Tag Archives: Christmas

Is it Possible to Like Jesus?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Wrong with Liking Jesus?

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

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

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

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

Is Hate Too Strong a Word?

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

Media

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

Advertisers

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

Educational Institutions

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

Special Interest Groups

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

Self-Absorbed

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

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

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

Can We Love Haters to Jesus?

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

How Self-Obsession Became a Virtue

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

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

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

True to Yourself vs. Truth

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

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

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

Who We Are vs. Whose We Are

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

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

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

Here and Now vs. There and Then

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

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

Love of Self vs. Selfless Love

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

Consequences of Teaching Kids They’re Cosmic Accidents

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remedy for Selfism

The cure for Selfism is simple to understand:

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

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

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

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

Path to Administering the Cure for Selfism

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

Will You Pursue Joy or Happiness in 2019?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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









Less Religion and More Jesus this Christmas

Dec 12, 18
JMorgan
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one comments

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

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

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









How Churches Enable Conditional Love

Aug 08, 18
JMorgan
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2 comments

Part 2 of 2

Loving those who hate you is weird.  Praying for the welfare of your worst enemy is strange.  Forgiving the drunk driver who kills your daughter is highly abnormal.  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus tells us to do.

The question is – are churches in America today providing the path to become “weird” for Christ?  Are our pews filled with “weirdos”?

Anyone who bucks cultural norms is apt to be ridiculed.  Yet studies show that it’s not our radical, agape love that’s fueling the declining public perception of Christianity.  Instead, surveys confirm what is readily observable in the mainstream media – that Christians are perceived as unusually legalistic and judgmental.

While John 17 says the world will always hate Christians, it is possible to change the media’s characterization of Christians from “hateful” to “loving” and “compassionate”.  For example, in the days of the early church, the Roman emperor Julian had to acknowledge, “The [Christian faith] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

No, the first word non-believers think of when asked to describe a Christian does not have to be “legalistic” or “judgmental”.  Yet the processes and conventions in churches today contribute to that unfortunate word association.  Christ-followers could be universally known for being “weird” for much better reasons – like putting others first, serving the poor, abject humility, and loving those who hate them.  However, that will require significant departure from prevailing church growth models…

Formula for Enabling Conditional Love =

1. Looking Like the World + …

As we discussed a few weeks ago, culture has changed the Church more than the Church has shaped culture.  By definition, conforming the way we run churches to fit accepted norms produces cultural Christians, not social outliers (for Christ).  Churches advertise and offer adaptations to the framework we see for church in the Bible to accommodate an increasingly time-constrained and demanding society:

  • Comfort – Design environment around creating an experience
  • Convenience – Shorter commitment around weekend service
  • Community – Social structure around small groups (fellowship vs. intensive discipleship)
  • Control – Centralized definition of “church” around a place and pastor
  • Counts – Measuring “success” around near-term conversions, attendance and giving
  • Compassion – Focusing initiatives around holiday, church-branded “outreaches”

None of those cultural conventions are non-conforming enough to birth non-conformists.

2. Yet, Promising Something Different + …

The increasing number of “Dones”, including youth not returning to church after adolescence, speaks to missed expectations.  People are smart.  Churchgoers see through cheap imitations of what Christ intended and lose faith – not in Him but in church as we know it.

  • They expected to find unconditional love (which would be “weird”), but instead see attempts to give the appearance of love, like friendly greeters (which is actually quite normal)
  • They expected life transformation (which would be “weird”), but instead see a bar set at conversion with no options for personal discipleship
  • They expected the supernatural (which would be “weird”), but instead encountered strategies and programs modeled after the natural, like attractional children’s ministries
  • They expected real community engagement (which would be “weird”), but instead were offered occasional service projects that have negligible social impact

Those with deep relationships with Jesus will not be satisfied at a church that does not deliver on its biblical promises.  They’ll quickly see through the majority of pastors who teach that believers must come to church for discipleship, but then do not offer true discipleship programs.

3.  Then, Treating the World as “Outsiders”

Yes, churches following the prevailing church growth model in America today (i.e. Invite, Involve and Invest) are designed around worldly concepts yet claim to be nothing like the world.  You likely see the irony of the first two parts of the equation – but it gets worse.

With fewer attending church regularly and giving per capita decreasing, efforts to grow and sustain a church typically involve internal and external brand promotion.  The result of “I love my church” campaigns and congregants wearing church t-shirts for outreach events incites an implicit “us versus them” mentality.  In other words, intentional efforts to market an institutional church encourages an unintended distant stance and a public perception of judgmentalism.  As brand marketing inadvertently defines church as a place and not as people, loyalty to the church increases for saved “insiders”, but their sense of personal responsibility to reach unsaved “outsiders” diminishes.  “Insiders” band together in their belief systems and political positions, unwittingly aligning against “outsiders” who don’t agree with them – and as a result feel left out.

Rather than acting like “weirdos” and loving those who hate them, church loyalists typically ignore the Great Commission, in effect treating non-believers like the “weirdos” by substituting passive invitations to a church service for proactive evangelism and discipleship.

Equipping Congregations to Love Unconditionally

A return to the biblical model for church, which naturally creates “weirdos”, is not complicated – but would be quite painful for a church entrenched in the status quo:

  1. Pray fervently for the power of the Holy Spirit, who is rarely mentioned in most churches, to fill each believer – because the real battle is not against people but against the powers of darkness that work against the souls of men and women
  2. Teach church members to see people as souls so we can stop judging others based on appearances and actions, which makes us undervalue non-believers, overemphasize distinctions, and reduces the impetus to share our faith
  3. Develop an aggressive plan to grow believers beyond conversion into disciples of Jesus Christ, who inherently see everyone as souls made in God’s image with eternal value
  4. Redefine “church” as people and not a place, putting responsibility back on congregants for being the personification of “church” between Sundays
  5. Fight the culture war in America with a “ground war” (with love as the chosen weapon) rather than the current “air war” (of opinions and politics)
  6. Reallocate time, talents and treasures toward uses that emphasize not only love for those who love us, but also love for those who may not like us – such as utilizing the church building for ESL classes for Muslim refugees, recovery programs for opioid addicts, support groups for parents of troubled teens, and compassion efforts for local widows
  7. Stop counting heads and start tracking transformation, evangelism and community impact

Only when Christians and churches adopt these biblical strategies will society see us as “weirdos”, not because we’re legalistic and judgmental, but because we love and forgive unconditionally.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you know of a church that is producing strange, abnormal Christians who turn the other cheek, treat the dishonorable with dignity, and desperately pursue lost souls?









How to Love Those Who Hate You

Jul 25, 18
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 of 2

Much of society’s perception that Christians are not loving derives from how we interact with those who do not love us.  Jesus foretells in John 15 that the “world” will always hate Christians because we do not belong to the world.  However, He instructs Christians in the Sermon on the Mount to “love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back.”  Nothing is more countercultural than Jesus’ command to love those who hate you.  That kind of love does not come naturally (in the flesh).  It can only come through the Holy Spirit.

If your response to the first paragraph is that “no one hates me”, there may be a problem.  Jesus promised that wordly people will hate Christians.  A person with no enemies has to question whether they have become too worldly (i.e. “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.”)  It may be time to live and love more radically for Christ.  Although many will be won to Christ by an other-worldly love for haters, others will hate you for acting so out of step with accepted norms.

However, I’m not sure it is our radical love that is generating the animosity seen toward Christians today.  Hollywood mocks Christians, cable news outlets vilify Christian values, and public school students declaring faith in Christ risk social ostracization – the modern equivalent of “coming out of the closet”.  I contend that the campaign against Christianity in worldly circles emanates not from our overdose of love for those who hate us, but from our lack of demonstrable love for them.

Step 1 – Loving WHO We Don’t See

To understand whether our love extends to those who hate us, we need to look first at how our love reaches outside our immediate family and friends.  Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners love those who love them.”  Family obligations and church activities leave many Christians spending nearly all our (non-working) time with those already going to heaven.  Our greatest act of love for a non-believer is leading them to Christ, yet a very small percentage of Christians have shared their faith with someone in the past month.  Jesus healed and fed non-believers wherever He went, yet few Christians have served at a local ministry since the Christmas season – and churches allocate less than 1% of their annual budgets to local missions.  While Christians in America worship freely in the U.S., less than ½ of 1% of Christian giving goes toward our persecuted brothers and sisters overseas.

No, the vast majority of churchgoers do not model love for the Unseen – those they rarely encounter like the lost in our community, the poor in our city, and the persecuted far away.  It’s human nature to love conditionally – those we see most often.  However, it is our God-given mandate to love our “neighbor”, who Jesus depicted as a complete stranger.  And not just a stranger but a messy, bleeding victim of a violent crime.  The person Jesus portrayed as the definition of “neighborly” was not who we are accustomed to loving – our pastor and fellow church members – but a hated enemy (of the Jews at that time, a Samaritan).  It’s roughly comparable to a pastor or a church elder walking past a disheveled, starving mother and child – only minutes later to see an atheist (or Selfist) stop to help.

If most Christians do not appear to love the destitute and hopeless, how could society believe that we love those who dislike us?  Moreover, how can we convince the atheist that Jesus loves them if they watched so many of us ignore the plight of the desperate mother and her child?  Loving those who hate us begins with demonstrating our love for those outside our homes and congregations.  In other words, we must master the art of loving in ways that a non-believer would expect (of those in need of help and hope) before graduating to a radical love (of those who hate Christians) that would “shock and awe”.

Step 2 – Loving WHAT We Don’t See

Lacking evidence that Christians truly love those outside our family and like-minded friends, secular society presumes we hate those who hate us when we speak out against those with whom we disagree.  When we give our Christ-centered views on social issues, are we giving them in a Christ-centered way?  In other words, do we feel a genuine love for those who believe in gay marriage, abortion, and restricting our freedom to express religious convictions?  Non-believers are not convinced love is the motivating factor behind our words.  I’m not convinced either.  Society hears evangelism without compassion, judgement without confession (which equates to hypocrisy), and opinions without earning the right to speak them (with love as a precursor).  Non-Christians will not sense our love for them unless we truly love them.  But how can we love those who hate us?

That answer begins again with loving what is Unseen – but in this case I’m referring to an aspect of our “enemies” that we do not see.  When we watch a cable news program or read an article in publications that we know stand against all we stand for, what do we think about the speaker or author?  Many watch the talking head on our TV screen or picture the writer of the words and their blood boils at their audacity to offend our Father and lead so many astray.  Yet what we don’t see is what is most important – their souls.  “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Their souls are eternal, darkened, lost and controlled by Satan.  Only when we look past the appearance, words and actions of someone who hates us can we begin to love them.  We must look deeper within, at their souls made in God’s image that longs for Him but is prevented from reconnecting with the Lord.  Their souls are empty, devoid of hope.  True love is not judging based on what we see, but bringing hope to what we cannot see – their souls.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Romans 10:15)

The question for each of us is – do we love their souls or judge their flesh?  Their flesh is outward – the combination of their sin (in words and actions) and their appearance (physical).  Their souls are inward – a battle for possession by either the Holy Spirit or demons.  Satan attacks the soul attempting to wrestle away control through affecting the external – the individual’s circumstances.  We will always find it difficult to love those who don’t love us if all we see is the external (flesh and blood), but the mandate to love our “neighbor” becomes much easier to obey when we see our kinship with others as eternal souls seeking reconciliation and redemption through Christ.

To the world, loving the Unseen – who and what we cannot see – is radical.  It’s Jesus’ type of love – a love possible only through seeing individuals as Christ sees them.  Jesus spoke dignity into people’s lives.  The crowds wanted to follow Jesus because He treated the ostracized tax collector, impoverished fishermen, outcast prostitutes, and untouchable lepers with dignity.  He saw their value as souls craving to be reunited with the Father, not as those who had value only in fleshly mind and body.

The Agape love Christ modeled is unconditional, unable to be affected by how well we know someone, how often we see them, what they believe, or anything they do or say.  Agape love, for every person’s soul, allows us to demonstrate compassion to disheveled strangers, evangelism to the lost, generosity to the persecuted, and prayer for those who persecute us in much greater proportion than Christians do today.  Likewise, it eliminates our anger toward those who hate us and rekindles our sense of responsibility and urgency to lead their souls back to Christ.

It’s Your Turn…

Do you love those you disagree with or those who hate Christians?  Are you demonstrating that love to them in ways that they find shockingly countercultural?









Why Aren’t Christians Seen as Loving?

Jun 28, 18
JMorgan
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10 comments

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… ‘And who is my neighbor?’” (from Luke 28: 27, 29)

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27)

The primary distinguishing feature of a Christian should be how they love those who agree with them…and those who don’t.  Christians should easily recognizable by their mind-boggling love for those who despise them.  It shouldn’t be difficult to tell who the Christians are in the neighborhood or at work.

So, why are Christians in America not known for their love?  Instead, studies consistently show that Christians are seen by most as judgmental, by many as hateful, and by only a few as readily identifiable in a crowd.

What Should Love Look Like?

Scripture characterizes love as a verb.  Love is something we do – not just something we feel.  Biblical love is hard – it is not passive or lazy.  1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4 describe a love that is quite the opposite of our natural, human inclination toward self-preservation.  Jesus modeled a love that defies explanation – a script written from the beginning of time where the Author dies an excruciating death to save everyone from imminent peril.  The Lord could have chosen 1,000 easier ways for Christ to shed His blood to atone for our sins, but He revealed a plan to the prophets well in advance that involved His own Son being “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” to demonstrate His overwhelming love for us.  Christ’s love, which the Great Commandment calls us to emulate, entails:

  1. Sacrifice – What if a friend died to save you?  How would you live differently from that point on?  How would you act toward your (deceased) friend’s family to show your appreciation?  In that light, the fact that Christ died for us should spur Christians to a life of radical generosity, showing our love for Him and His children.
  2. Mercy – Jesus healed, fed and forgave at every opportunity.  Jesus continually emphasized the importance of compassion toward the poor, sick and lost – not just in words, but in actions.
  3. Obedience – Jesus states plainly in John 14 that “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.… Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”.  Obedience and love are joined at the hip.  We obey out of love for Christ and never in a futile, conditional attempt to “earn” or “deserve” salvation.
  4. Selflessness – Philippians 2 associates love with putting the interests of others above our own, a concept so counter to our natures that it may require a lifetime of sanctification to learn to “love our neighbors as ourselves”.
  5. Unity – Philippians 2 also joins the call in John 17 for absolute, complete unity of all believers in mind and spirit.  “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23)
  6. Forgiveness – Jesus linked love and forgiveness inextricably in His encounter with the woman who washed His feet with perfume at the dinner.  “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)  If we realized just how many sins Jesus has forgiven for us, we would not be so quick to judge others.  “’Now which of them will love him more?’…Simon replied, ‘I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.’” (Luke 7:42-43)
  7. Unconditional – Agape love is love for God and others with no expectations or strings attached.  Given our sinful natures, the purity of Agape isn’t possible apart from Christ through the Holy Spirit.

How Does Today’s Culture Define “Love”?

In American culture today, love is viewed less as a verb and more as a noun.  Rather than something we do, it’s something we feel.  Because Agape is unattainable for non-believers, they settle for love in lesser forms:

  1. Phileo – This brotherly love is found in the warmth and affection between friends.  Companionship provides the sense of community that so many desire, but Phileo can be conditional and never extends to those we do not like.  Mark Zuckerberg thinks Facebook can replace churches because he sees the Church’s role reduced to providing community.
  2. Storge – “Suburbia” values providing for our families at the expense of all others.  Parents have no time to care for poor because they’re working late nights all week to finance a desired quality of life for their families, and then run from soccer games to cheerleading practice all weekend.  It is hard to argue with this family-oriented form of love, but it leaves little room for Agape.
  3. Eros – Our TV, radio and Internet “airwaves” are filled with references to this sexually-charged form of love, which is better coined “infatuation” in a society that endorses and encourages premarital sex.
  4. Tolerance – Under the guise of love, compassion and justice, society vehemently defends the right of each and every individual to determine his/her own moral compass and rejects anyone who defers to a higher moral authority than themselves.  Deifying each other’s false god of “self” is not love – it’s idol worship (worship of the creation and not the Creator).
  5. Freedom – In America today, any attempts by Christians to point out sin is seen as judgmental or fear-mongering – a form of hate, not love.  Although enslaved to sin, non-believers demand to remain free from the imposition of Christian values, truth or morality.  In the name of “love” (by their definition), they love and defend self at all costs.
  6. Emotions – Ask most non-Christians in the U.S. to define “love” and you are likely to hear descriptions of feelings and human emotions, not the action-oriented version in 1 Corinthians.
  7. Social Justice – One area where Millennials view love as a verb is in fighting for human rights, which they believe Christians frequently violate (by advocating Biblical standards of behavior).

Love comes from the one true God, not from the world. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  Apart from Christ, society can only conjure up counterfeit, cheap imitations.

Why Doesn’t Society See Christians as Loving?

Yes, the world has a distorted view of love.  Christians do not live according to the secular definition of love, so we don’t appear loving when looked at through that filter.  However, there is merit to certain aspects of society’s perception of love – like Phileo, Tolerance and Social Justice.  Those correspond loosely to the Biblical principles of Unity, Forgiveness and Mercy.  Are Christians doing those components of love well?  If not, then we’re not living out society’s definition of love – or ours.

The Bible says our love for one another should shock, amaze and attract non-believers to Christ.  Yet if what once was attractive about Christianity when we treated love as a verb (i.e. action and compassion toward all men and women, even “enemies) is no longer distinguishable from society’s view of love as a noun (i.e. positive feelings and emotions toward those who are like-minded), then Christianity will repel non-believers.  That’s the situation our faith finds itself in today – one where culture has impacted the Church more than churches are impacting culture.

In other words, society expects Christians to love like them or to show them what true love looks like.  But if believers don’t exhibit either the version of “love” that society espouses or that Christ modeled, then they will be loving in a way that others do not understand or appreciate.  In that event, we can expect a continued decline in Church growth, influence, impact and perception in our nation.  The segue away from the Biblical definition of love began as institution-building replaced disciple-building in recent decades.  “Church” came to be known as a place with evangelism entrusted primarily to “professionals” and members tasked only with inviting people to come to an “event”.  To attract and retain members, church leaders lowered expectations and no longer held members to the Great Commission mandate.  Rather than equipping disciples to go out (and follow Jesus’ example of leading with compassion and then telling them who He is), the focus shifted internally – as did the objects of our “love”.

Accordingly, society observes the allegiance Christians have to their particular church, pastor and fellow members, but not their Unity (as one universal body), Forgiveness (of those who think differently) or Mercy (for those in need or oppressed):

  1. Are We United? – The world sees our splits, factions and denominations.  However, it is not seeing much collaboration across churches around causes of great importance within our cities.  Nor are we demonstrating love for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering around the globe.
  2. Are We Forgiving? – Our lack of unity spills over into a perceived self-righteousness and judgmentalism toward those outside of our immediate congregation, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” by confining love to a narrower audience than Jesus intended.
  3. Are We Merciful? – Even within our church families, we aren’t modeling the love and sacrifice that led the church in Acts to sell their possessions to ensure no one suffered for lack of food or clothes.  Churches in America no longer lead the way in caring for the poor outside of their “4 walls” as they did for 1900 years when churches were the food bank and homeless shelter.

Love is action, not just words.  Love is the essence of our faith.  The perception of Christians will change when our love of God extends and overflows naturally and unconditionally beyond our fellow believers to all mankind.  The culture war raging in America today can only be won when churches stop building institutions that tend to fight an air war (dropping verbal bombs) and start building disciples who engage in a ground war using love and compassion as their chosen weapons.

It’s Your Turn…

Are there any other reasons why you believe society does not associate church or Christians with the word “love”?  What can be done to restore that reputation and lead more people back toward Jesus?









Are Churches Changing Culture or is Culture Changing Church?

Jun 13, 18
JMorgan
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5 comments

Last week’s post outlined the biblical definition of “church”, showing how it has been redefined over recent decades in America.  The principal words for “church” found in Scripture, Ekklesia meaning “assembly of called out ones” and Kuriakos meaning “those belonging to the Lord”, both refer to the church in terms of a collective body of individual believers.  Yet now, society sees church as a “what” and not a “who”.  When evaluating how that transition took place, it is no surprise to learn that the distortion of the word “church” in America reflects dynamics of secular culture that have seeped into the “4 walls” of our church buildings and psyches.

Culture is Shaping Church…

As we discussed last week, “church” (as defined in the Bible) should not be characterized by any of the 10 terms listed below – but those words reflect common perceptions and realities of churches in America today.  Not coincidentally, those same terms accurately depict America’s culture.  Apparently, society is exerting significant influence over how we view and do “church”.  Let’s look at each of those 10 characteristics and perceptions of church and show how it syncs with the related cultural trend…

  1. a Place – Church came to be seen as somewhere Christians go on Sundays as Americans have become more reluctant to accept personal accountability and responsibility (e.g. for being the embodiment of “church”)
  2. an Event – Church evolved into a weekly production as Americans sought greater convenience and developed shorter attention spans
  3. an Institution – Church increasingly became structured as a legal entity operating in (expensive and underutilized) buildings as our nation became progressively more corporate and litigious
  4. a Social Club – Church has turned into fellowship without obligation, free to come and go as we please, as loyalty and commitment have declined in our country
  5. a Business – Nickels and noses have grown more prevalent measures of success in churches as money and metrics have taken center stage in our consumer and bottom-line culture
  6. a “Hospital” (for “sinners”) – For the “unchurched”, attending a weekend service became a last resort for those in crisis only when Americans’ endless search for fulfillment and happiness elsewhere eventually met dead ends at every turn
  7. Easy – Churches began allowing congregants to abdicate evangelism to the “professionals” as consumers came to expect excellent customer service (or take their business elsewhere)
  8. Quick – Worship services grew shorter and Sunday schools disappeared as our schedules got busier, leaving less time for church between work, social and kid’s activities
  9. Scripted – Sermons, songs and segues became more carefully choreographed as Americans grew accustomed to a high degree of professionalism and entertainment value at any events they attend
  10. Segregated – Collaboration among churches across denominations has decreased and diversity has suffered as divisiveness has increased between those on different sides of the racial, demographic and political aisles

Yes, churches in America have (either intentionally or unwittingly, but either way unfortunately) adopted many features commonly seen in the secular world.

Church is Not Shaping Culture…

Flipping the coin, if we look back again at our post from last week, we also reviewed 10 characteristics the Bible indicates that churches SHOULD have.  Yet we don’t find any of those prevalent in American culture today.  Therefore, it does not appear that church (as it should be) is substantially influencing our culture…

  1. Not a Place, It’s YOU – Because church is now generally defined as an institution, no longer consistent with the original Greek words used in Scripture, fewer individual Christians are being equipped to live out their intended Great Commission mandate (as the personification of church to those around them)
  2. Disciple-Making – Hesitancy to call congregants to obedience, instead promoting a “cheap grace” corresponding to our nation’s moral relativism, has kept many believers from imitating Jesus’ powerful prayer, care and share model that changed the world
  3. Decentralized – A body of Christ that better balanced taking care of its own with pursuing lost sheep in the community and sacrificed building congregations for building disciples would see its reach expand dramatically as individuals truly became the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work
  4. Evangelistic – Training more believers to effectively share the Gospel (despite popular opinion deeming any voicing of religious views as improper social etiquette) would undermine the “I’m right, you’re right” philosophy that has supplanted “I’m ok, you’re ok” as the rallying cry of intolerance by those (ironically and intolerantly) unwilling to endure dissenting views
  5. Compassionate – Reoccupying the lead role in compassion, a position the Church occupied for 1900 years as it followed Jesus’ example of demonstrating His love before telling people who He is, would speak clearly to a waiting world that believes it is more concerned than Christians about poverty and social justice
  6. Believers – In a culture increasingly inclined to doubt the validity of absolutes and truth, and in the name of tolerance hold that all (religious) roads essentially lead to the same destination, there is no better time for each of us as the living, breathing church to take responsibility for leading people to Christ
  7. Risky – Stepping out on a limb to deal with tough issues within the church like sin and repentance would provide a firmer (and less hypocritical) platform to speak about sin and repentance to a world riddled with guilt but mistrusting of the church to show it the path to redemption
  8. Loving – Society sees the love churchgoers have for their (institutional) church, but not necessarily their love for the Lord and those outside the “4 walls”, instead sensing self-righteousness and judgementalism in part due to the prioritization of little “c” over big “C”, inadvertently redefining “neighbor” to include a narrower audience than Jesus intended
  9. Transformative – The calls to radical life change, submission, surrender, holiness and sanctification have been replaced with repeating a prayer of salvation and getting involved in church activities, making it difficult to distinguish churchgoers from their unchurched counterparts
  10. United – Everyone desires a sense of belonging, yet that carnal craving diminishes the collective influence of the Church when Christians sell out their individual responsibility to be a light in a dark work in exchange for service to a single congregation

It’s Your Turn…

Do you agree with our assessment of the convergence of church and modern culture?  If so, what do you plan to do to advance the biblical definition of “church” within your circle of influence?









What is “Church”? (Hint: It’s not what you think it is)

May 30, 18
JMorgan
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8 comments

Several terms are found in Scripture to define “church”:

Nowhere in the Bible is “church” defined as a physical structure or the leadership/staff of an organization.  All of the terms above make clear that “church” is by definition either all Christ-followers or a subset of believers.  In fact, every instance of the word “church” in God’s Word is implicitly plural because it is understood that “church” always and only applies to people, not a place.  For example, the Book of Acts, where the Church was launched and proliferated, leaves no doubt as to the personal nature of the word “church”:

Physical structures don’t pray, gather or welcome.  And pastors and staff weren’t the only ones praying, gathering and welcoming.

Church Is Not…

Not every church in America is a biblical church.  The prevailing church growth model (Invite, Involve, Invest) has redefined the word “church” to mean something that would be barely recognizable to Jesus’ disciples and leaders of the early church.  The following are common characteristics and perceptions of churches today, none of which correspond to any of the terms used to define “church” in the Bible:

  1. …a Place – Somewhere Christians go
  2. …an Event – Something Christians do (with “CEOs”, Christmas & Easter Only, joining them twice a year)
  3. …an Institution – A legal entity operating in (underutilized) buildings, with significant labor and maintenance costs
  4. …a Social Club – Fellowship and fun without commitment or obligation
  5. …a Business – An organization that will have to close its doors if it doesn’t meet budget, therefore carefully measuring “nickels and noses”, with members essentially paying for pastors and staff to usurp their rightfully responsibilities
  6. …a “Hospital” – …for “sinners”, inviting non-believers into an assembly intended for worship rather than holding believers accountable for being the personification of “church” within their circle of influence between Sundays
  7. …Easy – Minimal expectations and no requirements, allowing congregants to abdicate the Great Commission to “professionals” by simply inviting friends to services next weekend
  8. …Quick – A one-hour experience designed to be as convenient and enjoyable as possible
  9. …Scripted – Sermons and songs that are carefully planned, yet with discipleship and sanctification left to chance
  10. …Segregated – Functioning wholly apart from other churches outside (and even within) a denomination, and outsourcing compassion responsibilities to external ministries

Do any of those sound like your church?  Do you know anyone who thinks many of those 10 items accurately portray your church (or America’s churches)?  If so, then it’s likely misaligned with “church” as God intended.

Church is…

To determine whether your church conforms to the biblical definition of Church modeled by Jesus and exemplified by the early church, consider how well it espouses and practices the following principles:

  1. …YOU – Church is not somewhere Christians go, but something Christians are.  It’s not a place, but is taking place wherever and whenever believers are gathered for worship, teaching and discipleship.
  2. …Disciple-Making – During His earthly ministry, Jesus invested His time primarily in personal discipleship and service to those in need.  We are only His Church when we’re following His example of (intensive, 1-on-1) discipleship and (internal and external) compassion – on a continual, ongoing basis rather than as a series of events.
  3. …Decentralized – Church is mobile, because its members are the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, play and work.  Their dependence is on Christ and one another, not on an institution.  Yet, in their efforts to build an entity, pastors have redefined “church” and thereby failed to equip and empower the true “church” for ministry.
  4. …Evangelistic – As the embodiment of “church”, each of us should be going OUT after the “lost”, yet churches advertise and members invite them to come IN (and join our social club), requiring they enter a building to find Jesus.
  5. …Compassionate – Jesus demonstrated His love before telling people who He is, so a true church invests (heavily) outward in serving its community rather than diverting nearly all funds to attracting and retaining, terms typically associated with businesses.
  6. …Believers – Since Christ-followers are the “church”, worship services should not be designed for those who don’t worship the Lord.  Christ wants His bride to be undefiled and holy, meaning you and I (as the living, breathing church) should take responsibility for leading people to Christ and then welcome them to join other believers in worship.
  7. …Risky – The Christian walk is not intended to be easy or safe, yet that is the “M.O.” of modern church growth models.  As the body of Christ, each of us should be challenged to “eat right” and “work out” (prayer, care and share), making the collective church healthier as it loses weight, dropping perennial fence-sitters and church consumers who will never commit to giving their lives fully to Jesus.
  8. …Loving – Love is the essence of our faith.  Our love of God extends to fellow believers and all mankind.  Love is patient and enduring but consumers (who see church as a place and not as themselves) shop and hop, looking for the best “experience”.
  9. …Transformative – Attending weekly services, joining a small group and repeating the Sinner’s Prayer are not inherently life changing.  Expectations for radical obedience are replaced with cheap grace when evangelism, discipleship and sanctification become optional.
  10. …United – In our last blog post, we looked at how defining church as a place or event separates churches and ministries into small factions, whereas properly viewing church as “called out ones” and “those belonging to the Lord” unites us all as one in Christ.

Is this list or the prior one (of what church is not) a more accurate depiction of your “church”?

It’s Your Turn…

What other perceptions or characteristics of churches would you add to either of the lists above?