Tag Archives: Church

Are Christians Better?

Apr 01, 21
JMorgan
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Christians and churches have inadvertently precipitated our nation’s plummet into the Age of Decadence.  The delusion fueling America’s demise, society’s belief that human nature is inherently good, is not exclusive to non-believers.  Many Christians are buying into the world’s trust in man’s capabilities and potential, redirecting faith away from God’s goodness to our own.  It is also becoming increasingly common to distinguish and distance ourselves from a culture run amuck, taking some measure of pride in our relative virtue and piety.

Even “faithful” churchgoers can lose their sense of desperation and appreciation for God’s grace as they hang around “good” people, stop cussing, resist temptations, serve as a greeter, and volunteer at a homeless shelter.  We can start to believe our own press, hearing how we have changed for the better, and join the chorus pointing out the immorality of those still living as we once did.  None of that alters the fact that we need grace just as much as those who subscribe to the prevailing “truth” in America today – the inalienable right to pursue the unmitigated, relentless satisfaction of every self-indulgent urge.

No references in our prior posts were intended to imply any distinction between “us” and “them”.  Characterizing Christ-followers as good and others as bad is a false dichotomy.  Only God is good.  Yes, believers do have enormous advantages – eternal life with their Father, Scripture, and the Holy Spirit – but those don’t make us “better” than anyone else.  Christians take on a new nature at justification, but sanctification is a continual process.  Righteousness in the Lord’s eyes is our inheritance through Jesus, but sinlessness is a state we will never attain this side of heaven.  Dying to our original nature is a daily struggle as long as we are on planet earth.  “Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:21-23)

Our society may be on the opposing front lines of that war, fighting for rather than against sin, but all humans share an inability to do the right thing whether we like it or not.  When we do anything pure and holy, the Lord deserves all the credit.  The blame for whatever we do wrong lies with us.  Ironically, the better you think you are, the worse you actually are.  When you think you’re the best you’re at your worst.  Practicing and preaching morality is noble, as is keeping yourself from sin, but not if it becomes or conveys self-righteousness, separating yourself from “sinners”.  Jesus levied His harshest criticism at those who claimed to know God but their sanctimonious air proved they didn’t.  The fact that the Lord softened our hearts and led us to accept His forgiveness should make us feel thankful and humble, not superior.

The Price of Our “Superiority Complex”

Regardless of whether Christians and churches feign or articulate superiority, it is a belief many hold or convey to a culture not enamored with the insinuation.  It seems counterintuitive that adherents of a religion hinging on acknowledgement of sin would try so hard to conceal it.  To maintain appearances as a “good” Christian, many lack the humility and vulnerability to admit their faults openly either within their church or to friends and neighbors.  Yet they are often quick to point out the shortcomings of society and the “lost”, in direct contrast with Scripture – “God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5:13)

Jesus won over the crowds, earned their trust, and disarmed their objections through serving the helpless, condemning self-righteousness, demanding authenticity, defending the poor, demonstrating God’s power, and revealing humanity’s limitations.  So pretending to be good (as opposed to exposing our need for Jesus, so others can see theirs), not only contradicts all He taught us but elicits visceral responses from those we were supposed to reach with the Gospel…

  1. Rejection – Considers longstanding Christian values too outdated for the now enlightened, pointing to the hypocrisy of past leaders to justify their own hedonism, idolatry, and perversion while claiming moral supremacy
  2. Resentment – Not only dismisses attempts by Christians to impose our religious standard (one they don’t believe we abide by), but considers any questioning of their personal preferences to be “hatred”
  3. Retribution – The only people group that media, Hollywood and politicians are free to mock without hesitation are Christians, who refuse to conform to evolving social norms

Our post-Christian culture accelerates toward its downfall in part because many churchgoers unwittingly drew a line, alienating the “bad” by mistakenly believing we are “good”.  Christ-followers are redeemed from sin, better able to resist sin, and not controlled by sin, but because we are not sinless our battle is against sin and not other “sinners”.  Rather than building a wall to segment sacred from secular, our job is to disclose that forgiveness and reconciliation are available to everyone.  That wall only serves to keep non-believers from seeing Jesus through us.  Instead, they just see another human being, one they think is looking down on them.  Therefore, an offended society that claims to value diversity above all else demands conformity around only one thing – cancelling anyone who advocates or does not condemn Christian values.

Who Told Us We Were Better?

Jesus was eminently clear in parables and instructions about the sinfulness of mankind and the importance of authenticity among His followers.  Nearly every story in the Bible relates in some way to the passage “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted”.  So how have Christians in America projected an image so diametrically opposed to central tenets of Scripture?  Our perceived arrogance stems from powerful forces in our culture steering our love away from God and our neighbors (the Great Commandment) and toward three alternative objects of our affection…

  1. Love Your Church – Church growth models encourage differentiation rather than unity in the body of Christ.  Books and consultants teach pastors how to overcome the challenge of maintaining a church building and staff by investing in and promoting competitive advantages.  Engaging children’s ministries, higher quality music, more sound teaching, and a wider variety of programs attract “shoppers” through the revolving door.  If one church is better than another, perhaps those members are better than other Christians – and they certainly have a leg up on the “nones” and “dones” who don’t go to church at all.  Internally-focused strategies for growth or survival may build loyalty, volunteering and giving to churches but also encourage social distancing rather than evangelism and compassion for the good of the community and Kingdom.
  2. Love Your Life – Scriptural Relativism (selective amnesia regarding Bible verses deemed too controversial or demanding for “consumers”) is more prevalent than ever today as churches recover from the pandemic, praying to get back to “normal”.  Our Scriptural Relativism fuels society’s Moral Relativism.  Sermons, songs and books accentuate the positives, citing verses like Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:13, but ignoring inconvenient passages about sin, accountability, sanctification and the costs of discipleship.  In fact, a recent Barna study found that 51% of Christians have never even heard of the Great Commission.  Without a biblical view of our ongoing struggle against sins of omission and commission, we don’t see the log still in our own eye when we look in the mirror.  Not understanding God’s commands to love above all else, we have not represented Him well.  Our cries for justice now come across as judgment, what we intend as compassion is seen as condemnation, our selflessness is considered self-righteousness, and even our humility is labeled hypocrisy.  It’s no wonder why we’ve lost our voice and can’t seem to do much “right” in modern American culture.
  3. Love Yourself – To revive a Church that was already declining in attendance, membership, impact, influence and perception before COVID-19, Christian leaders cave to social pressure and repeat culture’s rallying cries to be all you can be and make the most of your abilities.  We leverage ideals the world is selling and put a Christian twist on it, modifying “you’re perfect just as you are” to say “we (and God) love you just as you are”.  In other words, “there’s no need to change” – so most don’t.  And God’s role isn’t to transform you but to get you through (or out of) difficult situations, the primary theme of contemporary Christian music.  “Sin” is no longer part of society’s vernacular, so we don’t address it in church either.  That inconsistency between our (external) words and (internal) actions is evident to media vultures eager to pounce on the next fallen pastor.  Our efforts to accommodate culture’s obsession with its own “goodness” have backfired, putting us under their microscope since we claim to live by a moral standard (whereas society feels it shouldn’t be judged since it has no such standard).

Christians do have a new nature – one exemplified and marked by the characteristics of Jesus like humility, servanthood, compassion, and associating with “sinners”.  So how do we look to the world so little like Jesus?  The answer, at least in part, is that our churches look different than Jesus envisioned.  Exciting worship, applicable sermons, and fun fellowship may produce cultural Christians who love their church, love life and love themselves, but not necessarily Spirit-filled disciples who truly love God and their neighbors.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next blog post, we will discuss how Christians and churches can convey that we’re not better so our nation can see that Jesus is best.  Please share any thoughts, prayers and ideas about how to communicate how desperately we all need a Savior.  That may be the only hope to keep America from plunging into the next and final phase of its history.

Dispelling the Delusion Fueling America’s Demise

Mar 17, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

All facets of our society today verbally espouse and claim “goodness”, yet in their actions reveal and appeal to man’s sinful human nature.  Our nature is not good – the Bible says it, the evidence confirms it, and even the “enlightened” do not actually believe it deep down.  Our misplaced faith in mankind will be America’s downfall.  Only debunking the myth that man is inherently good can reverse our nation’s current collision course before the Age of Decadence cascades into an Age of Decline.

How the Delusion Fuels our Demise

What harm is there in believing people are naturally good?  It seems counterintuitive that assuming the best can be bad.  Yet once a nation’s trust transitions from almighty God to fallible men and women, dynamics kick into gear that erode culture and threaten its survival…

  1. Faith – Living for the temporal rather than the eternal, the creature rather than the Creator, roots people’s purpose in pride, happiness and self-preservation
  2. Hope – Teaching children they are cosmic accidents leads to exactly what we’re seeing today…depression, drugs, suicide and virtual reality games
  3. Love – Inventing cheap imitations of (active) Agape replaces God’s love with (passive) political correctness, tolerance, appearances, and cancellation of “haters”
  4. Compassion – Encouraging transactional assistance brings acclaim and donations to charitable organizations, but perpetuates poverty and decreases dignity
  5. Leadership – Depending on government as “savior” eventually leads to control and bankruptcy, whereas godly leaders humbly and responsibly serve and empower
  6. Civility – Defining “family”, “truth”, “right” and “wrong” however we see fit results in social unrest, escapism, selfishness and lawlessness
  7. Morality – Having all the freedoms, possessions, conveniences and education we ever dreamed of has compromised our values, elevated our anger, cramped our schedules, and restricted our speech

Our post-Christian culture, left to own devices, will take us down the same road followed by all other superpowers in world history.  The time periods and nationalities may change, but human nature remains the same.

How Christians Can Dispel the Delusion

America inches closer to the Age of Decline & Collapse every time another citizen buys the lie that man is inherently good.  The clock is ticking.  Convincing society that man is actually evil is the only way to save America from impending doom.  But that’s not going to be easy.  It flies in the face of everything Hollywood, universities, social media, music and politicians are telling us in this Age of Decadence.  The self-aggrandizing walls they have conspired to construct leave no room for repentance or revival.  Who needs Jesus when I’m “living my truth” in an identity bubble impervious to imposition of anyone else’s definition of “good“ and “bad”.  With no standard for morality – enlightened, deserving, empowered and perfect just as they are – they must wonder why Jesus paid such high price for sins they never committed.

Yet there is hope.  The onslaught of people-positive messaging has been necessary to sustain the delusion because a realistic self-perception lies just below the surface.  Every minute that a person diligently pursues elusive self-actualization, he or she precariously teeters on the edge of self-awareness.  In other words, while chasing the new American dream of freedom from moral restraint or remorse, guilt and shame are always nipping at their heels.  Exposing someone’s true nature then should be as simple as convincing them to look just under the covers.  The house of cards falls when they take off the blinders for a second and question the bill of goods they are being sold.

That’s why most non-believers push Christians and Christianity as far away as possible – to maintain the fragile illusion, retain the right to live as they please, and ignore their conscience.  That’s why friends who don’t know the Lord often lose touch – typically you inevitably find out they went down a bad path.  Being in the mere presence of a Christ-follower would have turned on a light they would rather remain extinguished.

And that’s why there is no need to confront society head-on with an “air war”, dropping verbal bombs, to destroy the delusion.  The better plan of attack is a “ground war”, lovingly shining the light on man’s sinful human nature by comparison to God’s holiness.  Jesus modeled and mandated several imperatives for making people aware of their sin and their need for Him:

  1. He demonstrated His power and Peter “fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” (Luke 5:8)
  2. He showed His compassion and the leper “fell with his face to the ground and begged him, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’”  (Luke 5:12)
  3. He offered His forgiveness and “everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’” (Luke 5:26)

Witnessing God’s power, compassion and forgiveness they came face to face with God’s nature and undeniably understood their unworthiness.  Instantly, they realized being in proximity to Jesus was standing on holy ground.  The Church is the Bride of Christ tasked with being His hands and feet, to carry on His work by the power of the Holy Spirit.  But does stepping into most churches today feel like walking on holy ground?  If not, why not?  We represent a God so awesome in radiant brilliance that no one among fallen humanity should be able to come into His presence without confessing and transforming in the blink of an eye.

Our job is to reflect the Lord’s nature to the world to illuminate man’s sinful nature.  To help us, as Christ-followers we are born again into a new human nature “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:24)  We are reborn and commanded to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)  But do we have enough counter-cultural courage to convey that transformed nature, one so loving and humble that those around us question their own “goodness”?

Good isn’t good without bad.  Bad isn’t bad without good.  Lacking examples of what is truly good (God alone), society in this Age of Decadence has deemed itself to be the epitome of “good”.  Anyone denying man’s infallibility by criticizing someone else’s behavior is their definition of “bad”.  “Tolerance is the last virtue of a depraved society” (D. James Kennedy)  Before it’s too late, Christians and churches must expose sin and dispel the delusion as Jesus did – revealing His holiness by doing the opposite of what human nature typically does.  However, our response to the “culture war” has looked too much like the behaviors of non-believers – and they expect more of the same.  It’s time to invoke a Christ-like “shock and awe” strategy, loving those who hate us as Jesus instructed…

  • Expecting judgement, surprise them with kindness
  • Expecting confrontation, respond with service
  • Expecting self-righteousness, give them confession
  • Expecting hypocrisy, be transparent (otherwise people can’t see Jesus through us)
  • Expecting retreat into our comfortable confines, take the Gospel out
  • Expecting us to take care of our own, pour out generosity
  • Expecting retribution on social media, offer forgiveness
  • Expecting division amongst ourselves, show unity and love for one another
  • Expecting self-centeredness, die to self

Frankly, it’s not hard to “compete” with human nature.  People do what people do.  They may say the right things and care for a little while, but soon get too busy or disinterested to keep encouraging or helping.  They will make promises, but in the time of greatest need, usually don’t come through.   It’s actually incredibly simple to stand out in stark contrast from the secular crowd.  Just be the one person who stays by the non-Christian’s side when everyone else in their self-centered world disappears.  For example, here are some equilibrium-rocking acts of kindness we’ve put into practice that you could try…

  • Frequently visit an acquaintance you don’t know very well who’s in the hospital
  • Reach out to the unfaithful husband all your other friends are condemning in a divorce
  • Commit to coaching and supporting a single mom or dad who is near bankruptcy
  • Every month, text and call someone you barely knew who lost a parent or spouse
  • Offer to foster abused children
  • Disciple someone you just met weekly over coffee or Zoom in response to God’s prompting
  • Organize church workdays at an elderly, lonely person’s house and stop by on other days to talk to them
  • At Christian holidays, have meals delivered to all your neighbors
  • Write or show up at jail often for an ostracized friend who committed a crime
  • Tired after a week of business travel, talk to the person on the plane sitting next to you and email them occasionally afterward
  • When a neighbor’s A/C or heating system goes out, reach out to your contacts in the business, call in a favor, and get them fast service and discounts
  • When someone’s son or daughter has surgery, keep asking how they’re doing for weeks afterward
  • Organize a fundraiser for a family that cannot afford to cover a large, unexpected cost

Society envisions utopia but instead gets entropy because the only counter-cultural force in the universe is the sanctification of believers through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Human nature doesn’t ever get better unless it is transformed by God’s nature.  Humans take care of themselves and serve (transactionally) until life gets in the way.  While the world is saying the right thing, do the right thing for a long time and, believe me, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb!  People will feel like they are standing on holy ground when you act nothing like anyone else!  They’ll wonder, “Who would do such a strange, odd, weird thing that no one else would do when I needed it most – well, apparently a Christian would”!

Be the only one still there when all others have ”left the building” and you’ll see your friend start to question their own “goodness”.  Be the “pastor” of your neighborhood – who shows up, prays, consoles and actually does something about problems neighbors are having – and watch as they begin to dig below the surface of the world’s superficiality!  They will only see its darkness if you reflect the bright light of Jesus.  You can only reactivate someone’s dormant conscience if you give them a glimpse of Christ’s righteousness.

It’s Your Turn…

Provide examples of how you or your church have shattered perceptions of Christians as judgmental, God as non-existent, Jesus as unnecessary, and mankind as the hero of its own story.

The Delusion Fueling America’s Demise

Mar 03, 21
JMorgan
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The uncanny correlation of America’s history with the rise and fall of the world’s superpowers indicates that our end may be closer than we think.  Our evolution through ages of pioneering, commerce, affluence, intellect and decadence mirrors the stages experienced by past civilizations before their collapse.  The time required to complete that cycle has averaged roughly 250 years, a birthday America will celebrate in the not-too-distant future.

Empires run their natural course according to a consistent progression and timeline because humans are uniform in their thoughts and tendencies across centuries and nationalities.  The faith initially required to achieve the freedoms enjoyed in a democracy dissipates when sinful human nature encounters the pitfalls of progress and prosperity.  In other words, reliance on God during times of uncertainty evolves into self-sufficiency in times of abundance.

It is that transition from reliance on God’s provision to belief in our adequacy that precipitates the inevitable.  Ironically, our sinful human nature both leads to the Age of Decadence and then prompts the ultimate deception that hastens the Age of Decline & Collapse – the fallacy that our human nature is not sinful, but inherently good.

A wealthy and educated society no longer sees a need to subscribe or subject itself to the arcane principles and practices of the previously “unenlightened”.  It establishes new, less rigid standards of behavior and celebrates new, more superficial heroes.  It defines new virtues like self-determination, welfare distribution and dissent suppression.  It then surveys all it has created – selfishness, dependence and coercion – and declares, “Behold, it was very good”.  Yet denying or reframing sin does not eradicate it.  As the Lord warned Cain right before he killed Abel, sin still lies crouching at your door.  Faith, family and freedom quickly deteriorate in nations that call evil good and good evil, while division, debt and defenselessness against threats mount.

What the Bible Says…

Scripture commands us to dwell on whatever is pure…whatever is admirable, leading even some Christians to believe they should assume the best about human nature.  However, Paul is speaking of diverting thoughts from worldly anxieties, renewing our minds through preoccupation with God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.  Only God is good and only what He creates is “very good”.  Every good and perfect gift is from above.  It was man who corrupted what God intended for good in the Garden of Eden.  Now men are dragged away by their own evil desires, causing the downfall of even the most powerful nations.

Likewise, what modern American society calls good, including human nature, is neither pure nor admirableWhatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed defines the State of the Union as we wallow in the Age of Decadence.  We have exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.  Our only hope is Jesus, who came to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.  Yet our Post-Christian culture does not acknowledge that debt or accept His payment.  Regardless, one day at the name of Jesus every knee will bowand every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

God’s Word goes further, saying there is no one righteous, not even one.  Even our righteous acts are like filthy rags.  Human nature enables only selfish motives for apparent benevolence.  After years in ministry Paul confessed, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.  Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”  We may attempt to clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside we are full of greed and self-indulgence without Jesus.  Our sinful nature is a slave to the law of sin unless we are reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Through Jesus we can become a new creation and slaves to righteousness instead of sin, resulting in sanctification.  My nature is transformed because it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.

What the World Says…

Nearly every facet of today’s culture conveys a message diametrically opposed to that biblical assessment of human nature.  The absence of sin requires no repentance.  The only people seen as bad are those who refuse to believe that everyone else is good.  The only sin is telling someone they are sinning.  The only accepted standard of behavior is the requirement that no one attempt to impose one.  In effect, those social norms are perfectly designed to block the Gospel message: 1) “I don’t need good news if there’s no bad news”, and 2) “Any attempt to present the good news is actually bad news” (i.e. socially unacceptable).  In lieu of the Gospel, society has replaced the Lord’s good news with the “better” news that Americans can be liberated from the shackles of amazing grace and free to worship at the altars of self, science, sex and success.

  • Social Media – Facebook and Twitter are closely monitored for posts, tweets or likes reflecting non-conformance to established norms of common decency.  Personal beliefs and inclinations are set aside to portray to the public an exemplary nature they do not possess.  Most conceal the reality that not long ago they either did not care about or disagreed with positions they now feel compelled not only to approve, but to celebrate.
  • Corporations – Executives are quick to publish letters decrying any “intolerable” stances or behaviors as if they were genuinely appalled.  If they were so concerned, why had they never spoken out before it became politically expedient to preserve profitability?  And failure by an employee to adopt the company’s profit-driven public opinion has become a CLM (Career-Limiting Move), resulting in firing or demotion.
  • Politicians – The same individuals running vicious campaigns and apologizing profusely for “ignorant” statements made years before they “awoke” pretend their flawed human nature is now reformed.  Feigning offense at someone else’s “insensitivity” to win votes, they speak far more harsh words behind closed doors in accordance with their true selves.
  • Media – Hollywood touts the goodness of the human spirit, but then strategizes to produce movies and shows that would appeal only to an evil nature.  In fact, a series may begin fairly benign but quickly escalates to satisfy growing appetites for sex and violence fed by earlier episodes.  Those themes even dominate news outlets, knowing audiences are more interested in death, disasters and corruption than stories of kindness.
  • Celebrities – Many actors, musicians and athletes publicize their generosity and speak out opportunistically about issues grabbing the headlines, but how often do most work diligently and quietly behind the scenes to mentor, support and serve those they claim to care about so much?
  • Poor – Government is increasingly competing with Jesus in America for the right to be regarded as “savior”.  We cannot serve both God and money any more than we can be dependent on both God and government.  Reliance opens the door to abuse of power when funds may be withheld without compliance.  Communism isn’t far behind when government defines right and wrong, using welfare to control whoever it deems the oppressed and using regulations to control whoever it labels the oppressor.
  • Charities – Even private-sector compassion efforts are often tainted by “checking the box” through transactional hand-outs that make donors feel good but actually do more harm than good, perpetuating poverty.  We need to #ReimagineCompassion through a more dignified approach to helping families plot their own course to a better future.
  • Churches – Many churches are debating how involved to get in today’s hot-button issues, fearing the consequences of speaking out.  Some leaders would rather remain quiet or conform to culture rather than risk potentially futile attempts to transform it.  In the interest of not sounding “judgmental”, Christians understandably see themselves in a “glass house” but must still recognize the difference in their natures after being “born again”.
  • Other Religions – Christianity is the only religion on earth that holds a realistic depiction of human nature, teaching mankind cannot alter our eternal fate through our own goodness (external actions) or inner divinity (internal discovery).  Only Christianity says God came down because we were too sinful to aspire to rise up – even one inch.

Without Jesus, nations always believe the lie that man’s goodness will bring utopia, but entropy is the outcome of the truth that humans are actually sinful.  Power doesn’t become justice, but control.  Uniformity doesn’t become unity, but division.  Sex doesn’t become love, but deviance.  Atheism doesn’t become freedom, but depression.  Dependence doesn’t become equality, but poverty.  Wealth doesn’t become generosity, but greed.  Promises don’t become trustworthiness, but betrayal.  Education doesn’t become wisdom, but delusion.  Advancement doesn’t become progress, but pride.  Those are the reasons why letting our guards down by subscribing to a faulty fundamental premise will soon lead America from the Age of Decadence to the Age of Decline.

What Do You Say?…

In the next blog post, we will talk more about how Christians and churches can dispel the myth that man is inherently good, and potentially reverse our nation’s current collision course.  Please share your thoughts, prayers and ideas on those topics…

Can America’s Demise be Averted?

Feb 18, 21
JMorgan
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Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Sir John Glubb provided a prophetic history lesson to America in 1976, tracing the common pattern all empires follow from rise to fall.  Writing at our bicentennial, Glubb gave America ample time to avoid repetition of the final stages – the Age of Affluence, the Age of Intellect and the Age of Decadence – before the typical 250 year “expiration date” of the world’s superpowers.

Yet despite the benefits of hindsight and Christian heritage, our nation has reenacted the latter phases precisely.  Commerce led to wealth that it maintained and expanded through education.  “Enlightenment” called into question America’s foundational Christian values, eroding moral standards and respect for authority and institutions.  Imposition of new “higher” standards under the guise of a genuine concern for defending the rights of the “oppressed” by regulating “oppressors” creates a welfare state that chips away at the very freedoms acquired and celebrated during the prior stages.  Years of decadence, division and dependence then eventually breed decay, undermining families, economies and defenses against external forces.

“A democracy…can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.  From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.” (Alexander Fraser Tytler)

Is there any hope?  Has the die been cast?  Are the pieces already in place and dynamics that led to the demise of other great nations too powerful for America to overcome?  Or does 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 give us one last chance to “humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways”.  If so, perhaps the Lord “will hear from heaven,…forgive their sin and…heal their land.”

What Christians Shouldn’t Do…

Jesus established His Church for “such a time as this”.  Church is not a place, a building, a pastor or a weekly event.  You and I are the personification of “church” – the hands and feet of Christ.  Churches are charged with making disciples, those best equipped to avert the certain disaster awaiting a society that once collectively bowed before the Father but now mocks His Son.

John Adams famously said, “Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Yet in recent decades the institution and individuals commissioned by God to combat the worldly influences of the Ages of Affluence, Intellect and Decadence have seemingly changed culture less than they have been changed by it.  America will undoubtedly move into the final phase of our history, the Age of Decline & Collapse, if Christians continue to capitulate to culture by…

1.  Giving In…

  • to the World – People invest their hearts, trust and energy in whoever they can count on for support in difficult times.  When the pandemic first struck, millions turned to Jesus in a panic but soon rejoined those celebrating the triumph of the human spirit as science delivered vaccines and the Fed printed stimulus dollars.
  • to Pressure – Seeds scattered on the rocky ground have no roots and wither when persecution comes.  Being a Christian in the U.S. today puts careers and reputations at risk for not wholeheartedly applauding unbiblical lifestyles and activities.
  • to Division – Christians divide over public policy and politics, yet Scripture provides a reference point and clarion call for unity that will draw us together if we seek righteousness over being “right”.

2.  Giving Up…

  • on the Church – We know the end of the story, which may not include America but certainly includes the Church.  The pandemic exposed the flaws of a building-centric model rooted in attracting and retaining churchgoers rather than equipping and deploying disciples.  Nevertheless, the Church prevails in the end so while we call for reform, we should not forsake meeting together.
  • on Non-Believers – Even if the story does not end well for our nation, there are too many lives at stake to submit our resignations and await the inevitable.  Rather than succumb to PC to avoid retribution, we must engage the culture war through a “ground war” of compassion to earn the right to conduct an “air war” of evangelism.
  • on our Youth – Studies characterize Gen Z as post-Christian, self-absorbed, screen-fixated and disillusioned.  Yet they are America’s hope and future, and despite appearances crave community, mentors and purpose more than you would expect.

3.  Turning Inward…

  • to Protect Our Turf – Rather than boldly and lovingly reaching out to non-believers and the next generation, Christians are known for defending their staunch positions from the comfortable confines of social media or a church building.
  • to Check the Box – Often when Christians do extend a helping hand, society doubts their sincerity because it is done “at a distance” through occasional, transactional outreach events that do not change lives or alleviate poverty.  Relational, ongoing compassion holds their hands, equipping families to plot a course to a better future.
  • to Affirm Ourselves – Despite helping in ways that actually hurt over the holiday season, churches celebrate their kindness while the poor remain hungry and hurting in January and February.  Yet most pastors have already moved on to other culture-appropriate, congregation-affirming topics that do not challenge Christ-followers to year-round compassion, evangelism and discipleship.

4.  Turning Back…

  • to “Normal” – We miss our church friends and activities, wishing we could get back to the “old normal” of an inward-focused Church that was rapidly declining in growth, impact, influence and perception in America before the pandemic.  A “new normal” is needed to respond to the failure of a building-centric model to prepare members to lead neighbors to Jesus when they couldn’t simply invite them to a Sunday service.
  • to “Better” Days – Injustice and hypocrisy existed even within the Christian community throughout America’s Age of Conquests, Commerce, Affluence and Intellect.  It’s time for a new reality where segregation and legalism are not part of our story (because they were never part of His-story).
  • to “Old” Methods – That “new normal” and “new reality” should take into account that what “worked” to engage non-believers and youth 30 years ago may not be as effective in today’s culture.  The mission and message never changes but a post-Christian, media-driven society demands “new methods” to share eternal truths.

“If you can’t beat them, join them” and “to each his own” are not found anywhere in Scripture.  It’s not God-honoring or productive to sit quietly by, retreat into our shells, or bemoan how evil our culture has become.  Darkness does what darkness always does.  Darkness is the absence of light, so Christians are commanded to shine the light of Christ until He pierces the darkness.

What Christians Should Do…

There is hope.  America may be in the Age of Decadence but does not have to descend into the Age of Decline & Collapse.  The Bible lays out a roadmap for Christ-followers to lead nations to a different destination – God’s forgiveness and healing – through humility, prayer, worship and repentance.  Our culture is already showing signs that its self-centered, fragile psyche is starting to crumble.  Now is the time for you and me to point society to its Savior by…

1.  Loving Well

  • God – doing a better job of showing we trust God and not government for salvation
  • Each Other – modeling unity and generosity to a world divided and dependent
  • Others – presenting an alternative to anger by loving those who revile Christians

2.  Living Well

  • at Home – becoming the “pastor” of your family and neighborhood
  • at Work – carrying Sunday into Monday even when your company and colleagues don’t deem your faith PC
  • In Your City – leading Prayer/Care/Share ministry both inside and outside your church

3.  Giving Well…

  • Generously – renouncing greed, the primary driver behind each of Glubb’s 7 stages
  • Compassionately – investing wisely and joyfully in the poor, not under compulsion
  • Efficiently – dispelling the myth that only those who support welfare programs care about the poor, demonstrating how private sector ministries are far more effective

4.  Teaching Well…

  • Boldly – not taking the easy way out by letting your “godly” living do all your talking for you
  • Truthfully – painting a holistic picture of God, not trying to make Him more palatable for today’s culture
  • Effectively – realizing there is no way to avoid the topics of sin, forgiveness and repentance in leading someone to Jesus

Rerouting from the Age of Decadence to an Age of Revival hinges on Christians, by the power of the Holy Spirit, getting more of the Church into the world and less of the world into the Church.

It’s Your Turn…

Why has a nation with Christian roots essentially followed the same destructive pattern as pagan empires throughout history?  Please share your thoughts on what believers and churches could have done to divert society from the pitfalls of conquest, commerce, affluence, intellect and decadence – and what they should do now to avoid decline and collapse.

Nearing the Last Stage of American History

Feb 03, 21
JMorgan
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9 comments

Civilizations throughout history go through phases of growth, stability, maturity, decline and collapse.  The British, Spanish, Roman, Persian and Babylonian empires all followed an eerily similar pattern, averaging a lifespan of roughly 250 years.  Sir John Glubb researched and outlined those stages in his book, “The Fate of Empires and the Search for Survival”, published in 1976, America’s bicentennial.  Our nation’s age (245 years) and evolution appear to place us toward the end of that typical process…

  1. The Age of Pioneers – Explorers settle new lands and displace existing people groups
  2. The Age of Conquests – Military forms to establish dominance and expand territories
  3. The Age of Commerce – With security established, people are free to pursue livelihood
  4. The Age of Affluence – Offense converts to defense to protect increasing wealth and privilege
  5. The Age of Intellect – Advancement hinges on education, producing academics who question the founders’ values and religious beliefs
  6. The Age of Decadence – Wealth and “wisdom” erode morality, citizens look to celebrities for role models, and immigration helps fuel a welfare state
  7. The Age of Decline & Collapse – Years of decadence, division and dependence breed decay, undermining families, economies and defenses against external forces

The faith initially required to achieve the freedoms enjoyed in a democracy dissipates when sinful human nature encounters the pitfalls of progress and prosperity.  In other words, reliance on God during times of uncertainty evolves into self-sufficiency in times of abundance.  In 1798, John Adams warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.  Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Is America in the Penultimate Stage?

Mercy, obedience, conscience and compassion are hallmarks of Christianity and guideposts for effective democracy.  It is not coincidence that America’s well-documented arrival into “post-Christian” status occurred back when we appeared to be entering the Age of Decadence.  Does that confluence portend the end?

How long will the U.S.A. endure when it is clearly no longer “one nation under God” or “indivisible”?  Or to quote Mark Twain, are rumors of America’s death greatly exaggerated?  We won’t know if its demise is imminent, at the precipice of the Age of Decline & Collapse, unless we confirm we have entered the Age of Decadence.  Consider the evidence based on the Lord’s dire warnings of destruction in Isaiah 5…

  1. Our Perspectives – “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” (v. 20)  Our society labels abortion “health care”, celebrates perversion, and considers self-centeredness a virtue.  Human nature is seen as inherently good, so individuals are free to determine what is right and wrong for themselves with limited standards (religion) or restraints (police).
  2. Our Priorities – “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes.” (v. 21)  Education is seen as the ticket to progress and prosperity, so it is pursued (even by Christian parents) with full knowledge that universities will teach their children atheism as fact.  Yet they are in such demand that college tuition is the only investment in America that has never experienced a “bubble” – and celebrities risk prison to acquire admission for their kids.
  3. Our Purpose – “Woe to those who drag their sins behind them.” (v. 18)  The scales have tipped where votes cast for money and immorality – financial gain and godless depravity – long ago outnumbered those for selfless ideals or biblical principles.  Freedom of Christian speech and practice has been subjugated to freedom to violate God’s law without regulation or remorse.
  4. Our Position – “Woe to you who add house to house.” (v. 8)  To defend a standard of living that would require four earths to sustain (if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average U.S. citizen), we have risked our nation’s financial viability and standing in the global economy.  The world already questions our values, leadership, ethics and unity – and now through media outlets gets a front row seat to watch America grow more indebted and divided.
  5. Our Population – “Woe those who say, ‘Let God hurry; let him hasten his work so we may see it.’” (v. 19)  The number of Americans identifying as Christian is declining, while the percent professing no faith or another religion continues to rise.  Our houses may be getting bigger but our families are getting smaller.  The extraordinary difference in birth rates between Muslim and Christian families, immigration policies and the influence of universities and media will continue to make it more unusual (and challenging) to ascribe to Christian values.
  6. Our Persecution – “Woe to those who…deny justice to the innocent.” (v. 23)  Mocking Jesus and Christians on TV and movies is evolving into censure and career “cancellation” for not condoning what contradicts God’s Word.  Ministries that until now focused on mobilizing U.S. resources to aid persecuted Christians in other countries are turning their attention to persecution on our own shores.
  7. Our Pollution – “Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people.” (v. 25)  Many debate whether America was founded as a “Christian” nation.  Our roots were certainly heavily influenced by Christianity, but the past few decades have seen culture change churches more than churches have changed culture.  Secular pressures and ideas have infiltrated the “4 walls”, diluting adherence of believers to core biblical truths.

Evidence appears to point to a connection between America’s departure from Christian ideals and our step across the threshold of the Age of Decadence.  No doubt we entered the Age of Commerce, Affluence and Intellect many years ago; however, the analysis above shows signs we (at some point) moved beyond those into the penultimate stage.  If history is a guide, Glubb predicts the Age of Decadence will precipitate our next and final phase – the Age of Decline & Collapse.  It is not hard to envision a day in the not-too-distant future when our financial systems implode from greed and debt, an oppressive government suppresses religious expression, and modern conveniences and distractions wear down Christian defenses against socially acceptable mores.

If So, What Should the Church Do?

Evangelist Charles Finney, credited for much of America’s “Second Great Awakening”, said in 1873, “If there is a decay of conscience, the pulpit is responsible for it.  If the public press lacks moral discernment, the pulpit is responsible for it.  If the church is degenerate and worldly, the pulpit is responsible for it.  If the world loses its interest in Christianity, the pulpit is responsible for it.  If Satan rules in our halls of legislation, the pulpit is responsible for it.  If our politics become so corrupt that the very foundations of our government are ready to fall away, the pulpit is responsible for it.”

The four-year “reprieve” Christians celebrated under a church-friendly President did little to stem cultural momentum away from the Lord.  Regardless of who bears responsibility for where we are now, only the Church has the (Spirit-powered) ability to help America avert impending disaster.  If we are rapidly approaching America’s sunset, the question is “what does Jesus want His Church to do about it?”

  1. Our ReformationReturn to a definition of “church” as people and not a place, where members are Kingdom “employees” equipped to pursue the real “customer”, those who do not yet know the Lord.
  2. Our RepentanceSeek God first by turning from therapeutic religion catering to the worries and cares of attenders to outright surrender and accountability through intensive discipleship.
  3. Our Resolve – When being a Christian is a crime, will you be thrown in jail?  If we truly believed there is a hell, we would risk comfort today, and one day persecution, to share the hard truths about sin and repentance with family and friends.
  4. Our Revival – Personal transformation through prayer, worship, repentance and an eternal perspective is the path to church revival.  People will not cry out unless they are radically altered within, which churches are intended to facilitate.
  5. Our Recourse – Jesus confronted unjust leadership but was not political, rending “what is Caesar’s unto Caesar”.  He fought evil with good by healing and feeding, waging a ground war of love and service rather than an arms-length air war of dropping verbal bombs.
  6. Our Relationships – Genuine compassion is high-touch (#ReimagineCompassion), yet most churches practice transactional handouts through occasional events that “check the box”, don’t actually alleviate poverty, and position the “rich” as superior to the “poor”.
  7. Our Restoration – Our redemption will not be institution of a theocracy where Christian leaders occupy the tops of the 7 Mountains, but reestablishment of Jesus as Lord of our land – collectively raising Christ up by falling down in worship, love and evangelism.

If America is actually in the Age of Decadence, perhaps the Lord will choose to spare us if we repent and return to Him.  Can we expect the downward trajectory of our nation’s faith and morality over the past few decades suddenly to reverse course toward Jesus if churches go back to business as usual after the pandemic?  The Age of Decline & Collapse awaits unless we internalize the lessons learned from COVID-19 – how being unable to meet in a building exposed the perils of not entrusting individuals with responsibility for the Great Commission and making “church” too much about a pastor and a place.

It’s Your Turn…

Where do you think America is today in terms of Glubb’s 7 stages?  Based on your answer, what should the Church’s response be to steer our country away from the next phase?

Is Your Church Seeking God First?

Jan 21, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

Not every house of God seeks God first.  What a person or church seeks first is a matter of priority and sequence – above all else and before all else.  Church growth or survival are noble goals but only if they’re achieved through pure motives and methods.  God’s foremost command to make disciples should not be sacrificed for the sake of butts, bucks or buildings.  The Lord’s call for selfless unity, sacrificial love and sanctifying obedience should not be deemphasized to make visitors feel more comfortable.  Jesus’ frequent insinuations that those who don’t serve the poor aren’t saved should not be ignored to reallocate budgets to facilities and amenities.  Like other Christians, church leaders face temptations, which are stronger now than ever with giving and attendance projected to be 20-30% lower than their (already declining) pre-pandemic levels.

Prior to COVID-19, church growth and leadership were the primary topics at pastor conferences and denominational meetings – and the subject of most books and articles written for pastors.  Despite all that advice and coaching, it quickly became apparent that few churches had prepared members to take advantage of the incredible evangelistic and compassion opportunity presented by the pandemic.  Most churchgoers weren’t ready to assume their rightful responsibility as the personification of “church” in their neighborhoods when the sanctuary doors were slammed shut.  Yet churches still pray fervently to return to normal so they can resume the same pastor-centric, building-oriented model that failed to equip members in 2020 to share the Gospel, answer tough questions, and shun self-preservation.

Whether a church seeks God first, above all else and before all else, may be measured by the same standard applied to Christians – faith over fear.  Uncertainty about the post-COVID future may keep many church leaders from addressing the discipleship gap revealed by the pandemic.  Disciple-making is long, slow, arduous, time-consuming and often painful.  How can we ask members to do more when we already expect lower attendance, engagement and giving going forward?  Discipleship is costly, including the risk of precipitating an already precipitous decline in the metrics churches use to measure “success”.  However, the past year called those metrics into question and begs a transition to indicators more closely correlated with seeking God first…

  • What kind of growth?  Our new reality should change the question “how large is your church?” to “how big is your footprint?”.  Whether the auditorium is full is less important than counting all those attending in any form (e.g. micro-gatherings) and all those impacted by the church (e.g. being reached with the Gospel by members).
  • How is growth occurring?  Is “success” a result of addition (transfers from other churches or invitations to hear from a “professional”) or multiplication (equipping members to invite people to Jesus rather than just to a church service)?  How a church grows dictates what it does when new people show up, either challenging them to fully surrender to Christ or to be a dutiful church citizen.
  • Why does the church want to grow?  A growing church that is not made up of growing Christians is seeking self-sustainability, not God, first.  The size of a gathering does not determine the percentage who are disciples – in fact, those are typically inversely related.  If disciple-making and deployment is the objective, then expectations will flip from enjoying benign sermons to holding churchgoers accountable for reproducing Christ-followers.

Churches that seek God first see numerical growth as a result of obedience, regardless of the risks, and not as the goal.  Even if they do not experience growth, they refuse to compromise their priorities (seeking God above all else) or their sequence (seeking God before all else).

Above All Else…

Like entrepreneurs, church planters have little to lose at first and are highly focused on the mission.  Their emphasis on building deeply into a few folks and connecting with the community spurs growth, which soon needs to be managed.  The pressures and bureaucracy of running an organization can distract from the original vision God gave leadership, and other priorities may begin to take precedence…

  1. Attendance – The stakes get higher as more people show up on Sunday mornings, and weekend services become the main emphasis of pastors and staff.  In the early church “the Lord added to their number daily” but most churches today hope to “add to their number weekly”.
  2. Engagement – Attendance spikes drive the need for volunteers to perform “church chores” geared to produce more growth.  Yet despite friendly greeters and child care workers, statistics show alarmingly few people are coming to Christ annually in most U.S. churches.
  3. Expansion – If you plant churches you may not get disciples, but if you make disciples then you will plant more churches.  Business consultants joke that the way to increase profits of products with no margin is through more volume.  Likewise, Kingdom “profits” don’t increase by planting more churches that don’t make disciples.
  4. Viability – The high costs of a model that entrusts pastors with sole responsibility for leading people to Jesus also puts undo pressure on them to raise funds.  We pay landscaping companies when we don’t feel like doing your own yard, and compensate churches when we don’t want to endure the discomfort of talking about Jesus.
  5. Influence – New churches launch with flat hierarchies and expectations that everyone will carry their share of the Great Commission load.  Ironically, that role centralizes rather than disperses with growth.  Layers of authority and structure are established and deference to the “preacher” escalates (as the audience to whom he is speaking increases in size).

Churches are seeking growth (and not God) first if that growth isn’t intended to or effective in making sold-out, fully-surrendered disciples who multiply more disciples.

Before All Else…

God-honoring church growth is the byproduct of following the biblical sequence of seeking God first and then watching Him produce fruit from our labor

  1. Prayer & Worship – A church’s first order of business is humility, thankfulness and trust.  Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.  Equipping and empowering churchgoers begins here – not listening and watching while pastors and bands pray and worship, but engaging personally in both.
  2. Outreach – Evangelism doesn’t typically precede compassion, at least not for Jesus.  Following His model means “healing” and feeding first, then telling them who He is.  Churches whose goal is growth for the sake of growth “check the box” through transactional, not transformational, assistance at the holidays that actually perpetuates poverty (#ReimagineCompassion).
  3. Evangelism – This final step of Prayer-Care-Share calls churches to seek God first by educating and urging members not to withhold their knowledge of the cure for cancer from the terminally ill, a distributed model for evangelism and discipleship.
  4. Disciple-making – A church committed to making disciples and not converts must define new volunteer roles to delegate responsibilities for establishing mentoring relationships, running accountability groups, and leading micro-gatherings.
  5. Growth – Lastly comes growth, but not only the kind measured by counting heads on Sunday morning.  The first four steps in this sequence expand the church’s reach well beyond the pastor’s imagination or control.  Personal growth fueled by repentance for “doing” church rather than being the church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can spark revival throughout a community or city.

Implementing this biblical process within a church brings additional benefits not experienced by “Church as We Know It” in America today.  Churches that seek God first need far fewer dollars to operate, distribute the workload, alleviate pastor/staff burnout, improve stewardship of underutilized physical facilities throughout the week, and breed a culture of generosity.

It’s Your Turn…

When someone tells you they go to a great church, ask them what happens there from Monday through Saturday.  Are members actively sharing the Good News, serving the poor and experiencing personal transformation that radically alters the lives of those around them?

Seeking God First in the New Year

Jan 06, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Nearly every minute of life on planet Earth involves either running toward or running from something.  We’re incessantly consumed with pursuing what we don’t have or fearing what we don’t want.  We alternate between being the hunter chasing and the hunted worrying.

Yet unless what you’re seeking is the Kingdom and what you’re evading is sin, be careful what you wish for – nothing else ends well.  Quests for anything the world has to offer are shiny lures – attractive but hiding a hook few can get off once they take the bait.  Nor does anyone get out of this life alive – all our anxiety can accomplish is to make that last day arrive a bit sooner.

Fight or flight, dog eat dog and survival of the fittest are apt descriptions of worldly impulses and instincts but have little to do with our intended purpose in this life.  That’s not to say wealth, popularity, possessions, security and accolades are inherently bad.  Likewise, acting like a “Christian” and doing nice things for others aren’t inherently good.  The question is what we seek “first” – the world or the Lord.   Which comes first in our lives is a matter of both priority and sequence – what’s above all else and before all else.  In other words, what do we value most and what motives fuel our actions?

Above All Else… 

Who do we trust?  Where are we storing up treasures?  When times get tough, how do we respond?  Where do we turn?  Where does our allegiance lie?  Christians in America are part of a Kingdom and a democracy.  We have dual citizenship.  Our nationality is not solely determined by where we live but by where we’re headed.  This is not our home or destination.  Therefore, seeking God first is about placing our faith primarily in God rather than in…

  1. Government – America looks to parties and politics primarily for money and (im)morality.  Many voters flocked to the polls in 2020 in search of financial security and authorization to do as they please.
  2. Ourselves – Our nation’s state-sponsored religion, Selfism, redefines who we are and whose we are.  Its manifesto contends that each adherent has an inalienable and unassailable right to determine what truth is, despite facts or evidence to the contrary.
  3. Happiness – Media and advertisers promise to fill our “God-shaped hole” with profit-generating products and services that will provide the fulfilment we’ve never found but so richly “deserve”.
  4. Mankind – At first, fears over COVID-19 drove many non-believers toward the Lord, but now they celebrate the triumph of the human spirit and medical science with the advent of a vaccine.
  5. Money – Jesus spoke so often of finances knowing how few choose worship over wealth when presented with those options, faithful enough to turn down fame and fortune when opportunities conflict with biblical principles.

None of those are reliable.  They’re temporal and deeply flawed.  “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)  Even this “earth suit” we live in and the brain it houses are on loan and fragile.  We are not the sum of our bodies, intelligence, actions and words – we are eternal beings longing to be reunited with an eternal companion, the Holy Spirit.  “You’ve never met a mere mortal.” (CS Lewis)  Seeking God first means acknowledging He is our only trustworthy Provider for today and Savior for tomorrow.

Before All Else…

Knowing, being and doing are sequential.  We are changed from the inside out, not the outside in.  Many know about the Lord without knowing the Lord.  Obedience should follow from understanding who Jesus is and surrendering to Him.  Being a Christian is not the same as acting like one.  Our Father desires relationship, not religion.  Jesus is not part of our lives – He is life.

Bypassing the study of Scripture risks an emotion-based faith that may not survive when confronted with tough questions or circumstances.  Jumping from knowledge to actions bring motives into question.  Yes, faith without works is dead but so are works without faith – bandaids on gaping wounds; lipstick on a pig.  Seeking God first means pursuing more than surface-level cosmetics, but an extreme home makeover in the following areas…

  1. Heart – What comes out when we’re squeezed?  Recent studies reveal most Christians aren’t distinguishable from their non-Christian neighbors.  Only genuine transformation produces countercultural behaviors like joy during trials, faith over fear, and love in response to hatred.
  2. Character – Suffering like we endured in 2020 builds character, which can be defined as what we do when no one is watching.  True love for the Lord is best observed behind closed doors.  True compassion is best demonstrated without any witnesses for someone who can’t possibly repay the favor.
  3. Schedule – Recommit in 2021 to investing time with the Lord, pressing on in sanctification through Bible study, prayer and journaling.  Our hectic pace makes us forget we’re “too busy not to pray”.  Our haste to serve can make us forget why we serve – growing in our love for God and others.
  4. Prayer – Interactions with the Lord should transform from intermittent requests for help to continual conversations of thankfulness and praise.  It’s rude to ignore a guest in our home, yet isn’t that what we do if we neglect the Spirit living inside of us?
  5. Mission – Is it possible to believe Hell actually exists but have no sense of urgency about seeing people come to Christ?  Jesus gave us a Prayer/Care/Share mandate and model for evangelism – to demonstrate His love (#ReimagineCompassion) to open ears to hear the Gospel.

Millions of churchgoers don’t seek God first (i.e. “doing” without “being”) because they lost their first love.  The thankfulness they felt for God’s grace when initially coming to faith gradually waned as they became less “sinful” and hung around “good” people at church.  Living externally like a Christian diminishes consciousness of our depravity and need for Jesus.  Consequently, commitments to the foundational practices of discipleship like memorizing Scripture, prayer and evangelism slowly fade away.  Most don’t realize the impact on their heart and character until they face the next crisis, shocked by their knee-jerk reactions of fear and anger.

It’s Your Turn…

How does retaining or recapturing our worship and wonder, like how a child sees their loving parents, relate to seeking God first – above all else and before all else?

Christmas Brings True Progress and Prosperity

Dec 23, 20
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 2 (of 2)

Powerful forces are hard at work today to draw us away from Christ.  Advances in technology and science tempt us to place our trust in man’s capabilities, not God’s.  Distractions and demands shift our focus from the eternal to simply getting through the day.  Culture’s emphasis on self directs our attention to personal fulfillment, ambition and freedom.

The gravitational pull of Christmas draws us back in the opposite direction.  Christmas points us to the Source of absolute truth, not feelings.  Christmas beckons us to find security in God, not advances or finances.  Christmas calls for a return to the roots of our faith, not programs and power.

Yet the ways churches have responded to evolving social norms do not look much like the Christmas story…

  • Offering more comfortable facilities when Jesus was born in a manger in a barn
  • Increasing convenience when the magi traveled for months to see Jesus
  • Lowering expectations when Joseph and Mary risked their lives for Jesus

Those accommodative “advances” by churches precipitate, not stem, America’s demise by conforming to, rather than transforming, culture.

Threats to Christianity will grow, soon calling into question the acceptability and legal rights of a religion that claims exclusivity and does not explicitly approve of the values they cherish.  As our nation increasingly persecutes Christians, it may awaken a sleeping giant, causing the Church to disorganize, disciple and disperse – the catalysts for growth in its earliest days.  When God closes a window, He opens a door.  We have an opportunity now to preempt persecution by proactively shifting back toward those original biblical principles – each of which runs counter to prevailing trends in our churches and culture.

Christmas is the time to #ReimagineCompassion, discipleship and evangelism.  The birth of Christ provides the only escape route from the pitfalls of progress and prosperity that are accelerating America toward secularism.  Christmas holds 7 keys to not just surviving, but thriving, in the modern world.  For each of those keys, we have an opportunity to leverage our progress and prosperity to overcome the adverse consequences of that same progress and prosperity:

  1. Confront Hate with Love
    • Run social media campaigns to remind society that most of the values they hold dear originated with Christians who introduced radical concepts like ending slavery, fighting for women’s rights and serving the poor into highly corrupt civilizations
    • Reverse perceptions of Christians as self-righteous and judgmental by being the chief instigators of humility and love in the face of animosity and injustice
  2. Exchange Conformance for Courage
    • Use online tools like Meet The Need’s new Artificial Intelligence platform to equip churchgoers to live Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles where they work and live
    • Commission Christians to serve as “pastors” of their neighborhoods, adopting the biblical definition of “church” – a far more effective and efficient model for Kingdom-building, particularly during a pandemic
  3. Replace Relativism with Truth
    • Convey hard truths to church members through multiple channels Monday through Saturday – like the priesthood of believers, necessity of repentance, costs of discipleship, and expectation of joy in the midst of trials
    • Understand that making the case for Christ isn’t possible without referencing “sin”, yet let love compel evangelism at the risk of offending sensitive ears
  4. Abandon Complexity for Simplicity
    • Rather than just replicating the status quo online (i.e. “virtual church”), use a free system like Love Your Neighbor to decentralize and mobilize church members to be the hands and feet of Christ all week long
    • Strip away the clutter and expense of church growth models and politics and get back to the basics of disciple multiplication, which is best done 1-on-1 or in triads
  5. Combat Division with Unity
    • At this critical moment when our nation has never been so divided, shine the light of Jesus brightly this Christmas by overlooking our differences and embracing the Savior and mission we all share as Christians
    • Die to self, resist any hint of self-righteousness, and humbly confess our sins so those who don’t know Jesus will see that they, like us, are all accomplices to His murder
  6. Eliminate Distractions through Focus
    • Overcome the short attention spans of “Generation Screen” by reaching them where they live and breathe…online – not to advertise church events but to engage, educate, disciple, build community, and mobilize to serve others
    • This Christmas, give glory to God for healing to awaken a society busy celebrating the triumph of the human spirit, collectively saying “together, we did it”, heaping accolades on scientists and doctors, and not on the Lord, as COVID-19 vaccinations begin
  7. End Competition with Compassion
    • Transactional solutions to poverty, measured in numbers of meals served or toys distributed, creates dependence and provides bragging rights to entice donations away from other ministries – whereas relational compassion is less glamorous but far more dignifying and effective
    • Jesus spoke sternly about serving the poor but few churches dedicate any physical or online real estate to that purpose; while churchgoers look much like other Americans in acquiring assets that divert attention from those in need

Christmas is about love, courage, truth, simplicity, unity, focus and compassion.  The world operates on a different set of principles like progress, prosperity and power.  Revival does not depend on a President who occupies the White House but a King who sits on the throne.  The pursuit of greater influence and a louder voice has only solidified the opposition’s resistance to Christian positions on social and moral issues.  It’s time for a new approach – using modern tools to equip disciples and decentralize distribution of the timeless message of Christmas to a nation losing interest in the building-centric version of Christianity they have been sold for decades.

It’s Your Turn… 

What innovations have you seen churches or ministries use to #ReimagineCompassion, evangelism or discipleship?

10 Pitfalls of Progress and Prosperity

Dec 10, 20
JMorgan
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2 comments

Part 1 (of 2)

Persecution doesn’t slow the growth of Christianity.  Progress does.  Laws and restrictions against Christianity don’t eradicate it.  Prosperity inflicts far more harm.  Why play offense and risk strengthening the resolve of believers – instead, just slowly chip away at their foundation by advancing the culture to cultivate disinterest in matters of faith.

China is experiencing explosive growth in Christianity despite government crackdowns while the U.S. is seeing a precipitous decline in those who hold a biblical worldview.  Recent Barna studies found that most American Christians no longer believe in man’s sinful nature, Jesus’ sinlessness, God’s omnipotence, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, Satan’s existence, Christianity’s exclusiveness, Scripture’s inerrancy, evangelism’s importance, objective moral truth or unmerited salvation.

The majority of Americans profess to be Christians and church buildings still dot our landscape.  Yet progress and prosperity have shifted our nation’s views on trust and truth.  We’ve conformed more than we’ve transformed, gradually adapting and adopting the world’s trust in man’s ability to define truth.  “Woke” doctors, scientists, journalists, educators and students promote the notion that we’ve progressed as a society beyond silly notions of an eternal, invisible Being.  They advance Selfism as the new national religion to replace the Christian faith of their unenlightened forefathers, who simply inserted God to explain what they didn’t understand.  Christians and churches don’t convert to Selfism, but incorporate elements to get along and fit in.  Progress inevitably becomes progressive – and civilization quickly regresses.

Why Christianity Struggles in the Modern World

We’ve come so far, so fast – access to practically anything or anyone with the push of a button.  Videos, virtual reality and vehicles transport us quickly wherever we want to go.  Technological innovation enables visibility and commerce for companies of any size anywhere in the world.  We celebrate our advances, ignoring the accompanying temptations and distractions that compete with the Lord for our attention and allegiance…

  1. Relevance
    • Christians find it challenging to discuss their faith today when words like love, truth, sin and forgiveness have been redefined and trivialized by our culture
    • Churches have difficulty making church palatable and engaging for post-Christian culture, lowering biblical standards for discipleship and serving the poor
  1. Time
    • Christians in America, according to recent surveys, look much like their non-believing counterparts, working long hours to keep up with the cost of living and running kids to ballet and soccer, all while glued to their electronic devices
    • Churches offer a range of activities and events, vying for any gaps in people’s schedules – with even Sunday mornings booked up now by youth sport league games
  1. Money
    • Americans are wealthier and live beyond what the Lord intended, with some estimating that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average U.S. citizen, four earths would be needed to sustain them
    • Churches vastly underutilize their buildings, investing heavily in facilities only occupied at capacity for a couple hours per week, and don’t model the behavior they want members to imitate (asking for 10%, but only giving away 1%)
  1. Security
    • Americans are offered countless guarantees to ensure our exorbitant standard of living – insurance, welfare, refunds, retirement accounts – giving us a false sense of security when Christ is the only certainty
    • Churches are anxious to return to “normal” after the pandemic because a building-centric model for “church” is all most know – whereas companies are considering decentralized, lower-cost models for equipping employees to work remotely
  1. Expectations
    • Most Christians are like other Americans, with short attention spans and high expectations, willing to attend a “fast food” worship service but entrusting their Great Commission responsibility to the paid “professionals”
    • Churches cater to their demands for amenities, programs, entertainment, convenience – and limit requests related to discipleship or compassion
  1. Programs
    • Americans are inundated at home with TV ads and at work with pitches for new systems, products and processes that will improve their lives and productivity
    • Churches try new programs marketed by coaches and consultants promising rapid growth, and script services with carefully-crafted agendas rather than leaving room for the Holy Spirit to interrupt
  1. Temptations
    • Americans are presented by the media and Internet with easier access and more opportunities for sinful activities than ever before in our nation’s history
    • Churches begin with high ideals for community transformation and disciple-making but find it challenging to stay that course with high expenses, disinterested neighbors, and demanding members
  1. Ambition
    • Americans are conditioned by the utopian vision of the future cast by technology companies, overspend on assets that divert their focus from what truly matters, and aspire one day to be like the celebrities we “worship”
    • Churches consider growth and income their primary “success” metrics, and track baptisms performed rather than disciples made
  1. Self-Centeredness
    • Americans are taught that they deserve to have the world at their fingertips – Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg knowingly appealled to the worst parts of human ego and addiction to maximize revenues, understanding the psychological effects of the “billion dollar button” (Facebook’s “Like”) and being connected to everyone everywhere (except for those you’re actually with)
    • Churches don’t talk much about what we really deserve, which is hell and death, but teach instead that Jesus came for me, died for me, and has a purpose for me
  1. Influence
    • Americans are embroiled in heated debates fueled by political parties, Artificial Intelligence (programmed to push those in the middle toward extremes), and PC standards that won’t tolerate the exclusiveness of Christianity
    • Churches are equally divided over how to confront or ignore the culture war that’s raging when they should be united in their allegiance and mission

Christians in America are part of a Kingdom and a democracy.  We have dual citizenship.  In order to transform the world and not conform to it, we must remember that our nationality is not determined by where we live but where we’re headed.  This earth is not our home or our destination, and Jesus is our King.  If we place our trust in those truths and not in mankind or governments, then progress and prosperity will not divert our attention from our purpose.

It’s Your Turn… 

In Part 2, we will lay out the Bible’s formula for how Christianity could not only survive, but thrive, in the modern world.  In the meantime, suggest your ideas for how to address those 10 dynamics above that are pulling Americans today toward secularism.  How would you #ReminagineCompassion, discipleship and evangelism?

Biblical and Cultural Imperative to #ReimagineCompassion

Nov 24, 20
JMorgan
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2 comments

Nearly 20 years ago, Meet The Need was founded because eradicating poverty and sharing the Gospel weren’t lucrative enough to incent innovation by for-profit software companies.  While technology vendors focused on building ERP and eCommerce solutions, Meet The Need was investing in platforms to mobilize churches and ministries to serve struggling families.  Modern tools from the business world could foster collaboration in a highly fragmented charitable marketplace, but only a ministry with a bottom line measured in disciples, not dollars, would spend millions knowing collaboration required offering those systems at no charge.  Churches had been the food bank and homeless shelter for nearly 2000 years, but increasingly separated evangelism from compassion, letting government and ministries assume primary responsibility for serving the hungry and homeless.  But Jesus modeled caring before sharing, so Meet The Need’s goal became reuniting the entire body of Christ to bless those in desperate need of help and hope.

Many pastors and ministry leaders were requesting a way to bridge the communication gap between those in need and those who could help.  Churches and ministries were managing and coordinating compassion work with spreadsheets, post-it notes and static information on a web page.  So Meet The Need began building volunteer management, event management. and case management applications at a time when nearly none existed.  With Meet The Need, suddenly they had state-of-the-art tools to recruit volunteers, run outreach events and track assistance provided to families across the city.  Meet The Need quickly grew and had tremendous impact around the country – as it does today.

However, despite our mission to engage Christians in serving the poor year-round, Meet The Need watched as activity spiked during the holiday season and dissipated thereafter.  Checking the proverbial box wasn’t alleviating poverty or changing lives.  Meanwhile, Millennials were driving volunteerism momentum and demand, providing software vendors opportunities to monetize those products.  Entire industries emerged with competitors selling expensive volunteering, event planning and shared case management solutions.  In an effort to increase revenues, lines began to blur – event software provided ticket sale options and donor systems incorporated capabilities to help charities convert volunteers quickly into givers.  Institutional fundraising encouraged creating dependence on handouts rather than empowering families to become self-sufficient.  The goal became keeping the charity in business rather than working its way out of a job.

Once again, it’s time for Meet the Need to pave the way in innovation.  We’ve observed and learned enough over the past 20 years to recognize the flaws in the status quo – and we’re objective enough to change course because our vision isn’t tainted by the lure of maximizing shareholder value.  There’s no money, but much more impact and dignity, in decreasing reliance on transactional assistance from donor-driven organizations.  We also foresaw years ago dynamics now in full effect that will soon force a shift in how assistance is provided to those living in poverty.  In fact, Meet The Need has invested the past 2 ½ years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a new platform that will revolutionize service delivery to families.  We’re again building what no one else wants to because it’s not popular or lucrative enough – and doing so in the Lord’s perfect timing as those dynamics are accelerating rapidly in the direction we were already heading.

Why #ReimagineCompassion?

If churches and ministries don’t #ReimagineCompassion now, it will become apparent tomorrow that today’s solutions to alleviating human suffering no longer work – and actually perpetuate poverty.  Current trends will soon leave them with no choice but to empower families to take greater responsibility for their welfare, helping them plot their own course to a better future.

  1. Poverty Dynamics – Cycles of generational poverty haven’t been broken by programs or events that dole out funds or resources, both of which are likely to be in shorter supply going forward
  2. Kingdom Dynamics – Fewer Americans than ever acknowledge that each individual is made in God’s image and of immeasurable value, deserving of the dignity inherent in self-sustainability, which is where life transformation begins
  3. Political Dynamics – New leadership in Washington may position itself as savior to the poor, providing impetus for churches and ministries to replace handouts with personal, loving relationships that position Jesus as Savior
  4. Economic Dynamics – Social pressures, higher taxes and economic bubbles will continue to decrease per capita giving to Christian organizations, requiring greater cost effectiveness
  5. Institutional Dynamics – Diminishing trust and loyalty in institutions, combined with the disintermediation caused by COVID-19, may necessitate decentralization of compassion
  6. Church Dynamics – Attractional models centered on buildings, pastors and self-interest haven’t grown the overall “body” or produced sacrificial disciples who understand the importance Jesus placed on helping the poor
  7. Cultural Dynamics – In a society where “sin”, “repentance” and “Jesus” are not in the accepted vernacular, the mandate for every believer to live out the Great Commission will require more than just words
  8. Discipleship Dynamics – A biblical definition of “church” entails equipping individuals to shine a light on Christ’s righteousness, exposing the world’s need for Him and opening the door for in-depth conversations, not invitations to next Sunday’s worship service

There’s an urgent need today for churches and ministries to unite around a more biblical approach to helping families in need – to #ReimagineCompassion.  As society becomes increasingly hostile to Christianity, our only defense against hatred is love, which we can demonstrate by modeling a more relational, sustainable and effective approach to serving the “least of these”.

MTN’s New Family Empowerment Platform

Ironically, this new system represents a return to Meet The Need’s roots.  Retracing our strategic progression over the last 20 years, MTN began by helping churches build a “web” of support around local families.  But our scope expanded as pastors and ministry leaders began to realize someone had finally brought modern tools to “reconnect the dots”.  Then national and regional charities asked us to customize our systems to address specific causes like hunger relief, homelessness and foster care.  We hope and pray that going back to our family-centered origins will lead to impact even beyond what we’ve already experienced, like facilitating the world’s largest food rescue network, rerouting nearly 2.5 billion pounds to shelters and agencies that feed the poor.

Guiding principles and capabilities of Meet The Need’s revamped platform include:

  • Leverage Artificial Intelligence to personalize suggestions for connections and opportunities that fit the interests and skills of families and volunteers
  • Rather than “push” organizations to use software, “pull” family, friends, churches, ministries, businesses and service providers into enduring, relational circles around those in need
  • Understand and display the assets available across each city, reflecting the value of all it has to offer, possibly including jobs for the unemployed or underemployed
  • Focus not only on impact, but on spiritual growth by recommending scripture and materials best suited for an individual’s unique circumstances
  • Allow churches and ministries to customize their own version of the application to equip families in their networks to support one another, lifting the burden on organizational budgets

Meet The Need started designing this platform in late 2017 and just completed a Beta-ready version!  Now we need your prayer and support to begin rolling it out to Christ-centered organizations who are excited and ready to test and launch in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s Your Turn… 

Join the #ReimagineCompassion revolution by praying, donating, sharing this blog post on social media, and personally engaging with families in ways that truly transform lives.