Tag Archives: Jesus

Giving Wrong Directions to Lost People

Oct 14, 21
JMorgan
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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?

The Essence & Entirety of the Father’s Character

Sep 16, 21
JMorgan
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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)

Why Did Jesus Come When He Did?

Jul 22, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

Scripture points to a pattern of world-changing interventions whenever humanity arrives at a seemingly inevitable, yet intolerable destination – that of no longer knowing, except for a remnant, who God is.  Genesis 6 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time…but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  We all know what happened next.

Eventually the world once again reached the point where nearly everyone was worshipping false gods and idols.  Even God’s chosen people had adopted a distorted image of Him, despite countless demonstrations of His character throughout their history.  Malachi, the final book of the Old Testament and thought to be one of the last written before Jesus’ arrival, portrays Israel as confused and misguided…

  • “’I have loved you’, says the Lord.  But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’” (Malachi 1:2)
  • “’If I am a father, where is the honor due me?  If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “It is you priests who show contempt for my name.  But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’” (Malachi 1:6)
  • “You have wearied the Lord with your words.  ‘How have we wearied him?’ you ask.“ (Malachi 2:17)

Malachi (3:1) prophesied what the Lord’s next extraordinary intervention would be in response to such utter confusion about who God is.  “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.”  By God’s grace, rather than save only a remnant, He chose to make Himself fully known to the world and offer redemption to all mankind.  God in His infinite mercy brought torrents of love rather than water at the incarnation.  Through Jesus, the Father left no room for doubt about exactly who He is.  “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known.” (John 1:18)

Yet like the flood, our Father’s intent to clear up any misconceptions about His character still promised to be a demanding, painful process.  “But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears?  For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:2-3)  Jesus was unreserved in His criticism of the Pharisees who were largely responsible for leading His people astray.  Jesus refuted their self-serving teachings at every turn and put His righteous anger on full display over their misrepresentation of His Father, designed to elevate themselves and condemn others.

Ironically it was often those who the religious leaders condemned most harshly that wound up being the remnant Jesus preserved during God’s second grand intervention.  Malachi (3:16-18) prophesied, “A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.  ‘On the day when I act,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘they will be my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.  And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.’”  Jesus fulfilled Malachi’s prophecy by confirming, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Today, we are left to wonder whether humanity is edging closer to the precipice where once again only a remnant of authentic disciples truly know who God is and recognize how high His expectations are of Christ-followers.  If so, then perhaps the Lord’s next (and final) earth-shattering intervention, the return of Jesus, is not as far off as some imagine.  False religions are proliferating across the globe.  Atheism and agnosticism are on the rise in America and other developed, “educated” nations where faith has turned to human intellect and science.  Cultural Christians no longer subscribe to a holistic picture of God’s character and expectations because it conflicts with their personal view of who God should be and their preferred level of commitment to living out their beliefs.  Most churches fear that challenging “consumers” with the unabridged truth of who God is and the actual costs of following Jesus would send them running for the exits.  Through books, videos and trainings, America then exports its attractional church growth models, teaching pastors how to build viable institutions, not sold-out disciples.

Only the Father knows His timetable, but if history is any guide then we can be certain Jesus’ next advent will once again be difficult for many churchgoers and leaders.  Like the Pharisees, many pastors withhold the “key to knowledge”, a full depiction of God’s demands for repentance, discipleship, accountability, surrender, sanctification and compassion.  Malachi (2:7) recorded God’s disappointment with teachers who selectively conceal truths – “For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth.  But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble.”  In an effort to appease “customers”, churches tend to emphasize God’s love but not His hatred of sin, offering “cheap grace” without expectation of transformation.  According to Malachi (2:17), priests in his day had wearied the Lord “by saying, ‘All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them.’”  When churches today point out sin in society yet do not confront sin within the body, it wearies the Lord and fuels the popular notion that Christians are hypocrites.  That label is accurate to the extent believers choose not to accept what they do not like about God or only obey His commands that suit their lifestyles.

It’s Your Turn

Do you see the connection between the last book in the Old Testament and the first books in the New Testament – Malachi’s disappointment that God’s chosen people no longer knew who He was, and Jesus’ appearance to clear up any misunderstanding?  As our world drifts further from God every year, the day is approaching when Jesus will reappear to set the record straight about His identity and to rescue the remnant of authentic disciples who persevere until that time.

The Hypocrisy of Calling Christians Hypocrites

Jul 08, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

The escalating clash of sacred and secular in America is not only testing the authenticity of Christians, but exposing the logical fallacies of trying to construct a world without God.  As the voices of atheists and agnostics slowly begin to prevail, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the irreconcilable inconsistencies of secular humanism.  A victory in media’s campaign against Christianity will reveal for all eyes to see the entropy that ensues when we follow “one nation without God” to its logical conclusions.  Failure risks revival, a return to Jesus, when that grand experiment culminates in chaos – alienating and cannibalizing its own as the rights of one interest group tramples those of others it had originally intended to advance.

The Futility of Life Without the Lord

Expunging any vestige of Christian influence hinges largely on convincing America’s youth that secularism’s guiding principles are superior to those espoused throughout most of our nation’s history.  Indoctrinating youth also requires concealing as long as possible the inherent contradictions and inevitable pitfalls of a godless society:

Hypocrisy of…Trusting Science

Science reportedly obviates the need for belief in God, yet reliance on science ceases when it conflicts with other secular objectives, like authorization for immorality.

  • Despite physician assessments at birth and the presence of reproductive organs, a person’s gender today is officially whatever “they” declare it to be
  • Despite heartbeats and brainwaves, infants in the womb are not considered human beings so that inconvenient lives can be taken

Hypocrisy of…Professing Tolerance

Freedom from the shackles of religion and its public expression is the ultimate goal, yet non-Christians relentlessly evangelize Selfism, a man-deifying “religion” with a strict moral code.

  • Believers no longer have the freedom to profess biblical viewpoints in conflict with prevailing standards for sex, marriage or social justice without repercussion
  • In this zero-sum game, where one gains freedoms as the other loses them, Christians aren’t at liberty to tell anyone what they should (or shouldn’t) say or do, but may be told what they can (or cannot) say or do

Hypocrisy of…Redefining Decency

Reasonable standards of behavior gradually decline, seemingly innocuous at first but evolving into decadence, as society grapples with how to make sense of a world God created without acknowledging His existence.

  • My son has attended the same public school for 3 years, but is now referred to as “they” in communications by teachers and administrators, sacrificing reason for rudeness
  • Inclusiveness in the popular “sex positivity” movement defines prostitution and pornography as essential services that should be revered and applauded

Hypocrisy of…Proclaiming Goodness

Inherently sinful by nature, most of us privately do what we feel compelled to publicly condemn.  We post and like messages on social media conveying how disturbed we are by those who “judge” others, pretending we’re never guilty of that ourselves.

  • Non-believers accuse Christians of self-righteousness but assume an air of moral superiority in this cancel culture filled with anger and hostility toward non-conformists
  • Seeking utopia, secularism touts decriminalization and wide open borders but quickly calls for regulation and law enforcement when personally impacted by those policies

Hypocrisy of…Commandeering Compassion

To replace Jesus as Savior, government prints money to fund subsidies and stimulus, and portrays Christians as callous for not supporting social programs that build dependence and perpetuate poverty.

  • The real question is not who cares more about the poor, but how compassion is best delivered to help them – and what motives are behind the methods (e.g. buying votes)
  • It isn’t compassionate to burden future generations with excessive debt; however, believing this life is all there is encourages myopic thinking

Labeling Christians closed-minded deflects attention from the stringent requirements of Selfism, which mandates absolute adherence to its central, hypocritical tenet – the inalienable right of everyone (except for Christians) to pursue whatever makes them happy (so long as it doesn’t make anyone else, except for Christians, unhappy).  In fact, social norms are moving in the direction of considering the most civil and enlightened those who lavish the highest praise on those most decadent.

A public relations “race” is taking place among businesses, universities and politicians bent on outdoing each other in proclaiming support for issues they cared little about until it became financially and politically expedient.  In that game, points are awarded for mocking those who purportedly corrupted young minds by teaching them “arcane” views on subjects like marriage, gender and purity – namely, Christians.

Only Life with the Lord Makes Sense

Yet it’s traditional, biblical values that resolve the logical contradictions that are already surfacing in our culture as it increasingly adopts the premise that there is no God:

  • Science – Beginning with the fact that God created man and woman reveals His intentions and ensures personal preferences do not overturn the science behind the definitions of gender at birth and life at conception.
  • Tolerance – Jesus permitted everyone to choose belief or unbelief, offered forgiveness for offenses, practiced unconditional love, and enforced justice equitably understanding that we’re all made in God’s image.
  • Morality – We need guideposts, and not of our own construction for our convenience, because doing whatever makes us happy, satisfying our desires at the moment they arise, doesn’t make them right.
  • Human Nature – John Adams warned, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
  • Compassion – Jesus demonstrated His love by serving those deemed least consequential with dignity, bringing glory to the Father.  Handouts glorify the giver and demean the recipient, not recognizing the eternal value of every individual.

God is not a cosmic killjoy, unnecessarily restricting freedoms.  His “arcane” rules are grounded in love because He knows defying them will harm us.  Pursuing happiness with no hope beyond tomorrow leads to depression, drugs and diseases trying to escape a road to nowhere.

Despite that hopelessness and hypocrisy, our post-Christian culture persists down the path toward self-determination because the battle is not about ideologies or logic.  It’s about Jesus, plain and simple.  Spiritual warfare is pitting God’s truth against man’s will, fueled by the same desires that prompted Adam and Eve to explore good and evil on their own terms.  Satan is dangling the apple again, tempting Americans to find out what society could look like without any constraints.  The only impediment is Christianity, so media discredits our faith by saying we are on the wrong side of every key issue today – politics, vaccines, justice, abortion and stimulus.

Responding When the Walls Cave In

Because the conflict is spiritual, reason and even religion will not prevail – but the Holy Spirit can.  Our job as believers is not to get in the Spirit’s way, working through His power to provide truth as the lies of secularism become readily apparent.

According to studies, those three characteristics are not hallmarks of Christians in America today.

It’s Your Turn

What other logical impasses have you seen from defining personal and corporate “truth” apart from God?  Because society doesn’t work without Him, where is secular “wisdom” and professed kindness toward one group undermining years of progress in advancing the cause of another?

Time to Find Out Who the Real Christians Are

Jun 24, 21
JMorgan
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2 comments

In past decades being a Christian was an assumption, an expectation and often a prerequisite for social standing in America.  To this day, particularly in small towns across the country, “Christian” is a label assigned at birth based on the faith of parents, a birthright inherited in turn from their parents.  Families did business and socialized with those they knew from church, not necessarily trusting those who never made an appearance or missed too many Sundays.

Those days of cultural Christianity are nearly over.  The next generation is attending high schools and colleges where “coming out of the closet” has transitioned now to trepidation about publicly identifying as a Christian.  Belief in Jesus is costing employees and candidates jobs in companies that associate Christianity with opposition to the world’s definitions of equity and justice, which corporate HR policies implicitly require workers to not only accept, but applaud.

A carefully crafted, coordinated campaign is being conducted via schools, businesses, media and government to lay the blame for all society’s ills on Christians.  A confluence of events has created the perfect storm – a pandemic, a dramatic political shift, race riots, Pride marches and abortion court cases.  Campaign organizers know this is the optimal opportunity to turn America from its Christian roots.  Their messages contend that Christians are on the wrong, “hateful” side of each of those issues – instigating slavery, denouncing vaccines, impeding gender fluidity, blocking stimulus payments, and opposing women’s rights.  Meanwhile, secular leaders position themselves as our enlightened, compassionate “saviors” – rescuing the poor, healing diseases, and liberating victims from further oppression by the blight and scourge of society…Christians.

We’re about to find out who the real Christ-followers are.  The temptations to deny Jesus and costs of discipleship have reached unprecedented levels here – and are still rising.  The Great Commission is not optional but for the first time in America, it will put most Christians in harm’s way.  Only true believers will still share their faith, regardless of the consequences.  Scripture commands us to love and pray for those who persecute us.  Only those fully surrendered to Jesus will practice what He preached.  All Christians are called to be servants, even to those who cause their suffering.  Only churches that promote godly perseverance will thrive during the coming persecution while others close their doors.

Disclosing Authentic Disciples

How many Christians are ready and willing to face those challenges?  Have churches accustomed to “good” times prepared members for hard times?  Christian conservatives relished a four-year reprieve under a church-friendly president, becoming complacent rather than arming believers to face a sudden, unbridled attack on Christianity.  Church leaders should have seen this coming, equipping disciples with the full armor of God rather than continuing attractional models that were already precipitating a decline in the Church’s growth and influence:

  • Belt of Truth – Withholding inconvenient truths about dying to self, repentance, disciple-making, and dire warnings about not serving the poor
  • Breastplate of Righteousness – Shirking responsibilities to hold members accountable for their actions while pointing fingers out at those who don’t subscribe to God’s laws
  • Feet Fitted with Readiness – Not training churchgoers to bring the Gospel of peace to friends, family and neighbors, able to answer tough questions, but instead encouraging them to simply extend invitations to hear from a “professional”
  • Shield of Faith – Preaching and praying about getting out of problems (the subject of most contemporary Christian songs), not finding joy in how suffering shapes and molds disciples
  • Helmet of Salvation – Focusing on this life, not looking ahead to eternity in the next, enduring persecution by envisioning standing among the faithful in Revelation 7
  • Sword of the Spirit – Rather than internalizing the central theme of God’s Word, His love for the unlovable, and paying that forward, we reserve love for those who love us

Without battle gear, few will be relentless in their resolve in the face of enormous pressure to conceal, concede or conform to culture.  Most will retain their beliefs but reserve comments and opinions for discussions with fellow Christians.  Those who have rarely mustered the courage to speak about Jesus before society launched its full-scale offensive against Christianity will be even less inclined going forward.  However, a “remnant” who’ve been boldly evangelizing and discipling for years will be less likely to cower when their livelihood and social status are threatened unless they recant biblical truths.

Importance of Perseverance

Scripture is unambiguous about how Jesus views those who relent under intense heat.  Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times, but many of the disciples still had doubts about His divinity before the resurrection.  We live post resurrection and have no such excuse.  It is impossible to lose salvation, but hiding or renouncing faith calls into question the sincerity of the initial profession.

  • “But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)
  • “So I will spit you out of my mouth, because you are only warm…” (Revelation 3:16)
  • “I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Hebrews 10:38)
  • “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

Jesus doesn’t interact with a fake self or false pretenses, only with the real person.  He dealt harshly with those pretending to be someone else, and drove away those who came to Him with selfish intent.  Jesus knows who we are and “whose” we are.  He looks beyond our past sin at future potential to know Him.  He doesn’t buy our claims to be “good”, understanding our inherent evil nature.  He sees an immortal soul (spiritual being), not just flesh and blood (human being).

For those who stay true to God at tremendous personal risk, refusing to sway in the breeze of individual and cultural “truth”, Jesus gives assurances that He will not abandon His “sheep among wolves”.  Like all great heroes of faith, the decision to sacrifice the present for the future hinges on trusting and seeking God first by understanding that our citizenship is in heaven.

Foiling the Plan to Eradicate Christianity

The intended objective of branding Christians as irrational zealots against sex positivity, gay marriage, women’s rights, poverty alleviation, drug legalization, racial justice, health care and science is clear.  In this Age of Decadence, only Christianity stands in the way of the inalienable right of Americans to uninhibited exercise of any (legal) desire without conscience or consequence.  Ironically, the Church’s foray into consumerism accelerated the transition from the Ages of Commerce, Affluence and Intellect into this Age of Decadence.  We built buildings instead of disciples, giving society ample grounds to view church as a business and churchgoers as hypocrites because they were treated like “customers”, not adequately challenged or accountable for practicing the principles they espoused.

Since most Christians are not viewed as “real” by the unchurched, it will be interesting to find out soon who the “real” Christians actually are.  You’ll recognize them easily.  They won’t be activists the media likes to associate with Christianity to fuel the perception we’re all radicals – like nationalists, politicos, and protestors.  They won’t be the CEOs (Christmas and Easter Only) or even fairly frequent (cultural) church attenders.  They won’t be the celebrity Christian leaders who profit personally or professionally from their platforms.  When the costs outweigh the benefits, most people within those groups will go radio silent or disassociate from Christianity.

The true believers in America will look like the early apostles and the courageous disciples in nations today where following Christ could cost them their careers, families or lives:

  • Oozing Humility – Quiet but not bashful, drawing attention to Jesus, not themselves
  • Standing Firm – Uncompromising, knowing scriptural relativism leads to moral relativism
  • Loving Enemies – A genuine love that sees in everyone an eternal, possibly lost, soul
  • Dying Daily – Not punching a ticket to heaven because salvation may be free but it wasn’t cheap
  • Living Forward – Storing up lasting treasures, walking away from temptations to sell out
  • Helping the Helpless – Getting hands dirty in compassion, shining a light in dark places

Christians with those characteristics already stand out in a crowd but will be increasingly rare and conspicuous as persecution intensifies on American soil in the coming years.  Efforts to eradicate Christianity always inevitably wind up proliferating it.  Thanks to a faithful few by the power of the Holy Spirit, this time will be no different.

It’s Your Turn

When you’re facing the loss of all you hold dear for the crime of guilt by association with Jesus, what will you do?

Why Make a Bet You Can’t Win?

Jun 10, 21
JMorgan
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6 comments

Part 3 (of 3)…continued from prior blog post

Maybe it was the pastor’s humility, confessing that Andrew was justified in seeing many Christians as judgmental and hypocritical, that convinced him to meet one last time.  During that conversation about “sin”, Andrew expected to be cornered and guilted, not watch a Christian fall on his sword.  Andrew’s neighbor, Bill, was just excited he was able to broker a third meeting between a pastor and an atheist!  Bill also enjoyed being a fly on the wall learning responses to the standard arguments all atheists raise against Christianity.

The pastor assumed today could be his last opportunity with Andrew, so he had a strategy…

“Thank you for hashing through a tough topic last time we met.  There’s no way around the question of whether sin exists – it’s the fundamental disconnect between the Christian and secular world views.  We’re either accountable for our actions when this life is over or we’re not.”

“Hey, I have a wife, boss and police to keep me in line.”  Andrew’s wry smile quickly disappeared.  “I don’t answer to any imaginary god, and don’t appreciate churches holding the threat of eternal punishment over my head to get me to do what they want.”

“That’s not my intent.  But since you bring it up, are you 100% confident there’s no afterlife?  You’ve asked me to prove there is a God, but can you prove there’s not?  How do you know for sure?  Are you willing to bet the ranch with absolute certainty?  There’s a lot at stake here.”

“All I know is what my eyes see and my mind tells me – proven scientific facts.   Unless you’ve got some way to validate Heaven and Hell, then they’re just figments of your imagination.  Or worse, they’re inventions intended to manipulate uneducated masses.”

“I’m just saying, given the size of your wager maybe it’s worth retracing the roots of your unbelief.  Was your decision that death is the end truly about science alone or is there any chance it stemmed from disappointment with God for not doing or being what you wanted at some point in your life?  Many atheists once presumed God’s existence but faced unmet expectations or just preferred the freedom to live without His constraints.  Motives matter.”

“My family wasn’t religious.  The only time I remember praying, maybe once or twice, was when my mother got sick.  Looking back, it was a silly thing to do – a desperate act by a confused child.  College and business confirmed what I already knew – everything Christians ascribe to God can be explained by natural phenomena and the power of self-determination.”

Bill didn’t know Andrew had lost his mom at such a young age.  “So sorry for your loss – that must have been really difficult.”

“Thanks for sharing such a painful memory, Andrew.”  The pastor decided to open up too.  “I lost my dad at a young age, and in my case, it got me thinking about my own mortality.  It’s part of what led me into ministry, realizing this life is short.  Leading people toward Christ felt like finding out seashells would be the currency next year and trading all my dollars for shells now.  Conducting business in earth’s economy seemed less important than saving in Heaven’s account.  I started living for the line and not the dot, doing now what I’ll be doing then like praising and serving God, rather than what ends when I die like maximizing income, impressing people and worrying.”

“Then you’re not living in reality.  What a waste because this life is all there is.  I’ve heard the saying, ‘if you’re too heavenly minded you’ll be of no earthly good’.  Living a heaven-centered lifestyle when heaven doesn’t exist is like being granted parole but returning to your jail cell.  How can you be effective or relevant in the here and now when you’re always looking ahead?  I live for the moment because it’s fantasy to believe there’s anything outside space and time.”

The pastor briefly revisited a prior argument.  “An external actor, or ‘uncaused first cause’, had to be present outside the space-time continuum before creation – and He won’t disappear when space and time end.  In the meantime, looking forward actually enhances the human experience because Christians willingly sacrifice short-term personal pleasure for the good of others.  Whatever we do provides greater meaning and joy knowing the returns on our investments don’t stop at death.  We have a saying, ‘aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.’”

Andrew was a businessman, but spiritual ROI was a completely foreign concept.  “If you’re wrong about eternity then you’re missing out on so many chances for success and happiness.”

“Actually, if I’m wrong we’re both going to wind up in the same place, six feet under – but quite frankly if you’re wrong, you’ve got a real problem.  Yes, you’re freer to chase what we consider ‘sin’ like greed and lust, but we have forever to enjoy what God provides.  So we don’t need to milk all we can out of this life before we’re worm food.  Atheists need justice now, wealth now, and notoriety now – but we have plenty of time for all that so we leave them up to God.  We seek His approval, not man’s, and don’t demand justice since Christ is the ultimate victim.”

“So you forego the visible for the sake of the invisible.  Can you hear how crazy you sound?”

“Actually, it’s worse than that.  A disciple of Jesus Christ is called to die to self – like the soldier in the foxhole who must reckon himself already dead to muster the courage to fight.  Funny, that reminds me of the old saying that ‘there are no atheists in a foxhole’.  Anyway, according to the Bible, what’s unseen is more important than what’s seen.  Christians give up the temporary for the permanent.  We’re all one accident or diagnosis from death, so we die to worldly impulses sooner than later.  We’re already citizens of Heaven since our seat is reserved, so we have dual citizenship.  We reside in America but are citizens of a Kingdom.  This is not our home or our destination.  Our priority isn’t where we live but where we’re headed.  We receive a new birth certificate when we pledge allegiance to Jesus.  Under His authority we don’t give up freedoms but gain an ability to say no to sin and to know we’re forgiven when we screw up.”

Andrew knew there was another side to the eternity story.  “That’s great for you, but what about the billions who your religion says are bound for Hell?  What kind of God condemns non-believers to eternal torment for a single ‘crime’ – even unbelief?  Do you call that fair?”

“The question isn’t how could a good God send people to Hell.  It’s how could a just God rescue bad people from Hell?  We do so many thousands of things wrong in our lives yet professed atheists and non-Christian faiths tell God that He didn’t need to send His Son to endure torture and crucifixion to pay for their sins.  ‘Thanks, but no thanks!’  Everyone in Hell chose to be separated from Jesus.  Why would we expect to have a relationship with God after our deaths if we didn’t have one with Him during our lives?”

“Then why doesn’t He show up and prove that He’s real rather than hiding Himself from unsuspecting non-believers destined for damnation.”  Andrew’s sarcasm hid his sincerity.  “If He did exist, then He’d be on the hook for causing what I see all around me – pain, death, corruption and disease.”

“How has God revealed Himself to you, Bill?”  The pastor was testing Bill, concerned that a long-time church member didn’t appear to have responses to Andrew’s stock objections to Christianity.

“Personally, there are hundreds of ‘God-incidents’ in my life that were far too miraculous to be chalked up to ‘co-incidence’.  Maybe when you appear before God one day Andrew, you’ll understand all the invitations and evidence you missed on this side of eternity.  Even the hard times my family has gone through points us toward Jesus – we pray more and sense His love during our darkest days.  And knowing our troubles will be over in Heaven gives us strength.”

“Well, I just hear crickets and am not waiting around for a sign from above.  Meanwhile, I have all I need – family, friends, wealth and weekends – and don’t need faith as a crutch.  Plus what I see from Christians is about the same level of judgment and compassion you depict in your God.”

That familiar refrain had always bothered and convicted the pastor.  “Unfortunately, Christians aren’t always a perfect reflection of a flawless God.   Somehow many miss a key fact that you gloss over as well – that each of us is not simply the sum of our physical bodies, words and actions.  We are an eternal soul created in God’s image.  Christians often judge based on outward appearance but that’s just our candy coating – an ‘earth suit’ housing our true identity.  Our bodies can be falling apart but our souls can be in perfect health.  Yet many churches treat members like consumers, focusing on what God gives to them and not what He expects of them.  The message is they can punch a free ticket to Heaven and then live however they’d like, including looking down on non-Christians rather than looking up, seeing each individual’s eternal value in the Lord’s eyes.”

It’s Your Turn

Do you feel the conversations with Andrew at least moved him from staunch Atheism to uncertain Agnosticism?  Is questioning the wisdom of banking eternity on what can’t be proven a solid approach for making headway with professed atheists?  Or is there a better way to break down their resolve, like radically and relationally demonstrating God’s love to them?

Does Sin Exist?

May 27, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 2 (of 3)…continued from prior blog post

Andrew’s anti-theistic resolve hadn’t wavered during lunch with Bill and his pastor.  He had no reservations about making good on his promise to meet again, viewing the pastor as a worthy challenger in a battle of wits.  He was armed and ready, with his only uncertainty being why the pastor had chosen, from the entire Bible, the story of the “prodigal son” as his homework assignment.  Bill was more apprehensive, realizing during the first conversation how few answers he had to Andrew’s questions.  Fortunately, given how adeptly his pastor had handled each objection, Bill saw his role as referee in today’s sparring match between two heavyweights.

“Great to see you, Andrew.  Glad I didn’t annoy you too badly when we met last month – at least that’s my assumption since you agreed to get together again today!”  Self-deprecating humor was the pastor’s go-to disarmament tactic.

“I’m a man of my word.  Plus I rarely turn down a free lunch!  Mind if I start with a question?  Why the ‘prodigal son’?  Hope the insinuation isn’t that I ran off and squandered my family’s estate?  Yes, I’ve partied, gambled and had my share of fun but I don’t see any need to apologize to anyone for anything.”

“No, the prodigal son is my story.  It’s Bill’s story.  We’ve made more mistakes and bad decisions in our lives than you could imagine.  We’re in no position to judge because we’re living in glass houses.  The only difference is that we headed home with our tails between our legs, not expecting but receiving forgiveness for all our sins.”  The pastor considered using a different last word in that sentence but knew progress in this conversation hinged on coming to agreement that sin exists.  He had tried earlier in his ministry to reshape the Gospel message to be more palatable to secular ears, but eventually realized there is never “good news” without bad news.

“Call it what you want, but the only ‘sin’ I’m aware of is calling someone else a ‘sinner’.  Atheists like me are more open-minded and less condemning than most Christians I know.  No offense, Bill.  If it were my son in the story, he wouldn’t need my forgiveness for pursuing whatever makes him happy.  I love him so I respect his right to live however he wants.”

“God is our Father and loves us unconditionally as well.  But are there no standards of behavior for your children?  Do they ever break the rules?  Love doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t exist.  Love is not forced acceptance of all beliefs, opinions of actions of another person.  These days, the world says everyone has the power to define right, wrong and ‘love’ as they see fit and anyone who disagrees with them is a ‘hater’.  You accused Christians of hypocrisy and self-righteousness yet defining morality however each person wants gives carte blanche to say, ‘I’m good and anyone who sees the world differently is bad’.  You say Christians are judgmental yet secular culture ‘cancels’ non-conformists, deeming them unfit for decent society.  Dissent suppression is what happens when ‘love’ and ‘evil’ becomes relativistic.  Therefore, I believe we both agree on the existence of sin.  We just differ on what it is and who enforces the punishment.”

Andrew was biting his tongue, fighting the urge to lash out for being labeled “self-righteous” by those he considered most self-righteous – Christians.  He went another route instead.  “But wait a minute, sin is an offense against some higher power, so if there’s no God there’s no sin.  Yes, we have rules in my house for our kids but there are no consequences for breaking laws of a god that doesn’t exist.”

“Actually, it’s the reverse.  Our awareness of sin leads us to seek God.  Jesus is a healer, but if we don’t know we’re sick, we won’t look for a doctor.  Only when we realize we’re incapable of true, undefiled goodness will we awaken to our need for forgiveness.  It’s when we’re finally humble enough to cry out for mercy that we hear His voice when He calls.  Professed atheists demand proof of God yet close their eyes and ears to His presence by ignoring their God-given consciences.  You’re not an atheist because you don’t believe in the Lord – you’re an anti-theist because you choose not to believe in sin.”

Andrew didn’t like being told what he is or isn’t, particularly by a guy who believed in fairy tales.  “Well, I don’t have any guilt or need any salvation.  My job is just to love and make the most of every day.”

“Even when it comes to what we call ‘love’, our motives are impure.  Most interactions with family, colleagues, customers, neighbors and friends are infused with facades and agendas.  Our feelings about them are conditional, based on their behaviors.  Greed messes up partnerships, infidelity breaks up marriages, and pride ruins friendships.  Repentance and forgiveness are the only ways to reconcile those relationships.  Like the prodigal son, our connection with God is broken due to sin but Jesus, the only sinless source of pure love, died to offer the path to reconciliation with our Father.  Andrew, is your life really sinless and your love totally pure?”

As referee for the main event, Bill felt obligated to step in before this conversation actually turned into a prize fight over Andrew’s objections to being accused of “sin”.  “Andrew is a nice guy and a great neighbor.  Are you really saying Pastor that there’s no good in anyone apart from God?”

The pastor was disappointed that a long-time church member like Bill didn’t understand one of the core tenets of his own faith.  He blamed himself for not building discipleship into the fabric of the church’s mission.  “Yes, but it’s the Bible that confirms what each of us already knows deep down – we’re never free from the shackles of ‘sin’ no matter how unselfish we try to be.”

That word “freedom” pushed Andrew’s button, hitting on the aspect of his “religion” he cherished most.  “I’m not a slave to anyone or anything!  I’m free to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I don’t need Jesus to liberate me.  Christians are the ones in chains.”

”So if human nature is free not to sin, why do we have so many courts, police, jails, legislators, lawyers, judges and regulators?  Why are discrimination and favoritism so rampant?  Why does crime skyrocket during natural disasters when law enforcement is nowhere in sight?  We look out for ourselves, take advantage of people, and rarely help those who can’t return the favor.  Societies without restraints don’t head toward utopia but entropy.  Power becomes control, not freedom.  Socialism becomes dependence, not liberty.”

Andrew had a far more optimistic picture of mankind.  “How can you be so negative?  I know what you’re against, but what are you for?  Look at all the world’s advancements, innovations and discoveries.  We’re making tremendous progress but are being held back by arcane religious thinking, trusting in invisible deities rather than tangible, proven scientific facts.”

Bill needed to get back to work soon and had an idea to bring the discussion around toward a conclusion.  “So does this sacred versus secular debate essentially boil down to trusting in humans or in God – either our adequacy or His provision?”

“Well said, Bill.  I became a pastor because I’ve seen the evil men are capable of and I’ve seen the goodness of God.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, nor do I think science ever will, but I’ve found far more hope in the Bible and my relationship with Jesus than the world can offer.”

“I have all I need without using faith as a crutch to avoid understanding truth in the real world.”  Andrew was still playing the same cards he’d held close to the vest in prior conversations with Christians.  “A job, family, education, health and wealth are enough for me.”

“What if you lose your health?  Do you trust medical science to heal you?  Steve Jobs’ wealth couldn’t save him.”  The pastor knew several anti-theists who never questioned their faith in atheism until they faced imminent death.

“Is God going to heal me?  Christians die too.  Am I supposed to turn to churches for answers?  Most churches I’ve seen are run like businesses, accusing the world of sin and asking for money in exchange for forgiveness.”

That accusation hit home with the pastor, who felt led to conclude the conversation with a confession.  “Yes, churches are to blame for leaving you with that impression.  We were the food bank and homeless shelter, but separated evangelism from compassion.  We started the hospitals and schools, but now complain about culture without engaging in it.  We used to transform more lives, but now treat churchgoers more like customers to be retained than disciples to be trained.  We historically confronted sin in the church, but now point fingers at those who can’t be expected to obey laws of a God they don’t acknowledge.  But the sins of church leaders are not God’s fault…”

It’s Your Turn

Is it possible to share the Gospel without talking about sin?  Jesus, Peter, Paul and John the Baptist all came out of the gates preaching repentance, but today the word “sin” is taboo in secular social circles – and even in many churches.  Has our hesitation to hold ourselves accountable for sin inside the church cost us our voice to speak about sin outside the church?