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Our “Goodness” Obscures Christ’s Righteousness

Mar 28, 19
JMorgan
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2 comments

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
JMorgan
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5 comments

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
JMorgan
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3 comments

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
JMorgan
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one comments

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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one comments

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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5 comments

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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one comments

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?