform an act of kindness and watch it open the door to sharing the Gospel.
  • Post a pic and tell your story on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #GiveAnEternalGift to inspire others.
  • Challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

Who’s at the Top of the Lord’s Christmas List?

Nov 29, 18
JMorgan
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2 comments

God has a special place in His heart for those who have no one.  The Lord feels deep compassion for anyone who is alone and left to fend for themselves.  In particular, God is grieved when there is no man in the house to lead and support the family.  Did you know that there are over 30 verses in the Bible that reference both widows and the fatherless in the same sentence?  For example…

“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 10:18)

”A Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.” (Psalm 68:5)

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” (James 1:27)

Widows and orphans are so often commingled in the Bible because they’re in a similar predicament – they’ve lost the most important man in their lives.  Children have been deprived of their dad.  The wife no longer has her partner in life.  They both face a challenging, uphill climb – equally and desperately in need of help and hope.  More than maybe anyone else, they need to truly understand that the Lord is their Father.

Does anyone fit this description in your church?  Do you know someone at your workplace or neighborhood who is alone, struggling to navigate life now that her husband is gone?

Loving Those in Distress & Lonely

The root of the word “widow” means “lonely or solitary” or “bereft or void”.  God’s Word does not typically describe how a woman arrived at that status – presumably it was death, but she could be bereft due to divorce or desertion.  Children can also become fatherless as a result of death or desertion.

Most envision elderly women when they hear the term “widow”.  However, women who have lost a husband span all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status.  Those who have no one, the kind of people the Lord loves dearly and commands us to help, encompass a wide range of dire circumstances faced by countless people right outside the back door of your church:

  1. Widows Indeed – I Timothy 5 says the Church should step in when a widow has no relatives or dependents to help them.  Some widows are financially secure, blessed with life insurance or supported by a loving family.  However, even when there are other family members, often they are unwilling or unable to help.  Statistics show that the rate of poverty among elderly widows is 3 to 4 times higher than elderly married women.  As is so often the case with older widows, emotional grief takes a toll on physical health, increasing medical expenses at a time of reduced income.
  2. Grass Widows – Women left behind by husbands who believe the “grass is greener” often have nowhere to turn for support or are too ashamed to ask.  In cases where children have been abandoned too, this suddenly single mom has much less income to cover nearly the same expenses.  To make ends meet, many have little choice but to dust off the resume, find affordable child care and navigate her unexpected new life on her own.
  3. Widowers – It’s not only women who grieve over the loss of a spouse.  Many elderly men live in solitude as shut-ins, unable to adjust after decades of married life.  Our church did a home “makeover” last weekend for an 89 year-old disabled veteran who hadn’t touched anything inside or outside his house since his wife passed away in 2002.  Her collections of trinkets still covered the shelves inside the home while 16 years of overgrowth completely enveloped the exterior.
  4. Fatherless – Every widowed mom has fatherless children.  Her greatest concern is caring for her children.  Research shows that fatherlessness results in higher rates of poverty, substance abuse, physical and emotional illness, poor education, crime, and teen pregnancies.  Churches can play an important role in telling children about God’s promises to the fatherless, helping them avoid becoming one of these statistics.

Urgency & Imperative

Acts 6:1-3 describes how important caring for widows was to the early church.  They chose “seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom”, including Stephen.  Few churches take ministry to those in distress that seriously.  Most offer only a rotating “deacon on call” for church members and no ongoing ministry for the bereft in the community.  Maybe if church leaders fully understood the plight of widows, they would realize why the Lord so passionately emphasizes the importance of caring for them:

  • Almost half the women over age 65 in the U.S. are widows, and 7 out of 10 live alone
  • 60% of those who lose a spouse will experience a serious illness within 12 months
  • Assistance from family and friends typically diminishes dramatically after the 1st year
  • Widowhood (in all of its forms) is the fastest-growing demographic in the world today
  • 39% of children in the U.S. live without their biological father in the home
  • 75% of the average widow’s support base disappears by the end of the first year
  • Women whose husbands have died live as widows for an average of 14 years
  • Over 90% of the time, a widow does not ask for help because she doesn’t think to, is afraid to, or doesn’t know how or who to ask
  • Practical needs often sit for months before they are met

The lack of dedicated ministries to those living in solitude and distress is largely attributable to the gradual demise of discipleship within America’s churches.  Disciples would naturally have a heart for widows and the lonely because Jesus did.  A common blessing in Jesus’ day was, “May the dust of your rabbi be upon you”, meaning disciples walk in His footsteps in every respect.  Yet in its Americanized, institutionalized form “church” has been redefined as a place and not people, thereby diluting the emphasis on personalized discipleship to avoid the inconvenience and risk that necessarily accompany the Great Commission mandate.

How Churches Should Help Them

First Baptist Woodstock partners with Perspective Ministries to serve the hundreds of widows that attend that Atlanta-based church.  The ministry’s name reflects the importance of changing perspective – turning attention from the loss of a husband and dad to the reality that God has always been the true embodiment of those roles.  That shift of heart and mind brings emotional stability and purpose when all hope seems lost.  Perspective Ministries also provides valuable services to ease the burden caused by death, divorce or desertion:

  • reminds the widow and her children of God’s promises to be their covering, protector and provider
  • recognizes that widows and the fatherless need Christ-centered community, which churches are in a unique position to provide
  • mobilizes relational networks to walk alongside widows and fatherless children
  • organizes social gatherings and grief sharing groups
  • meets daily practical, emotional, physical and spiritual needs of the widow and her family
  • connects them with others experiencing similar loss
  • provides leadership and service opportunities to turn attention to helping others
  • educates family, friends, church members and service providers on how best to care for widows and the fatherless
  • offers its services to the bereft in the community, not just church members, who lack an extended (church) family

The Guiding Principles of Perspective Ministries are:

  • Dignity – Acknowledge that each woman and child is created in the image of God and therefore has immeasurable worth and value, and should be treated accordingly in every respect
  • Relationship – Understand that the suffering and challenges experienced by widows and the fatherless is personal and enduring, requiring individualized and long-term solutions
  • Compassion – Stand in the gap for those struggling to meet the physical, material, emotional and spiritual needs that accompany the loss of a husband and father

The Action Plan followed by Perspective Ministries involves 4 phases:

  1. Initial Engagement – Come in during the storm bringing relief through crisis response teams from within and outside of her “village”
  2. Near-Term Intervention – Over the first few months, provide time-sensitive help and hope to ease suffering
  3. Extended Assistance – Remain after the storm has passed to meet daily needs and build resilience as they adjust to life without a spouse or dad
  4. Ongoing Care – Stay in relationship as support from family and friends eventually wanes to sustain them through the inevitable ups-and-downs

It’s Your Turn

Do you know of another church that has a ministry to widows and the fatherless dedicated to responding to the 30+ Bible verses expressing God’s heart for those bereft of a husband or dad?

The Purpose of Youth Ministry Is Not to Attract Parents

Nov 14, 18
JMorgan
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4 comments

Most churches invest far more in youth ministry than men’s or recovery ministries.  Why?  Many pastors cite Jesus’ deep love of children.  Others would say, “Children are our future”.  Yet in strategy sessions and staff meetings, discussions center around a different objective – the critical role of youth ministries in getting parents to come to church.

On the surface, attracting parents by engaging children appears reasonable and harmless enough.  What’s wrong with rejuvenating an aging church by adding more young families?  Why not convince a few “nones” and “dones” to give church another shot?  The problem lies in seeing ministry to youth as a strategy rather than a mandate.  Inevitably, that line of thinking leads to decisions which ultimately undermine the God-given mission of the church – to build disciples of Jesus Christ who are…

1. Faithful to God, not an Organization

Kids in America today aren’t loyal to institutions, clubs, parties or groups.  They’re job hoppers with attention spans best measured in nanoseconds.  The disheartening number of young adults who walk away from church after adolescence isn’t surprising in light of a clear misalignment – churches structured around membership versus youth who aren’t “joiners”.  Youth programs designed to attract parents are about building a “church”.  A far better strategy is to build disciples who ARE (the personification of) church.  Young people who truly know Jesus as their Savior, who’ve surrendered their lives to Him, may not join a church but they won’t walk away from God – and that should be the overriding concern.  Trying to make church fun and engaging has backfired – youth don’t head to college with faith that’s deep enough to withstand secular teachings and don’t see a reason to return to the church of their childhood.

2. Committed to a Cause, not a Leader

Whatever America’s youth lack in loyalty to organizations, they make up for in dedication to causes.  They will charge the hill alongside any group that’s fighting for a cause they hold dear but won’t relegate themselves to a single organization, following blindly up the next hill its leaders decide to climb.  A church’s brand, growth and reputation today are inextricably linked to the popularity, personality and perception of its senior pastor.  Churches utilizing youth ministry as a growth strategy perpetuate that pastor-centric culture, which has little allure for young adults.  Churches courageous enough to prepare youth to pursue the greatest cause known to mankind – making Christ famous – will see those young adults not only returning to church but dramatically extending that church’s reach.

3. Engaged in Life Change, not Activities

Some of the most disengaged millennials are those who were most involved in youth group as kids.  They rarely missed a retreat, lock-in or social event yet want little to do with church once they finish high school.  Consuming all that a youth ministry has to offer does not require or necessarily even promote a saving, sold-out relationship with Jesus Christ – particularly if the ministry’s primary intent is to grow the church.  We’ve seen hundreds of churches gradually replace Bible studies with bowling nights, memory verses with video games, and one-on-one mentoring with team sports.  We’re witnessing the steady decline of personalized discipleship – less immersion in scripture and more entertainment – under the misguided perception that children value fun more than purpose.  Like students at underperforming public schools who still can’t read, many teenagers “graduating” from youth group are spiritually illiterate.

4. Fulfilling a Mission, Not a Role

Any survival instincts or growth aspirations will pervade nearly every aspect of a church, including youth ministry.  For leaders of any type of organization, thoughts of sustaining or expanding operations turn attention inward.  Pastors step up recruiting of volunteers to fill needed positions within the church – it’s all hands on deck.  Meanwhile, as we mentioned earlier, youth in America are looking for an external cause.  Young men and women, especially those who love Jesus, want to help the homeless, orphans, elderly and address other pressing social issues.  They want to share the Gospel – born-again Millennials share their faith more than any other generation today.  Nearly two-thirds (65%) have presented the Gospel to another within the past year, in contrast to the national average of about half (52%) of born-again Christians.  Youth won’t be satisfied simply with being a greeter, usher or child care worker.  They’ll go looking elsewhere for a cause if the church doesn’t provide adequate (external) outlets that produce meaningful (Gospel and social) impact.

5. Hungry for Real Relationships, not Socializing

Making youth group more entertaining and communal may lure kids next Sunday, but will compromise efforts to make them disciples of Jesus.  Group events and activities enable youth to blend in with the Crowd or to conceal their lack of a personal, abiding faith within the larger Community.  Even those considered part of the Core arrive at that status more for the quality of their leadership skills than the depth of their relationship with Christ.  Today, we appear to be seeing greater appetite for smaller congregational life among young churchgoers.  Active participants in youth group for years are feeling lost in the crowd and community.  They want to share their deepest questions and concerns – those they fear disclosing to their parents; however, youth groups aimed at attracting parents are not providing safe and personal forums for those conversations.

6. Desire for Truth, not Relevance

Young kids are smart – they hope and pray for the supernatural, yet recognize strategies and programs modeled after the natural.  When they are part of attractional youth ministries, deep down they understand it’s a cheap imitation of what Christ intended, and they lose faith – maybe not in Him but in church as they know it.  They see through a prepackaged, reconfigured gospel designed to appease.  Youth groups leaders try to act cool and run cool events – but the problem is that they’ll never be as “cool” as their non-Christian friends and activities.  Kids in America today are lost – looking to mentors for answers and truth, not for cool and funny.  Youth ministry “grads” go to college ill-equipped to withstand the secular onslaught because they weren’t discipled and prepared adequately to confront those realities.  As they look back at their youth group experience, they realize that leaders and programs were modeled after whatever was popular at the time – to make kids feel comfortable.  If they lost hope and faith in the “real world” of college, they can’t expect to regain hope and faith in a church that attempted to look like the world.  Only truth, which is uncomfortable, can restore hope in a seemingly hopeless world.

7. Ready to be Released, not Retained

Ask most young adults to define “church” and they’ll describe it as a place they went as a kid or they’ll talk about the pastor and youth leaders.  Youth are being conditioned to adopt an Americanized definition of “church” and not the actual biblical meaning.  If the goal of youth ministry is to attract parents, it serves the institution to centralize around a building rather than to teach children that they are the embodiment of church.  However, that strategy unravels when those kids finish college because “church” never became internalized for them.  Maybe it worked to get their parents and kids to show up at church when they were adolescents, but mis-defining church (as a place and pastor) isn’t getting young adults to return to church.  Creating that attractional environment is the very thing that’s keeping churches from graduating kids to high levels of spiritual maturity – those that will live out GC² (the Great Commandment and Great Commission) in their 20s and beyond.

It’s Your Turn

Is it possible for a church to challenge youth with truth and discipleship such that they don’t lose their faith in college?  Is it worth the risk to lose some kids (and their parents) to a church down the road that has a more fun and entertaining youth ministry?

Jesus is the Answer to the Opioid Crisis

Oct 31, 18
JMorgan
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2 comments

Opioid abuse has reached epidemic proportions – and it’s happening within your church.  The face of the opioid crisis is no longer the heroin addict strung out on the streets.  Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them – equating to 11.4 million prescription opioid addicts in 2016.  He’s the former football player who’s a frequent attender but dealing silently with the long-term effects of knee injuries.  She’s the mother of two that sits in the back pew suffering from loneliness and relationship issues stemming from childhood sexual abuse.

The game has changed for illegal opioids as well.  Far more powerful drugs are on the market.  Compared to Heroin, fentanyl is 50 times and Carfentanil (formerly best known as an elephant tranquilizer) 5,000 times more potent.

Overdoses and deaths from prescription and illegal opioid usage are dramatically increasing in nearly every city and county across the country, including yours.  Consequently, government and secular agencies are pouring funds into intervention and recovery programs at unprecedented levels.  The White House has declared the opioid epidemic a nationwide public health emergency and is seeking nearly $17 billion in opioid-related spending in 2019.

While taking measures to save lives and alleviate severe withdrawals are necessary, no amount of money spent on solutions apart from Christ will resolve the crisis.  Yet few pastors have it on their radar.  Most haven’t personally encountered it in their church.  They aren’t aware of the alarming statistics in their communities.  They are ill-equipped to respond to someone who approaches them with an addiction of any kind, much less an opiate.  The knee-jerk reaction of most church leaders is to refer a confessing parishioner to a local agency, essentially outsourcing – when they hold the keys to recovery.

Should the Crisis Concern Churches?

Addiction is a faith issue.  Jesus is the answer.  Even the Department of Health and Human Services understands the critical role of the “faith community”, recently producing an extensive toolkit for faith leaders that even references the power of prayer.  Our federal government is willing to risk crossing perceived church/state boundaries because they know faith is the only way out.  Likewise, Narcotics Anonymous (and AA) continually stresses the importance of looking outside ourselves for answers.  It is common knowledge that attempting to exorcise that particular demon through personal willpower only entrenches it further within.

Nevertheless, with the door wide open to demonstrate the love of Jesus to a waiting world, our churches largely ignore the opioid crisis and remain on the sidelines in the battle.  Collaboration is called for, but the needle in America is instead moving toward churches doing more branded, independent and infrequent outreach.  Proactive engagement and partnerships are needed, but many contend that pastors will not act in earnest unless the crisis threatens to disrupt the sanctity or growth of their church.  Until that moment, most fail to see how the crisis relates to them.

However, every aspect of this crisis is linked integrally to a person’s relationship with God.  Opioid use is entirely centered around one objective – pain alleviation, whether physical or psychological.  The crisis is not about drugs, it’s about pain management.  Pain stems from surgeries, PTSD, depression, isolation, failed relationships, socioeconomic factors, child neglect or abuse – to name a few.  Faith in Christ eases each of these causes of psychological pain and stops necessary usage of opioids (for significant physical pain) from becoming abuse.

C.S. Lewis wrote “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  We miss out on all God wants to do through our pain when we try to escape (bearable) pain through drugs and alcohol.  Romans 5:3-4 says “Let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Is anyone suffering in your congregation or community?  If so, then be assured they are tempted to escape through self-medicating (whether prescribed or illegal) rather than running toward the Lord.  Church leaders are gatekeepers for those in any sort of pain, who find themselves stuck between those two alternatives – Jesus or drugs.  Hesitating to speak openly with the church about the opioid crisis, share facts about the dangers, train members to recognize the signs and intervene boldly when required leaves those in pain at risk of falling to temptation.

And the consequences of succumbing are dire – costing many their faith, families, careers, savings, health and lives.  Consider the impact on children as well – like me who for all practical purposes lost my mom as a young boy to prescription drug and alcohol addiction.  If you surveyed your congregation, there’s a good chance that nearly every family has been touched in some way by the opioid crisis – not to mention alcohol addiction.

What Can Churches Do About the Crisis?

Below is a blueprint to address opioid (and alcohol) abuse within your congregations and communities.  Nearly all options are viable and applicable even for a small church.

1. EDUCATION

Goals

  • Increase your understanding of addiction and the opioid crisis
  • Educate others in your congregation and community
  • Break down the walls of shame and stigma

Big Ideas

  • Conduct an Awareness Sunday at your church
  • Distribute information about the crisis
  • Issue a call to action

Application

  • Encourage those impacted to seek help
  • Share the hope that healing is possible
  • Identify those able and willing to provide support

2. PREVENTION

Goals

  • Monitor and prevent risk factors for potential opioid abuse
  • Recognize signs of opioid use and act early
  • Foster genuine community and transparency

Big Ideas

  • Conduct a church-wide assessment
  • Identify primary spiritual and social needs of the congregation
  • Learn about outside resources that can be leveraged if needed

Application

  • Gauge preparedness to address risk factors and crisis internally
  • Take note of those in physical or emotional pain
  • Counsel those at risk (or their family members)

3. INTERVENTION

Goals

  • Always ask tough questions when opioid abuse is suspected
  • Advise and counsel those currently affected by addiction
  • Provide and promote access to faith, social and clinical resources

Big Ideas

  • Appoint an (internal) leader on this issue
  • Organize efforts to build support structures for families in crisis
  • Improve perception of your church as a “safe” place for help

Application

  • Ensure staff and other key leaders are trained to recognize signs of suffering and stress
  • Provide practical support to individuals and families in crisis
  • Point congregants to vetted resources for clinical and medical support

4. RECOVERY

Goals

  • Celebrate overcomers and share success stories
  • Support those struggling through the long road to recovery, reconciliation and redemption

Big Ideas

  • Provide a more wholistic picture of “health”
  • Have resources and information ready and available
  • Provide “family” and community for those in recovery

Application

  • Organize efforts to build support structures for families in crisis
  • Provide economic, food, housing and transportation assistance
  • Start a Celebrate Recovery program

The solution to the opioid crisis is not simply programs and pills.  The answer lies in the hope found in Jesus alone and surrounding those tempted to abuse opioids with a loving community – the body of Christ.  Disciples of Jesus will come to understand that this life is short, God teaches us through our pain, and we do not own our bodies – it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

It’s Your Turn

Like me, have you seen addicts radically transformed solely by the love of Jesus?  On that note, have you ever wondered whether any of the demons cast out by Jesus and His disciples were actually addictions?  Those Jesus healed of demons were often described as incoherent, unable to speak and convulsing – doesn’t that sound a lot like an overdose?

God’s Formula for Leading Men to Maturity

Oct 19, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

What is more important than growing men in their relationships with the Lord?  That is what Jesus spent nearly all of His time doing.  God designed men to be spiritual leaders of their homes and communities.  Equipping men to carry out those responsibilities effectively is the key to the Lord’s math for growing His Kingdom – multiplication, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Only disciples multiply – both within their families and throughout their circles of influence.

Jesus poured Himself fully into a few men and changed the world.  Jesus modeled how to take men down the path to Christian maturity.  He cautioned men countless times to avoid the greatest impediments to maturity – their natural tendencies toward pride and self-centeredness.

Men lacking depth in their relationships with the Lord, with one foot in the world’s system, may add but will never multiply.  They may occasionally invite a couple folks to church or do a service project, but those addition-based actions never produce exponential fruit.

The question is “Are churches today making disciples who multiply or churchgoers who add?”  Are most men in your church a great deal like Christ or cultural “Christians” (as society currently perceives that word)?  Is your church illuminating all the steps on the road to Christian maturity or presenting a more palatable version to men based on church attendance, volunteering and giving?

Does your church have a stronger women’s ministry than men’s ministry, resigned to the fact that women are generally more willing to fellowship and share their feelings?  Is your church less focused on building a discipleship-oriented men’s ministry than an engaging youth ministry, strategically trying to grow the church by reaching parents through their children?

Let’s look at 7 ways that Jesus conducted his men’s ministry based on exponential multiplication and compare it to how many churches today rely on simple addition:

1. Educate + …

Multiplication

  • Jesus worked as a carpenter, but His primary occupation was Teacher.  Each day, He discipled a small class of 12 men and tutored them 1 on 1.
  • Jesus often lectured large audiences in auditoriums on mountainsides and beachfronts, but reserved His deepest lessons and truths hidden from the masses for those 12 men within His inner circle, knowing that depth in a few would produce multiplication for the many.

Addition

  • Few churches facilitate 1 on 1 discipleship among members.
  • When pastors are asked how their church disciples, most cite optional and seasonal small groups (which are generally structured with more fellowship and less leadership than would be necessary for effective disciple-making).
  • A weekly 30-minute sermon and small group meeting are not adequate education for men expected to be the embodiment of “Church” within their families and communities between Sundays.

2. Equip + …

Multiplication

  • Jesus gave His disciples and other close followers not only the words to preach but also the power to heal as a means to open the ears of non-believers to hear the Gospel.
  • Jesus understood how each man was moving down the discipleship path and personally addressed their needs for growth.

Addition

  • Rather than providing intensive, personalized training necessary to answer tough questions, most pastors simply tell men to share their testimony and invite people to church to hear the Gospel from a “professional”.
  • Few churches present men with tailored opportunities to bring hope, help and healing to families in need within their city.
  • All churches have systems to track individual giving, but none keep records of individual growth or needs for advancement in their walks with Christ.

3. Engage + …

Multiplication

  • Once equipped, Jesus sent all of His disciples into the mission field to live out prayer, care and share.
  • Scripture lays out church-related responsibilities for all believers, but exempts no one from the Great Commission.
  • Jesus, Paul and the disciples modeled equipping other men to disciple other men, leading to the exponential multiplication experienced by the early church.

Addition

  • Church leaders generally engage men at a far lower level than is biblical, giving each a small church “chore” to do on a committee or as a greeter, usher, etc.  Pastors are eager to commend men for those minor inconveniences, knowing those small tasks not only contribute toward building the institution but also allow men to feel good about themselves for having done something.
  • Engaging men in discipleship is far more courageous, time-consuming and inconvenient than church “chores”, which require little or no training.
  • Personalized discipleship entails proactively reaching out to men about taking the next step in their discipleship journey, but men’s ministries or sermons rarely present concrete next steps or clear paths to Christian maturity.

4. Events + …

Multiplication

  • Jesus spoke frequently at gatherings, but they were not organized as events inviting people to come to a designated location.  Instead, they were held spontaneously wherever He went, challenging men to follow Him.
  • Men’s ministry fellowship and outreach events are only multiplicative if they serve as catalysts for year-round discipleship, evangelism and compassion activities by those in attendance.

Addition

  • One-time (fellowship or outreach) events generally do more harm than good, typically intended to drive church loyalty or attendance and therefore not seen as genuinely relational, compassionate or impactful.
  • The “Involve” components of today’s prevailing church growth strategy (Invite/Involve/Invest) consist of church “chores”, small groups and fellowship events.  Each of those is strategically designed to be convenient, fun and “sticky” (keeping men coming back) but they do little to make disciples (the central function of any church).

5. Expect + …

Multiplication

  • Jesus and His disciples are not on record as ever saying “come to a church service” – instead, Jesus said “follow Me”.  That’s an expectation of surrender, a willingness to sell all one owns and give to the poor if asked by the Lord – which the rich young ruler found far too demanding.

Addition

  • Many pastors fear men will choose possessions over God if presented with the challenge to truly surrender, so they settle for asking them to attend, volunteer, share their testimonies and extend invitations to a church service.  Any further expectations (e.g. for discipleship training or making disciples) could drive men and their families to a less demanding church down the road.

6. Empower + …

Multiplication

  • Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, through whom God works in us and through us His plans to exponentially expand His Kingdom.  The power of the Holy Spirit is released when we surrender and abide in the Father, stepping outside of our comfort zones to make disciples but trusting Him to bear the fruit.

Addition

  • All believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit but those not following the Great Commission mandate, abdicating that role to trained pastors and missionaries quench the Holy Spirit and the multiplicative power of the Lord’s math.

7. Evolve

Multiplication

  • Jesus modeled multiplication that works from the Inside-Out through disciples with tremendous depth.  Rather than a church-centric model that seeks to convert “crowd to core” through fun events, “core to crowd” builds a solid base of disciples who each invest in making a couple more disciples, eventually reaching the “crowd” through exponential multiplication.
  • Men’s ministries should include a biblical, strategic framework for leading men into a closer relationship with Jesus.  Each activity, role, group and event should contribute intentionally to moving men to down that discipleship path.  For example, a “26.2” structure can reflect that growing in Christ is more like a marathon than a sprint – with a plan built around each “mile”.

Addition

  • Outside-In strategies around promotional events may grow a church (little “c”) but do not promote multiplicative disciple-making (the Church, big “C”).
  • Believers are the heart and definition of church (“assembly of called out ones”), but “crowd to core” strategies revolve around attracting non-believers into a church building rather than producing and sending disciples out.

It’s Your Turn

Are you leading or attending an addition church or a multiplication church?

7 Forks in the Road to Christian Maturity

Oct 03, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

On the path to Christian maturity, we arrive at a number of decision points.  Rather than coming to faith, non-believers can reject the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus offers.  Rather than becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ, many believers would simply prefer salvation without transformation.  Yes, at every turn there are opportunities to veer off the path.

The decision to advance down the road or drive off into the proverbial ditch hinges on the single trait that scripture repeatedly defines as the essence of our faith – humility.  Countless stories in the Bible convey the importance of a person’s humility or arrogance in determining whether they receive healing and blessings or rejection and condemnation.  Pride is the origin of sin – with Satan taking advantage of Adam and Eve’s desire to be like God.  Arrogance drove Pharoah to lead Egypt to the brink of destruction, Goliath to fall and the Pharisees to draw the ire of Jesus Christ.  The Lord’s response to nearly everyone in scriptures and still today is directly related to their humility: “God gives special blessings to those who are humble, but sets himself against those who are proud.” (1 Peter 5:5)

It follows that humility (grounded in love) is the most important trait of a Christian.  It is the very essence of our faith.  Conversely, arrogance does more to separate people from God than anything else.  We have placed our faith in the most powerful yet humble Leader the world has ever known.  God Himself performed the most humble act in world history.  Despite His omnipotence and righteousness, Jesus “though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men.  And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

“Humble” does not mean what Webster defines as a lowly self-perception.  Instead, it is a realistic understanding of our place relative to God – acknowledging the Lord as our Creator and mankind as His creation.  It is the recognition that we are all equal in terms of our design in God’s image – holding everyone in high esteem as eternal souls (what is unseen) and not judging based on their appearance, behaviors or words (what is seen).

7 Forks in the Road…

The following 7 steps plot the path to becoming a Christian and maturing as a believer.  For each of those steps, humility determines whether someone moves forward, stagnates or jumps off the path entirely:

1. Listen – Humility tolerates alternative or opposing positions, willing to patiently listen to a Gospel presentation and consider its implications. That’s the actual meaning of “tolerance”.

“Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise.” (Proverbs 13:10)

Veer off the Path: Selfists who dominate mainstream American media and culture see tolerance as the polar opposite – the right to avoid exposure to alternative points of view.  To protect our identity bubbles, Selfists intimidate and ridicule any speech that doesn’t agree with their world view.  Many Christians feel it is becoming more difficult to witness today because fewer are willing to listen.

2. Respond – Humility recognizes the truth about the depths of our depravity and need for a Savior.  It leads those who are humble to investigate the veracity of Christianity, where they will discover that it is unique among the world’s religions.  Only Christianity is Gift-based, believing that God alone holds the keys to eternal life.  God had to reach down to save us because we cannot “earn” our way into heaven.  All other religions are Wage-based – either via legalism where our good must outweigh our bad, or via inner divinity where we seek to discover our own immense power inside of us.

“But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled; and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)

Veer off the Path:  Even those who see the need for forgiveness and understand that it is only available through Jesus can choose to continue in sin, “enjoy” life and be their own boss.  Rather than humbly turning to God, most seek self-actualization, happiness, health and well-being.  Selfism, the fastest growing “religion” in America, assumes a good human nature where pursuing “what’s in their hearts” will lead to the right decisions – for them.

3. Repent – Only the humble see the enormous gap between our sinful nature and the holiness of almighty God, and bow in submission.  Possessing the humility to Listen to the Gospel message and to Respond by investigating (and concluding that it is true) does not necessarily mean that a person will Repent and turn to God.  Changing one’s thinking and changing one’s behavior are two different things – and repentance requires both.  Giving up old ways starts with humbly confessing that nothing besides Jesus can bridge the otherwise insurmountable divide.

“Then if my people will humble themselves and pray, and search for me, and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear them from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Veer off the Path:  Since pride is the essence and origination of sin, then it is pride that causes people to choose sin over repentance.  They reject forgiveness, retain control, give no credit to the Lord, deny their need for a Savior, shut Him out and go on with their lives.  Yet it was God who gave them life itself and all of their abilities and possessions.  They implicitly tell the Lord that He overestimated the cost required to reconcile mankind to Him when He sent His Son to die for us.

4. Accept – Humility is the first prerequisite for accepting God’s grace and starting down the path to becoming a disciple.  Humble is the first word the Lord uses to describe those granted salvation – His followers.  The Sermon on the Mount begins with a long list of those who will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven – opening with those who are “humble”.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them”. (Matthew 5:3)

Veer off the Path: Christianity is not an “attractive” religion to a proud, self-absorbed people.  Other religions teach, “We have the answers within us” or “We control our eternal destiny by our actions.”  That’s a far more enticing message than “We’re sinners in dire need of a Savior who must die to ‘self’ and surrender our lives and plans to Jesus”.

5. Obey – Without humility, we won’t confess our sins, repent and exchange our old lives for new ones in Christ.  Once we have accepted Christ as Lord and are indwelled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is clear in Matthew 7:21-23, Matthew 25:31-46 and in all of his interactions with the Pharisees that He expects His followers to live in line with their beliefs.  We are transformed in an instant in God’s eyes when we are saved and cannot lose our salvation – but was a profession of Christ as Savior authentic if that person goes on sinning without any conscience or regard for the Lord’s commands?  And the greatest of His commands was to love the Lord and love our neighbors.

“Those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires to his cross and crucified them there.” (Galations 5:24)

Veer off the Path: Many believers subscribe to “cheap grace”, arrogantly believing their salvation is secured and resorting to the “Christian” version of Selfism – looking out for own interests.  They do not follow Jesus’ primary mandate – to love above all else.  They revile non-believers, rarely share their faith, and do very little compassion ministry – yet are eager to show off their knowledge of all things religious, often believing that all those who “know” less are destined for hell.  It was people like them that Jesus shut down at every opportunity for their arrogance.  And it is those same religious elitists who are principally responsible for the public perception today that Christians are more about judgment not justice, condemnation not compassion, self-righteousness not selflessness, and hypocrisy not humility.

6. Serve – Christians should model the grace and mercy that accompanies belief in a God who provided the ultimate depiction of humility.  We can’t love the Lord with all of our hearts, souls and minds or love our neighbors as ourselves unless we humble ourselves before God and our fellow man.  Only when Christians and churches exchange angry words for humble kindness will our impact and influence cease to dissipate.

“But Jesus called them together and said, “Among the heathen, kings are tyrants and each minor official lords it over those beneath him. But among you it is quite different. Anyone wanting to be a leader among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)

Veer off the Path: Churches were the food bank and homeless shelter for 1900+ years.  But today the average church spends less than 1% of its budget on local missions and only runs occasional outreach events.  Rather than building disciples who reach out compassionately to those in need, dollars have shifted to building institutions.  Church leaders have become hesitant to challenge members to personal discipleship, missions and evangelism – fearing those demands on their time would drive them away.  It is interesting that church plants are more humble and courageous, investing much more in discipleship and compassion, most likely because they have much less to “lose” at inception.

7. Share – Every Christian is called to humbly witness and make disciples, not arrogantly criticize and disparage those who do not believe.  According to recent studies, the words of Christians are driving people away from the Lord, not bringing them closer.  Jesus healed and fed first, then told people who He is, understanding the proper sequencing of Prayer, Care and Share – acting, then speaking.  He knew even His perfect words wouldn’t sink in unless He demonstrated His love first.

“Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them, they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true.” (2 Timothy 2:25)

Veer off the Path:  In America today, the prevailing church growth model is “Invite, Involve and Invest” or what I call the “rallying cry of the internally-focused church”.  The formula entails elevating pastors to the exclusive role of evangelist and simply asking congregants to invite their friends to church next weekend – largely abdicating their intended roles as the personification of “church” between Sundays.  Worse yet, there is the highly religious “frozen chosen” who see no point in evangelism since God has already decided who is going to be saved.

It’s Your Turn

Do you see any other forks in the road where pride inhibits conversion or stifles growth in Christian maturity?  Are there forks that you or others are facing right now where you see an opportunity to swallow any pride and steer straight?