Tag Archives: joy

If Everyone Likes Your Church, There’s a Problem

Mar 24, 22
JMorgan
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Can a Christian be liked by everyone when Jesus said we’d be “hated by everyone”?  His prophecy was not “if” but “when you are persecuted”.  Jesus was hated and persecuted.  Our only escape from a similar fate in our world today is to be very little like Him.  Churches are charged with making disciples who understand and live out Jesus’ example.  However, most cherry pick aspects of Jesus’ teachings and life, knowing adopting the whole package would put churchgoers in harm’s way.  They emphasize His love and mercy, His forgiveness and sacrifice, knowing it was Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God that led to His death.  There’s no risk in being nice and kind, but proclaiming Jesus is the Son of God exposes Christians to hatred and persecution in many nations, including ours.  Jesus is the only hope for humanity, the cure for its terminal illness, but surrendering to a Savior flies in the face of all the world holds dear – power, control, wealth, tolerance (of sin), and self-righteousness.

The gates of hell will not prevail against” the Church, but cultural Christianity is no threat to Satan’s domain.  Churches that challenge members to diligently obey the Great Commission will make enemies not only of Satan, but of secular humanists and any religion based on mankind’s goodness, not God’s.  A church with no enemies is likely focused on building a congregation and not disciple-makers that transform their community.  If members and visitors love the sermons, music and programs with little turnover, proudly displaying “I love my church” bumper stickers on their cars, that may be a bad sign – that they’re not getting the whole story of what following Jesus entails.  Why would anyone turn down a free ticket to heaven with no expectation of sanctification?  On the other hand, if church consumers storm out in protest, that may be a good sign – that leaders are being forthright about the costs of discipleship.

Churches can have too many enemies or too many friends by making both in the wrong ways.  In fact, those paths can intersect – making enemies in trying to win friends (e.g. when members breed cynicism about a church by not living according to the beliefs they profess).

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

Contemporary American church growth models have shifted loyalties and priorities inward, toward attracting and retaining members rather than training and deploying disciples, alienating “outsiders” by instituting a…

  • New Definition of Church – Centralizing “church” around a place, pastors and a weekly event gives the unchurched the impression that the only path to God passes through the front door of a church, when all have direct access to the Father.  Reducing the “ask” of congregants (who are the embodiment of “church”) to inviting people to church services disenfranchises those not only authorized but commanded to play a key role in God’s redemptive plan.  Meanwhile, 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.
  • New Definition of the “Customer” – In business, whoever pays is the customer.  Not so with churches.  Those paying the bills are the (unpaid) Kingdom employees who should be trained to pursue the real “customer” – those within their circles of influence who don’t know Jesus.  However, the discipleship required to execute that biblical model is too time-consuming to dare request of people churches hope will come back next Sunday.  Treating members and not the community as “customers” also explains why the Church has almost entirely outsourced the integral role it played for 1900 years on the front lines of compassion confronting issues (e.g. poverty) near and dear to Jesus’ heart.
  • New Approach to Sin – To make the experience more hospitable and comfortable, most churches address sin less frequently, directly, and aggressively today from the pulpit and within the congregation.  Marketing slogans like “no perfect people allowed” under the guise of humility fuel hypocrisy as churches adopt the world’s definition of “tolerance” and circumvent biblical commands to preserve the holiness of the body of Christ.
  • New View of Society – However, lowering moral standards internally hasn’t translated into lower expectations of those outside the 4 walls.  Even though it’s unreasonable to judge non-believers by rules of a God they don’t worship, pointing fingers is much easier than sharing the Gospel.  Judgmentalism is the logical consequence of retention and growth strategies that deemphasize personal discipleship, accountability, and evangelism.

Imagine the chaos if employees at a hospital swapped places with customers, demanding medical attention from patients.  Treating Kingdom employees sitting in America’s pews like customers, doing their jobs for them and trying to meet their expectations (rather than raising expectations of them) – all while largely ignoring the real “customer”, the “lost” in the community – explains the decline in church attendance, influence, impact and perception.  Having too few disciples (inside the church) creates too many enemies (outside the church).

Making Enemies the Right Way

Churches no longer have a prominent voice in America, the price for conforming to culture or fighting ill-advised battles against it.  For Christians, there are only a few hills worth dying on…

  • Jesus – The name of Jesus invokes both power and ire.  When I’ve given speeches in schools, His name is the only word I’ve been forbidden to say out loud.  The mere mention of it brings non-believers face to face with their (suppressed) need for His grace and forgiveness.  Ironically, most admire Jesus and His teachings but few churchgoers have the courage to speak His name, much less share about Him, where it’s not socially acceptable.
  • Truth – Most churches have reduced evangelism to a testimony and invitation to hear the Gospel (and get answers to tough questions) from a “professional”.  Yet if they do come to a church service, they may not hear the entire story – the good news (grace) without the bad news (sin).  Members are better positioned to build the relational equity through time, love and compassion required to open (closed) doors to confession that surfaces sin, sorrow that leads to repentance, and acceptance of God’s grace.
  • Holiness – Churches are sacred houses of worship, a gathering of the ekklesia or “called out ones”.  Congregants should be equipped and commissioned to lead friends and family to the foot of the cross, and then invite those new believers to join the kirk or “fellowship of those belonging to the Lord”.  All are welcome but not at the expense of the unity and integrity of the body.
  • Justice – Churches must not turn a blind eye to the powerless and defenseless like the unborn and the persecuted.  Venting anger at those who don’t live by God’s standards may make us feel better about ourselves, but anger is only righteous if it is on behalf of others, particularly those who can’t help themselves.  Yet taking a stand for preborn infants and persecuted Christians invites animosity from those who question their viability and value.

Jesus loves the Church – it’s His bride.  As John’s visions in Revelations reveal, Jesus expects a lot of His Church – evangelism, truth, holiness, and justice are among His non-negotiables.

Making Friends the Wrong Way

Some strategies churches use to make new friends and keep current ones aren’t biblical, like…

  • Convenience – Transactional, event-oriented worship, activities and compassion
  • Self – Emphasizing what Jesus does for “me”, not what we do with Him
  • Fun – Cutting back on Bible study for kids and ramping up games to attract parents
  • Catering – Giving people what they want (like businesses) rather than what they need
  • Conforming – Making the Word fit the world, avoiding controversial passages
  • Clinging – Not dealing with toxic members because it risks stunting growth or a split
  • Measuring – Counting nickels and noses rather than disciples and impact

Attempting to make a faith predicated on the sinfulness of human nature appealing by appealing to the sinfulness of human nature is clearly contrary to Scripture.

Making Friends the Right Way

The alternative to, and complete opposite of, growing a church by exploiting self-interest is…

  • Prayer – Seeking personal and community transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Dying to Self – Risking hatred and persecution for the sake of the “lost” who we love
  • Confession – Admitting we’ve made church and our faith too self (internally) focused
  • Repentance – Turning from therapeutic religion that exploits consumer-driven interests
  • Humility – Elevating Jesus, not our church, realizing humility is at the core of Christianity
  • Dependence – Childlike trust in God’s goodness, not our own, to combat the world’s independence
  • Compassion – Relational hands up, not transactional “hand-outs” that perpetuate poverty

These strategies are too passive and counterintuitive for most Type A, business-minded Americans.  Parting ways with those not aligned with Jesus’ vision for His Church hurts growth in the short term, but losing weight always makes us healthier in the end.

It’s Your Turn

Has your church made enemies by holding its ground for what is truly biblical or made too many “friends” by doing what is expedient?

If Everyone Likes You, There’s a Problem

Mar 10, 22
JMorgan
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2 comments

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” (Matthew 5:11)  “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.” (Isaiah 53:3)  “You will be hated by everyone because of me.” (Matthew 10:22)  “What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16:15)

Jesus had enemies.  Yes, the environment then was challenging and hostile to Christianity – possibly more than it is today.  But even decades ago in small towns across America where “Christian” was the only acceptable social status, there’s a problem when everyone likes you.  It’s impossible to please all who follow Jesus and all who don’t without compromise.  Individuals or churches who don’t have any enemies are doing something wrong, to the degree that it calls into question their commitment to discipleship, and maybe even the authenticity of their faith.

How could imitating Jesus’ humility and love – the essence and entirety of the Father’s character – ruffle anyone’s feathers?  Even when those traits are lived out conscientiously by ardent believers, those who’ve declared independence from God often have visceral reactions to the Gospel for deep-seated reasons (e.g. disappointment, guilt or control).  Jesus promises that following Him will put us in harm’s way, and not only in nations that jail and kill Christians.

However, there are good and bad causes for having enemies – and friends.  To resolve any confusion, Jesus clarifies His beatitude, “blessed are those who are persecuted” by adding “because of righteousness.” (Matthew 5:10)  More Christians are hated for being religious than “righteous”.  In recent years, Christians have made more enemies than they probably should have – hastening the arrival of post-Christian America and the Age of Decadence.

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

When our faith is about anything other than Jesus, we’re certain to make enemies – for all the wrong reasons.  Contemporary American church growth models focused on attracting and retaining members have alienated far too many non-believers by shifting the loyalties and priorities of Christians from discipleship and compassion to…

  • Legalism – A sense of moral superiority without the sanctification needed to back it up is a dangerous combination, a prescription for hypocrisy. Jesus never fails but we certainly do, particularly without a sturdy foundation of surrender and accountability.  Yet those are burdens few churches concerned about growth or survival would dare expect of those they want to come back next Sunday.  Churchgoers then overestimate their own morality by comparing themselves to non-believers who they somehow expect to obey the Bible without knowing its Author, consequently making enemies by pointing fingers.
  • Church – To the extent that church became known more as a place than people, Christians felt less personal responsibility for living out the Great Commission. To ease the burden on church consumers and breed loyalty, members were simply asked to share their testimony, invite friends to church, and let the “professionals” handle evangelism.  Strategies to attract and retain sowed seeds of superiority and division instead.  At the same time, churches scaled back essential practices (like disciple-making and local missions) that would have resulted in Christianity having far fewer enemies.
  • Leaders – Centralization around pastors and personalities risks unhealthy dependence and inevitable disappointment when they fail to live up to expectations. Thanks to Jesus, the proverbial veil was torn and all have direct access to the Father.  However, reconstructing hierarchies and revering “celebrities” has fueled the rise of the “Dones” (with church) who found other role models when church leaders let them down.
  • Politics – Jesus would not have associated with a political party, but most Christians do. He modeled dual citizenship with primary allegiance to an eternal Kingdom.  Our affiliation with parties and politicians puts us at immediate odds with those on the other side of the aisle.  When we politicize faith, “progressives” make assumptions and assign labels before we have a chance to explain that Jesus was not a liberal or conservative, and that both parties care about the poor (but differ on whether the private or public sector should bear primary responsibility for helping them).
  • Country – Christian nationalism contends that America’s founding was Christ-centered and we are “chosen” people, more blessed than others. Regardless of the extent to which any of that may be true, it opens the door to accusations of historical injustice, intolerance and racism that are difficult to reconcile with the values we espouse.  Just as favoring a political party can make enemies, emphasizing one nation’s advantages over another rebuilds the barriers between “us” and “them” that Jesus broke down.

The Nones (no religion) are largely a product of division within the Church and judgment of those outside it.  As the saying goes, their “problem isn’t with Jesus – it’s His followers they can’t stand.”

Making Enemies the Right Way

No matter how loving disciples of Jesus Christ may be, many will resent them.  In fact, the more we practice unconditional (Agape) love the more out of step we become with society’s self-centered definition of “love”, which demands applause for others’ immorality to justify its own.  The teachings of Jesus go against nearly every fiber of our being and the core tenets of secular humanism – loving those who hate you, serving expecting nothing in return, and suffering for a cause greater than ourselves.  Those who hit the snooze button on God’s wake up calls will reject His teachings – and His messengers as well.  But that doesn’t absolve us of our mission and duty to…

  • Imitate Christ – Jesus modeled living to please the Father, not fearing those who hate or ignore Him, but faithful obedience will unavoidably offend and threaten prevailing powers.
  • Share the Gospel – The mere mention of Jesus’ name is seen as rude today, an attempt to impose unwanted beliefs, but can we remain quiet when eternal life hangs in the balance?
  • Address Sin – It’s not “good news” if there’s no bad news, no need for salvation if no danger awaits, but “sin” has been removed from the vernacular of “decent” society.
  • Speak Truth – There’s no getting around the biblical characterization of human nature as evil, but it flies in the face of culture’s relativistic tag lines of “being true to myself” and “living my truth”.
  • Offer Hope – The hopeless search the world for what it can never provide but refuse to admit their desperation or need for God’s grace, mercy and hope through Christ.

Prayer, Care and Share lifestyles glorify God and bless everyone we come in contact with but engender ridicule and anger among those wishing to continue living for self without remorse.

Making Friends the Wrong Way

Passive, private and pensive believers try to make too many friends or worry too much about having enemies.  Yes, Christians should be loving, kind and caring.  However, there’s no love without confrontation, kindness without controversy, and caring without concern.  There’s no greater act of love and compassion than leading someone toward Jesus, yet no good deed goes unpunished.  If everyone likes us when Jesus said the world will hate us, then it’s likely we’re…

  • Conforming – Fitting in to keep a job and friendships under false pretenses when Jesus was authentic and countercultural, playing to an audience of One
  • Compromising – Keeping up appearances (around churchgoers) without surrendering to Christ, therefore succumbing when tempted to cut corners (around non-believers)
  • Abdicating – Leaving evangelism and discipleship to pastors and those more “gifted”, or pious deference to God’s exclusive power to save, to conveniently avoid stepping on toes
  • Hiding – Staying silent about our faith if disclosure would threaten our social standing
  • Reprioritizing – Measuring “success” around “good” things like family and tithing rather than “great” things like personal responsibility for the Great Commandment and Great Commission

None of this is intended to imply we should be offensive or try to make people upset at us.  Our job is live consistent with our values in word and deed, letting the chips fall where they may.

Making Friends the Right Way

Even non-Christians will gravitate to true disciples unwilling to cave to fear and pressure, wanting advice from the unwavering when their foundation is crumbling.  When those Gospel opportunities present themselves, Jesus taught us not to see those crying out for help as distractions or interruptions but as life-changing chances for…

  • Prayer – Realizing that we can do nothing of eternal value without the Lord
  • LovePouring out the love we’ve been given so generously
  • Hospitality – Being genuinely interested to be interesting; fully engaged to be engaging
  • Humility – Confessing our faults to show our dire need for Jesus as well
  • Compassion – Serving faithfully, not transactionally, to demonstrate God’s enduring love

Those endearing qualities open doors to deeper relationships that build trust, breaking down the defenses of those who once considered themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ”.

It’s Your Turn

Does everyone like you?  Why or why not?  Our next post will address the reasons, good and bad, why people like or dislike churches.  Please share any thoughts on that topic…

A New Declaration of Independence

Jan 27, 22
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 1 (of 2)

If churches and Christians can’t convince people God is good, evangelism falls on deaf ears.  The less we declare God’s goodness, the more our culture declares its independence (from God).

Humans are imbued at birth with an innate connection with their earthly parents and their heavenly Father.  We inherit a desire to know our Creator and a sense of awe at His creation.  Children understand when they’re doing wrong and seek relief from guilt.  In other words, it takes hard work to overcome our natural inclinations and intuition that God exists and that He is good.

Dig deep into the psyche of most (professed) atheists and you’ll discover that the beginning of doubt or disbelief (in God’s existence and goodness) was unanswered prayers.  A child wonders why God did or didn’t do something against his or her will.  So the starting point for disbelief isn’t whether God exists but whether God is good.  When belief meets with personal disappointment, it triggers a battle of wills – God’s versus ours.  As in the Garden of Eden, questioning God’s goodness brings awareness to the opportunity for free exercise of personal preferences apart from Him.  In America today, government, universities and advertisers gladly offer alternatives to God, claiming “goodness” of their programs, products and services.  Unwittingly, citizens and consumers pledge allegiance to those whose motives (power, money and influence) are not nearly as good as God’s (who always has our best interests at heart).

To ensure society’s hope and trust remains with the world and doesn’t revert to God, secularism is quick to implicate the God they say they don’t believe in for disasters and diseases.  Leaders of America’s 7 mountains question how Christians can worship a God that made human nature bad and then punishes innocent victims who slip up.  They deride Christians for being judgmental, imposing beliefs, and impeding progress.  Some of that blame is deserved for failing to espouse and reflect God’s goodness.  But God is not at fault for any of the bad that occurs within churches or in the world – man caused all of it either through mistakes made at the Fall or since then.

God (and God Alone) is Good

The Bible is an autobiography written by God about God.  Its core message is His goodness and love for humanity.  As Christ-followers entrusted with Scripture, we are responsible for understanding and communicating its central theme.  Those who’ve distanced themselves from the God they once knew have a vested interest in misinterpreting and distorting what the Bible says about God’s character.  Even some pastors selectively omit passages (or the entire Old Testament) if God’s actions therein did not align with contemporary definitions of “good”.

In an environment already difficult to convince non-believers of God’s goodness, most churches are not discipling members adequately to make that case.  It’s also a challenging environment to grow a congregation, tempting us to tout the goodness of our church, its theology, and its stance on morality.  Yet making Scripture about ourselves is to misunderstand its authorship and intent.  It’s about the “good news” of a good Father, yet according to surveys the message being conveying by Christians is that they see themselves as good.  If more churches made the Great Commission their church growth strategy, members would be better equipped to declare God’s goodness and less likely to emphasize their own.  But pushing churchgoers to be, become and make disciples would send many running for the exits, finding it too time-consuming and countercultural.

Simple. everyday blessings that loudly proclaim God’s goodness escape the notice of those who’ve exchanged His love for self-centeredness, obedience for self-determination, and thankfulness for self-sufficiency:

  • If we are breathing, then God is good
  • If nature is beautiful, then God is good
  • If we have kids and caring parents, then God is good
  • We have an opportunity for salvation, so God is good
  • The Lord created his second “son” knowing we’d kill His First, so God is good
  • We get to learn and grow from challenges, so God is good
  • Hard times draw us closer to the Lord, so God is good
  • The Lord’s discipline refines our character, so God is good
  • There’s a cure for sin and hopelessness, so God is good
  • We have a conscience pointing us to Jesus, so God is good
  • Biblical law provides guardrails for our lives, so God is good
  • The Father’s love is unconditional even when we mess up, so God is good

Selfism, the fastest growing religion in America, would label many of those “bad” because they involve confession and submission.  The Bible describes a God who turns bad into good, but Selfism refuses to view anything as bad except for infringement on the pursuit of happiness.  If there’s no need for forgiveness, what good is God’s grace and mercy?

Why Declare Independence from Such a Good God

America is rapidly declaring its independence from God and pledging allegiance elsewhere:

  • Church membership dropped below 50% for the first time ever (2021, Gallup)
  • Decrease from 137 to 65 in median church attendance since 2000 (2020, FACT)
  • 63% of adults profess to be Christian, down from 75% in 2011 (2021, Pew)
  • 31% of millennials claim no religious affiliation, up from 22% in 2011 (2021, Pew)
  • 74% of millennials say all religions have equal value (2021, Barna)

Why would anyone want to come out from under the authority of our loving heavenly Father?:

  • Not knowing a Christian who adequately conveyed God’s goodness in words or actions
  • Misunderstanding that, like a (good) dad, there’s nothing we can do to lose or earn God’s love
  • Not realizing God’s plan is better than ours and thanking Him for unanswered prayers
  • Viewing God’s promises (of good) only in terms of outcomes experienced in this life, not considering how “bad” circumstances lead us closer to God and toward eternal life
  • Feeling it’s kinder to assume people are essentially good natured, the foundation for Atheism and all other religions (hinging on man’s good works or inner divinity)
  • Believing the alternative to God is freedom to do as they please, ironically entrapping them in sin and subjection to those who don’t care about them like God does
  • Seeking relief instead of repentance – distance (from guilt) rather than deliverance (from sin) – through distractions, drugs, etc.
  • Claiming tolerance by not judging anyone else when their actual motive is escape from accountability and scrutiny by anyone else (including God)

Children once drawn to know God leave their first love when they realize “with God, all things are possible” but “without God, all things are permissible”.  Eventually, consciences become cauterized and no longer tolerate sound biblical teaching, finding leaders who tell them what they want to hear.  Unless their trust in God’s goodness is somehow restored, they’re unlikely to return to Him and die to self.

Consequences of Declaring Independence

Human beings were created by God for God so life apart from Him doesn’t work:

  • Inconsistency – The whims of culture and manipulation of media dictate beliefs of those with no foundation, even when they defy reason and science (e.g. defining a person’s gender based on feelings or a baby’s viability based on whether it is wanted)
  • Double Standards – Freedoms and rights (e.g. to free speech) are curtailed only for those who object to society’s prevailing (and fleeting) views on morality
  • Insincerity – Policing and publicly condemning unkind actions or speech is an implicit admission that human nature is evil, particularly given the invectives that “virtue signalers” utter behind closed doors
  • Lawlessness – Tolerance’s logical extreme defines criminals as victims and precludes pointing out atrocities abroad if any misdemeanors are being committed here at home
  • Decadence – Relativism eventually calls evil good and good evil, vehemently defending deviance yet eerily silent on abuses against non-conformists (e.g. persecuted Christians)
  • Hopelessness – We teach children in schools that they are cosmic accidents with no purpose, leading to the depression, escapism and suicides we are witnessing today
  • Fatherless – We trade identity as a child of a perfect Father and eternal life with Him for acceptance by a fickle culture during our short stint on planet earth

The world can never give what it never had.  When we surrender our desires and will to God, He offers us all that is good about Himself – consistency, justice, freedom, direction, righteousness, hope and identity.

It’s Your Turn

Our next blog post will address ways churches and Christians can prove God is good by highlighting and reflecting His goodness.  Please share your thoughts on that topic…

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture

Dec 29, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 (of 2)

Jesus provided a model and instructions for striking the delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Taking cues from His example and teachings could spark revival at a time in our nation that is riper for harvest than it may readily appear.  Cracks are already becoming evident in the flimsy foundation of a culture transitioning from (justifiable) worship of a flawless Father to (unwarranted) faith in fallible self.

Responding appropriately to the opportunity to offer remediation when that foundation crumbles requires differentiation between perpetrators and victims.  Jesus distinguished between those leading people astray and those being misled, treating the latter with much more empathy.  As Christ-followers we likewise should seek to understand any differences in the motives of manipulators and those manipulated.  However, both are responsible for rejecting Jesus.  The lost sheep choose to follow the voice of the wrong shepherd, enticed by sin to seek “freedom” from the shackles of religion, ironically enslaving them to sin.

Yet the greater sin lies with leaders of society’s “7 Mountains” who know establishing new structures requires destroying former ones.  In order to maximize power and profit, the influence of Christianity on our citizens must be eradicated.  But the path to replace God as the ultimate authority cannot be a straight line.  Before people will subject themselves to new authority figures, they must first be brought out from underneath existing paradigms.  Deprogramming always precedes reprogramming, which is why Christianity is being systematically discredited and undermined today across all 7 of those “mountains”.

“Woke” is awaking from a supposed sleep induced by parents, preachers, youth group leaders, America’s founders, and anyone else with the audacity to tell people how to live their lives.  Once “enlightened” to their true identity and nature, liberated from the arcane idea that mankind is sinful and needs a Savior, society begins its regression into the division, dependence, decadence and decline that eventually demands a (secular) savior.  The social decay precipitated by shifting trust and truth from God to self sets the stage for submission to the authorities and structures inevitably needed to salvage the sinking ship.

Understanding those players and dynamics, Scripture provides Christians and churches with a blueprint for responding winsomely and compassionately, without combating or conforming…

1. Government

Leaders’ Motives

No story can have a hero without an enemy and someone to rescue.  Humanity’s story already has a Hero who’s impossible to vilify, so many politicians target Jesus’ followers, who opened themselves to criticism by failing to make more disciples who resemble Him.  Associating our nation’s Christian heritage, as well as modern leaders, with racism and oppression is a brilliant strategy to rid America of the rules and reign of Christ over our society.

Followers’ Delusions

Sheep hear those voices and fall in line, questioning the values of Christianity and the goodness of God.  After all, doesn’t God allow natural disasters and pandemics to happen?  Isn’t religion the source of most conflict in the world?  Why aren’t churches doing much about poverty?  Isn’t it government and science that saves the day to fix what God and religion broke?

Biblical Response

  • Understand what’s happening today is not about politics – it is all spiritual (warfare)
  • Resume our rightful place on the front lines of compassion and justice to show God is good
  • Season truth with grace, but expose the intent and futility of transitioning faith from Jesus to self (and then) to government
  • Realize our countercultural status now in the U.S. is nothing new for Christianity, reacting not with angry attempts to reclaim control of the “7 Mountains” but recommit to discipleship – the only path ever prescribed for the Church, whether in power or persecuted

Government runs public education, its most powerful tool to alter America’s future direction…

2. Education

Leaders’ Motives

Deprogramming starts with perpetuating the myth that America’s youth is our wisest generation, with minds finally unencumbered by fables of creationism and divine intervention that cannot be proven or defy logic.  Reprogramming can then begin at progressively earlier ages to indoctrinate in selective or revisionist history designed to incriminate Christians and science that teaches God-free evolution as irrefutable fact.

Followers’ Delusions

Most products of secular universities in America today believe that only what we see can exist.  “Coming out of the closet” is now a more apt reference to Christian students with the courage to publicize that they believe in the invisible.  Faith is a sign of intellectual and emotional weakness, an inability to comprehend the verifiable and a crutch to prop up the insecure.  Sadly, since the underlying premise of atheism is flawed, so are the conclusions drawn from it.  Many of our children are filtering their thinking through (and shaping their lives around) a false set of assumptions with eternal ramifications – and are doomed to repeat ill-fated history omitted from textbooks.

Biblical Response

  • Understand that youth are being misguided by professors whose job descriptions and intellectual pride prevent them from confessing that something they cannot explain can exist
  • Repair relationships strained or broken when students reject the authority and ideals of parents and pastors, keeping the door open to future conversations about faith
  • Learn solid answers to tough questions to reeducate on the truth of Scripture, the agendas of post-Christian leaders, the demise of secular empires, and an unbiased history of Christianity’s impact on our nation (i.e. leading in compassion, abolition, and education)

Students eventually graduate so the attack on religion must extend beyond the classroom…

3. Religion

Leaders’ Motives

Only Christianity concerns politicians and educators because lies are not a threat to lies, only truth is.  In fact, they’re worried enough to institute a new vernacular, changing the definitions of biblical terms like love, truth, tolerance, justice, self, and pride to fit their narrative.  To silence dissenters who dare espouse values that conflict with their terminology, they weaponize those words to accuse Christians of intolerance, injustice, and hatred.

Followers’ Delusions

With Christianity pushed to the fringe of decent society, Americans feel more at liberty to declare their independence from its influence.  “All roads lead to the same place”, “no one should impose their beliefs on others”, “I’m ok and you’re ok”, and ”you have your truth and I have mine” become seemingly impenetrable defenses against evangelism.  None’s and Done’s (with religion) quell conscience and deflect any criticism as “judgment”.  The Fatherless search for identity not as a child of God but in their sexuality, gender, politics, careers, or lifestyle choices.

Biblical Response

  • Understand how secular leaders are engineering a transfer of trust and truth from religion to relativism in order to soon reestablish a new set of absolutes that they will dictate
  • Stop following society’s lead by redefining biblical terms like “church” (a place), “outreach” (advertising), “ministry” (internal), “Christian” (churchgoer) and “discipleship” (small groups)
  • Rather than lash out at culture, become more transparent, confessing our weaknesses yet reflecting Christ’s holiness to help them see their own sinfulness and need for Him
  • Make disciples who can articulate how Christianity is unique among the world’s religions (only we believe a Savior had to come down to us because we could not aspire to reach up to God)

In our next post, we’ll address the remaining 4 “mountains”, giving you and your church more practical ideas for being countercultural but not counter culture…

It’s Your Turn

Please share your thoughts on the recommendations made today and consider biblical responses to the other “mountains” (e.g. Family, Business, and Media) we’re excited to unpack next.

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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3 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?

“A Pastor, a Christian and an ‘Atheist’ Walk into a Bar…”

May 13, 21
JMorgan
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4 comments

“I invited my neighbor to church yesterday but got the Heisman, again”, Bill said extending his hand like a running back giving a stiff-arm to a would-be tackler.  “Andrew claims to be an atheist but seems interested in spiritual topics.  He brings up those same questions we’ve all heard before – you know, how can a good God send anyone to hell and how can someone who never heard about Jesus be condemned for eternity?  Not sure I’m the best person to give the answers he needs.  You’re certainly more qualified than me, Pastor.  So hope you don’t mind but I volunteered you to grab lunch with us.  To my surprise, Andrew was willing if you are.  But be warned, I think he’s approaching this like that running back and you’re the next defender between him and the endzone.”

Next Sunday, Bill and his pastor met Andrew at a restaurant after church.

“Nice to meet you, Andrew.  I admire you for being willing to get together – many folks these days aren’t open to discussing matters of faith.  I’m curious to hear what you have to say.  Hopefully something I share will be helpful.”  Bill’s cautions prompted the pastor’s preemptive pleasantries, a bit anxious at the prospect of getting into a heated debate in a public setting.

“I may not have a tremendous amount to add to the conversation so at least let me pick up the tab!  I’m just glad to introduce the two of you.”  Bill was excited to watch the tennis match – wondering whether Andrew would hold his ground as the verbal volleys crossed the net.

“With all due respect, pastor, I’m not all that interested in religion per se except for how it has harmed people throughout history – and in our world today.  Not just the wars over different views of God, which really aren’t that different, but the psychological impact of holding sin and superiority over the heads of good people.”  Andrew wasn’t one to mince words.

“Hey, I don’t like religion either – but I do love God.  Religion is man-made but Jesus wasn’t just a man.  You can dig up the bones of the founders of every religion except for Christianity.  Not all faiths are the same.  Only Christians believe God had to come down to us because we couldn’t possibly reach up to Him.  We see His goodness and power in His creation, realize our relative limitations, and know we’ll never be good enough and spiritual enough to force our way into heaven.  I know it’s not a great sales pitch to say we’re sinners in need of a Savior, but there’s a huge gap between God and mankind – which Jesus came to earth to bridge.”  As a pastor, he rarely missed a chance to inject a Gospel presentation when the opportunity arose.

“Seems a little arrogant to say your religion is the only way – and to call people sinners.  You’re making my earlier point – telling me I’m not a good person.  Frankly, it all comes across as an attempt to control and oppress to keep pews and coffers filled.  I work hard to provide for my family, don’t commit crimes, give to charity, and mind my own business – how am I not good?”  Bill couldn’t wait to see how his pastor would handle that grenade.

“Actually, what I think is more arrogant is telling God we didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die for us – that we had it covered, rejecting the most expensive gift ever given.  The fact is, if we all care to admit it, is that we can’t even trust our own motives.  People hardly ever act out of genuine concern for the welfare of others.  Besides, who hasn’t lied, cheated or stolen something?  Where is the line drawn on ‘good’?”

“What’s wrong with looking out for myself, even if that involves cutting a corner every once in a while?  If it doesn’t hurt anyone, why should I worry about a cosmic scoreboard kept by an imaginary god?  That’s the thing about Christians, always heaping guilt on unsuspecting, otherwise happy people.”  Andrew was digging in his heels, confident in his long-held positions.

“I assure you Jesus isn’t about keeping score but giving people a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a game they could never win.  Hoping your good outweighs the bad is the opposite of Christianity.  Picture a courtroom where the judge has to do his job, but in this case it’s his son who’s facing the death penalty.  So the judge steps down, takes off his robe, asks to be handcuffed, and accepts the penalty you and I should have paid.  That’s Christianity.”

“Well, I don’t buy any of it.  I’m fine the way I am and know when this life is over, it’s over.  But in the meantime, I’m enjoying every day to the fullest.  Of course, that’s not always easy when this God you say is good allows natural disasters, mass murders, and children to be born with birth defects.”

“If you’re asking, ‘how can a good God let bad things happen to good people?’, first of all like I said no one is truly good.  Second, most problems are caused by mankind, not God, but despite that the Lord can use bad for good.  Imagine if no one had any issues – would there be any need for compassion or charity?”

“Well, if you watch the news and read social media it seems Christians are the ones causing many of the problems these days.  How do you reconcile the hypocrisy of all the church scandals with judging homosexuals for getting married and women for doing what they want with their own bodies?”  Andrew clearly had an axe to grind, possibly explaining why he agreed to meet.

“What are your thoughts, Bill?”  As a pastor whose vision was to make disciples, he was disappointed that a long-time member like Bill apparently was not prepared to respond to these meat-and-potatoes objections to Christianity.

“Thanks a lot, passing that one to me!”  Bill was stalling, buying time to think.  “I’ve always heard, ‘love the sinner and hate the sin’.”

“True, but I doubt our friend here sees gay marriage or abortion as sinful.  You mentioned pastors who fall from grace – it happens too often but don’t blame God for man’s mistakes.  When imperfect people are held to perfect ideals, any failure says more about the person than it does about Jesus – who’s still worth pursuing.  As for what we do with our bodies, your assumption is that you own yours.  However, if God created us, then we’re His property.  Bill is right that no one is passing judgment.  But the Lord intentionally designed the anatomies of men and women to be complimentary and orchestrated the miraculous conception and development of infants in the womb (who also belong to Him) for a reason.”

Andrew sat up and leaned forward, having just heard what he needed to launch his primary weapon.  “What’s miraculous about a baby being born?  Science and evolution accounts for everything that Christians default to belief in a God to try to explain.  If they understood the complex processes that give and sustain life, then proven facts would supplant blind faith.”

Ironically, the pastor saw atheism as a religion, defaulting to belief in science to account for what only God could have done.  “So are you saying something came from nothing and order from disorder?  Even the world’s leading scientists can’t create matter without matter.  In the beginning, something outside space and time – an uncaused first cause – had to introduce substance into what was entirely void.  And entropy should have resulted in chaos, but God’s design brought order to solar systems and ecosystems.”

“Why do Christians always fall back on that crutch as an excuse to stick their heads in the sand rather than learning and trusting in science?”

Bill started losing hope, anticipating an impasse.

“We value science but see discoveries as uncovering God’s design.  There are still so many mysteries and failed experiments because our brains are finite.  Yet despite those limitations, some people think whatever they can’t see or wrap their minds around cannot exist.  We can’t dismiss God and miracles just because they don’t fit into our mental file cabinets.  With so much scientists still don’t know, how can you bet your life on science?  Christians bet on God’s omniscience because we can’t know everything, and therefore are ok believing some things exist that aren’t visible.”  The pastor appeared to be transitioning from defense to offense.

“’See it to believe it’ seems more rational.  In my mind, the burden of proof lies with Christians.  We have the facts on our side.  The evidence speaks for evolution, not for any God or gods.”

As a pastor, he tried to avoid the hint of sarcasm inherent in his reply.  “Applying reason, facts and evidence to prove anything is presumptuous if there is no God.  Authentic atheism, carried to its logical extreme, contends that there is no logic.  If our brains were formed by accident without planning, then our thoughts are random and our conclusions untrustworthy.  But more to your point, I’m not sure we need more proof of who Jesus was than His 12 disciples who went from cowering in fear at his death to shouting His praise in the streets (at the risk of being killed) after his resurrection.”

Unfamiliar with the reference, Andrew shifted to another patented argument.  “I don’t know much about stories like that, but the Bible is a fairy tale with tons of errors written by a bunch of men over hundreds of years.  So it’s not reliable – and yet Christians do whatever it says.”

The pastor wondered to himself how few Americans have any scriptural foundation in this post-Christian society.  “It doesn’t sound like you’ve studied the Bible, and yet you accuse Christians of not doing their homework on your positions.  The Bible is the most scrutinized book in history with skeptics trying to punch holes in it for thousands of years, but none have succeeded.”

Bill needed to get back to work and had an idea.  “Pastor, would you be willing to read a book Andrew recommends about the science behind earth’s origins?  I’ll agree to read it too.  And Andrew, would you mind reading a few chapters in the Bible that he recommends?  Maybe we could meet again to discuss what we’ve all learned.”

It’s Your Turn

Why haven’t churches trained members to respond to the same objections “atheists” always raise?  As the ground in America becomes less fertile soil for the Gospel – with fewer biblically literate and more “anti-theists” (i.e. professed atheists) – can pastors remain the only ones with solid answers?