Tag Archives: Community Outreach

America’s Collective Conscience Coma

Nov 11, 21
JMorgan
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The Lord’s signposts directing traffic to Himself are found on all of life’s roads.  The beauty of creation, the “coincidence” of God-incidents, the emptiness of worldliness, the desperation of disasters, and the inevitability of death all point toward the Father.  Even more compelling, yet perhaps most often ignored, is the GPS of a conscience God was gracious enough to provide us when we wandered off in the Garden of Eden.

Nowhere in life are we more distant from the Father, less likely to find our way home, than when we no longer acknowledge mankind’s sinful human nature and successfully snuff out our consciences.  Without those flashing signals, a key component of the Father’s guidance system, we risk running off into a ditch when temptations and distractions come our way.  Jesus came to heal those who knew they were sick, not the self-righteous without any sense of their own depravity.  Christians and non-believers alike can lose touch with their need for Jesus, gradually quelling their consciences, convinced by conscienceless voices that they’re pretty good people.

A Fully Functioning Conscience

It is possible to have a conscience that is untainted by worldly influences, but only through faithful obedience to God’s Word.  Paul declared on many occasions that his conscience was “clear”.  Martin Luther boldly proclaimed at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Here I stand, I can do no other.”

A Christian’s conscience becomes defiled when it is diluted by beliefs and morality contrary to Scripture.  Many churches today teach that personal transformation and sanctification are not necessary, substituting dutiful compliance with religious obligations – the same myth Paul and Martin Luther spent their lives debunking.  On the other extreme, a hyperactive conscience can push believers away from their faith, forgetting the power of God’s grace, allowing the guilt of sin to convince them they are no longer welcome in His family.  Our Father’s love trumps shame but also demands obedience.

For non-Christians, receptivity to the Gospel hinges largely on whether they are still clinging to conscience or if it can be awakened within them.  Repeating sin for long enough eventually represses remorse, self-justifying until good is called evil and evil good.  Yet I find hope in the fact that many professed atheists attend “church” each week on this blog’s Facebook page, repeating trite arguments presumably to allay their own consciences or possibly hoping to be persuaded to believe.  If any vestige of a conscience does still exist, it can be revived by life-altering challenges, undeniable miracles, unconditional compassion, and humble confession – all powerful demonstrations of God’s holiness, exposing suppressed sinfulness (by comparison).  In contrast, latent consciences retrench further when Christians pit Team Jesus against Team World, as if being forgiven makes us “better” when we are in just as much need of grace.

The air war many churches conduct, dropping verbal bombs on those breaking laws of a God they don’t worship, advances the mission of powerful forces that are successfully convincing our culture that their consciences should be clear, obviating any need for forgiveness…

  • Tolerance (of sin) is the highest virtue
  • Pursuit of happiness is justification for practically anything
  • Traditional values are outdated and irrelevant
  • Religion is about oppression and control
  • Christian leaders throughout our nation’s history were immoral
  • Science and intellect can solve all our problems
  • Secondary educators know better than parents how to raise their kids
  • College students must be taught not just how to think, but what to think
  • Government can be trusted for (financial) provision and (physical) healing
  • Activism for a (socially acceptable) cause is the meaning of life

Overcoming conscience typically requires an outside force applying pressure or reassurance that, “It’s ok, everybody’s doing it.”  The objective behind wiping consciences clean, selling the lie that human nature is good, is to engender faith in politicians, institutions and corporations who live by an enlightened society’s principles.  Securing that trust translates into profits, power, and the opportunity to one day turn the tables on an unsuspecting populace.

The Church’s Conscience

America is increasingly building its collective conscience on the sinking sand of its own righteousness and not God’s.  Our culture is influencing churches more than churches are influencing culture.  Many spiritual orphans miss out on the love of our Father because churches haven’t practiced what they’ve preached when it comes to conscience…

  • Rarely addressing the topic of sin boldly from the pulpit
  • For those who do speak of sin, few confront it directly within their congregations
  • Gossiping about sin behind backs rather than discussing face-to-face
  • Never following Matthew 18 fully, sharing a member’s unrepentant sin with the whole body
  • Some teaching that it is alright to live bad because God’s grace is so good
  • Violating a new believer’s conscience, leading them to assume certain sin is acceptable
  • Feeling better about ourselves as we spend more time with churchgoers who “don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do”

As Christians quell their consciences, desensitized to God’s hatred of sin for which Christ suffered so greatly, they more closely resemble the rest of the world.  Studies reveal most believers don’t stand out from the crowd.  Yet authentic disciples should act and sound completely different, called to…

  • die to self while humanity celebrates self
  • live for eternity while “lost sheep” live for the here and now
  • love and serve unconditionally while the worldly demand reciprocity
  • be children of a loving Father while the fatherless search for identity

When the house of cards of Selfism crumbles, and it will, consciences will be awakened.  We pray the consciences of believers will also be awakened by then so we’ll be recognizable, appear approachable to repentant prodigals, and be ready to give account for the hope within us.

Culture’s Conscience

The most compelling arguments our media, universities and secular leaders use to extinguish consciences is that God is bad and so are His followers.  Discrediting the Creator is just as effective as claiming He doesn’t exist in eliminating any responsibility for obeying Him (or any guilt over disobedience).  To sear consciences, mankind’s measuring stick for morality only needs to be higher than what they paint God’s to be.  Avowed atheists ironically spend a good deal of time pointing out the “sins” of a God they profess not to believe in, while confessing no sins of their own.

  • Claiming God is bad because He…
    • Allows and/or causes terrible things to happen to “good” people
    • Made human nature bad and then eternally tortures anyone who slips up
    • Tempts mankind to violate His rules so He can punish them
    • Slaughtered “innocent” women and children in the Old Testament
  • Claiming Christians are bad because they…
    • Think everyone else is going to Hell
    • Pretend to be good but hate those different than them
    • Discount “virtues” of those who haven’t chosen their narrow path
    • Oppressed “innocent” victims throughout history

They then ask, “What kind of heartless psychopaths must Christians be to believe in a God like that?”  To avoid those mischaracterizations of God and Christ-followers, many pastors have stopped teaching from the Old Testament or reinterpret Scripture to adapt to cultural norms, lowering standards for member morality.  But playing defense ignores the underlying motive behind society’s assertion that its moral code is superior to Christianity’s – the goal and challenge of repressing their consciences.  Sustaining their delusion requires keeping the truth of human nature and their need for Jesus as far away as possible – as well as consumption of a steady diet of people-positive messaging.  While living the American dream of freedom from restraint and remorse, guilt and shame are always nipping at their heels.  Being anywhere near God’s holiness threatens to turn on a light they would rather remain extinguished.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post, we’ll discuss a biblical plan for restoring one of God’s greatest gifts – a moral compass within each of us pointing directly to Jesus.  How would coming out of our collective conscience coma spark revival within our churches and our nation?

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Oct 28, 21
JMorgan
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In God’s grace, He’s littered life’s highways with street signs pointing back to Him.  It takes a tremendous amount of distraction and cognitive dissonance to ignore creation, conscience, the “God-shaped hole” in our hearts, and our impending demise.  Rather than follow the signs, non-believers put on blinders, speeding down the road, rarely looking too far ahead.  To obscure the “bridge out” warning off in the distance, our relativistic culture discredits Christianity based on the exclusivity of our claim that Jesus built the only bridge to the Father.

No matter how hard they try to ignore the flashing signals, something is not quite right…

  • as spiritual “orphans”, not children of our Father, they search for identity in political, social, occupational, or sexual preferences
  • the dysphoria of being “fatherless” leads to what we observe among America’s youth today – depression, escapism, promiscuity, addiction, and suicide
  • despite appearances, the fields are ripe for harvest because deep down few believe “my authentic self” is genuine or “my own truth” is viable

Our caution signs are going unnoticed because most Christians don’t understand the core assumption behind unbelief – their premise that human nature is inherently good.  Any strategy for reaching the “fatherless” (no identity) and “faithless” (no purpose) must account for the key to Satan’s roadmap – the lie that mankind is “flawless” (no sin).

The Football Field

Media portrays Christians as self-righteous (feeling superior), ignorant (rejecting science) and unkind (lacking compassion).  Meanwhile, Christians tend to view the world as evil (less moral), uneducated (academically), and misguided (malleable).  Both assessments contain elements of truth but miss the underlying reality behind our division – the fundamental disagreement over who is good and who is bad…humans or God.  That dividing line is what separates us, tearing our nation apart.

As long as Christians misinterpret the basis for the direction society is heading, flawed assumptions will continue to generate bad strategies for reaching it.  Imagine the chaos of a football game where neither team, on both sides of the ball, knows the playbook.  The field of play is the debate over whether or not humanity needs a Savior.  The division is so pronounced that it’s formed two teams competing head-to-head, trying to advance the ball down the field in a game they don’t fully understand.  No Christian would be surprised by the actions and behaviors of contemporary society if we realized they are attempts to conceal the traffic signals by elevating mankind to the point of eliminating our reliance on God for grace and forgiveness…

  • Position government and science as savior, the ultimate sources of funding and healing
  • Defer to society’s values, not those taught by our fathers or our Father in heaven
  • Break down “traditional” families by conflating genders and discounting biblical marriage
  • Surrender to the authority and ideals of political parties and professors, not Scripture
  • Subscribe to characterizations of historical Christian leaders as bad and today’s enlightened leaders as good
  • Trust in the goodness of people to do the “right” thing:
    • Individuals know their actual gender better than Obstetricians (or God)
    • The Taliban won’t slaughter innocent people
    • The unintentionally pregnant will do what’s best with “their” bodies (presuming the secular notion that we “own” our bodies)
    • Crime won’t increase if police are removed
    • Drugs and trafficking won’t cross an open border
    • Criminals won’t commit more crimes if they are freed
    • Everyone will make good decisions on how to spend government handouts
    • Canceling the “intolerant” or feigning offense will demonstrate our “goodness”

Framing human nature as good “frees” wide receivers to run whatever routes make them happy, unaware they’re hurting themselves and their teammates, dragging them further from their Creator and toward dependence on those who don’t have their best interests at heart.

The Teams

This is certainly not a game, it’s not a competition, and it’s not about beating anyone else.  Christians want to see all come to an intimate knowledge of our Father.  Humanity’s universal fallen state should have put all players on the same team, looking in the mirror, not lining up to tackle individuals and groups with whom they disagree.  But we’ve engaged in the game of defining who is good and who is bad.  By labeling and vilifying the other “team”, both sides strap on helmets for a winner-take-all contest.

By appearing to think we’re “better” than “them”, a “Team World” has formed, sensing the self-righteousness and condemnation of “Team Jesus”.  Over time, Christians and churches turned the ball over, making non-believers feel morally superior.  Secularism is now on offense and Christians are back on their heels, watching “Team World” rapidly advance its agenda toward the endzone.  Unfortunately, we’ve had the wrong offensive strategy for decades, following a playbook designed by offensive coordinators who didn’t recognize the common ground all humans share – our sinful nature.  We made players on “Team World” feel judged, flagging them for committing penalties when they didn’t know our rules.

Ironically, Jesus was frequently accused of fraternizing with players (“sinners”) on the opposing team, showing compassion because he knew no one was truly “good”.  Our head coach wasn’t about winning or losing, but sorrow and service to help “lost sheep” find their way to the Father.  Yet many churches hold pep rallies, emphasizing “victory” and reassuring followers they “win” in the end.  As a result, players run out on the field feeling pride and comfort in being on “Team Jesus”.  Or recognizing we’re playing defense now, Christians became defensive.  There’s no need to defend our faith – God is perfectly capable.  Jesus turned the other cheek rather than defending Himself.  The best defense is always a good offense, but we’ve been giving out directions to our churches, not to the Father.

Instead of making disciples and showing compassion, we threw into double coverage by reducing evangelism to pitching non-believers on our team’s way of life, rules or church (inviting friends and family to the “game” next Sunday morning).  The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that churchgoers didn’t know the playbook.  When the assistant coaches (pastors) weren’t there, the players didn’t know what to do.  Choosing defense over offense, we defaulted to self-preservation instead of self-sacrifice, not serving as pastors of our neighborhoods, ready to give account for the hope that is in us.

The Playbook

Watching a football game, we believe we understand the coach’s strategies.  On the surface it seems our team is going nowhere handing the ball off, refusing to open up the passing game.  But frustrated fans don’t realize the patient, “ground and pound” approach is going to pay off in the 4th quarter.  America and possibly mankind is in the 4th quarter and the world’s defense would be wearing down by now if Christians and churches had stuck with the running game of disciple-making and compassion, demonstrating the Father’s unconditional love.  A “ground attack” engaging millions in loving acts of service would have weakened defenses by eliminating the anger Christians display toward non-believers and disarming those who revile Christians.

Our “air attack” has been overthrowing (verbal) bombs receivers could never catch.  Christians often appear as though they only see non-believers as sinful, positioning “Team Jesus” as superior to “Team World”.  We wouldn’t be responding with anger or surprise if we associated their behaviors with a distorted view of human nature.  We would feel sorry for them and share the Gospel, realizing their actions are a byproduct of an identity crisis resulting from their detachment from our Father.  So today non-believers find more acceptance and (a cheap imitation of) “love” by aligning with those who judge no one (because they don’t want to be judged).  They don’t feel welcome on “Team Jesus” because we aren’t following the strategy of our head coach, demonstrating the Father’s love and humbly confessing our own depravity.

As long as Christians aren’t being discipled in churches, thoroughly studying their playbook – the Bible – we’ll continue making silly plays.  Jesus’ strategy was not designed to “win” against “Team World” but to win “lost sheep” to Himself.  But centering the practice of faith around buildings, weekend services and “church chores” encourages lining up on the other side of the ball from those unwilling to join our team.  Conventional methods for steering non-believers toward the Father, like invitations to a Sunday service, are challenging in a culture increasingly distrustful of “Team Jesus” and institutions in general, including churches.  The Great Commission in post-Christian America requires preparing individual believers to build intentional relationships and provide clear directions to our heavenly Father, not our church’s address.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we should work to get everyone on the same team by confessing our sinful nature, helping unchurched players buy into their own sinfulness.

It’s Your Turn…

How would our nation be different if everyone had a shared, accurate understanding of human nature?  How would your church’s response to our culture change if the entire congregation knew the real reason America is heading in the wrong direction?

Giving Wrong Directions to Lost People

Oct 14, 21
JMorgan
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4 comments

What is life like without a dad in the home?  One fourth of America’s children know that reality all too well.  They are at four times greater risk of poverty and twice as likely to drop out of high school.  Prisons and addiction recovery programs are filled with the fatherless.  A child’s social, emotional, behavioral and academic development hinge largely on the support and guidance of a dad.

Jesus characterized those who do not know His Father similarly – harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Sheep lack direction – they don’t have a lion’s defenses against predators or a salmon’s GPS to find their way home.  Without a Father to serve as Shepherd, we should not be surprised when non-believers fall into the world’s traps, following the prevailing voices in our culture celebrating the pursuit of personal happiness and fulfillment.  In the (presumed) absence of God, there’s no one to warn them about secularism’s empty, self-centered philosophies and pursuits.  Looking for acceptance, youth gravitate to whatever group is most welcoming, which is often those likewise devoid of a moral compass imbued by the Father.  The fatherless are also easy prey for politicians, corporations and activists who feign concern but do not have their best interests at heart, seeking profit and power.

What they miss out on is a Father who looks on spiritual orphans compassionately, not opportunistically.  They trade in the unconditional love of a perfect Dad for the deceptive lures of temptations that always hide a hook, like the invitation to invent personal “truths” that aren’t actually true.  Moral relativism is the expected outcome of an identity crisis associated with lacking a sense of direction, purpose, and belonging.  Freedom from “house” rules isn’t worth separation from the Father and His family.  Christ-followers have the firm foundation of identity rooted in knowing nothing can separate us from the Father’s love.  True freedom doesn’t come from setting our own standards, but in the security of being children of a King and therefore heirs of His household, not disowned when we violate His rules and endure His punishment.

Jesus provided detailed directions to the Father.  In that same passage about lost sheep, He provided explicit instructions to “workers” to lead the fatherless toward the Lord.  Yet, many Christians in America today do not believe giving out directions is in their job description and many churches fail to equip members with accurate roadmaps.  In fact, many mistakenly feel the appropriate response to lost sheep is anger rather than Jesus’ attitude of compassion.  Of course sheep separated from the identity of their flock and the guidance of a Shepherd will run toward the most enticing voice, soon ensnared and hopeless.  They need help, not judgment.

What Directions Did God Provide?

A common excuse for rejecting God is that He condemns anyone to Hell.  Yet ironically rejection of the Father is that individual’s choice of Hell – voluntary separation from God in this life and the next.  Non-believers opt out, not wanting Him to be their Father or to be part of the family.  Unlike the prodigal son, they have no intention of coming home or leaving the life or fate they have willingly chosen.  Therefore, leading them toward Jesus is no small endeavor, possible only through the tools, resources and incentives the Father has provided:

  • Prayer – “…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
  • Holy Spirit – ”…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
  • Emptiness – “He has also set eternity in the human heart…” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
  • Human Nature – “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)
  • Conscience – “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation…” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
  • Death – “…free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15)

To combat those powerful forces, Satan mobilizes his army to remove the word “sin” from mankind’s vernacular, just as he attempted in the Garden of Eden.  He then redefines the word “love” to mean “tolerance” of sin rather than the Agape love of our Father.  Christ died for sins and God is love so it is a brilliant strategy to twist truth to paint humans as good and Jesus as unnecessary.  As a result, people who buy Satan’s lies wander aimlessly, processing nearly every decision incorrectly through a filter based on the flawed perception of self-sufficiency as an “adult” rather than humility as a child.

What Directions are Christians Giving Out?

Because relationship with the Father is due north, shepherding lost people toward other destinations is spiritual malpractice.  It’s also a dereliction of discipleship duties to conceal the path to the Father from those we see wandering in the wilderness.

Christians today tend to interpret the “workers” Jesus said were few in Matthew 9:37-38 as pastors and missionaries.  Jesus asks us to pray for more “workers” because there simply aren’t enough pastors and missionaries to reach so many lost sheep.  All churchgoers should be considered (Kingdom) “employees”, trained to disseminate directions to the Father.  However, the high costs associated with Western church growth models incent and enable those “paying” to abdicate shepherding responsibilities to the “paid”.  As long as “church” revolves around buildings, leaders and weekly events, members will feel more like “customers” to attract and retain rather than “workers” to equip and send.  In other words, paying consumers will expect excellent service from paid professionals.  Yet Jesus expects unpaid” churchgoers to be among those active in sharing the Gospel with the fatherless in their neighborhoods and workplaces.

“Church as we know it” in America also influences the messages and methods Christians use to reach lost sheep in their circles of influence.  Rather than discipling “workers” to provide directions straight to the Father, most churches instruct members to steer sheep toward…

  • Religion – Through Jesus the veil was torn and all have access to the Father, but countless “Dones” (with church) say the hierarchy and hypocrisy of religion impeded relationship
  • Spiritual “Fathers” – The primary ask of churchgoers is to invite friends to hear from pastors or youth group leaders, who often disappoint compared to other “role models”
  • Buildings – To simplify evangelism for church consumers, they’re told to share their testimony and give out the physical address of the church for next Sunday’s service
  • Experiences – Church should be a holy gathering of those united in worshipping Jesus, but many entertain and cater to non-believers to compensate for their failure to disciple
  • Morality – Christians are rightfully accused of expecting the fatherless to obey rules of a household they don’t belong to rather than first leading them toward the Father
  • Conformity – The unchurched believe Christianity means conformity to a way of life they don’t envy, not seeing love but division and condemnation of those who don’t live like us
  • Fellowship – We emphasize joining a church family more than becoming a child of a loving Father yet they’re already connected to others they find more “accepting” (i.e. with no rules)

The Great Commission is not optional, reserved for paid “workers”.  It’s a mandate for every believer, empowered with the tools and resources the Father gives to all His children to lead harassed and helpless sheep toward His flock (eternally), not necessarily ours (temporarily).

Wanted: More Workers Giving Good Directions

Our culture is losing faith in institutions, particularly churches, putting their trust in self and a shrinking number of close relationships.  Directing non-believers to a church building or a leader was never the intended roadmap to the Father and doesn’t work well in post-Christian America.  Also, decades ago the average American believed in absolute truth, God and Christian values, but now the fatherless know little and want little to do with what they think they know.  That environment requires all hands on deck, calling every Christ-follower to assume responsibility for forming intentional relationships and gently refuting society’s disinformation campaign leading sheep away from the Father.

Equipping churchgoers to give personalized guided tours directly to a loving Father and not just to a local church will require a level discipleship found in few congregations today.  It would redefine “church”, “workers” and “customers” in such a way as to disrupt the lives of millions of comfortable Christians.  It would mean adopting an entirely new approach to fighting the culture war, compelling a ground war of compassion instead of an air war of dropping verbal bombs on fatherless sheep living in a self-centered house of cards.  It would involve a depth of relationships reflecting how much the Good Shepherd loves them, not running away when threats and difficult times come.  It would entail stepping into the darkest crevices of people’s lives and responding to their most challenging questions in order to shine the light of Christ.

It’s Your Turn…

Are there additional guideposts or mile markers missing from the directions Christians are providing, causing a growing number of fatherless sheep to stray further from Jesus?

Rescuing “Love” from Society’s Clutches

Sep 30, 21
JMorgan
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Part 3 (of 3)

Jesus modeled a framework for understanding the nature and extent of God’s love – as our Father.  The term “love” is misconstrued today, thrown around to justify sin and manipulate behaviors, because it has been detached from its source.  Seeing God as a Father grounds “love” in the foundation of a dad’s relationship with his child.  Our Lord embodies the perfect Father in countless ways.  No matter how badly we mess up, God’s love for His children never diminishes.  Conveying God’s love in that context would also lead more non-believers to Christ, accurately depicting how He feels about us and how we should relate to Him.

Christians and churches bear some responsibility for disconnecting “love” from its biblical roots.  We begin the Lord’s prayer with “Our Father” but compartmentalize His character, not teaching that all aspects fit perfectly within a fatherly framework.  Society could not judge God according to its standards of right and wrong if we debunked perceptions of God’s “intolerance” in the Old Testament, explaining that He’s a loving Father who protects and disciplines His children.  Culture would be less inclined to dismiss Christians as “haters” if we better reflected the Father’s love to the world.  “Atheists” would envy our security if we had more faith, not doubting our Father’s love when things don’t go our way.

How Religion Undermines Relationship

To the extent that religion is a man-made construct, it blocks relationship with the Father.  Throughout history, religions across the globe have replaced God with human beings who serve as spiritual “fathers”.  They relegate deities to various, more distant, positions that dictate the obligations followers owe to them, such as:

  • Servants of a benevolent dictator
  • Criminals facing a demanding judge
  • Workers earning wages from a taskmaster
  • Enlightened searching for inner divinity
  • Disciples pursuing a glorious spiritual state
  • Adherents selecting their preferred god(s)
  • Converts forming their own conception of god

Whether abstract or concrete, none of those religious perspectives involve a close relationship with a loving Father.  They either elevate humans, empowering them to determine their eternal fate by their actions, or marginalize god(s) by making their level attainable.  Both scenarios give spiritual “fathers” the latitude to prescribe paths for achieving ultimate glory.  By inserting themselves in between the Father and spiritual “orphans”, religious leaders claim favored status, closer to their deity than other followers.  Assuming a preferred position means everyone else has to go through those spiritual “fathers” to get to their god(s).

That’s precisely what other religions resent most about Christianity.  The concept of direct access to a loving Father eliminates the opportunity for leaders to maintain parental authority over people.  Politicians and theocrats wage campaigns to eradicate Christianity from their borders because Jesus tore a veil (between the Father and His children) that they desperately want to stitch back up.  Therefore, Christians bear the brunt of religious persecution internationally in the form of intolerance and discrimination.  Ironically, Christians are also the ones most often accused of intolerance and oppression by the media in America.  Our culture fears a relationship with the Father because in addition to experiencing His love, being a child also involves rules and accountability.  For non-Christians both here and abroad, keeping God at arms-length means maintaining control – over their own lives and the lives of others.  What they all miss out on is the chance to get to know the consummate Father on a deeply personal level.

How Christians and Churches Often Miss It Too

Christ-followers have no excuse for misunderstanding the relationship God has with His children.  Jesus’ example and emphasis consistently pointed to God’s fatherhood.  He went so far as to say, “do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and He is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9)  That role is reserved solely for the Lord.  Yet in churches and Christian social circles, the word “father” is used frequently either as a religious title or honorary designation.  The implicit presumption is that spiritual “fathers” have more direct line to God for speaking to and hearing from Him.  Accepting a “father” label carries with it assumption of God’s fatherly responsibilities as well as the scrutiny due anyone who aspires to such heights.  Failure to live out the Father’s love will reflect poorly on Him.

In fact, the inability of Christians who have been put on a pedestal to live up to that billing has enabled society to play fast and loose with the word “love”.  When role models for the Father’s love are not loving, society dismisses God’s love as well.  When pastors do not adequately connect God’s love to that of a Father, churchgoers who never wonder about their dad’s (unconditional) love often question the heavenly Father’s (Agape) love when things go wrong.  They do not grasp and therefore do not convey the concept of God as a perfect Father.  God is love, so love without God is not truly love.  He is the gold standard.  And “whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)  If many Christians don’t recognize the fatherly nature of God and His love, what chance do non-believers have?

No other description of who God is captures the full extent of God’s character.  His love and justice seem on opposite ends of a spectrum until they convene around His fatherhood.  Ask most Christians to describe God and their relationship with Him – you’re likely to hear “almighty”, “omniscient” and “follower”, “worshipper”.  All of those carry some truth, but anything other than Father” and “child” inserts a wedge between God and His children.  Christian leaders typically speak in more general terms about God’s love so churchgoers miss its fatherly context.  We’re left to wonder whether the lack of emphasis on God’s fatherhood relates at all to the reasons why other religions add access layers between mankind and God.

Overplaying hierarchy within churches rather than empowering disciples encourages approaching “fathers” rather than the “Father” for guidance.  Discipleship passes down responsibility to individuals to study, learn and teach others about Jesus.  Recognition that all Christians regardless of the religious label thrust upon them are not “fathers” but children of the one true Father is a more biblical church growth model.  Jesus bucked attempts by the religious establishment to erect walls impeding direct relationships with His Father.  He continues to resist efforts to make church about pastors, buildings and a weekly event – “pray, pay and stay out of the way”.  Like the Father in the prodigal son parable, Jesus welcomed with open arms all who bypassed relational roadblocks and ran straight to Him, like little children.

Churches focusing too heavily on growing congregations and not disciples divert attention away from the Father.  They can inadvertently encourage members to make the church, pastor or fellowship their first love.  The first love for most children is a dad and mom.  When we are born, dad is our protector and provider, exactly what God is as our Father when we are reborn.  Revelation 2 warned the Church at Ephesus and churches today to put nothing or no one between the “first love” of a Father and His children.

Reestablishing God’s Love as the Gold Standard

Church is culture’s only defense, but we’ve let our guard down.  It’s clear to most pastors and ministry leaders, particularly those who work with troubled youth, that fatherhood determines the course of culture.  Crime, poverty and education are highly correlated to the presence and involvement of dads.  Churches have an opportunity to introduce communities filled with the fatherless (who therefore have no idea what true love looks like) to the most loving Father they could ever have.  Yet many don’t speak or teach about God in those terms, nor do they actively demonstrate the Father’s love to a waiting, watching world.

Understanding, acting out and presenting God as a loving Father would change nearly every aspect of how we “do” church in America today…

  1. TEACHING – Explain all facets of God’s character and actions, both in people’s lives and in Scripture, in terms of the fatherly framework Jesus modeled for viewing our relationship with Him.  Give all glory to the Father, refusing to accept parental status.
  2. MERCY – Reflect the love of our Father in how He would manage His house, like accountability for obedience but grace for repentance.  Follow the Father’s lead outside the church as well, choosing love over condemnation and mercy over self-righteousness.
  3. HOPE – Churches prove they worship a loving Father, the only hope for spiritual orphans and a fraying social fabric, when they participate in bringing His Kingdom to earth as the Lord’s prayer prescribes (e.g. offering daily bread, forgiveness, and delivery from evil).
  4. COMPASSION – Act as only a Father would, who loves His children even when no one else will, no matter how unattractive or impoverished they may be.  Look past exteriors to show those who feel unworthy of love that our Father would welcome them home.
  5. FAITH – Speak out as boldly for our Father as we would for our dad if he were being maligned.  What society hears from Christians today is not children who love a Father, but a special interest group defending its morals, churches, religion, rights and privileges.
  6. MISSION – We fulfill our identity as the Father’s children by making disciples through His Holy Spirit.  Bringing people into life-changing relationships with our Father is how we carry on the family’s generations and work, our Great Calling and Great Commission.
  7. UNITY – We bond as sons and daugthers of the same Father, not just as members of the same church or life group.  Cliques form within churches and across the body of Christ because leaders don’t emphasize enough that God is a Father and we are all His children.

Until churches shift the paradigm – embracing and conveying God as a Father – the world will continue to reject His love in favor of “loves” of their own conception and convenience.

It’s Your Turn…

Please share other ideas for how churches can help steer society back toward the concept of God as Father to help them better understand His love…

The Essence & Entirety of the Father’s Character

Sep 16, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 2 (of 3)

Any plot to eradicate Christianity must involve a single, crucial step.  Restricting freedom of worship won’t work.  Persecution always backfires.  Exerting pressure may weed out cultural Christians but strengthens the resolve of true disciples.  All that’s needed is to redefine “love.  Simply shift social consciousness from the word’s source and foundation – the unconditional love of our heavenly Father.  Associate sharing the Gospel with “imposing” beliefs.  Equate moral standards with intolerance.  Attribute natural disasters and childhood cancer to God.  Lavish praise on heroes for cleaning up the mess – disaster relief and miraculous healings.  Brand the exclusivity of Jesus bigotry.  Label speaking His name in public (spiritual) harassment   Credit secular activists with rescuing innocent victims from Christian “extremists”.

Any counter offensive must involve a return of the word to its rightful owner – and repentance for enabling its abduction.  However, the world is not likely to relinquish its hold on a term with such tremendous power.  In the name of love, any lifestyle or personal choice is shielded from criticism.  Politicians purchase votes.  Media condemns non-conformance.  Corporations generate profits.  Thankfully, those powers are no match for Jesus, who reassures us, “…take heart! I have overcome the world.”  And it was Jesus who modeled a framework for understanding the nature and context of love in its intended, purest form – that of a perfect Father.  Failure to follow our Savior’s lead, to understand and convey that image of His Father’s character, has led to rampant misconceptions of who God – and what love – is.

The Essence and Entirety of the Father’s Character

Anyone who comes to Christ becomes a child of the ultimate Father.  Viewing God’s love in light of how a fantastic dad loves his children reminds us that nothing can separate us from His love.  Adults who had a good dad look back in their childhoods and know he loved them even when he gave them the freedom to fail, when he occasionally let them suffer consequences of mistakes, or when he disciplined them for doing wrong.  We retrospectively judge dads based on how they treated us, how they made us feel, how much time they spent with us, and how they helped us grow up – not what they did or didn’t give us.  Yet many avowed atheists rejected Christianity and former Christians “deconstructed” because God didn’t do something they wanted or allowed them to endure hardship when they were younger.  If we realized God is a loving Father, we wouldn’t be so quick to discount or dismiss Him when things don’t go our way.  Instead, we would live more like a faithful child, thankful for the Father’s provision and guidance through good times and bad.

Every aspect of God’s character is contained within the framework of God as our loving Father.  We understand that all His attributes fall under the umbrella of love only when we see Him as a Father.  Many argue that God is not just a God of love, but also of holiness and justice – viewing each component as independent.  Their point is that accepting the Bible’s contention that “God is love” conveniently ignores His intolerance of sin to appease a society demanding tolerance.  However, when viewed through the prism of fatherhood, we acquiesce to the truth of Scripture – that God’s patience, goodness and mercy as well as His justice, anger and discipline are entirely wrapped up in His role as a loving Father.  Yes, He is fiercely protective of His children – but isn’t that true of any great dad?  Yes, He punishes his children when they disobey – but isn’t that true of any great dad?  Yet non-believers shun God and pastors focus on the New Testament because they do not associate God’s “intolerant” actions in the Old Testament with fatherly inclinations.  They are more accepting of Jesus than His Father, not grasping that They are One, meaning Jesus is completely consistent with every facet of His Father’s nature – all of which are encapsulated in His love.  We can’t forget that it was the Father who sent His Son Jesus to rescue His children.

An important disclaimer is not to view God through the lens of our earthly dads.  Some of us had difficult experiences with our dads that cloud our image of a flawless Father.  Dads are not fair representations of who God is or role models for how God should be.  His ways are not our ways.  The Lord operates in a realm we cannot fathom so we cannot project onto God our feelings, expectations or standards related to our dads.  How can we pass judgment on God for His decisions when we can’t comprehend His omniscient and omnipotent perspective?  His understanding of what needs to happen for the most good to be done for the most people far exceeds our own.  What we do so imperfectly and temporally as dads for the good of our kids, the Lord does perfectly and eternally on a global scale for all His children.

The Many Ways We’re Children of a Heavenly Father

Correlating God’s love to that of an amazing dad explains and illuminates so much about how the Lord feels about us and how we should relate to Him.  God is fatherly in his approach toward those who follow His Son’s lead of being a faithful child.  Kids with great dads, like children of a heavenly Father, experience unconditional love, confident in the knowledge that they…

  1. …have a special place in the family (1 Peter 2:9) – A child from different household doesn’t call a friend’s parent “dad”. Youth today search aimlessly for a sense of belonging, finding acceptance from other spiritual orphans rather than in the waiting arms of a Father.
  2. …can always come home (Luke 15:17-24) – Jesus tells the prodigal son parable to reassure us that no matter how badly we mess up, it’s never too late to repent and return to the Father with full privileges as His child.
  3. …are part of something far bigger than themselves (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) – God loves the whole world, but only Christians have dual citizenship in a democracy and a Kingdom, brothers and sisters of the same Father.
  4. …are heirs (Romans 8:17) – Children inherit a dad’s wealth and our Father is a King who owns the cattle on 1,000 hills so all He has is ours, including eternal life.
  5. …understand where they came from (Genesis 1:27) – Most of us know who our dad is, just as we all inherently know who created us because we carry God’s image, even “atheists”.
  6. …are completely dependent (Matthew 18:3) – Infants are helpless and Scripture tells us we must enter the Kingdom as little children of our Father, humble and poor in spirit.  Governments and businesses try to divert that dependence for power and profit.
  7. …never want to disappoint their dad (Matthew 25:21) – The worst words a dutiful son can ever hear from dad are “I’m disappointed in you” as opposed to the Father’s words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
  8. …want to make dad proud (Isaiah 49:8) – Some grown-ups still seek approval from a dad they could never please whereas God’s acceptance hinges simply on restoration of our broken relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus.
  9. …appreciate advice from dad (2 Timothy 3:16) – Since God is our Father, the Bible is His words of wisdom spoken directly to you as His child, bringing back fond memories of a life-changing conversation with dad when you were young.
  10. …have rules to follow (Matthew 22:37-38) – At someone’s house, it’s “their roof, their rules”.  We’re living in a world God created so if we’re legitimate children then we are subject to His laws, including Jesus’ example and commandment to love His Father.
  11. …may disobey but can be forgiven (Romans 8:32-39) – Nothing can separate us from the love of our Father just as breaking a dad’s rules does not sever that relationship.
  12. …will face discipline (Proverbs 3:12) – A loving dad punishes to teach valuable lessons, not as retribution, which is the same spirit in which our Father corrects His children.
  13. …will be provided for (Acts 14:17) – Consider replacing the distant “God as Owner, you as steward” generosity mandate with a loving “God as Father, you as child” paradigm.
  14. …can implicitly trust dad (Proverbs 3:5-6) – Knowing a caring dad would never intentionally harm his children illustrates how our Father ultimately wants what’s best for us regardless of our current circumstances.
  15. …can count on dad to always be there (1 Corinthians 6:19) – Picture the Holy Spirit as a houseguest we often rudely ignore.  If you had a devoted dad during your childhood and he is your houseguest, could you imagine hardly spending any time with him?
  16. …will get bailed out if they’re in real trouble (Luke 1:67-79) – A dad rescues his child from life-threatening situations just as our Father sacrificed to save us from ourselves.
  17. …occupy a subordinate place in the pecking order (John 3:30) – Childlike faith in a dad looks up to him with a reverence that everyone should direct toward their Holy Father.
  18. …imitate their dad (John 15:4) – As we walk in the footsteps of our dads, even more so should we abide in the loving guidance of our Father and follow the path of His Son.
  19. …love what dad loves (John 13:34-35) – Children share dad’s interests.  Discipleship reveals our Father’s interests, like serving the poor and urging reconciliation with Him.
  20. …teach others what dad taught them (Matthew 28:18-20) – We pass along lessons learned from dad and also have an opportunity to lead others toward our eternal Father.
  21. …defend the family’s honor and good name (1 Peter 3:15) – A child gets upset when people speak ill of dad, so when non-believers disparage God we need to be prepared to show how He is a wonderful Father.
  22. …look forward to seeing dad (Philippians 1:21-23) – The excitement about dad getting home after a long trip should reflect how we feel about one day seeing our Father in Heaven.

We may not have a solid relationship with our dads – and possibly never will.  If we don’t have a relationship with our heavenly Father during this life, we can be certain we will not have one with Him after our death.  However, if we understand our intended role as God’s children, we will see Him in His true, fatherly light and follow Him faithfully now and forever.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll unpack how Christians and churches have contributed to the world’s redefinitions of “love” by not adequately couching and conveying God’s love as that of a Father.  Please share any additional thoughts about how Christians could steer society back toward a Father whose love far surpasses any lesser “loves” we may pursue.

The Abducted Word Behind Post-Christian America

Sep 02, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 (of 3)

God is love.  Because love is often misunderstood, so is God.  There are powerful incentives on this side of heaven for misinterpreting and miscommunicating the intended meaning of “love”.  Decoupling the word from its source removes constraints around the most compelling concept God ever designed.  Usurping ownership of “love” and the right to redefine it frees mankind to leverage the ultimate others-centered term for self-centered purposes.  In the name of “love” (and often in the name of “god”), governments manipulate and control entire populations.  Leaders compel conformance by conspiring with media to turn public opinion against those not “loving” enough to comply with edicts deemed to be in the nation’s “best interest”.  With no reference point back to its Originator, activists invoke their conceptions of “love” to move culture in directions that suit their personal interests.  For example, our society today conflates love with tolerance, disingenuously applauding others for the passionate pursuit of pleasure to justify their own indulgence.

Those who don’t know Jesus as Savior struggle to grasp love’s true meaning because Jesus is its greatest ambassador and example.  Some look elsewhere for role models, deferring to whatever celebrities, teachers and politicians consider “loving” (as if love were relativistic and not an absolute).  Others wonder, “how could a loving God allow bad things to happen to good people?”, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of who God is and who humans are.  Questioning God’s goodness and presuming man’s goodness implies love came from us and not Him.  Likewise, dig deep into an avowed atheist’s or agnostic’s past and you’re apt to find they once believed in God but rejected Him out of disappointment that (at some point) He didn’t do what they wanted or did something they didn’t want.  In other words, they thought they knew God but didn’t have a proper frame of reference for understanding His love.  Since God is love, it turns out they didn’t know Him at all.

Even in some Christian circles, God’s love has been taken out of its biblical context, calling into question how well many believers actually know God

  • A recent study found that 60% of professed “born-again” Christians between 18 and 39 no longer believe a loving God would provide only one path to eternal life
  • A pervasive message dominating Christian media airwaves and American pulpits rewrites John 3:16 to say God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to give us an abundant, fulfilling life
  • A prevailing view of “faith” today is a firm belief that God’s love guarantees a particular outcome; however, Jesus modeled expressing a preference yet deferring to the Lord’s will no matter what it entails
  • Many well-known pastors have succumbed to social pressure, deemphasizing the Old Testament for fear God wasn’t politically correct enough then for today’s PC culture
  • We frequently speak of how “blessed” (code for loved) people are based on how many good things happen to them
  • Contemporary Christian songs seem to require somewhere in the lyrics a reference to how our (loving) God will rescue us in this life from “storms”, “valleys” or “chains”

Perhaps churchgoers have heard popular passages about love so many times they’ve become desensitized, losing sight of the full context of God’s love.  Some facets of His character are less palatable to consumers, but every dimension is rooted and grounded in His love.  Common misapplications of verses like Romans 8:28 and Jeremiah 29:11 imply a linkage between God’s love and expectations that He will give us our heart’s desires and keep us from harm.  But His love isn’t diminished when the Lord does whatever is necessary (from His eternal, omniscient perspective) to bring us closer to Him and lead people to Jesus.  Nor was Christ’s love for His disciples compromised when they suffered and died martyr’s deaths.

The Old Testament prophet Malachi stressed that Jesus was coming because so few on earth, even in Israel, knew who God was.  The next book in the Bible, Matthew, set that record straight – leaving no doubt that every aspect of God’s nature, encapsulated in Jesus, is about love.  Today, as the world’s definitions of love infiltrate churches and many Christians lose touch with who God is, the day of the Lord’s next and final intervention (the return of Jesus), draws nearer.  Before that second advent, we pray as many people as possible come to know the love of Jesus intimately.  Toward that end, believers and non-believers alike need a framework for better understanding and communicating about God’s love to stem the tide of secularization in our nation.  The Old and New Testaments repeatedly give us that framework, but somehow many of us didn’t get the memo.  As result, some have left the faith while others have been led astray within the faith.

Couching Love in the Context Jesus Modeled

As a disclaimer and preface, no example or picture of God’s love can enable us to comprehend or live out the Great Commandment except by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Having said that, the Holy Spirit implores us to experience that love by seeing God as Jesus saw Him – as a Father.  Not only that, but the Spirit urges us to see ourselves as our Father sees us – as His children.  The spiritual identity crisis faced by all human beings can only be resolved by becoming a child of an infallible, infinitely loving Father.  That transformative sense of belonging completely alters how we treat others, how we react to circumstances, how we respond to opportunities, and how we make difficult decisions.

Jesus showed us what it means to live with absolute assurance that His Father is almighty God, the maker of Heaven and earth.  Jesus modeled what we should emulate – a love commensurate with a level of faith only possible in a Father who can be completely trusted because He is unaffected by worldly worries, fears and temptations.  In every way, Jesus was clearly His Father’s Son – in prioritizing prayer above all else to spend time with His Father, in His imitation of all facets of His Father’s character, and in reflecting His Father’s mercy on all those humble enough to identify as a child (rather than a father figure).  To remove any doubt, Jesus almost always referred to God as His Father and welcomed being called His Son.  He was unflinchingly secure in His identity, boasting only in His Father and position as His Child.  Jesus went so far as to issue a dire warning to follow His lead – “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. (Matthew 18:3)

Picturing God as He truly is (our Father) and us as we truly are (His children) serves as guardrails, inhibiting misuse of the term “love” and keeping worldly definitions from invading the Church’s vernacular.  It also gives Christians a context for sharing about God’s love that will resonate with non-believers.  We might as well be speaking Greek trying to explain the difference between Agape (unconditional), Eros (sexual) and Phileo (brotherly) forms of love.  However, if non-believers consider the lengths an exceptional dad would go to to defend and protect his children, the inextricable linkage between our Father and Agape love would become imminently clear.  It was that purest form of (fatherly) love, not cruelty (as many non-Christians assume), that led God repeatedly to discipline Israel and rebuff its enemies.  In addition, if the world saw God as a Father who loves us enough to pay the highest price to spend eternity with Him, they would be less inclined to dismiss Him as distant or callous for “allowing” disease and disasters.  Without that fatherly frame of reference, modern society is applying untethered definitions of “love” to rationalize repudiating Christianity by labeling God as intolerant or harsh by their standards.

Until people know Jesus as Savior and God as Father, they remain spiritual orphans.  An earthly dad cannot substitute for a heavenly Father.  Feeble attempts to fill the “Father-shaped hole” end in what we’re witnessing today – rising rates of drug addiction, anti-depressant usage and suicide.  America’s fastest growing religion, Selfism, inflates a fragile identity bubble around our nation’s youth that eventually pops because conditional self-love can never replace the unconditional love of a Father.  Statistics estimate 85% of incarcerated youth come from fatherless homes.  My fear is a larger percentage of Fatherless youth are imprisoned in sin and hopelessness.  Personally, when my mom chose alcohol and prescription drugs over her children when I was 13, I counted on my dad to save the day only to realize I’d stepped “out of the frying pan and into the fire”.  But divine providence soon led me to a Father who would never let me down and the rest – praise the Lord – is history.

It’s Your Turn…

In the next post we’ll delve into the many ways seeing God as our Father sheds light on the nature and depth of His love.  Please share how adopting a Father/child perspective has impacted your relationship with the Lord and helped you share Christ with others.

Proving Your Church Worships the Creator

Aug 19, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

Christians prove they personally know the one true God only when they undergo a transformation reflecting that life-altering, seemingly unimaginable possibility.  Likewise, churches persuade non-believers that they know the infinite Creator only when they reflect that miraculous reality by taking an “otherworldly” approach to conducting their affairs.

Unchurched observers aren’t convinced anything supernatural is going on inside of churches whose principles and practices look much like what people see within their personal social circles and workplaces.  The foundations for the belief systems of churches (Spirit) and the world (flesh) are diametrically opposed, so when efforts to attract and accommodate non-believers blur those lines, society doubts our connection to the Divine.

It’s even conceivable that atheists secretly or subconsciously once wished churches operated atypically to provide a ray of hope, an alternative to the emptiness of a life about power, position and possessions.  Attempts to conform church to cultural norms has dissuaded many from seeking answers there because they ironically, inadvertently became too indistinguishable to clearly convey His image.  According to surveys, the primary difference the unchurched notice between Christian and secular organizations is in their criticism of culture.  Conformance nor criticism provide the path to standing out from the crowd in ways that prove we worship the one true Lord and Savior.

Society Would Believe Churches Worship the Creator If…

Our nation would stop drifting from the Lord and gravitate toward Christ if churches had less in common with secular organizations that people encounter every day.  Persuading the world that churches know the promised Messiah who offers forgiveness, reconciliation and salvation would require looking as different as Jesus did.  For example…

  1. If the love churchgoers had for one another exceeded what people saw anywhere else – Scripture says people will recognize Jesus’ disciples by the love they share.  Yes, prevailing definitions of “love” diminish society’s ability to distinguish our love from theirs, but church splits and factions over tradition, leadership, doctrine and even vaccines are apparent to those outside our “4 walls”.
  2. If the metrics churches used to measure success looked nothing like those businesses track – Revenues, headcount and footprint are corporate terms that unfortunately correspond to the primary ways pastors gauge progress – nickels, noses and (multi) sites.  Income, employment and expansion should be byproducts of discipleship, evangelism and compassion – not worldly goals that fuel cynicism about the Church.
  3. If church planters didn’t follow the typical entrepreneurial lifecycle – Companies begin with a mission and engage the community to understand local needs.  That outward focus leads to growth, which spurs a transition to managing and retaining those customers.  Once the entrepreneur has something to lose, turning attention inward can take their eyes off the initial mission, evolving needs, and community engagement.  Sound familiar?
  4. If church leaders stopped treating members like customers – Equipping and multiplying disciples is a longer yet far more certain and biblical path to church growth.  Becoming and making disciples is also more time-consuming than busy, cultural Christians are willing to endure.  So churches invest the vast majority of their resources into providing what Americans enjoy – exciting, educational yet not too challenging “fast food” experiences.
  5. If churches didn’t outsource critical functions like compassion to government, charities and ministries – When corporations outsource manufacturing or customer service overseas to underpaid workers in undemocratic nations it angers Americans concerned about jobs and justice.  Americans also notice that churches have outsourced costly compassion to other organizations for similar reasons – to focus on more engaging, lucrative activities.
  6. If denominations were more united than the world around them – Churches should be an oasis, offering a respite from this highly divisive period in our nation’s history.  If our God were big enough to overshadow our stark differences, non-believers would certainly take notice.  If churches collaborated frequently to move the needle on real social issues (e.g. grade level literacy), they would bridge the sacred/secular divide that defines our culture.
  7. If churches were less political than today’s average citizen or corporation – Most churches find themselves on either end of the Politically Correct or Politically Incorrect spectrum…rarely in the middle.  Both extremes repel large swaths of people, providing progressives with ample examples of churches that arrogantly condemn and conservatives with ammo against churches that cave to convention.
  8. If churches were more forthright than post-modern society about the depravity of all humans, including members – The culture war raging in our nation is centered around one fundamental disagreement…whether human nature is inherently good or bad.  Media drives home the message that every individual is a demi-god while mocking Christians for presumably thinking they’re better than everyone else.
  9. If Christians presented absolute truth with greater abandon than our relativistic culture – Churches can be just as guilty of “living my own truth” when they are selective about what they teach from God’s Word.  Scripture doesn’t leave a tremendous amount of room for omission or interpretation, yet most pastors tend to underemphasize Jesus’ less palatable commands like serving the poor, making disciples, and truly repenting of sin.
  10. If churches were more welcoming but less accommodating than the average social club – Country clubs are exclusive, but then go over the top to cater to those who make the cut.  Places of worship should be holy, designed for those who worship Jesus, and should rally the congregation to meet the needs of other members.  However, churches must be demanding, not offering “cheap grace” (simply attending, joining, and tithing), but challenging members to bear the costs of discipleship rather than outsourcing those responsibilities to pastors.
  11. If churches trusted God enough not to plan and program as meticulously as businesses – Many of the Nones and Dones once attended church regularly but are firm in their resolve never to return because they see it as no different than any other human institution.  They waited for years to witness the inexplicable but instead discovered only carefully scripted choreography of music, sermons and programming behind the curtain.
  12. If we were less anxious than society to return to “normal” post-pandemic – A world clamoring for safety and security watched to see how churches and Christians responded to adversity.  The Church’s impact, influence, growth and public perception were suffering before COVID-19, so society believes it must be desperation to avoid bankruptcy (much like retailers) driving them to want to get back to a “business as usual” that wasn’t working.
  13. If churches were less transactional than our promotional, short attention span culture – Events, commercials, sound bites and Tweets resonate with Americans.  In an attempt to navigate society’s attention deficit, we’ve not only compacted worship services but church activities and outreach as well.  Since poverty is about broken relationships, our seasonal community service events actually do more harm than good, producing dependency, cynicism and shame in those unable to make ends meet.
  14. If churches did a better job than other organizations of responsibly utilizing their capacity – Investors and consumers reward companies for maximizing utilization of their facilities.  Yet churches possess a tremendous amount of square footage that sits largely idle most days of the week.  That waste of space which could be leveraged to serve and engage the community year-round is akin to a wealthy family who rarely visits a second home.
  15. If church leaders and business leaders took a less self-interested view of one another – Many walk away from church with a bad taste in their mouths due to underutilization of their skills.  They hoped to make a significant impact in the lives of others yet felt taken advantage of doing “church chores” beneath their capabilities.  Rather than equipping members for Kingdom work in their circles of influence, members were encouraged to abdicate ministry roles by inviting friends to come to church to hear from “professionals”.

The body of Christ should bear little resemblance to man-made constructs.  Our philosophies, purposes and priorities should be radically transformed because an omniscient, omnipotent God is guiding our every move.  To the naked eye, it’s hard to believe pews are filled with people possessed with power from an indwelling Holy Spirit if we operate much like for-profit organizations.  We’re responsible for miscommunicating the truth of who God is if we compromise to conform to the world’s image rather than His.

It’s Your Turn

How can churches offer a shining alternative to culture by differentiating in ways that reflect the truth about the love and grace of almighty God?

Proving Christians Actually Know God

Aug 05, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Christians anxiously await the return of Jesus.  But none want to hasten the next advent by repeating what prompted the Lord’s first two earth-shattering interventions.  Malachi, the book immediately preceding the New Testament, reveals that it was mankind’s ignorance of who God is that led to Christ’s first advent.  Jesus cleared up the confusion that had gradually pervaded all of humanity since the flood, even among God’s chosen people, about His true nature.

No one knows the Lord’s timing but seeing how rapidly our world is turning from Him, it would not be surprising if the second coming happens on our watch.  If so and if history is any guide, then many of those who profess to know Jesus intimately will discover they have been either misrepresenting or misunderstanding who He is.

Although non-believers don’t worship Jesus, they observe Christians and churches to see if our actions and behaviors align with what they have heard of Jesus and what they imagine an infinite Creator would be like.  Even avowed atheists and agnostics have a conception of who God, if He existed, would be.  Many rejected Christianity at least in part because their conclusion (based on our misalignment with their expectations) is that we must not know God.

If There Really Were a God, Then…

Persuading the world that Jesus is Lord is largely contingent on Christians living as if we truly believed God is as loving, omniscient, omnipotent, and holy as non-believers would envision Him to be.

  1. If there really were a God, His interests would supersede ours – The will of a God capable of speaking the universe into existence would be much more important than the desires of those who follow Him.  Our indebtedness to a God so loving that He forgives all our offenses by paying our penalty Himself would be so overwhelming that we would pursue only His glory, not our own.  Instead, studies show non-believers don’t feel Christians are less self-interested than their non-Christian neighbors and coworkers.
  2. If there really were a God, we would seek to please Him at all costs – Our thankfulness for the generosity of an unconditionally loving Savior would convince Christians to forego creature comforts to serve Him and sacrifice popularity to lead people toward Him.  However, churchgoers are generally reserved about vocalizing their beliefs in social and professional settings, careful not to offend anyone, content to be kind and well-liked by only bringing up “religion” if someone asks.
  3. If there really were a God, Heaven and Hell, we would be active in sharing our faith – Ironically, although our culture say it is wrong to push personal faith on others, the fact that few Christians do convinces them we don’t actually buy what we’re (not) selling.  If we fully grasped the gravity of eternal life or damnation, it would heighten our sense of urgency to share the Gospel, not just our views on politics and morality, with friends and family.
  4. If there really were a God, He would be perfect but merciful toward those who aren’t – A holy, almighty God would have a standard of performance and perfection that humans could not possibly attain.  Non-Christians cannot fathom how an omniscient God who sees the whole person, not just their sin, could be as judgmental as many of His followers appear to be.  And if Jesus had no sin, they know we have even less reason to be judgmental.  So they assume there is no God, and therefore no standard against which to disprove their presumed “goodness”, obviating their need for Jesus.
  5. If there really were a God, Christians would love everyone, including one another – Existence of an everlasting God would mean humans have an everlasting soul.  Non-Christians wonder why Christ-followers focus so much on outward words and actions when they preach that those who don’t know Jesus are (inwardly) lost souls made in God’s image.  Even more so, they watch the body of Christ divide over what appears to be petty disagreements as if our God wasn’t big enough to be worth uniting around a common mission.
  6. If there really were a God, we would know more about His Word – If the Bible were truly words spoken by the Creator directly to us (which it is) then how can Christians know so few Bible verses, read it so infrequently, study it so casually, and be unable to adeptly defend its authenticity?  Our biblical illiteracy has caused countless people to doubt our faith and turn elsewhere (e.g. to professors, politicians and the Internet) for “truth”.
  7. If there really were a God, Christians would cling relentlessly to their beliefs – Non-believers enjoy tempting Christians to join the crowd in doing wrong, hoping we’ll give in, but secretly they admire us and are attracted to Christianity when we refuse to relent.  When Christians change their viewpoints, adopt worldly perspectives and compromise biblical truths, society breathes a sigh of relief, now having validation that the beliefs we once held must not have been true.
  8. If there really were a God, He would not adapt to suit our preferences – Although modern society says Christianity has failed to keep up with the times, deep down non-believers know that a God powerful enough to form the cosmos would not evolve with the vagaries of culture.  So when they see Christians and churches influenced by culture more than they influence culture, it doesn’t pull them toward faith but pushes them away.
  9. If there really were a God, He would care deeply about poverty and justice – Although non-Christians deny that Jesus was God, nearly all agree that He was caring and compassionate.  They also question whether there can be a loving God if so many bad things happen to “good” people.  A God they would consider worshipping would have a keen sense of fairness and heart for those less fortunate.  They see those qualities in Jesus but not always in Christians, who too often fail to live and love like Him.
  10. If there really were a God, we would trust Him for our provision – Christians claim the Lord of all has a plan for our lives and far greater insight about the future.  Yet when challenges like a pandemic come, society sees most take matters into their own hands, choosing self-preservation over self-sacrifice for others.  We cite Scripture promising the Lord will give us all we need in this life and hope for the next one, but non-believers dismiss our faith when Christians insert their own plans in place of God’s.

None of those principles are about conforming to culture’s expectations of who God should be but aligning ourselves with the Lord’s expectations of His children.  What we say and do as Christians reflect and exhibit characteristics of God that are either true or not true of Him.  If we do not live in accordance with who God truly is, which Jesus modeled in the flesh, then we prove we do not actually know God and inhibit others from coming to know Him as well.

It’s Your Turn

Which of those 10 do you find most challenging?  How have contemporary church growth models contributed to the growing perception in America that God must not be real if most Christians are so casual about their faith? (the subject of our next blog post)

The More Important Election Few Are Talking About

Sep 21, 16
JMorgan
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one comments

Sign at Boston Immigration rally

“Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.’” (Matthew 20:25-26)

Our high officials occupying and seeking the White House are Gentiles – non-believers.  As Christians, our job is not to imitate them.  Nor should we worry about what they’ve done – or will do.  We can only control what we do.  We are called to action.  Our energy should be directed more toward who ends up in God’s House than in the White House.  Jesus asks us to follow His example – that of a humble servant.  “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

How can you become that kind of servant?  How can you show that your home is not on Earth but in Heaven?  How can you cast a vote that will last far longer than the next 4 years?

By election day, NOVEMBER 8th

  • Perform a simple act of service for someone you know or a perfect stranger in the name of Jesus.
  • Share your story on your Facebook or Twitter page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote or #VoteForEternity2016.
  • Directly challenge 3 of your friends on Facebook or Twitter to “pay it forward”.

YOU are the Church

The Church is the living, breathing body of Christ.  The congregation comprises that body.  Each of us is an important body part.

Church is not a “what” – a place.  It’s a “who” – yes, YOU.  The Church’s power is in the vast number and diverse giftings in the body – fueled by the Holy Spirit.  For centuries, those countless parts of Christ’s body recognized their individual roles in expanding the Kingdom – and created an unstoppable, irresistible movement.

So why isn’t Christianity growing in America today?  The explanation we’ve put forward in this blog series is that most members and attenders no longer see…

  • …themselves as the Church personified.
  • …how they weaken the overall body if they don’t carry out their intended functions.
  • …the need to carefully evaluate their giftings and apply them to ministry outside of their church.
  • …their position in their church as important as the pastor’s.
  • …the community as their “customer”, as Jesus did.
  • …a sense of urgency around their role in bringing the lost to Christ.
  • …the Great Commission as an obligation rather than an option.

Because the individual parts aren’t fulfilling their respective roles in the body, the Church today isn’t healthy.  Your toe may be a small fraction of your total mass, but when it breaks your whole body suffers.  In the case of the Church, few parts are functioning as well as they should at their most urgent responsibility between Sundays – the Great Commission.

Imagine if the early Church hadn’t aggressively “gone out” and made disciples?  What if Christ-followers had relied primarily on pastors to evangelize and educate new believers?  Yet that’s where most of us stop today – at extending invitations to church.  What if the early churchgoers had stayed among themselves – rarely venturing out into Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria to pursue non-believers?  What if they hadn’t followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love and compassion before telling them who He is?  The fact that believers took the Great Commission so seriously was a major reason behind the Church’s explosive growth during its first 1900 years.

How few would be in Heaven if Christians throughout history had seen Church as a place, not as themselves?  Yet my fear is that’s how most churchgoers view Church today.

All Hands on Deck

Jesus, His disciples, and churches for centuries treated the community as its target audience – its “customer”.   For us, the collective Church, to function effectively all parts must work together to pursue our intended “customer”.

In management consulting, we saw countless examples of departments not working in a company’s best interests:

  • Sales – not adequately motivated to convert new customers
  • Marketing – targeting the wrong (i.e. least profitable) customers
  • Operations – processes designed around the needs of internal departments and not of customers
  • R&D – product innovation not keeping up with evolving customer needs
  • Finance – not investing adequately in the optimal customers or products

No company can succeed unless all the departments are adequately staffed and aligned around the interests of its best customers.  What the Bible says about churches is no different.  An entire church – pastors, staff, members, elders, deacons, facilities, etc. – should work together seamlessly to prepare and equip everyone to reach “customers” – those outside its 4 walls.  In this analogy, members are essentially employees, not “customers”.  They are “insiders”, not “outsiders”.

So, how should each part of the body be utilized in this “members ARE the Church, NOT the customer” framework?

  • Members/Regular Attenders – Like Sales, evangelize and serve their true target “customers”, not simply invite them to Sunday morning services.
  • Deacons/Elders – Like Marketing, lead everyone in the church into a deeper relationship with Christ so they can have a greater impact in their spheres of influence.
  • Staff/Administration – Like Operations, yet geared toward equipping and sending disciples, not on keeping the “machine” running.
  • Pastors – Like R&D, cast vision for how to leverage the body to reach more people for Christ.
  • Finance/Facilities – Allocate limited resources to the uses that maximize return on investment – which in Kingdom terms is the # of people who come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

What Body Parts have Atrophied?

1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (TLB); “All of you together are the one body of Christ, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.  Here is a list of some of the parts He has placed in His Church, which is His body:

  • Apostles,
  • Prophets—those who preach God’s Word,
  • Teachers,
  • Those who do miracles,
  • Those who have the gift of healing,
  • Those who can help others,
  • Those who can get others to work together,
  • Those who speak in languages they have never learned.”

As for those first three, it’s clear that pastors occupy the lead role within a church.  However, the remaining parts of the body listed could be any one of us – while inside or outside the building.  We are the hands and feet of Christ, yet too few of us are stretching and working out our muscles – so they’ve atrophied.  Unless we exercise the body part we represent, both in how we serve others within our church and out in the community, the overall body becomes weaker.  Unless pastors are willing to risk rocking the boat by challenging members to be stronger body parts, churches will continue to atrophy in size, impact and influence.

What body parts are underutilized today?  Are there any we are overusing?  Have we invented some parts that God did not even intend for churches to have?

How Can You Rebuild Those Muscles?

Come to the stark realization that you are the embodiment of Church!  Understand just how critical of a role you play once you leave the church building.  To be most effective as the Church personified, follow Jesus’ model of demonstrating His love to people and then telling them who He is.

We are asking 1 million Christians across the nation to Cast An Eternal Vote (#CastAnEternalVote) before Election Day, November 8th.  Please share your stories with us!  And don’t forget to challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16 (#VoteforEternity2016)!

3 Keys to Winning the Culture War

Sep 14, 16
JMorgan
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2 comments

Iowa City, United States- February 1, 2016: Heavy turnout for the 2016 Democratic Iowa Caucus in Precinct 14 at Mark Twain Elementary School in Iowa City, Iowa with relatively mild for a January Iowa night.

This is not our home.  We should be concerned about the here and now, but not worried.  The Lord has a plan and Hillary nor Donald have any power to alter it.  You and I can’t change God’s will either, but what we can do is help bring as many people as possible with us to our eternal home – in heaven.

Many participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge because they knew someone with ALS.  Others are doing 22 pushups today because they know a veteran with PTSD.  Every one of us has a neighbor, coworker, friend or family member who doesn’t know Jesus.  Isn’t the plight of those lost without Christ far worse than those who suffer from ALS or PTSD?

We only get one vote for President but we can cast countless eternal votes for those we encounter each and every day.  We have far greater ability to impact who’s in God’s House than who’s in the White House.

When you live out Matthew 20:16-28, serving others in Jesus’ name, you’re casting a vote that will endure forever – not just the next 4 years.

To #CastAnEternalVote by election day, November 8th:

  • Perform a simple act of service for someone you know or a perfect stranger in the name of Jesus
  • Tell us your story on our Facebook or Twitter page with the hashtag #CastAnEternalVote or #VoteForEternity2016
  • Directly challenge 3 of your friends on social media to “pay it forward”

Why You Shouldn’t Abstain from Voting

I recently attended my third gathering of Christian leaders from across the U.S. to strategize about ways to reverse the course in America away from Biblical values.  Once again the overwhelming consensus was that the answer lies in Christians recapturing control of the 7 Mountains (government, media, religion, education, entertainment, family and business)In other words, they believe a louder megaphone is the answer to winning the “culture war”.  They are deeply concerned that another 4 years without a Christian in the White House will further undermine the Christian values our nation once held dear. 

Christians have bemoaned, campaigned and lobbied vigorously over recent decades – often in tones that come across as angry.  Yet the louder Christians have yelled, the less we’ve been heard.  We’ve lost our voice in America.  The reason is that we haven’t followed Jesus’ model.  We’ve essentially try to “outpreach” Jesus when we espouse our beliefs without demonstrating His love and compassion – something Jesus rarely did.  Being so often heard yet rarely seen has cost Christianity dearly.  The principle is simple – people don’t care what you know until they know we care.  Turning up the volume will only drive the prevailing view of Christians and churches deeper into the ditch.

Just because a Christian occupies a powerful position at the peak of the governmental mountain top will not necessarily amplify our voice.  If not accompanied by a grass-roots movement of mercy, justice and compassion, more decibels may just solidify the opposition’s resistance to our position on social issues.

Are Christians winning the culture war today?  Name a moral issue that the church and Christians haven’t already lost, or appear likely to lose soon.

A Better Weapon to Fight the Culture War

The air war has failed.  Christianity has suffered tremendous collateral damage from years of dropping verbal bombs.

Jesus waged a ground war first of love and service to non-believers, then swooped in to fight an air war with the gospel message once the ground war had sufficiently weakened their resistance.  A ground war requires the right army – prepared, trained and properly motivated for battle – in other words, Powerful Christians.  Passive, Pensive and Private Christians are unfit for active duty.  Only disciples are ready and willing to head to the front lines – of praying, caring and, only then, sharing.

We’re all called to strap on our boots and sling a rifle over our shoulders, ready to get our hands dirty in the ground war of loving service.  People need to know what Christians are for, not what we’re against.  The more we dig our heels in, the less we can connect with them – and the less they can identify with us.

What Will the Battleground Look Like?

Christians and churches face mounting obstacles in the years to come.  Generating meaningful impact, material influence and positive perception will be more difficult as the following trends further unfold:

  • Considering any reference to Biblical perspectives that run counter to what is viewed as socially acceptable to be hate-speak
  • Inability to mention the name of Jesus in public settings, effectively eliminating His name from the “free speech” lexicon (“Jesus“ is the one word I’ve been specifically asked not to mention during a speech I’m giving later today at a public high school)
  • Preventing pastors from expressing opinions from the pulpit that go against court decisions or liberal views on moral issues
  • Requiring Christians to comply with laws that defy Biblical principles
  • “Coming out of the closet” becoming far more applicable to Christians, particularly for kids in schools, requiring courage in the face of the stigma that label now carries with it
  • Shaming of Christians in the media
  • Companies refusing to hire those who do not disavow Biblical views on particular hot-button issues
  • Even physical persecution of Christians will one day occur in America because Muslim population growth and conversion rates will continue to outstrip Christian birth and conversion rates, eventually giving them popular majorities in localities, cities and states

In essence Christians and churches face relegation to a corner, rarely visible in the mainstream, in the not-too-distant future.  Lest you view that as impossible here in the U.S., look at Western Europe where similar internal-focus on the part of churches and social trends led to that same inevitable outcome.

How Can We Win the Culture War?

Christ’s church will prevail.  With increased persecution will likely come greater resolve.  Churches will begin to produce more Powerful Christians.  Lukewarm, on the fence churchgoers won’t persevere when challenges come their way.  Those conditioned for comfort and “consumption” will have some tough decisions to make.  Many passive, pensive and private Christians will run and hide – too afraid to speak or act.  Only true disciples of Jesus Christ will endure the trials by fire – willing to take a stand, refusing to back down when threats to their faith increase.  Only those whose lives are changed can change lives.  The good news is it took just a few disciples of Jesus to reverse the course of history.

Winning the culture war will require:

  1. Redefining “Church” – Seeing ourselves as the church personified and no longer relying on pastors as the “professionals” responsible for bringing non-believers to Christ
  2. Following Jesus’ model – Realizing the importance of linking actions with words
  3. Taking Ground – Masses of Christians infiltrating their spheres of influence with the love and good news of Jesus Christ

A fully trained and effective army that cares and shares could turn the tide of how Christians are viewed in America.  If society begins to see the love of Jesus through the compassion of Christians, a new generation of believers will emerge from the ground up to one day occupy those mountain-top positions.  However, continued efforts to take over the 7 mountains from the top down will further diminish the influence and perception of the church and Christianity, paving the way for the mounting challenges to our faith.

It’s Your Turn…

Cast your eternal vote before Election Day, November 8th and challenge 3 Christ-followers you know to “pay it forward” and Vote For Eternity 20:16!