Author Archives: JMorgan

We Look More Like the Church BC than AD (Cont.)

Jun 20, 19
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Part 2 of 2

Today, we continue the list from our prior blog post of ways the Church in America has reverted to operating principles employed by the religious establishment in Jesus’ day – which He came, at least in part, to discredit.  Jesus and His apostles had much to say about issues with the institutional construct Judaism’s leaders had erected to usurp power and control people, by positioning buildings and themselves as unduly…

4.   …Elevated

Defining church around a place and pastors to build the institution rather than disciples.

BC  Success was measured by the magnificence of facilities and the celebrity of religious leaders:

  • Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. (Mark 12:38-39)
  • Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. (Matthew 24:1)
  • Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones. (Luke 21:5)

AD  Clarification that believers are truly the definition and personification of “church” (however, nearly all Americans today associate church with a building and its “success” with size in terms of square footage, occupancy and budget):

  • You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. (1 Peter 2:5)
  • Jesus is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.” (Acts 4:11)
  • They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” (John 2:20)

5.   …Uninspired

Claiming ultimate authority and power, but rather than relying on the Holy Spirit being driven by human principles.

BC  They did not recognize, possess or leverage the power of the Holy Spirit:

  • The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. (Hebrews 9:8)
  • Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. (Acts 1:4)

AD  All followers of Jesus possess immense power through the Holy Spirit (however, few churches today emphasize the Holy Spirit, likely because He is too “spiritual” for non-believers who pastors are eager to attract and ensure feel “welcome” and “comfortable” in worship services):

  • After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:31)
  • God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4)

6.   …Centralized

Emphasizing the Church gathered versus the Church scattered to ensure organizational viability and job security.

BC  Knowledge of God and His Word was largely trapped within the confines of buildings and the minds of religious leaders:

  • The Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…What kind of house will you build for me? (Acts 7:48-49)
  • Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. (Luke 11:52)

AD  Wisdom shared directly with individual believers who can meet anywhere for prayer, worship and fellowship (however, pastors today do not prepare members to be evangelists, but simply ask them to invite their friends to the church building to let the “professionals” handle Gospel presentations):

  • But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands. (Hebrews 9:11)
  • I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (Matthew 12:6)
  • …and to the church that meets in your home. (Philemon 1:2)

7.   …Political

Conducting an air war of words rather than a ground war of love and compassion to fight the culture war.

BC  Religious leaders battled to maintain a controlling theocracy against competing influences:

  • No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them. (John 7:49)
  • But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. (Matthew 23:23)

AD  Church focused on Jesus as King and winning people to Him through love and mercy (however, Christians and churches are known less today for what they’re for than what they’re against):

  • Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. (Mark 12:17)
  • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. (Isaiah 9:6)

Summarizing the Solution

The answer to how today’s Church can look like the Church Jesus intended (AD) rather than the Church Jesus reviled (BC) lies in addressing those 7 issues, becoming:

  1. Proactive – Turn church “inside out”, tearing down the 4 walls by equipping and sending individuals and groups into ministry where they live, work and socialize
  2. Generous – Reevaluate church finances to mirror the giving expected of members, investing first fruits outside the “4 walls” and living off the remainder
  3. Compassionate – No pastor can “outpreach” Jesus, so follow His model of opening ears to hear the Gospel by demonstrating God’s love first before sharing who Jesus is
  4. Commissioned – Build disciples who are prepared to live out their intended role as the embodiment of “church” to those who would never step into a church building
  5. Empowered – Boldly proclaim our need for the Holy Spirit, not worrying that non-believers in attendance will be “weirded out” since worship services shouldn’t be designed around those who don’t worship Jesus
  6. Decentralized – Restructure around a proper definition of “church” and the models that fueled its explosive growth in the Book of Acts, where small assemblies of believers were equipped to gather anywhere to reach their neighbors for Christ
  7. Kingdom-Minded – Ground church objectives in Kingdom advancement, which has much more to do with love and unity than with political victories

Imagine the reversal of the current decline in growth, influence, impact and public perception that would occur if churches in America would adopt these 7 AD principles.

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that most churches in America today look and operate more like the “church” BC than AD?

We Look More Like the Church BC than AD

Jun 06, 19
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Part 1 of 2

Why did Jesus come when He did?  Theories abound, but the state of the Church was likely, at least in part, behind God’s timing.  Religious practices and teachings had gotten far off course, fueled by impure motives and metrics – and leading to cynicism among non-believers and an improper understanding of God among believers.  Jesus came to blow up those misconceptions and set the record straight – about who God is and what He expects of His followers.  Jesus reserved His harshest words and greatest indignation for the religious establishment.

We live AD but “church as we know it” has largely reverted to BC principles.  It was intended to operate much differently than it did before Christ, but on close (biblical) examination it appears we have partially repaired the veil Jesus tore and rebuilt the temple Jesus said would be knocked down.

Consider what Scripture says about issues with churches and religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who had become…

1.   …Distant 

A “4 walls” mentality with people treated as “customers” to attract and retain rather than as the embodiment of “church” to disciple and deploy.

BC  Church positioned as an institution formed an unintended wedge between God and man (both churchgoers and those on the outside looking in):

  • You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13)
  • When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11)

AD  Jesus went out to where people were, bridging the gap formed by “religion” to demonstrate His love (e.g. healing and feeding) before telling them who He was:

  • At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
  • And he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:2)

2.   …Expensive 

Emphasis on budgets and giving to keep the institutional church machine running.

BC  Significant dollars were required to operate the Old Testament church:

  • To that place you must go; there bring your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, what you have vowed to give and your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks.  (Deuteronomy 12:5-6)
  • I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting.  (Numbers 18:21)

AD  Flattened hierarchy frees up more giving to be directed toward fellow Christians inside and outside that church (e.g. the persecuted):

  • All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  (Acts 4:32)
  • Now about the collection for the Lord’s people:…when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem.  (1 Corinthians 16:1,3)

3.   …Internally-Focused

Not following the Lord’s commands to be compassionate and generous.

BC  Religious leaders rarely gave to help the poor:

  • But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God).  (Mark 7:11)
  • When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.  (Deuteronomy 26:12)

AD  The critical importance of compassion was strongly reemphasized, with Jesus as the model (yet only around 1% of the average church’s budget today is invested back in the community – whereas the Church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter, and started most hospitals and schools):

  • For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.  (Matthew 25:35)
  • Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.  (James 1:27)

Our next blog post will unveil the final four ways that churches in America today look and operate more like the Church BC than AD.

It’s Your Turn

We’ll explore more of these principles in the following post, but if this assessment holds water so far and our churches don’t reflect the radical shift Jesus advocated away from BC principles, how does the Lord feel about the current state of the American Church?  Does this make you think differently about changes your church should make to become what Jesus intended?

7 Inconvenient Truths for Churches (the Final 4)

May 22, 19
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Part 2 of 2

Studies point to several disruptive trends that will force a reevaluation of America’s location-centric definition of church:

  • Millennials (born between 1980 and 1994) are less loyal to institutions than prior generations
  • A small fraction of millennials attend religious services on a weekly basis
  • Convenient, online sources of sermons, scripture lessons and worship music are widely available
  • Believers are forming communities and connecting through social networks across distant geographies
  • Our consumer culture drives church hopping (shopping) and exchanges of dollars for value received (and giving to churches is declining)

The majority of Millennials still self-identify as spiritual or Christian, so they desire fellowship with like-minded individuals, but increasingly outside of a corporate church setting.

In light of those trends, it is more challenging today for a pastor to rejuvenate an aging congregation and keep up with rising expenses of a brick-and-mortar facility.  Those pressures tempt leaders to compromise the vision God gave them when they first received their call to the pulpit.  Most never imagined that one day they would:

  • Advertise to draw attention to worldly “competitive advantages” – comfort, programs, buildings, messages and music – to attract visitors
  • Define next steps and progress toward Christian maturity and discipleship around levels of involvement in the church (e.g. joining, serving, giving and inviting others)
  • Push engagement in church activities more frequently than engagement with Jesus

In many cases getting more involved in “church as we know it” does lead people into a closer relationship with Christ, but we must be careful not to make access to personal discipleship contingent on first jumping through church hoops.  Ironically, in Scripture those steps are reversed – people develop a deep relationship with Jesus first and then out of obedience and love for Him decide to engage in serving and giving.  Following the Lord’s church growth plan entails defying America’s prevailing “Invite, Involve and Invest” model, which is designed around building institutions and not disciples.  Desperation to close the membership “deal”, hoping new families will sign on the dotted line, is understandable in this age of fewer frequent attenders and increasing availability of alternatives for discipleship, fellowship and worship – but can undermine biblical mandates like the Great Commission.

Today, let’s continue laying out the 7 “Inconvenient Truths” we began discussing last week, concepts glossed over by many pastors who develop selective amnesia to survive an era in which roughly 80% of churches are in decline or have plateaued…

Truth #4 – Growth is Often a “Red Flag”

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus refused to entertain casual observers or interested bystanders for very long.  He preached His toughest sermon at the height of His public popularity.  The health of a church is not a measure of its organizational characteristics but the sum of the health of its members.  Jesus chased away those unwilling to believe, commit or change.  Revelation warned the Church at Laodicea not to tolerate those who remain lukewarm.  Paul regularly urged purity within the church, instructing leaders to drive those persisting in sin from their midst.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Have you ever seen a pastor intentionally preach a congregation down to a smaller number?  Do you know a church whose growth strategy is to shrink?  Is it common for those who refuse to walk away from a sinful lifestyle to be asked to leave the premises?  How many large churches are blowing up the org chart and decentralizing (e.g. into small discipleship-oriented groups designed to reach neighborhoods throughout a city)?  Those are biblical imperatives yet would be scoffed at if presented to the elder board of a “thriving” or “struggling” church.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

As a result of challenging members to eat right (e.g. dive into scripture) and work out (e.g. practice the Great Commission), the collective church will lose weight – and get healthier.  Shedding unwanted pounds is a key to better health for many Americans – and for churches as well.  Building into a committed few is the Lord’s math – multiplication rather than addition.  Perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never give their lives fully to Jesus, but simply shop for the best “customer experience”, do immeasurable damage to the body of Christ.  They poison healthier parts of the body.  Their presence tempts pastors to make efforts to retain and appease them to avoid losing members and income, depriving mature Christians of the “deeper truths” Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians.

Truth #5 – Christianity Won’t Make Life “Better”

Why It’s Biblical

Following Jesus is the sole source of joy, peace and hope – but is unlikely to improve your life’s circumstances.  A prayer, care and share lifestyle may even invite more trials and challenges:

  • Jesus’ disciples were martyred
  • Those living a lot like Jesus tend to attract Satan’s attention (e.g. see Job)
  • You’re looking for trouble, running toward the storm, if you’re actively sharing Jesus with a world bent on living for Self and seeing faith as foolishness
  • God repeatedly (and lovingly) disciplines His children throughout Scripture
  • The Lord allows for pain, suffering and even death to show His glory (e.g. man born blind, Lazarus)

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Inadequate answers to the question, “How can God let bad things happen to ‘good’ people?” keeps many people from coming to faith.  Telling visitors at your next worship service that bad things may be even more likely to happen to them the “better” they get is unlikely to fill your church’s pews or coffers.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

It’s not just the oft-maligned “prosperity” gospel that ignores this inconvenient truth.  Any teaching of a correlation between your life’s circumstances and what you do for a church is akin to Job’s friends who the Lord condemned for advising that bad begets bad and good begets good.  God doesn’t repay because He owes us nothing.  A higher perspective is that we’d rather make Satan mad than God mad – and we’ll risk the consequences of Satan considering us a threat.  The great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 willingly endured terrible hardships in this life because they looked ahead to eternal rewards.  Imagine how your church would grow if you could count a handful of “great heroes of faith” among your members.

Truth #6 – Church Wasn’t Intended for Non-Believers

Why It’s Biblical

The biblical meaning of the word “church” does not refer to a place, but to people.  Paul describes the church as those “baptized”, “sanctified”, and a “holy people” forming “one body”.  Church is an assembly of those who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  It is meant to be comprised of believers who are saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, undefiled by those not yet declared righteous.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” around a building and pastor ignores this inconvenient truth in order to promote church growth in two ways:

  1. Convincing Believers to Come Back – Not burdening churchgoers with responsibility for evangelism and discipleship, hoping that lowering expectations might encourage them to return next Sunday
  2. Convincing Non-Believers to Try it Out – Requesting that members invite their non-believing family, friends and coworkers (those who don’t worship the Lord) to a worship service, increasing the overall number in attendance next Sunday

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Consider the Kingdom impact of reverting to the biblical definition of “church”.  It would mean equipping and mobilizing every congregant to share Christ with those in their circle of influence.  If each of them adopted their intended role as disciples who make disciples, commissioned by Jesus Himself, then they could invite those they personally led to Jesus to join them for authentic, corporate worship.

Truth #7 – Repentance Isn’t Optional

Why It’s Biblical

It’s interesting that Jesus’ first messages at the inception of His ministry began with a call to repentance.  John the Baptist, Peter and Paul came out of the gates preaching repentance as well.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Yet “repent” is a four letter word today, rarely heard from America’s pulpits.  Because there are so many non-believers within our churches, pastors hesitate to bring up repentance or properly portray it as a mandate.  People hate change and for most non-Christians repentance requires significant alterations in lifestyles, thinking, habits and actions.  So pastors ignore this inconvenient truth to avoid a mass exodus.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

Recognition of one’s sin, sorrow over sin and confessing sin are essential in coming to Christ – an intense desire for forgiveness and commitment to turn from sin.  Failure to address and confront sin (out of fear of alienating those with no desire to stop sinning) may prevent discomfort and increase attendance but misses what Jesus and His disciples saw as the key to leading people to salvation (i.e. repentance), inhibits the floodgates from being opened to God’s amazing grace, and diminishes the holiness of His Church.

It’s Your Turn

Are any of these inconvenient truths evident within your church?  Can you think of other biblical truths that churches today conveniently ignore?

7 Inconvenient (Biblical) Truths for Churches

May 09, 19
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Part 1 of 2

Many instructions, lessons and examples in Scripture run directly counter to modern church growth models.  In today’s environment, implementing those truths in your church would be tantamount to yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater.  The balance of power has shifted – churchgoers are accustomed to expecting much of pastors, staff and facilities yet resist high expectations being placed on them – due to the combination of:

  1. America’s consumer culture where customers take their (church) business elsewhere if not completely satisfied, and dollars are exchanged for value received…and giving to churches is declining
  2. a shrinking pool of frequent attenders (demand) yet a significant number of church buildings and aspiring pastors (supply) graduating from seminaries each year

To navigate those market dynamics, church leaders find it tempting to draw attention to their “competitive advantages” – programs, buildings, messages and music.  However, as we discussed in “How Big is Our God”, our view of who God is shrinks as we ascribe greater importance to earthly religious constructs and representations of His Kingdom.  The more we acknowledge the magnificence of the scenery and sermon, the less clearly we may see the Lord’s magnificence.  Focusing on what we (or others) have accomplished can shift the spotlight away from what Jesus has accomplished.  Yes, our Americanized flavor of Christianity has introduced performance-based thinking into our collective psyches.

Living out the Lord’s prescribed church growth model involves significant (perceived) risk to an institutional church.  Therefore, many leaders suffer from selective amnesia or willingly compromise when it comes to advancing those essential principles within their congregations and communities.  However, stepping out in faith to abide by those truths, no matter the cost, would actually result in greater growth by attracting and developing the right people in the right ways.

In this blog post, we’ll review the first three of those “Inconvenient Truths”…

Truth #1 – Small Groups & Sermons Don’t Make Disciples

Why It’s Biblical

The Great Commission and other verses define disciple-making as the primary purpose of the Church.  Disciples ardently follow, imitate and obey Jesus.  Discipleship is a long and challenging yet glorious process.  The relationships Jesus had with His disciples and Paul with Timothy illustrate discipleship as ongoing, intensive and personal.  When pastors are asked about their church’s discipleship methods, most will cite sermons and small groups, which (in contrast with Jesus and Paul’s approach) are occasional, passive and impersonal.  Therefore, churches are producing far more cultural Christians than disciples.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churchgoers today are willing to live up to Jesus’ expectations of His followers.  Unveiling the actual costs of discipleship and asking a congregation to surrender fully, following wherever God leads, would send most parishioners running for the exits.  Rightfully treating members more like (unpaid) “employees” than “consumers” and training them to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus) is more than they bargained for when they joined your church.  As we discussed earlier, the risks inherent in demanding so much of those who highly value convenience and customer service are magnified in this day and age.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

At the height of His popularity, Jesus preached His most challenging sermon, saying followers must “eat My flesh” and “drink My blood”.  Building into a committed few rather than appealing to the masses spawned the exponential growth of Christianity in the early Church.  Likewise, raising up a small band of true disciples will have a far greater Kingdom impact than filling seats with thousands of passive “pew-potatoes”.  Ironically, it is those efforts to attract and retain church members that is behind the rapid decline of churches in America in growth, impact, influence and perception.

Truth #2 – That Building Isn’t a Church

Why It’s Biblical

The Biblical ekklesia (“assembly of called-out ones”) does not refer to a place but to people.  Church is happening wherever believers are gathered in the name of Jesus for worship, teaching and fellowship.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Redefining “church” to align with its biblical roots would threaten “church as we know it”.  Survival of the institutionalized, Americanized model hinges on maintaining an unhealthy dependence on pastors for evangelism and discipleship.  The sole task passed down to most churchgoers is to invite their non-believing friends to hear the Gospel from the “professionals”.  Would congregations be as generous in paying for the evangelistic services pastors provide if they knew the truth – that church is not a place or a preacher but themselves?  Each of us is the embodiment of “church”, personally responsible for leading people to Jesus, responding to objections, and learning how to answer difficult questions.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

In actuality, churches would grow faster and become healthier if each member were willing and equipped to boldly share about Jesus within their circles of influence.  Imagine the leverage created by raising up and deploying an army of individuals who live prayer, care and share lifestyles – infiltrating their workplaces and neighborhoods.

Truth #3 – Pastors Can’t “Outpreach” Jesus

Why It’s Biblical

Jesus had the perfect words and flawless delivery.  He spoke with more power and authority than anyone – ever.  Yet He rarely said who He was before healing or feeding – demonstrating His love first to open ears to hear His life-saving message.

Why It Seems “Inconvenient”

Few churches lead with compassion.  They extend invitations to attend a service, hear a relevant message, and participate in fun activities.   They do occasional service projects – transactional events with little lasting impact – largely intended, and frankly more effective, as “outreach” (i.e. marketing) than making an actual difference.  Telling people what to believe before showing them Jesus loves them comes across as proselytizing.  According to Barna Research, “almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.”  We haven’t earned the right to speak to culture, so what society hears when we talk (and don’t “do” first) is condemnation rather than genuine concern.

Why It Actually Would Grow the Church

To fight the culture war, launching a ground war with love as chosen weapon would be a far more successful battle plan than continuing an air war of (what comes across as) verbal bombs.

It’s Your Turn

Our next blog post will unveil the final four “Inconvenient Truths”.  In the meantime, come up with your own list of biblical concepts that directly contradict modern church growth models.  Also, begin to address any inconsistencies that were shared today within your own congregation.

How Big is Our God?

Apr 24, 19
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Christians across the globe, but particularly here in America, struggle to avoid mixing a few sprinkles of performance into their personal perception and practice of faith.  Even within our churches, Americans can’t help but recognize the size of the buildings, the charisma of leaders, the number of attenders, and the generosity of members.  Does our consciousness of human performance have any effect on how believers (and non-believers) in our nation view God?

There’s little doubt that…

  • Our vision of God is clouded by our culture
  • Our portrait of Him is painted by our perspectives
  • Our love for Jesus is diluted by our deficiencies
  • Our relationship with the Lord is shaped by our circumstances

I’m not sure I (or anyone else for that matter) is exempt from the influences of this world in how we view and act on our faith.

Most of us don’t…

  • Pray like we should
  • Give like we could
  • Love like Jesus commands
  • Witness like His disciples

I’m convinced that if we had any idea who God truly is in all His glory, all else would pale by comparison.

We would…

  • fall to the ground in amazement if we actually understood His infinite power
  • cower in humility if we spent a single second in His mere presence
  • be overwhelmed with thankfulness if we fully experienced His unconditional love
  • cry countless tears of joy if it were possible for us to grasp His unfathomable grace
  • never speak another word except for praise in the face of His immense wisdom
  • scream out from the rooftops about the urgency of salvation if we really knew how bad hell is and honestly believed that many of our friends and family members are going to spend eternity there

In the absence of those direct encounters with Who and what we believe, most Christians in America aren’t as amazed, thankful, overjoyed and evangelistic as they should be.  We’re more impressed with church buildings and pastors than we need to be.  We’re more satisfied with a life of taking care of our own while doing little to serve the poor.  We’re too content with feeble efforts to check the religious box rather than dedicating our lives to discipleship and ministry.

Gaining a Proper Perspective

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

Our view of who God is shrinks as we ascribe greater importance to earthly religious constructs and representations of His Kingdom.  For example, now that America has defined churches as a place and pastors as the “paid professionals”, our biblical sense of personal responsibility and urgency to BE the Church and lead the “lost” to Christ has diminished.  The more we acknowledge the magnificence of the facility and sermon, the less clearly we may see the Lord’s magnificence.  In other words, focusing on what we (or others) have accomplished can shift our attention away from what Jesus has accomplished.

The essence of Christianity is humility before almighty God.  Many expect some degree of credit or favor from God and man for their religious activities because our Americanized flavor of Christianity and definition of “church” has introduced performance-based thinking into our collective psyches.  However, if we realized how big this God is that we worship, we would understand that in all things it’s His “doing” (not ours) that matters.  We would eagerly and happily surrender our entire lives simply out of love, awe and reverence for all He has done for us, expecting nothing in return.  God deserves all the glory and credit.

It’s not about us.  it’s about…

1.  His Creation – God and His Kingdom are permanent but (as we were reminded last week watching a fire consume much of Notre Dame) anything we build, no matter how impressive, is temporary.

“Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ‘As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.’” (Luke 21:5-6)

2.  His Righteousness – It’s Christ’s goodness and not our own that we must look to.  We are all sinners in dire need of a Savior – even “celebrity” pastors.  Throughout Scripture, God almost always hand-picked the most “sinful” to fulfill His purposes – like Paul, Matthew, and Mary Magdalene.

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

3.  His Obedience – Only Christ’s obedience saves us.  Our obedience should be the natural response to His.  Our desire to follow GC2 (Great Commandment and Great Commission) should not be motivated by expectations of compensation in the form of salvation, favor or recognition.

“And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8)

4.  His LoveOur love follows from His as we abide in the Lord through His Holy Spirit.  It was the Father’s agape (unconditional) love that drove Him to create mankind and then to send Jesus to pay a debt He didn’t owe (because we owed a debt we couldn’t possibly pay).

“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

5.  His Story – The Father wrote the play and we are privileged to be written in as actors in His grand plan.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)

6.  His Power – Only through the Holy Spirit do we have the ability to do anything lasting and of value.  Ephesians 3:16 and 3:20 describe what God is able to do through His Spirit within us as “immeasurable”, yet churches in America are conditioned by culture to track and measure (e.g. “nickels” and “noses”).

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

7.  His Salvation – We cannot lose salvation because God holds us in His palm.  It does not depend on us as if we were in control, losing and regaining our standing with Him each time we sin and repent.  Only God could fix the covenant that man broke – and He did so permanently through Jesus.

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28)

All of this work has already been done.  None of those concepts above depend on our “doing”.  Anything good, impressive, pure and holy come from and through the Lord.  We must resist temptations to admire man-made structures and elevate leaders onto pedestals.  Churches shouldn’t fracture due to a pastor’s immorality, retirement or death.  The church is an “assembly of called-out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” – individuals fully dependent on the Lord for righteousness, power and salvation.  Nothing should stand between us and God – because it’s not the “doing” of anyone else, our label as a Christian, or our status as a churchgoer that makes us righteous, powerful or saved (by association).  God is the sole source of it all – and if we come to understand one day how BIG our God truly is (making all else instantly lose some of its luster), that reality check would radically transform our Prayer, our Care and our Share.

It’s Your Turn

Every religion except Christianity is based on performance (i.e. our goodness or enlightenment).  How have you seen attempts by Christians or churches to make themselves look “bigger” (e.g. by promoting their “creations” or their “goodness”) effectively diminish perceptions of how big our God is?

Hard to See Jesus Through Brick Walls

Apr 10, 19
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Prerequisites for establishing and sustaining a church today, assuming we adopt the Americanized definition of “church” around a place and pastors, include:

  • Reputable leadership
  • Hard working staff
  • Generous members
  • Relevant activities and programs
  • A temporary or permanent location

Optional features not required by America’s model for “church” and rarely observed these days, yet essential to the ministry of Jesus and life of the early church, include:

  • Intensive discipleship
  • Personal evangelism
  • Continual compassion

Whether a church makes disciples, has members who share their faith or is active in local missions will not make or break a modern-day church.  However, it will have a difficult time surviving a pastor’s “fall from grace”, economic downturns, or inability to eventually buy or build its own facility.

Americans love buildings.  Owning our own home is the pinnacle of the American dream.  Erecting a permanent structure gives us a sense of accomplishment and validation.  For a company, acquiring or constructing an office building is a stamp of approval authenticating its legitimacy.  Philanthropists donate millions in exchange for naming libraries and museums after them, feeling fulfillment in leaving a physical legacy that will outlive them.  For a church plant, moving into a building it can “call our own” is a sign that “we’ve made it” – finally, no more setting up for weekend services every Friday or Saturday night.  Members, pastors and staff all are excited and celebrate the milestone – anxiously inviting any and all to show off the new “digs”.

The world’s system might revolve around physical assets and status, but the Lord’s system is based on love and grace.  Throughout scripture we see numerous examples where even believers mistakenly assume that God is speaking about worldly buildings and structures when He’s actually talking about Himself (the author of love and grace):

  • “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19)
  • “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Matthew 21:42)
  • “…on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)

…or they jump to shallow conclusions because they’re impressed with buildings and celebrities, drawing their attention away from Jesus:

  • “Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. “Do you see all these things?” He asked. “Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another…” (Matthew 24:1-2)
  • “Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)” (Luke 9:33)
  • “For when one says, ‘I follow Paul,’ and another, ‘I follow Apollos,’ are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-5)

As Stephen says in Acts 7:48-49, “the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands…What kind of house will you build for me?”  The Lord cannot be confined to a building.  Jesus spent most of His time on earth not with the religious establishment but out in the community with the destitute, ill, uneducated and “objectionable”. (see #WWJBWhere Would Jesus Be)

It Can Be Hard to See Jesus Through Brick Walls

Church buildings require significant capital to acquire or construct – and to maintain.  Members are the only source of funds for a church.  Those upfront investments and ongoing expenses increase the risk of making congregations uncomfortable.  Many pastors hesitate to bring up biblical mandates like the Great Commission and accountability for sin during building campaigns.

The more expensive the property the greater the pressures to ensure people show up next Sunday and to count “nickels and noses”.  Churches, just like a family, often start off “house poor”, overextended when first purchasing a home in anticipation of the “family” growing in size.  Because that church “home”, like the family’s new house, is underutilized at first it often carries with it a significant financial obligation, putting a strain on those responsible for paying the mortgage.

In those cases, it behooves church leaders to perpetuate a place-centric and pastor-centric definition of “church”.  America’s consumer culture has conditioned Christians to pay for value received.  To attract and retain members, church leaders offer a valuable service to their congregations by assuming their rightful evangelistic and disciple-making responsibilities.  Gospel sharing for congregants is often reduced to inviting people to church next Sunday to fill those new seats.  Churchgoers no longer must endure apologetics training, intensive discipleship or uncomfortable conversations with non-believers, happy to abdicate and compensate the “paid professionals”.

To summarize this blog post and our prior post, two structures have been erected to accommodate the Americanized, institutionalized definition of “church”:

  1. the “veil” (i.e. pastoral “performance”)
  2. the “4 walls” (i.e. physical buildings)

Those impermeable objects combine to obscure and block our view of the biblical meaning of “church” (i.e. people, not a place), impeding Gospel proliferation and inhibiting personal relationships with Jesus Christ.  Centralizing church around a pastor rebuilds the “veil” that Jesus tore (when He died on the cross), reinserting intermediaries between God and man by elevating pastors beyond their intended role.  Centralizing church around a building relieves Christians, both individually and collectively, of their duty to step outside their comfort zones and “own” their positions as the hands and feet of Christ.  Both obstructions (to discipleship) in effect reduce the role of church members to “Invite/Involve/Invest”, today’s prevailing church growth model.

Studies show that the “veil” and the “4 walls” are discouraging non-believers from coming into church.  Millennials have a general mistrust of institutions and a poor perception of organized religion.  They’re having difficulty seeing Jesus through the “veil” and “walls” that blur their vision of who He is.  Even many faithful believers are joining the ranks of the “Dones” who love the Lord but have had bad experiences with “church as we know it”.  The overall percentage of frequent churchgoers is decreasing.  Defining church as pastors and buildings isn’t leading more people to enter in or keeping them there once they’re inside.

It’s Not Wrong to Have a Church Building

The implications of all this is not that a church shouldn’t have a building. but means church leaders should:

  1. Redefine “Church” – As the narcissism of a salvation culture overtook the selflessness of a repentance culture, linchpin terms of the Christian faith were skewed to favor man rather than to glorify God:
    • “Church” – A physical location run by a pastor versus an ekklesia (“assembly of called out ones”)
    • “Outreach” – Marketing our church versus our individual obligation for “prayer, care and share”
    • “Ministry” – Serving in a particular capacity at a church versus our Great Commission from Jesus
  2. Expand “Footprint” – Rather than settling for packing into a “skyscraper” each weekend that covers little ground, decentralize your structure into smaller fellowships scattered throughout the community, empowering and equipping each one to intentionally minister to those around them
  3. Increase Utilization – Fully utilize your building’s square footage between Sundays, being better stewards of God’s resources by filling the space with compassionate programs and activities that meet the needs of families in your local area
  4. Build Disciples – Measure “success” not by square footage but by the number of disciples, making your church a training center with members treated more like employees than consumers, tasked with pursuing the real “customer” (the lost outside the “4 walls”)
  5. Commission Disciples – Orient your approach more toward “go” than “come”, deploying disciples into their network of relationships rather than leveraging attractional strategies to pull people away from relationships into a church sub-culture (with mixed, expense-driven motives)
  6. Control Expenses – Do not get in an overextended position where high fixed costs of buildings and salaries tempt leaders to usurp responsibilities of members in hopes they’ll become more dependent on “paid professionals” and compensate them accordingly
  7. Never Compromise – Resist urges to downplay the Great Commission or accountability for sin, challenging churchgoers to disrupt their status quo for the cause of Christ and refusing to advertise features of your church that cater to worldly desires

What’s also not wrong (and perhaps more in line with biblical precedents) is to meet in homes, avoiding onerous financial obligations that invite compromise and blind far too many people in America to the biblical definition and purpose of “church”.

It’s Your Turn

How have you seen the “veil” and “4 walls” create segregation and segmentation of Christians from the world, reducing that church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception?

Our “Goodness” Obscures Christ’s Righteousness

Mar 28, 19
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The resurgence of wage-based thinking in America’s churches substitutes man’s “goodness” for Christ’s goodness.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our religious acts are “filthy rags” compared to the righteousness of Christ.  However, survival of a (location-based, Americanized) church in a nation seeing rapid declines in church attendance and giving tempts leaders to reverse those trends by invoking a works-oriented mentality (which Jesus came to destroy).  Most churches today characterize investments of time, talents and treasures in building a church as “good” and maybe even worthy of a commensurate (worldly) return to motivate.  Our motive should not be recognition or rewards, but obedience that flows out of God’s incredible grace and love for us, who are so undeserving.

Building a “church” (as defined in America – i.e. a place and not people) also requires attracting and retaining congregants in ways that fit our culture.  Words like “victory”, “freedom”, “fulfillment” and “joy” resonate in our consumeristic, narcissistic society.  Promises of a better life, help in times of trouble, and an escape route from hell attracts those interested in what God can do for them.  Sermons and songs speak of God as Provider, Comforter, Fortress, Healer, Shelter, Deliverer and Redeemer – all of which He is.  However, that’s not all He is.

“Boss” of the Americanized Church

Pastors and staff who encourage wage-based thinking (in order to build an institutional church) position themselves as the “boss” in charge of the organization.  They don’t view members as the embodiment of church, despite the Biblical definition of church as the “assembly of called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord”.  Churchgoers should be “insiders”, the hands and feet of Christ to be trained and deployed to pursue the real “customer” (“outsiders”).  However, church leaders don’t feel they’re at liberty in this day and age to hold congregants to a high standard of performance (e.g. in carrying out the Great Commission mandate) for fear that asking too much of them would send them running to the church down the road.  Therefore, most treat congregants like at-will “consumers”.  They are strategic and conscientious to engage and entertain, hoping everyone will come back next Sunday, tithe and sign up for a “church chore”.

As a result, churchgoers perceive whatever they do “for the church” as an act of kindness rather than seeing themselves “as the church” with personal responsibilities (e.g. for evangelism and discipleship).  They volunteer and give “to the church” but do so with mixed motives – partially “as unto the Lord” and partially as unto the pastor.  They see their “religious acts” as philanthropy.  They hope the Lord will pay “wages” (temporal and eternal rewards) for whatever work they do for the church.  They seek compensation in the form of praise from church leaders and complain if not acknowledged for their generosity, recounting all they’ve done for the church without so much as a pat on the back.  At their jobs, they are accustomed to working for a fair “boss” who gives pay raises in exchange for diligence and quality.  They want a fair “boss” at church too – one who recognizes them for “good” works.

Performance Anxiety

A church “boss” is also expected to replicate a work boss by leading effectively, communicating clearly, modeling diligence, exhibiting morality, and exemplifying integrity.  In other words, church members have come to expect a high level of performance by their pastors.

The modern church growth model of a “genius with 1,000 helpers” (Jim Collins, Good to Great) puts tremendous pressure on leaders to live up to a nearly impossible standard.  Responsibilities that should rightfully be distributed among all members (who are by definition the personification of “church”) instead fall on the shoulders of overtaxed, burned-out pastors.  If the church “org chart” were flattened, with everyone bearing their biblical load rather than abdicating disciple-making to the paid “professionals”, the future of each church wouldn’t be so dependent on flawless execution by a pastor.

That status quo provides a strong incentive for church leaders to maintain a veil of perfection, a self-righteousness that could block the view of Christ’s righteousness and the need of every man, woman and child for grace – even a pastor.  Most church leaders today sense performance anxiety around:

  • eloquently delivering a relevant and engaging message every Sunday
  • holding staff to a high standard, ensuring the music, announcements, sound, stage props, and video production all go off without a hitch
  • conducting the worship service on time, carefully scripted and rehearsed, without a minute wasted and choreographed to produce a desired emotion or response
  • being available to fulfill the personal requests of members, who often feel their generosity obligates the pastor to reciprocation
  • rarely, if ever, confessing sin in front of anyone within the church or even in the community or risk undermining their moral authority and pastoral reputation

Ambitions to grow an organization (e.g. by labeling religious acts of members as “good”) have come back to haunt church leaders.  As a “boss”, they feel obligated to do what they teach members, but at an even higher standard.  By centralizing the definition of “church” around a place and pastor, most have assumed a more elevated perception and greater responsibilities than Jesus intended.  The veil of perfection many pastors feel compelled to maintain contradicts the fact that anything they do is still a “filthy rag” relative to the perfection of Christ.

That veil also can tempt leaders to expect or relish praise for a “good” performance.  Those in high positions in the church may begin to believe their own press, accepting accolades rather than deferring all credit to God.  Humility is the essence of our faith and any attempt to hide imperfections obscures the view of Christ and rebuilds the veil torn when Christ died for everyone’s sins, pastors included.

When a church leader fails to meet those (impossible) expectations or has a moral lapse, you can quickly tell who has been working “as unto the pastor”.  They take the news hard because they put (at least part of) their faith in a man.  Their faith suffers.  They leave the church.  The body fractures and splits.  However, those working entirely “as unto the Lord” biblically define the church as people and aren’t codependent on the pastor, therefore keeping the church intact and carrying forward as a family.

Jumping off the Hamster Wheel

For pastors to return the veil to its intended, severed state and provide churchgoers with a clear view of Christ’s righteousness, they must:

  • Confess their shortcomings openly, being authentic and experiencing freedom from keeping up appearances
  • Discourage wage-based thinking and working for a church “boss” so no one’s trust will be in the “goodness” of anyone but Christ
  • No longer try to meet “consumer” expectations by defining “church” around any individual except for Jesus, elevating only Him onto a pedestal
  • Build disciples and not an institution, not catering but challenging members to pursue the real “customer” (the lost outside the “4 walls”)
  • Cease attempts to placate our culture by overselling self-empowerment and what God can do for us, but be honest about the high cost of discipleship, repentance, obedience and sacrifice.  Jesus didn’t suffer and die to make us happier or more comfortable in this life.
  • If led by the Holy Spirit, be willing to break the “script”, allowing God to take over the worship service at a moment’s notice
  • Rehearse the sermon less, not aiming at perfection but wiling to expose personal limitations, relying on God to deliver the message (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

Congregants will encounter Jesus if the pastor is fully reliant on Jesus.  They will encounter only a man if the pastor is self-reliant.  The veil of perfection will always obscure the view of Jesus.

Despite efforts to rebuild the veil, lower expectations, and emphasize self-actualization, the Church in America is still declining in growth, impact, influence and perception.  Our world sees through transparent attempts to shape religion around culture – and they aren’t buying it.  The Church’s attempts to spoon feed truth to avoid alienating “seekers” has contributed to America’s rejection of truth in all of its forms.  According to Barna Research, “almost half of Millennials (47%) agree at least somewhat that it is wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith.”

Spiritual truth doesn’t sound like truth when it’s couched in human terms.  The growing ranks of “Dones” (with church) have experienced Americanized church and don’t believe eternal answers are found there.  They know authentic faith is about more than repeating the Sinner’s Prayer, serving at the church, giving to the church, and inviting their friends to church.  Yet that’s about all churchgoers are being asked to do.  However, pastors worry that if they unveil all Jesus expects of His followers, fickle consumers who are accustomed to convenience and blessed with options will “vote with their feet” if not completely satisfied.

It’s Your Turn

Do you hear church members critique the “performance” of church leaders more often than they hold themselves accountable for carrying out their personal responsibility to BE the “church”?  If so, how should they shift their expectations and definitions of “church”?

The Revival of Wage-Based Christianity

Mar 15, 19
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Every human being that has ever lived has made a life or death wager – on God or on man.  It’s not just atheists who bet on humanity.  Most who believe there is a creator, a higher being or even multiple gods put their money on mankind.  Every path to life after death ever conceived in world history gambles that people have some say in their eternal destiny.  Only Christianity, which was not conceived by man but revealed by God, bets that we have no control.  There’s no amount of good we can do, no degree of sin we can avoid, and no enlightenment we can achieve to earn salvation.  The Creator had to come down because His creation could not possibly fix what it broke.  Only God could close the insurmountable gap between rampant sin and infinite holiness, reconciling creation with Creator.

However, that’s not the end of the story.  Within Christianity, throngs of professed adherents to the faith are still letting it all ride on man.  When confronted with the question, “How do you know you’re going to heaven?”, they begin by describing where (or how often) they go to church, sacrifices they’ve made for the Lord, or a list of charitable activities.  Like the character Ignorance in The Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the best-selling books of all time, hints of “wage”-based philosophy have crept into the world’s only “gift”-based religion.

Trusting Christ fully for redemption means understanding that even our most fervent religious acts are “filthy rags”.  We must bet the ranch on Christ’s righteousness, not our own.  If we believe there’s one tiny morsel of goodness in us, any pure motives, anything worthy of God’s favor, we’re denying our need for Christ.  Self-proclaimed Christians often hang their hats on their religious affiliation, claiming their ticket has been punched based on a label or status assigned to them, while clinging to a vestige of personal goodness by association.  They’re placing a losing bet on man-made religion, not on God.

The Revival of Wage-Based Christianity

Why is this heresy so prevalent in Christianity today?  Some would contend it stems from the teaching in most churches that God gives “favor” in this life for doing good things.  If I pray hard enough, give generously or serve frequently, the Lord will reward me.  That must mean that some part of me is good.

However, scripture paints quite a different picture.  Jesus and all but one of his disciples died excruciating deaths at the hands of those who hated them.  Paul suffered beatings, berating and imprisonment at every turn.  Those inducted into the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 suffered mercilessly, never realizing their hopes and dreams in this life.

What they all had in common was a focus on rewards to come in the next life, after death.  They all recognized that this earth was not their home and acted accordingly, gladly sacrificing everything for the sake of what was to come.  “For the joy set before him He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)  “For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Hebrews 11:10).

Wage-based thinking is about earning and deserving.  It’s about what God can do for me, a fair exchange conditional on my “good” thoughts and behaviors.  Yet God’s love is unconditional and the gift of Jesus Christ is not for sale.  Christianity is not about having a better life or sustaining us through the hard times (the theme of most Christian songs today).  However, pastors often make those promises, implying that our religious acts are “good”, not “filthy”.  They encourage taking a gamble on self-righteousness, leading us to believe that our personal sacrifices will bring a commensurate return from the Lord.  The grand irony is that God has no intention of rewarding us for a works-oriented mentality that He sent Jesus to destroy.

The illusion of man’s goodness has infiltrated Christianity since the days of the early church.  Surrendering all control to Jesus and leaving our fate entirely in His hands goes against our inherently self-centered nature.  However, its recent rapid expansion within American churches is largely a result of…

  • the vast number of church buildings, each carrying fixed expenses that have to be covered…
  • going after a shrinking “pie” of frequent attenders…
  • each of whom gives less today…
  • in a landscape filled with more Walmart churches, making life difficult for “mom-and-pop shops”…
  • and seminaries producing significant numbers of aspiring pastors every year.

It’s a vicious cycle.  Those “competitive” factors fuel efforts to attract and retain churchgoers, which in turn:

  • defines church as a place and treats congregants as “customers”, removing their sense of personal responsibility for pursuing the real “customer” (as defined by the Great Commission), those who don’t know Jesus
  • drives up the number of “dones” who leave church, disillusioned by the transparency and disingenuousness of religion
  • dissuades non-believers from getting to know Jesus because they aren’t seeing His love being poured out into the community by institution-building churches

…all of which combines to further shrink the “pie”, creating even greater incentive to attract and retain.

Why Work Without Rewards?

Humility doesn’t “sell” in today’s Selfism-driven culture.  Selfism assumes human nature is “good”, whereas Jesus teaches that mankind is inherently evil.  The idea of being “poor in spirit”, wholly dependent on God with no trace of self-righteousness, directly contradicts our self-empowerment, consumeristic society.  Churchgoers feel more comfortable working on self-improvement plans, and churches accommodate them by providing a list of church chores – attending regularly, plugging into a ministry and tithing.

We know the Bible teaches the importance of obedience and we dutifully comply, expecting recognition from pastors and rewards from God.  We take some measure of pride in all we do for the Lord.  But the essence of obedience is not compliance – it’s being in alignment with the Word of God, which says righteousness is found only in Christ.  We have no right to boast in our benevolence – Romans 5:2 and 5:11 says we should boast only in the glory of God (i.e. His goodness).  That’s the foundation of grace-based obedience – betting on God and trusting only in Him.

When we bet on our goodness and trust in ourselves, we may obey orders from the pastor or clean up our act, but we do so with wrong motives.  We’re disobedient in our obedience, trying to work our way into the pastor’s good graces or earn God’s favor.  Sanctification is learning to do what is right for the right reasons – out of our love for God – but realizing our motives are never truly pure in this life.  Sanctification is the process of continually throwing ourselves at the feet of Jesus in thankfulness for mercifully overlooking our sin and bringing us into right relationship with the Father.  Sanctification follows from discipleship, which breeds obedience as we sit at the feet of the Master, come to grips with His righteousness and ask the Holy Spirit to help us follow in His footsteps in how we live and love.

However, the redefinitions of “Church” and its intended “customer” have created a dichotomy between obedience and discipleship where none (should) exist.  In other words, church leaders have become particularly cautious in our consumer culture about asking congregants to obey the Great Commission mandate, enduring all the discipline and disruptions that discipleship actually entails.  The long, hard road of sanctification Paul spoke about in 1 Corinthians has been reduced to repeating a phrase and joining a church.

It’s Your Turn

In Pilgrim’s Progress, nearly every time that Christian and his companion Hopeful stepped off the path to the Celestial City, it was because they were hedging the bet they had made on the righteousness of Christ.  Most believers they encountered, although traveling along the same path, were veering off on self-righteous, wage-based detours.  How have you seen modern church growth models contribute to leading Christians off the straight and narrow road?

How to Witness in Today’s World

Feb 27, 19
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Christians today face the challenge of sharing truth (with grace) in a society betting the ranch on its humanistic redefinitions of Truth, Justice, Identity and Morality – definitions that run directly counter to the Lord’s original intent for those terms:

  • Truth – Human intellect (e.g. science)
  • Justice – Human rights (e.g. social justice)
  • Identity – Self-actualization (e.g. fulfillment)
  • Morality – Self-righteousness (e.g. moral superiority)

John 14:1 says that Jesus was “full of grace and truth”.  Evangelism reflecting God’s grace and truth is difficult in a culture that has redefined both of those terms – “grace” to mean “tolerance” and “truth” based on “personal opinion”.  Is there a way to speak about biblical truth that will resonate with non-believers today who adamantly reject absolutes or attempts to impose them on others?  YES!

Shock and Awe

Even before we say a word, our actions have the potential to “shock and awe”, waking those staggering in a self-induced stupor.  God’s unconditional love that leads believers to die to self far surpasses the world’s counterfeit love of self.  Imagine for a minute the reaction to a truly radical demonstration of God’s love.  For example, rather than angrily seeking (our perception of) social “justice”, what if those wronged proactively and freely offered grace, forgiveness and kindness to those who wronged them.  Wouldn’t it be imminently clear that this type of love didn’t come from planet earth?  No one in their “right mind” would do something so countercultural.  Only the power of the Holy Spirit could fuel that kind of role reversal.

Society says we should resent, take revenge and only forgive after apologies.  However, our identity is in Christ and this world is not our home – facts we could make more apparent by living out their literal meaning.  Such a stunning turn of events would perhaps “heap burning coals” on the heads of those consumed with retribution and reparations.

High-Stakes Poker

As we contended in our last post, no one “likes” Jesus.  Jesus clearly states that everyone must choose sideslove or hate.  We all have to place a bet – on God or on man.  Those whose trust and confidence is entirely in themselves wager everything that God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist.  For those closed off to evangelism in this post-truth culture, rather than preaching at them, we should boil the message down to the reality and implications of those “love or hate” options.

Breakthroughs can occur once they understand the magnitude of the risk they are taking in betting on man (i.e. hating Jesus) in this life-or-death, all-in parlay.  For example, we can play back the words we hear from those who wager on humanity, exposing their shallowness and futility.  Last week a teacher in my son’s 6th grade class asked the students to share the meaning of life.  Each classmate repeated the same two words – “fun” and “happiness” – earning enthusiastic praise and a star from the atheistic teacher.  When my son said our purpose is “to know Jesus and make sure others know Him too”, she said nothing but slowly ambled over, reluctantly handing him his obligatory star.

All Roads Do Not Lead to God

Others gamble on mankind by placing their faith in false gods, hoping to save themselves through good works or enlightenment.  Convincing them that Jesus is the only answer requires helping them understand that only God can fix what we broke.  Mankind had an agreement with God, but we didn’t keep up our end of the bargain.  Since Adam and Eve, the creation has been trying 1,000’s of different ways to make things right with the Creator.  All methods (i.e. religions) that involve striving to repair the relationship through our actions or inner divinity end in disappointment.  We can’t restore the covenant ourselves.

Yet all of the religions in the world, except for Christianity, go down that same path – placing their bet on man.  Those “wage” religions attempt to earn God’s favor (in this life) and salvation (in the next life) by doing enough good works, avoiding enough bad deeds or searching deep enough within ourselves (by going to great lengths to attain heightened levels of spirituality).  Betting on man by diligently pursuing what we “deserve” is alluring because it provides a (false) sense of control and elevates self.

Christianity is the only faith that bets solely on God.  It is the one “gift” religion – none other teaches that man must rely completely on God’s goodness and divinity (not our own) for our salvation. (Romans 3:20, Romans 4:4)  Christianity alone believes that God holds the keys to eternal life, not man.  That’s why the Lord had to reach down to save humanity – which He did through Jesus Christ coming to live with us and die for us.  His sacrifice on the cross was a “gift”, that we must be humble enough to accept, rather than believing we had any role in earning forgiveness or salvation.

Christianity is less attractive than every other religion because it alone contends that we are sinners in dire need of a Savior, with no control over our eternal fate.  That message flies in the face of all that our world stands for today – namely the ability for each individual to define truth, justice, identity and morality.

He Descended Because We Can’t Ascend

We can best counteract worldly philosophies and religions in this day and age not by trying to convince non-believers that our God is better than their “gods”, but by disrupting their self-confidence.  We can make them question their underpinnings – the foundation for their enormous gamble on themselves.  We can make them wonder whether they have the ability to ascend to the heights they aspire to attain on their own strength, intellect, identity, spirituality or goodness.

If they possess the patience and integrity to honestly evaluate the feasibility of human ascension, they may come to understand the necessity of God’s descent into our decadence.  Each of God’s interventions to deal with the depravity of mankind involved Him descending, because we couldn’t ascend up to Him:

  1. Rain came down from the “heavens” to flood the earth
  2. The Father sent his Son down to live among us and pay the penalty for our sins
  3. Jesus will come back down again (with all of His angels from heaven)

Love drove Christ to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t possibly pay.  Failure to acknowledge our debt and attempts to reach up to grab a paycheck we think God owes us is a slap in the face to the generous Father who handed down to us a free “gift” of eternal life, one that cost Him so dearly.

Consequences of Betting on Man

Believing in a religion that places its bet on man angers God because it:

  1. Says to God, “It wasn’t necessary for Jesus to come here, suffer tremendously, and die for me – I had it covered.  Thanks, but no thanks.”
  2. Ignores the magnificence of God’s creation – The Bible says we are accountable for having a right understanding of God (in humility) as we observe his omnipotence and acknowledge our limitations
  3. Elevates or deifies man (the creation over the Creator) by assuming we have the ability to force God’s hand and earn our way into “heaven”

Imagine how the Lord feels when His invitation to the “wedding feast”, which He extended at the expense of His Son’s horrendous death on the cross, is rejected as worthless – even scoffed at by Selfists and other religions who plot their own path based on self-worth and personal achievement.

As for me, I’ve placed my bet on God.  When evangelizing, I point out the stark contrast between putting one’s entire chip stack on either “red” or “black” – the blood of Jesus or the willpower of mankind.  When I look at myself (my frailty, shortcomings and lack of actual control), I consider a bet on myself, the world’s philosophies or ascending religions far too risky.  Every individual must let it all ride on “red” or “black”, whether they know it or like it (or not).  The good news is that once we come to know Jesus, we quickly realize we’ve hit the jackpot as He begins to work in our lives and a personal relationship forms, moving us from a wishful wager to absolute assurance of His Lordship.

It’s Your Turn

Are you encountering greater resistance to the Gospel message (of dying to self) in this era of self-determination?  What methods of conveying the love of Jesus have you seen be most effective in breaking down those walls?

Is it Possible to Like Jesus?

Feb 14, 19
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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.


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.


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.


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?