Tag Archives: religion

Do We Have Evangelism Backward?

Jul 14, 22
JMorgan
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5 comments

Christians may understand the urgency of evangelism and their role in leading people to Jesus, yet not know what the Bible says about how to share their faith.  In other words, many get the “why” and “who”, but not the “how”.  Few churches are preparing members well to present the Gospel and respond to typical questions.  Instead, most offer churchgoers a get out of evangelism (and discipleship) free card, simply instructing them to tell their story and invite people to next Sunday’s service.  Entrusting pastors with our responsibility to make the case for Christ is not biblical.  However, it accomplishes several goals of contemporary church growth models taught by many seminaries, consultants, and authors:

  • Foster dependence – leadership is the subject of countless pastoral articles and books
  • Breed loyalty – centralize around a place, leaders, and “sticky” relationships
  • Avoid inconvenience – of those with limited bandwidth for more commitments
  • Ensure comfort – realize most have little appetite for risking careers or friendships
  • Justify giving – pay for the right to pass difficult tasks on to “professionals”

The lack of evangelism training makes it even more intimidating to speak up in what is already a challenging environment to “come out” as a Christian.  Ironically, it’s the unwillingness to boldly confess Jesus as Lord and live out His model of evangelism (Prayer/Care/Share) that led to the prevailing perception of Christians as intolerant.  Yet we make matters worse, causing people to wonder whether our faith is credible, as we become increasingly reluctant to talk about it.  Only assuming personal responsibility for the Great Commission, Jesus’ final marching orders before His ascension, can end the vicious cycle of churches not equipping for evangelism as the climate becomes more hostile to evangelism.

Current Process

Scripture lays out a process flow for evangelism in the ministries of Jesus and His disciples.  Rather than adopt that model, which would severely alter the lives of American Christians, churches condone and promote a set of less disruptive alternatives:

  • Act nice – hope people notice and ask why you’re different
  • Be holy – defer to God’s authority, getting out of His way since He knows best
  • Tell your story – no one can argue with what you believe you’ve experienced
  • Extend Invitations – hand out cards or give directions to meet at your church

Asking members to invite friends and family has become the “go-to”, default growth strategy – in lieu of evangelism.  In fact, national advertising campaigns have been built around referring non-believers to churches – and charging referral fees for those “leads”!  Even the phrase “each one, reach one” often boils down to distribution of church flyers.  If the invitee rejects repeated offers, then the dutiful believer is off the hook – reassured they’ve done all they could to win that person to Christ.

However, inviting someone to a church service isn’t the right first step – or the entirety of God’s expectations – for evangelism.  Regardless of whether there may have been a period in American history that approach “worked”, that time has passed.  It was never an appropriate “entry point” and is certainly less effective now in our current cultural context:

  • Promotes addition – rather than the Lord’s math of disciple multiplication
  • Perpetuates myths – defines church as a place and members as “customers”
  • Ignores mistrust – loss of faith in institutions means fewer will accept invitations
  • Undermines worship – seeker focus decreases depth and authenticity of services
  • Underutilizes capacity – members could access many people that pastors can’t

Mobilizing the entire congregation into the mission field of families, neighborhoods, and workplaces would spur far greater Kingdom impact.  Church planters begin externally focused to build networks, but many shift inward to manage the resulting growth.  Likewise, entrepreneurs start with an all-hands-on-deck mentality until expansion creates internal bottlenecks.  The difference is that entrepreneurs have sales and marketing staff, whereas when pastors shift focus inward, they tend to divert the “power in the pews” that direction as well – leveraging giftings for “church chores” and relegating evangelism to invitations.

Biblical Process

Instead of reflexively inviting those who don’t worship Jesus to a worship service, churches and Christians should follow the evangelistic model practiced by Jesus and the New Testament church:

  • Prayer – because evangelism is our task but the outcome is God’s responsibility
  • Care – because Jesus had the perfect words but almost always opened doors to evangelism through compassion
  • Share – because Jesus demonstrated His love but then told people who He was/is

We can’t outpreach Jesus or produce any results without Him, so we should walk in His footsteps.  Churches did so for 1900+ years, serving as the food bank and homeless shelter, but have largely outsourced local missions to parachurch ministries.  In addition, few provide church-wide, intensive discipleship and evangelism training; therefore, not enough churchgoers understand Jesus’ Prayer/Care/Share model or live out His commands.

Some churches have not only made invitations the basis of their evangelistic “ask” of members, but also built invitation-based evangelism into their DNA – in the form of advertising.  In our Post-Christian culture, church advertising isn’t the right first step and is far more effective in “stealing sheep” (from other churches) than attracting non-believers.  The effort and cost of ads, facilities, programs, and other amenities that grow one church at the expense of less “attractive” ones, leave little room for Care and increase hesitancy to push “consumers” too hard to Share.  Invite/Involve/Invest was never a good growth plan for churches or the Kingdom – yet it remains the prevailing strategy today.

Prayer/Care/Share is not only the biblical process for evangelism for churches, but also for individual believers.  An invitation to a worship service is the last step, not the first, in the following (proposed) sequence:

  1. Seek the Lord – to understand who to reach and prepare their hearts to receive
  2. Build friendships – people don’t care what you know until they know you care
  3. Speak openly – if they don’t see your need for Jesus, they won’t see theirs
  4. Serve generously – get your hands dirty showing kindness as opportunities arise
  5. Engage intentionally – involve in local missions projects to see God’s love in action
  6. Share boldlylearn how to convey the Gospel in ways that resonate with them
  7. Refer wisely – point them to verses and books that will educate and encourage
  8. Inquire lovingly – see if they are ready to accept Christ as their Lord and Savior
  9. Disciple personally – take time each week to meet, discuss, and answer questions
  10. Introduce socially – have them over to get to know other Christian friends
  11. Invite, finally – ask new believers to attend a small group or worship service

Imagine the impact on our nation’s spiritual and moral foundation if every Christian implemented Steps 1-10 rather than abdicating personal evangelism by skipping directly to Step 11.

Transition Process

Churches that frequently ask members to invite friends but don’t provide evangelism training do so for a reason.  Churches that market through advertising but commit few resources to poverty alleviation do so for that same reason.  They have strategically positioned the institution, not people, as the definition of “church” – and members, not the “lost” in the community, as the definition of its “customer”.  It’s no coincidence the words “outreach” and “ministry” have also been redefined in today’s vernacular – “outreach” now means church advertising, not personal evangelism, and “ministry” now refers to church volunteering, not serving the poor in Jesus’ name.

Convincing churches to revert to the biblical definitions of all those terms will not be easy, nor will selling “cultural Christians” on the idea of reclaiming ownership of the Great Commission.  On top of that, it’s hard to envision overcoming the resistance that has built up against churches, Christians, and evangelism in our society as a result of failing to live out Prayer/Care/Share ever since the Invite/Invest/Involve revolution decades ago.  The only answer lies in recommitment to discipleship that fuels unreserved obedience to the words of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Only the Lord can spark such dramatic repentance and revival.  Picture a body of Christ distinctly countercultural but not counter-culture – loving and caring yet not conforming or compromising.  No amount of inviting or advertising could be as attractional to non-believers as churches and Christians who look nothing like the divisive, judgmental, and intolerant world in which we live.

It’s Your Turn

Do you have suggestions for how to decentralize “church”, equipping and mobilizing more believers to carry out their biblical mission within their circles of influence?

Our Task but God’s Responsibility

Jun 30, 22
JMorgan
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4 comments

While it is clearly not wrong to share our faith, it is wrong to think we had anything to do with someone coming to faith.  Like a physician who knows and administers the cure for a disease, there’s no guarantee it will work in every patient’s case.  Even with all their education and training, factors exist outside a doctor’s control.  How much less are Christians in charge of whether someone suffering in sin will tolerate the cure?  Physicians become arrogant, playing “god”, when they begin to believe they have the power of life and death.  Many Christians and churches seem arrogant to non-believers, conducting themselves in ways that make it appear they believe the power of life and death rests in their hands.

God’s Responsibilities

Our Father wrote the play and His Son is the main character – it is not about you and me.  Each Christ-follower has the privilege of playing minor roles on His grand stage – and should be humbled by the fact the Lord chose to give us a small part in His plan for restoration and reconciliation.  Yes, as we read the script (Scripture) we may get nervous seeing how important the lines are we need to memorize and perform (GC3), but that pressure is alleviated by understanding we’re not responsible for the outcomes…

  • Great Commandment – God loved us before we loved Him (1 John 4:19)
  • Great Commission – God causes discipleship growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)
  • Great Calling – God’s blessing is the source of our productivity and authority (Genesis 1:28)

In a society that values and flaunts achievement, it’s wildly countercultural to deflect credit for success to where it is truly due.  Even when it comes to evangelism and discipleship, it’s tempting to track numbers and reflect on “accomplishments”.  Giving God all the glory for any results from our efforts seems like a poor performance incentive plan – we’re accustomed to being recognized and compensated for our work.  However, the Lord’s economy defies logic and human nature – what we do doesn’t accrue to our account, at least not in this life.  Yet it stands to reason we shouldn’t take credit for anything over which we ultimately have no control – like someone’s salvation and relationship with Jesus.

That fact that the Lord is fully responsible for the harvest doesn’t excuse us from planting and cultivating.  Christ-followers who diligently undertake Gospel-sharing and disciple-making must do so without a shred of pride or praise for whatever Jesus does through them.  A consolation for taking none of the credit for “success” is removing all the guilt when our faithful obedience doesn’t end the way we would have liked.  What God demands and smiles on is our love and perseverance even if non-believers we’ve poured into for years don’t accept Christ or if a fellow believer deconstructs, leaving the faith.  It hurts badly when people we care about decide not to follow Jesus, but we cannot take it personally.  That’s not easy when close family or friends relapse and suddenly stop calling and responding to emails, avoiding exposure of their darkness to the light.

Our job starts and ends at living Prayer, Care, Share lifestyles within our circles of influence.  Yet no matter how well we prepare, how much love we show, or how eloquently we communicate, there are those who simply will not respond – and we have no power to overcome their resistance.  We’ve all walked away from what we thought was a brilliant Gospel presentation or an incredibly kind-hearted gesture, only to learn soon thereafter it had no discernable impact.  We can lead people toward Christ, but not into a personal relationship with Him.  So God gets all the glory and we’re freed of the (perceived) burden of responsibility for saving anyone.

Usurping God’s Responsibilities

The ramifications of thinking or acting like we play a larger role than we actually do are being felt today in America.  The cultural tides have shifted dramatically because churches and Christians have overstepped their bounds – pursuing impact, influence, notoriety, and growth…and consequently achieved none of them.  Leaving the impression that we think it’s all up to us when it’s really all up to God has only bred resentment.  The intended scope of our tasks is GC3 – and then watching God have the impact, exert the influence, gain the notoriety, and cause the growth.

The Pharisees tried to convince the Israelites that interpreting Scripture and defining salvation criteria were their tasks AND their responsibilities, predicated on following their rules.  Jesus was a direct threat to that construct, undermining the power and prestige they desperately wanted to preserve.  All religions except Christianity elevate humans into God’s position of determining (eternal or earthly) outcomes by their “works” or “spirituality”.  Raising man up or bringing God down invites His wrath, essentially saying they didn’t need Jesus to suffer and die on their behalf.  Rather than accepting God’s “free” gift (i.e. His goodness), followers of other religions are told how to earn a “fair” wage (i.e. their “goodness”).

No Christian or church should borrow conventions from religions that overstate man’s capabilities and responsibilities.  Yet that’s what pastors and churchgoers do when they…

  • Centralize around a place and pastors, usurping evangelism and discipleship rather than delegating (and equipping for) those tasks
  • Treat megachurch leaders like celebrities, as if they have a more direct line to God
  • Measure and tout church success in terms of “butts”, “bucks”, and buildings
  • View members as “customers”, not as employees (i.e. the embodiment of church) trained to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus)
  • Give credit and kudos for GC3 tasks we should be performing without accolades
  • Evaluate “maturity” by the degree of engagement in church activities and “chores”, not discipleship depth and multiplication
  • Emphasize how God will make our lives better and get us through trials, the theme of most songs on Christian radio
  • Fight for victory rather than confidently loving from a position of victory
  • Act like provision is dependent on our efforts rather than trusting in God’s provision
  • Believe political affiliations and candidates will restore or advance the Kingdom
  • Teach generosity is an obligation and not a response to our Father’s generosity
  • Imply or promise God will grant (earthly) rewards for serving or giving to a church
  • Outsource the Great Commission to church leaders, who long ago outsourced compassion to parachurch ministries
  • Practice transactional poverty alleviation, not ongoing relational compassion

Churches rebuild the veil of the temple Jesus tore when they insert leaders between mankind and God by presuming to have responsibilities far beyond their pay grades.

Our Tasks

Relegating believers to the practice of GC3 – love, discipleship, and diligence – and relinquishing control over outcomes is the proper perspective.  Frankly, we never had control in the first place.  All we can do is trust the Lord will do what’s best and keep our noses to the grindstone, relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to…

Even in making those recommendations, we must keep in mind that implementing them is our task but God’s responsibility.  Pastors courageous enough to revert to biblical definitions of “church” and its intended “customer” – no longer catering to “consumers” but challenging “workers” to live out GC3 – face tremendous headwinds.  Unless the Lord builds the house, our labor will be in vain.  At this point, returning spiritual disciplines and discipleship to those who entrusted those tasks to “professionals” is only possible with God.

It’s Your Turn

Are you more relieved knowing we’re not responsible for our evangelistic ”failures” or disappointed knowing we don’t deserve credit for any “successes”?

Rescuing “Love” from Society’s Clutches

Sep 30, 21
JMorgan
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Part 3 (of 3)

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

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

How Religion Undermines Relationship

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

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

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

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

How Christians and Churches Often Miss It Too

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

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

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

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

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

Reestablishing God’s Love as the Gold Standard

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

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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2 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?

There’s No Such Thing as an Atheist

Apr 29, 21
JMorgan
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16 comments

Professed atheists don’t believe in Christianity – or that God even exists.  Well, I don’t believe in Atheism – or that an atheist even exists.  It requires more cognitive dissonance than I think anyone can authentically muster.  It takes far more faith to believe in nothing than something since something cannot come from nothing.  When a scientist manages to create even a speck of dust or maybe a bush out of thin air, it will be credible that a genuine atheist walks the earth.  When a 15 megapixel camera constructs itself, whereas the human eye is 576 megapixels, then maybe someone can reasonably deny a Creator.  When we discover that a classic novel wrote itself and the letters formed themselves into beautiful prose, like the miles of DNA strands that miraculously form each individual’s unique physiological signature, then Atheism has a leg to stand on.

Constructing the illusion that there is no God takes a tremendous amount of hard work.  It’s not easy to convince yourself that you hold a belief that, in the core of your being, you actually don’t.  The empirical and experiential evidence for God is too overwhelming – in the complexity and synchronicity of creation, the birth of a baby, the heat from the sun, feelings of love, multi-layered immune systems…and our very existence.  More importantly, just as almost everyone knows who their parents are, deep down we all know who our heavenly Father is.  Our Father instilled in us a spiritual and moral compass that points directly back to Himself.  The innate, undeniable connection we have with a parent persists even more strongly with the Lord.

The only question is the level of denial, distraction, pursuits and reeducation required to disavow our Father and designate as a spiritual orphan.  It took a two-decade coordinated campaign by politicians, media and Hollywood to sell the delusion fueling America’s demise – the untenable belief that humans are inherently good, ironically defying all we see in politics, TV and movies.  Not coincidentally, buying the lie that human nature is good in combination with pretending there is no God means we can be entrusted with unbridled autonomy to determine “truth”.  The term “atheist” is therefore also a misnomer for “Nones” (claiming no religion) and the now “enlightened” (claiming ownership of truth) because they do worship a supreme being – Self.

Why People Reject Jesus

Human nature’s desire to sin without conscience or consequence is what causes avowed atheists to cling to the impossible and to dismiss the undeniable.  When logic, observation and subconscious fail to prevail, we inevitably realize that only the spiritual can break through the spiritual.  The battle against sinful human nature is a supernatural one, won only by the power and intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing in this world will sway someone resolutely determined to live without any externally imposed constraints.  Only Jesus can inject the eternal to interrupt the ultimate objective of those firmly entrenched in the temporal – the pursuit of happiness.  The great awakening for the spiritually dead is often a realization that the world can never offer what it never had – joy, peace and contentment.  We can only pray that after living their “truth”, consuming their fill or enduring enough hardship they discover before it’s too late that meaning and fulfillment are not found on this planet without Christ.  Unfortunately, instead of resignation and reform many so-called atheists turn to medication and materialism to blunt the trauma of traveling a road to nowhere.

Secular leaders stand to gain by keeping citizens, constituents and customers from Christianity.  There is a choreographed agenda driving the concurrent movements to foster the delusion of mankind’s goodness and the illusion that there is no God.  Governments have difficulty controlling those who abide by a different set of laws.  Companies find it challenging to sell products when buyers are not self-centered and greedy.  Universities cannot indoctrinate minds in their worldly philosophies if students subscribe to a faith that contradicts their “facts”.  Media has trouble generating ad revenue when potential viewers resist human nature and refuse to watch news and shows filled with sex and violence.  As we have already seen in most other nations, those influencers are conspiring today in America to discredit Christianity and applaud “atheists” for the purpose of maximizing power and profits through the following progression…

  1. Pursuing Happiness – The process begins innocently enough, at least so it seems, by championing equality, justice and unity for all
  2. Redirecting Faith – Rescue the oppressed, print dollars and heal diseases, positioning leaders as savior to make people forget they once cried out to God for help
  3. Garnering Trust – Portray all who came before as evil, revising history to label Christians as oppressors and secular society as now free from the shackles of religion
  4. Establishing Control – Human nature always betrays (undeserved) trust in human nature, but by the time an unsuspecting nation knows it has been deceived, it’s too late and the liberties promised in a post-Christian society are quickly reversed

So the powerful and prosperous do what they can to eradicate Christian faith and values, despite all the experiences and observations (of God’s handiwork) to the contrary.  Yet because God does exist, the arguments against Christianity and excuses for not believing are trite and fragile.  Those uneducated in science bet their lives on it.  Those pointing to hypocrisy in the church fully grasp their own.  Those who say they’ve tried church and it wasn’t for them blame God for man’s faults.  Those refusing to acknowledge the need for a Savior do their best to shut off their God-given consciences to hide their guilt and shame.  Those unable to wrap their finite minds around the invisible cannot prove God does not exist but require Christians to prove that He does.  Those who cannot conceive of a God who would let bad things happen to good people mistakenly see themselves as good.  Those viewing religion as a matter of personal preference forget that man cannot turn God into something He is not.

God is who God is.  Conforming Him to our image does not actually alter Him.  Nor does any degree of disbelief make God cease to be.  Denying Him does not disintegrate Him.  Ignoring Him won’t make Him ignore us.  Christianity is unique in that we have seen God.  We know exactly who the Lord is.  Jesus came to dispel any misconceptions and expose the fatal flaw in every other religion – the aspiration to ascend up to God through good works or “inner divinity” when God had to descend down to save helpless and fallen humanity.

Despite efforts to discredit Christianity, there is a desire to know God lurking below the surface of all “atheists”.  For example, many regularly attend “church” on this blog’s Facebook page, commenting passionately on topics they profess to care nothing about.  The anger apparent in their tone conveys a past, profound disappointment with something God either did or did not do for them.  Now they feel compelled to restate their patented arguments to confirm their tenuous, unfounded convictions – uncertain of their veracity yet likely certain of the severe consequences of being wrong.

How Should Christians Respond?

Armed with the knowledge that there are no atheists, what should churches and Christians do differently to reach “Nones”?  Understanding the real “lay of the land” should close the gap in our minds between “us” and “them” – and prompt us to action!  All nonbelievers stand on the verge of belief – their misplaced confidence in strawman excuses and concerted efforts to silence God’s promptings leave their resolve hanging by a thread.  They are far more receptive on the inside than they appear to be on the outside.  Many will abandon the vagaries of relativism in favor of absolute truth if Christians abandon ineffective evangelism in favor of Jesus’ methods…

  1. Be Different, Not Distant – Reopen lines of communication through humble confession and accountability, preemptively dismantling the superiority complexes maintained by many Christians and supposed “atheists”
  2. Be Caring, Not Critical – Through extraordinary acts of kindness and fighting on the front lines for justice, debunk secular characterizations of Christians as “oppressors”
  3. Be Bold, Not Bashful – “Atheists” are more willing to listen and engage in discussion with Christians than some may think, more aware of their sin than they care to admit
  4. Be Opportunistic, Not Oblivious – Don’t miss chances to fan the flames of doubt that creep in when “atheists” observe creation, wrestle with their conscience, and face mortality
  5. Be Exponential, Not Expedient – Replace attractional church services with disciple-making, conceding that efforts to appeal to “atheists” alienated them, providing fodder to mock Christians rather than equipping believers to go out to those who would never step into a sanctuary
  6. Be Patient, Not Panicked – Persist in prayer, care and share because the hopelessness of being a cosmic accident with no purpose may eventually open the door to the Gospel
  7. Be Faithful, Not Flustered – Relax and know the outcome of dropping seeds on hard ground do not depend on us; only God can cause them to grow if that’s His will

With America in its penultimate stage, if the rise and fall of historical superpowers is any guide, then society will continue to turn away from God and toward decadence, dependence and division.  The good news is there is hope because no matter what anyone says, there’s no such thing as an atheist.

It’s Your Turn

Do you agree that in the inner recesses of our beings and in observing the outer world around us, it is impossible for an individual made in the image of God to truly believe He does not exist?