Tag Archives: Church

Is America Moving Forward or Backward?

Sep 22, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

Whether the “advancements” society celebrates are actually moving us forward depends on how we measure progress.  Some are unquestionably positive, others are debatable, and many are harmful.  Medical advances have contributed to a nearly 30 year increase in average lifespans since 1900.  Commercial and fiscal innovations have reduced poverty in the U.S. by 50% since the 1950s, but the wealth gap has increased (the top 1% now owns more than the bottom 90%).  The social impacts of some modern technology breakthroughs, like cell phones and Artificial Intelligence, are being called into question.  Likewise, America may one day discover that our culture’s recent advancement in self-awareness, self-determination, and self-actualization represents progressivism but not progress.

Even seemingly unassailable objectives of equality, freedom, and justice can undermine rather than improve the social order if their definitions are based on a flawed or biased understanding of those terms.  Achieving them for one group often entails removing them from another.  Those benefitting from social reforms measure their success by a different standard than those adversely affected.  For example, the efficacy of criminal justice reform depends on whether you ask the perpetrators or the victims, each of whom can find statistics to back up their position.

The net effect of progressive thought and policies on the overall advancement of our nation hinges on the standard of measure.  The general premise is alluring – faith in mankind to improve the human condition, to strike a delicate balance between environmental and economic interests, and to make decisions that are best for ourselves and others (without competing agendas).  However, how trustworthy are human intellect and intentions when top doctors, scientists, Wall Street analysts, university professors, government officials, and corporate executives are so often (proven to be) wrong or unscrupulous?

Underlying faith in mankind to do the right thing is the assumption that people are inherently good.  Ironically, postmodernism rejects any standard for “right” (except for attempts to establish one).  In contrast, Christianity claims only God is good and human nature is evil, resistant to what the Bible (clearly) defines as right.  So the determinants of social progress depend on the reality of mankind’s situation – are we heading toward or away from the truth about human nature?  Progressive is regressive if trust in humanity’s goodness is misplaced.  If there is a God and we are sinners in dire need of a Savior, then (for example) less law enforcement and more government dependency are not progress.

The following 7 sets of options represent opposing views of what constitutes social progress due to fundamentally conflicting assessments of human nature:

1. Ego or Humility

Continuing the transition from Christianity to Selfism as America’s predominant religion is a step forward in the eyes of atheists and agnostics.  Secular humanism sounds people-positive and empowering, attracting idealistic youth, but is it true?  Companies and politicians artificially inflate our self-perceptions for profit and power.  Is accumulation of wealth, worship of celebrities, and pursuit of happiness actually progress or just progressive?

If, on the other hand, Jesus is Lord then our culture is heading in the wrong direction.  Confession, repentance, and revival would be progress – bowing before our heavenly Father and asking forgiveness for overestimating our goodness and asserting our independence from Him.  In that scenario, only a society characterized by unconditional love and selfless generosity would be viewed as genuinely flourishing.

To reverse the tide, churches and Christians should lead the way in humility, not incorporating elements of Selfism into our faith (e.g. “cheap grace” of salvation without surrender).

2. Knowledge or Wisdom

If secular humanists are correct about the origins of matter, earth and human life then untethering knowledge acquisition from the shackles of religion will make our society wiser.  In their view, our wealthy and educated nation should no longer subscribe or subject itself to the arcane principles and practices of the previously “unenlightened”.

However, is America gaining in intelligence if it’s no longer building on a foundation of truth?  If there is a Creator and man is not the supreme arbiter of fact or fiction, then America’s public colleges and high schools are leading students astray.  If science is the study of what God made, yet scientists don’t understand it in that context, then the basis for their discoveries is disputable.  If business and technology innovations do not align with biblical principles of love, worship, and fellowship then they risk discriminating, distracting, or disconnecting.

Churches and Christians are rarely cited as sources of wisdom today.  As believers, we need to be equipped with biblical answers to questions the world can’t answer through intensive discipleship and evangelism training.

3. Equality or Dignity

The progressive goal of ascribing equal value to every human being, treating people of any gender, creed, and race with the same degree of dignity and respect, aligns with Scripture and undoubtedly represents social progress.  The humanistic definition of equality departs from Christian values and takes America off track when it signals that our virtue exceeds God’s and fails to recognize the intentional distinctions wonderfully designed by our Creator.

Churches and Christians shouldn’t conform to culture by minimizing the differences in God’s design.  Instead, we should highlight God’s goodness by reflecting His unconditional love to those who revile and “cancel” us for not agreeing with their definition of equality.

4. Justice or Unity

Social justice brings true progress, and not political progressivism, only when it recognizes that all people are sinful.  No one cares more about justice and the rights of the oppressed than Jesus – it fact it was His mission statement.  Yet since only He was sinless, His definition of justice isn’t skewed to claim superiority for Himself or a special interest group.  Jesus knew division would be a result of His fight for justice but didn’t pit sides against each other to sow division for personal gain.  Instead, His solution was the ultimate injustice, paying the penalty for our sins and asking the Father to forgive His murderers.

The rights of churches and Christians are also being sacrificed unjustly today, but we should respond like Jesus, displaying His goodness and seeking unity (amongst ourselves and across humanity) in the pursuit of justice for all.

5. Government or Accountability

If politicians are trustworthy and government is a good steward of resources, then our nation is progressing forward when we entrust them with more power.  Most Americans would reject those propositions, yet federal spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product rose from 3% in 1929 to 30% in 2021.  If “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and only God is good then substituting government for Jesus (as our savior) isn’t progress.

Churches and Christians should resume their role on the front lines of compassion to reduce dependence on government handouts that perpetuate poverty.  We must model and emphasize personal responsibility, diligence, and reliance on the Lord for provision.

6. Relativism or Reality

If there is no God and mankind is naturally kind and considerate, then doing whatever we feel is right and lifting the veil of religious dogma that’s clouded our vision for centuries make perfect sense.  In that case, Postmodernism is right to reject truth claims (except those in the eyes of the beholder).  As long as one person’s “truth” doesn’t invade or suppress another’s, then relativism is social progress.  However, our beliefs don’t alter facts – atheism does not cause God to cease to exist.  The Creator, our loving Father, was kind and considerate enough to give us life and reveal countless truths about Himself and our nature in His autobiography, the Bible.

Churches and Christians can lead America in the right direction by refusing to compromise or soft-pedal principles in God’s Word to appease a relativistic, egocentric culture.

7. Freedom or Guardrails

If human nature is good, a society advances when people are trusted to do whatever they want with their bodies and the world they live in.  Activists envisioning a utopia of legalization without law enforcement aren’t moving America forward.  However, Jesus understands human nature so He didn’t come to abolish laws.  The earth and even our own bodies belong to Him – so we are subject to the rules the Owner established for their care and maintenance.  Culture regresses when it operates outside of the Lord’s parameters.

Churches and Christians must set the example of loving obedience as children of the Father, deal with sin biblically among believers, and not judge those outside the church.

It’s Your Turn

Is America progressing or simply progressive today?  How has an errant view of human nature led to the moral, economic, mental health, and spiritual decline of our country?

Front Lines of the Battle for America’s Future

Sep 08, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
No Comments

Boomers, Gen X and even most Millennials have largely made up their minds.  They were born and raised at a time in America when the vast majority of parents and friends were Christians.  They’ve grown up around church, known many believers, and years ago came to a decision about Jesus – yea or nay.  By virtue of their age and long-held stance, it’s hard to win older Americans over to Christ or atheism.

However, the impressionable youth of our country, Gen Z, are still forming opinions or can be more easily swayed, caught between the influence of predominantly Christian parents and post-Christian friends.  The struggle for the hearts and minds of our children is the true battleground, a fact not lost on professors, politicians, businesses, and activists bent on reshaping the future of our nation.

Every year that passes, populations representing prior generations decrease, taking with them the Christian values and morals they espoused.  To ensure each deceased believer is replaced with an “enlightened” youth, universities and media are working overtime to instill the 7 pillars of social “progress” (i.e. no offense, no sin, no conscience, no consequences, no identity, no religion, no truth).  With those pillars in place, evangelism becomes ineffective (at best) or outlawed (at worst).

Christ-followers know Jesus eventually prevails because we’ve read the end of the story (i.e. the Bible), but deluded “atheists” hope that secularizing the next generation will insulate our culture from a return to faith.  They envision a utopia of progressive humanism and unrestrained decadence.  This isn’t the first attempt in world history to snuff out Christianity – and like most, it may have the opposite effect.

The Battle Plan

Jesus spoke of a childlike faith that trusts in our loving Father for provision and instruction.  A child’s healthy growth and development requires dependence on others for support and guidance.  Children in their formative years can’t assert independence from external influence, establish identity without association, or develop intellect without conditioning.

  • Independence: Youth must rely on someone…the question is who
  • Identity: Youth will belong to something…the question is what
  • Intellect: Youth need to learn everything…the question is from whom

In other words, will Gen Z in America be influenced and conditioned more by God or by those who don’t have their best interests at heart?  Secularism’s (false) promise is freedom from the shackles of religion, but its reality is captivity in chains of sin and hopelessness.  The fact is Satan is a far more stringent taskmaster than our loving Father.  To deflect attention from that deception, social “influencers” accuse Christianity of the same crime secularism is busy committing – a coordinated campaign to gain control over our children’s lives, in this case wrestling it away from God and (Christian) parents.

The following are 7 messages being drilled into the heads of Gen Z today to position Christianity as a threat to their independence, identity, and intellect.  However, each is a bill of goods, based on empty promises intended to curtail freedom, define identity, and steer thinking:

1. “Parents Are Out of Touch”

Presupposition: Christian parents corrupt their children by teaching them arcane views of morality (e.g. gender and chastity).

Misconception: A sense of permanent belonging (as a child of an earthly dad and heavenly Father) can be supplanted by transient professors and friends – and trusted to reset outdated moral standards.

Deception: The real intent isn’t about an awakening sheltered youth but breaking the ties with family and God that hinder the conformance needed to govern a populace (power) and consumerism needed to fuel an economy (profit).

Proposition: A child’s first love is a dad and mom.  We were also created to be children of God.  When we’re born, parents are our protectors and providers, which is exactly what God is when we are reborn.  However, churches have mistakenly emphasized joining a church family more than becoming a child of our Father – making it easier for youth to decide to join other communities (of non-believers) more accepting of immorality.

2. “Trust Your Own Judgment”

Presupposition: At a young age we know what’s best for ourselves and shouldn’t be told what to do or think by parents or pastors.

Misconception: Children can form completely independent thoughts and world views, not malleable or manipulated by the whims and vagaries of culture.

Deception: Once liberated from the influence of families and God, young minds can be reprogrammed to dictate what they must think or face ostracization from “decent” society.

Proposition: What do we know that wasn’t taught to us?  What matters is the reliability of those sources of information.  The Bible, scrutinized for thousands of years and yet to be discredited, is more trustworthy than the learned secular voices in science, medicine, finance, academia, and media who are so often proven wrong.  Churches and Christians shouldn’t soft-pedal or dilute the truths of God’s Word, trying to make it more palatable.

3. “Leaders Care About the Issues”

Presupposition: Politicians and pundits are deeply concerned about and fully convinced of the ability of young children to determine their own gender, make life-altering decisions, and conceive personal versions of truth regardless of their maturity or parents’ wishes.

Misconceptions: Equality, tolerance, and justice are secularism’s actual objectives.  Youth have the capacity to do what’s best for themselves without parental and spiritual guidance.

Deception: Ironically, secular leaders are advocating establishment of a new religion – Selfism.  With Christianity out of the picture (by labeling us bigots, intolerant, and unjust), secular leaders secure enough votes (as older generations die off) to scale the peaks of the 7 mountains and institute systems threatening the freedoms they’d promised to defend.

Proposition: No one cares more about equality, tolerance, and justice than Jesus.  But many Christians aren’t reflecting His love well.  To appeal the Gen Z, churches and Christ-followers must show what authentic compassion and unconditional love look like.

4. “Christianity is Oppressive”

Presupposition: Rather than sincere worship of our Creator, Christianity is a man-made convention designed to repress natural inclinations, empower demagogues, and enrich pastors.

Misconception: Unsuspecting, naïve youth must be forewarned of Christianity’s nefarious objectives or risk suffering their parents’ fate – reason and judgment clouded by religion.

Deception: Oppressive governments originate by defining “oppressors” and “oppressed”, particularly through propaganda directed at idealistic youth, pledging to end all oppression.  Categorizing Christians as oppressors justifies regulating not only them, but inevitably tying the hands of the “oppressed” as well through “handouts” that breed dependency.

Proposition: No one is more concerned about the oppressed than Jesus.  In His own words, He came to set them free – but His mission statement was genuine, not a cover to one day assert dominance over both oppressor and oppressed.  Christians do not always follow Jesus’ example, so we should confess our flaws while pointing to His perfection.

5. “Purpose is Found in a Cause”

Presupposition: Youth snowed into believing in God, hoping to discover meaning in what doesn’t exist, are missing out on the fulfillment offered by popularity and prosperity.

Misconception: Absent identity in Christ, a sense of purpose is available in fighting “oppression” (as defined by those who consider Christians the primary culprits).

Deception: Directing the ire of justice-minded students toward Christianity is about agendas, not justice, and costs them eternal impact in this life and hope for the next.

Proposition:  Understanding the cause of Christ reigns supreme, churches and Christians must take the lead and invest substantially in addressing critical issues important to Gen Z.

6. “Happiness is the Goal”

Presupposition: Whatever and whoever stands in the way of the inalienable right of each young person to pursue happiness should be summarily condemned and rejected.

Misconception: Happiness can be acquired through promotions, products, and possessions (i.e. the American Dream), a myth promulgated by TV, social media, and advertisers.

Deception: Trying to convince youth that the world can give what it never had (lasting peace and happiness) while concurrently teaching them they’re cosmic accidents combine to create the outcome you’d expect (rampant substance abuse and suicides).

Proposition: Flourishing (“life as God intends”) and joy (“happiness that never fades”) are not fleeting, altered by the next positive or negative life event, because Christ and our inheritance in Him are unchanging.  Churches should be training Christians to share that good news when young people inevitably reach the dead end on the road to “happiness”.

7. “Faith is Foolish”

Presupposition: Belief in a God is a crutch for the insecure, a hammer to wield power over the oppressed, or a fantasy only believed by the ignorant.

Misconception: Universities and Hollywood mock Christianity because they don’t believe in God and see no need for His forgiveness for their sins.

Deception: The assault on all things Christian today is about ensuring Gen Z serves no other god than humanism, consumption and government, replacing Jesus as “savior”, to reshape the future of our nation around the world’s priorities.

Proposition: Christians should help youth understand how much faith it takes to believe something came from nothing and how credible the evidence is for Jesus in historical records, God’s creation, mankind’s sinfulness, and the compassion of His followers.

It’s Your Turn…

What other lies is secularism telling Gen Z and how else could Christ-followers fight for truth given that the future of America is at stake?

America’s 7 Step Plan to Ban Evangelism

Aug 25, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments

Even those trained, experienced, active, humble, and consistent in sharing their faith are finding it increasingly difficult.  The message that Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay has never changed, but America’s receptivity to that message certainly has.  Activists, politicians, educators, and media are erecting a fortress to prevent Christians from imposing their beliefs on “innocent victims”.  That fortress rests on 7 rebar-reinforced pillars designed collectively to ensure evangelism falls on deaf ears.

Extricating America from hundreds of years of Christian influence can’t be done overnight, but the path from protection to prevention to persecution is well documented.  Precedents set in countries where evangelism has been criminalized begin by casting Christianity as a threat to national interests and the social order.  Christians are pushed from the mainstream to the fringe by calling into question their values and motives.  Since it’s impossible to implicate Jesus, His followers become the targets, portrayed as oppressors seeking dominion over oppressed non-believers.  In that environment, sharing one’s faith becomes viewed as an attempt to manipulate and control rather than to love and rescue.

Without evangelism training, a rarity in America’s churches, few Christians know how to respond to those accusations.  Studies reveal only around 50% have witnessed to someone in the past year, not surprising when just under 50% (of Christian Millennials) question whether it’s right to do so.  Those brave enough to stick out their necks and obey the Great Commission risk making enemies in today’s post-Christian culture.  The intimidation factor and roadblocks will only increase as the 7 pillars are driven deeper into the bedrock of our society…

1. No Offense

The formula for turning the tables on Christianity is simple.  First, use our own words against us.  The Gospel is inherently offensive, so vilify and repudiate anyone who offends:

  • Redefine the word love to mean not causing anyone discomfort, by definition precluding any mention of Christ around “atheists” or those practicing other faiths
  • Redefine intolerance to mean belief in moral absolutes, by definition labeling Christians as bigots, silencing their voices in the public square

On that basis, anyone holding a biblical worldview – in other words, those deemed hateful and intolerant – may be “cancelled”.  The answer for Christians isn’t to cower or to offend – but to debunk those revised definitions by imitating Jesus, who loved unconditionally, particularly those who felt judged, while never compromising His moral standards.

2. No Sin

Next, eliminate any perceived need for Jesus by removing “sin” from society’s lexicon:

  • Diminish the value of forgiveness, which is only required if there’s a (sin) debt to pay – so without any bad news there can’t be any “good news” (i.e. the Gospel)
  • Consider any reference to “sin” attempted exploitation by Christians – and since the Gospel can’t be shared without invoking that concept, render evangelism powerless

Our culture frowns on offending non-believers but encourages offending our Father (i.e. through sin) and His children.  Rather than responding with anger, Christians should be wise as serpents (e.g. recognize virtue signaling is feigning offense to avoid being offended) and gentle as doves (e.g. understand deep down everyone knows they’re not perfect and seeks absolution).  As Jesus, Peter and Paul modeled, we can’t witness without addressing the need for repentance and reconciliation.

3. No Conscience

Eradicating offense and “sin” still leaves a God-given conscience that, unless squelched, risks vulnerability to future evangelistic encounters with Christians:

  • Deprogram conscience by violating it repeatedly while dismissing guilt as an arcane conception of Christians designed to suppress and oppress
  • Claim that human nature is innately good and the ultimate evil is making anyone feel sinful or guilty
  • Blame rampant escapism (addiction, depression and suicide) on the intolerance of Christians, not guilt over sinful lifestyles

To tear down this roadblock to evangelism, repentance must begin within the church.  Wrestling with our own sin publicly rather than concealing it would make non-believers more open to confessing their own.  Activating dormant consciences requires Christians act less like the older brother in the prodigal son story and more like the father.  By reflecting the Lord’s merciful nature, we illuminate mankind’s depraved nature.

4. No Consequences

With those first 3 pillars in place, an additional complexity for those bent on neutralizing evangelism is the persistent fear of death and uncertainty about what follows.  Therefore:

  • Mock belief in God as irrational, uneducated, and outdated to squash any latent concern about meeting Him one day and facing judgment
  • Emphasize the (apparent) inconsistency of a loving God meting out wrath on “innocent” people in the Old Testament and in Hell for eternity

The premise missed by those allegations is that God is a Father, so discipline is consistent with His character.  Evangelism must address God’s wrath (for those who scoff at His Son’s sacrifice for our sins) in order to accentuate HIs goodness, offering us a way of escape.  Do we truly believe there’s a Hell if we never share about Jesus with those we love?

5. No Identity

A society that rids itself of offense, sin, conscience, and consequences quickly develops an identity crisis.  Without a Father, spiritual orphans devoid of purpose and meaning must:

  • Replace the God-shaped hole with alternative identifiers like gender or sexuality
  • Seek acceptance among those welcoming anyone who abides by the first 4 pillars
  • Associate all Christians with the worst among us to ensure the fatherless don’t look for identity as a child of our Father when Selfism inevitably runs its hopeless course

To keep the door open for evangelism, Christians must strike Jesus’ delicate balance between acceptance and accepting – welcoming “sinners” (like us) into the family but not overlooking “sin”.  Children of a loving Father should want (and be expected) to obey Him.

6. No Religion

If all else fails, layer on top of the 5 previous pillars the cultural norm that bringing up religion is not socially acceptable.  Evangelism becomes taboo and receptivity plummets:

  • Ensure a declining base of knowledge about the fundamentals of Christianity
  • Conflate politics and religion, playing the separation of church and state card
  • Keep Christians at arms-length to maintain fragile illusions, fake IDs, and the unfettered right to live guilt-free

As long as secular humanists consider Christianity just another (man-made) religion and not a real relationship with the Creator of the universe, it becomes easy to dismiss.  Evangelism should demonstrate how our faith is unique in that all others hinge on what humans must do to fix what we broke, a task far beyond our capabilities – but not Jesus’.

7. No Truth

Finally, to guarantee no evangelism slips through the cracks, declare that truth either doesn’t exist or is whatever the government or each person decides that it is:

  • Teach that only what can be seen can be believed, demanding proof God exists
  • Cobble together a worldview that doesn’t infringe on any of the other pillars
  • Deny the irrefutable evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected

Entrusting truth claims to brains that evolved randomly from inanimate matter is illogical.  Christianity explains how we developed the intellectual capacity to evaluate anything’s validity and veracity.  In sharing our faith with those who reject the concept (of faith), Christians should point out the irony that it takes more faith to believe something came from nothing.  Without being confrontational, it’s also worth noting the presumption required to assert with absolute certainty that the imperceptible is inconceivable as if anything ceases to exist when our finite minds decide it doesn’t.

It’s Your Turn…

What additional steps should churches and Christians take before our culture finishes constructing an impenetrable fortress through which no evangelism can pass?

How to Undermine Evangelism

Aug 11, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

On top of fearing, abdicating, reversing, and botching evangelism, many Christians undermine the evangelistic efforts of others by not living much like Jesus.  As Gandhi (reportedly) said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.” and “If all Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.”  The most prevalent objections of avowed atheists on this blog’s social media pages aren’t the principles of Christianity but the practices of Christians.

Granted, that’s likely an excuse to justify disbelief, but we validate those accusations when we don’t reflect God’s love and grace.  Those opposed to a moral code of any kind would find another reason to reject Christianity, but why give them such an easy out?  Rather than providing ammunition, Christians could disarm non-believers by forcing them to admit that at least we “practice what we preach”.

Changing media’s portrayal of Christians hinges on our consistency, transparency, and humility.  With reporters eager to pounce there’s little leeway, but any slip ups are opportunities for proactive confession and admission of our need for Jesus.  Disclosing our shortcomings points people to Jesus rather than pushing them away from Him.  If any vestige of their God-given conscience remains, our honesty may awaken critics to the secrets they’ve been hiding – surfacing a suppressed need and desire for forgiveness.

Any hypocrisy, dishonesty, or self-righteousness looks nothing like Jesus and impedes evangelism.  All three are largely a product of contemporary church growth models that emphasize attracting and retaining churchgoers.  Those models shift the weight of expectations and burden of responsibility from paying members to paid professionals.  Although all Christians should be Kingdom “employees”, many became “consumers” conducting spiritual business, expecting a fair exchange of value from churches (e.g. sermons, music, programs, facilities) and God (e.g. favor, blessings, problem resolution).  To placate consumers, church leaders hesitate to ask for much beyond infrequent “transactions” (i.e. invite, involve, and invest), but Jesus’ church growth model demands continual engagement (i.e. evangelism, discipleship, and compassion) in Kingdom advancement.

Cultural Christians conditioned by consumerism are ripe for hypocrisy, mistakenly thinking…

1. Grace is cheap

Grace was expensive for Jesus.  Churches cheapen it and cast Christianity in a negative light when they…

  • Hesitate to speak about sin from the pulpit
  • Fail to confront sin among membership
  • Rarely utter the terms accountability, repentance, and surrender
  • Don’t actively promote sharing the good news of God’s grace with others
  • Focus more on operational costs than the costs of discipleship

Consistency, transparency, and humility begin – and hypocrisy ends – when we view sin the way Jesus does.

2. Church is an event

Jesus sees the Church as His bride, a living organism through which He will fulfill His plans for humanity.  Redefining “church” as a place with pastors where we meet with friends for an hour or two on the weekends sucks the life out of it.  By compartmentalizing faith, we separate the sacred from secular, making it convenient to live a double life on the weekdays.  Consistency, transparency, and humility require an understanding that each of us is the personification of “church”, the hands and feet of Jesus, all week long.  Evangelism is a not a box for us to check – our invitations to church services look too much like business transactions where consumers make referrals and pastors close the deal.

3. Winning is everything

Jesus played the long game, always looking forward to what lay ahead.  He was silent before His accusers and submitted to the Father’s will at all cost.  It’s when Christians refuse to lose that their consistency (with Jesus), transparency, and humility all disappear, handing a smoking gun to our accusers.  “Employees” would realize it’s more important to be real than right, whereas Kingdom consumers expect to come out on top not only in the next life, but this one as well.  Hypocrisy ceases when we obey Jesus without reservation, not pursuing victory or the accolades craved by those who worship self.  The greatest commandment is to love unconditionally, which is radically countercultural, and the highest act of love is to share our faith with those lost and hopeless without Jesus.  We win when others don’t lose.

4. Comfort is king

Jesus was homeless and persecuted while making sure everyone else was fed and healthy.  He rocked the boat and asked His followers to do the same.  Yet churches and Christians go to tremendous lengths to ensure no one is made uncomfortable, adopting the world’s definition of love – keeping their facilities spotless and their faith private.  If pastors saw churchgoers as Kingdom employees and not consumers, they’d be bolder in measuring discipleship (rather than numerical) growth.  Congregations that consider the implications of decisions on member satisfaction are breeding grounds for hypocrisy.  Jesus’ ministry was not based on business metrics but on (inverted) Kingdom economics that place higher value on discomfort than comfort.

5. Politics is power

Jesus preached about His (otherworldly) Kingdom, walked away from politics, and encouraged giving Caesar back what belongs to Caesar.  Every passing year, Christians in America become more enmeshed in Caesar’s kingdom and less engaged in God’s.  Each word we speak in anger over our steady loss of “power” in this post-Christian era further erodes whatever “power” remains.  Cries of hypocrisy would be silenced if we hitched our wagons to Jesus and not political candidates, relying more on Him and less on them to be our “savior”.  Only a ground war of compassion by the power of the Holy Spirit, not an air war dropping verbal bombs, will win America’s cultural war.

6. Unity is expendable

John 17 records Jesus’ fervent prayer for unity, yet non-believers can’t help but notice how fragmented the body of Christ is today.  Racial, political and socioeconomic division is evident throughout our society, and Christianity is no exception.  Our love for one another is supposed to be our main attraction but what the world sees are churches across denominations advertising for attenders and ministries competing for donors.   We don’t even take care of our own, paying almost no attention to the 350 million persecuted brothers and sisters suffering overseas while we bask in religious freedom on our shores.

7. Ignorance is bliss

Jesus made disciples who walked in His footsteps, but Kingdom consumers don’t feel obligated to read its owner’s manual (the Bible) or sell its services (the Gospel).  Consequently, many Christians know surprisingly little about who they worship and therefore don’t imitate Him well.  That inconsistency, apparent in a lack of transparency and humility, convinces non-believers that Christ might not be worth following.  The problem is that standards have diminished to the point where those who atheists mock are “Christians” in name only, more a function of social/political affiliation and family background than committed believers who live in line with their faith.

8. Responsibility is optional

Jesus preached and sent disciples out to do so, but most churches no longer teach members how to evangelize and answer tough questions.  The risk and time required to become effective in sharing Christ among coworkers and neighbors exceeds the threshold of what most consumers are willing to endure.  Ironically, the dichotomy between our faith on the weekends and compromise on weekdays has the opposite of its intended effect – rather than earning us relational “points”, our inconsistency costs us respect.

9. Faith is safe

To be credible, faith and the actions it inspires can’t be entirely logical.  Jesus spoke words never heard and backed them up with miracles never seen.  No one has ever impacted humanity like Jesus did because no one has ever so dramatically defied human nature and natural laws.  When Christians claim to have faith but appear just as concerned about self-preservation as the faithless, we open the door to ridicule.  When we choose paths that make absolutely no sense, abandoning reason and security, we (counterintuitively) invite admiration and curiosity.

10. Poverty is ok

Jesus spoke about caring for the poor as if our (eternal) lives depended on it.  Even the unchurched understand His emphasis on serving those in material poverty, left to wonder why churches aren’t more engaged year-round in alleviating it.  Historically, churches replicated Jesus’ model of healing and feeding before telling people who He is (i.e. the Gospel) but eventually abdicated their role on the front lines of compassion to government agencies and parachurch ministries.  Budgets and energies reoriented toward church growth strategies, with little money or time left over to serve struggling families.  To cover the bases, most churches run seasonal outreaches that instead perpetuate poverty by fostering dependency.  None of those facts are lost on secular observers and media outlets.

It’s Your Turn

If no one who knew Jesus would dislike Him, why wouldn’t we choose to live more like Jesus?  How would our evangelism be more effective if all Christians operated according to His principles and practices?

The Lost Art of Evangelism

Jul 28, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
5 comments

Even if some are swayed by this series on the why, who, and how of evangelism, most American churchgoers remain unprepared to share their faith in the current cultural context.  That gap – knowing what to say – formed as churches increasingly replaced discipleship and apologetics training with less demanding evangelistic alternatives.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed that few Christians were ready to be the hands and feet of Jesus when churches’ doors were closed.  Despite the Church’s history of self-sacrifice, churchgoers accustomed to inviting friends to next weekend’s service chose self-preservation instead – missing the incredible opportunity to be “pastors” of their neighborhoods.  There’s no better time to offer hope than when disasters and diseases reveal the hopelessness of a godless existence.

If we seriously – I mean, seriously – believe there’s a hell and certain escape through Jesus for those we love, we wouldn’t be silent.  If we truly understood our Father’s amazing grace and unconditional love, we wouldn’t sit idle as spiritual orphans remain fatherless.  We are not responsible for the outcome of our efforts (because God produces the results) but we are accountable for trying to lead people toward Christ.  The most common excuses for saying nothing are:

  • “My faith is a private matter” – typically those with a lot (e.g. of assets) to lose, who talk about everything else they love (e.g. sports, kids) except for Jesus
  • “I don’t want to offend anyone” – a euphemism concealing fear of rejection
  • “I’m not qualified to speak about faith when I live in a glass house” – either self-deprecating, feigned humility or genuine disobedience
  • “I don’t know how to explain the Gospel effectively” – anyone betting their (eternal) life on Jesus is qualified to give the reasons for their decision
  • “I’m not sure how to answer their objections and tough questions” – a cop-out remedied by preparing even a fraction as hard as we study for work or school

Today we’re addressing the last two excuses – how to convey and defend the truth of the Gospel in our Post-Christian society.  Recent studies indicate non-believers are more open to faith discussions with Christians than Christians are with them.  We would find those conversations less intimidating, and people would listen more intently, if we knew how to speak clearly, audibly, and intelligently about our faith.

Speak Clearly

When Christians muster the courage to talk about God, they often do so in what sounds like a foreign language – Christianese.  Without adequate training on how to share the Gospel, churchgoers repeat what they’ve heard from the pulpit or in small groups, which was intended for Christian audiences.  Contemporary Christian music is also guilty of using vernacular unintelligible to unchurched ears, as if it has no evangelistic intent.  Churches and Christian media should be vehicles for equipping believers for GC3 (the Great Commission, Great Commandment, and Great Calling), not just appealing to consumers of Christian content.   

We become socially awkward, hard to understand in secular circles, when we don’t practice speaking about Jesus outside the comfortable confines of a church.  The message may always be the same, but our vocabulary shouldn’t be “churchy” in non-Christian social settings.  However, being relatable and relevant doesn’t entail conformance or compromise.  What it requires is recognition that our culture, unlike prior generations, no longer has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of Christianity.  It’s no coincidence that non-believers’ understanding of the Gospel has diminished as Christians became less adept at sharing it.  Less well versed now in Scripture, many churchgoers contradict Jesus, electing legalism and judgment over love and grace.  Consequently, society returns the favor and evaluates Christianity’s merits based on what Christians do, not what Jesus did.

Speak Audibly

How can we communicate what Jesus did in ways and words that will resonate with non-believers?  How can we adjust the delivery to fit the nuances of our culture?  How would knowing what to say give us confidence to stand out while also being understood?

Parables

When religion becomes politicized, it polarizes.  Jesus spoke of the Kingdom through allegories because people politicized and misconstrued divine concepts without earthly reference points.  Similarly, several relatable analogies help illustrate the importance and relevance of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for people today:

  • A merciful judge who presides in a courtroom must do his job, but after sentencing he steps down from the bench and accepts the penalty on our behalf
  • A wealthy man with a vast collection of paintings passes away and auctions them off, not disclosing that the person who bids on a painting of his son by an amateur gets all the paintings by the masters
  • A boy carrying a cage with small birds tells a passerby that he plans to abuse them and feed them to his cat, so the person buys the birds and sets them free.  Jesus bought us at the price of His life to set us free from evil and death in this world.
  • A teacher brought donuts to class and asked Steve, the only student with perfect grades and attendance, to do 10 pushups for each person who was offered a donut.  After hundreds of pushups some classmates declined, feeling sorry for Steve, but he had to do pushups even if they rejected the gift.

Hope

As Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68).  Convince non-believers to conduct an honest examination of the alternatives available to the hope found in Christ and they’ll find all are devoid of what humans crave most (hope).

  • When universities mock and pressure students into abandoning the hope and faith of their parents, they can only offer hopelessness in exchange
  • All world religions except for Christianity go down the same path, telling mankind how to fix what we broke.  Christianity alone contends that our “good” works or “enlightenment” can never do what only God can (bring reconciliation through Jesus).
  • When “my truth” and “my authentic self” play themselves out, the inevitable conclusion of any identity apart from a child of our Father is the rampant depression, addiction and suicides we are witnessing today

Shock and Awe

Avoid Christianese but sound and act different, with more depth and compassion than anyone else they know, driven by a perspective extending beyond the here and now.

  • Demonstrate absolute trust and security in God’s goodness, not our own
  • Resist natural inclinations toward “shiny lures” vying for people’s attention, warning that they’re attractive but hide a hook few get off once they take the bait
  • Blow minds by quoting eye-opening truths like, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) and “You’ve never met a mere mortal.” (CS Lewis)
  • Shift paradigms by speaking of life not as the end unto itself, but as preparation to head home or to pack and save up for a long, highly-anticipated vacation
  • To ensure we don’t come across as too ethereal or “so heavenly minded that we’re of no earthly good” back up those eternal perspectives by being the first to step up to help, the last to leave their side, and the most persistent in following up

Truth with Humility

Be distinctly countercultural in our honesty and modesty, not traits Christians are currently known for according to surveys, in a society that is divided, opinionated, and self-absorbed.

  • Confess our faults so others will be more aware of theirs, and possibly see their need for Jesus (in ours)
  • Don’t cover up or minimize the flaws in our churches and leaders, but ensure God isn’t blamed for man’s mistakes
  • With all due respect, when sharing about Christ remember that there is no such thing as an Atheist.  Deep down everyone understands something didn’t come from nothing, knows the evil in their hearts, and has an innate desire to reconnect with their Creator.  Unbelief always emerges from disappointed belief and requires hard work to maintain with so much evidence to the contrary – evidence we should know and be able to present when atheists play their “trump card” (demanding “proof”).
  • Refuse to respond to the anger directed toward Christians with anger, which itself is a sin and usually a result of not having rational, level-headed answers at our disposal to their objections when we should have studied and prepared better

There are, of course, countless more words and ways to convey the Gospel effectively.  Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit do far more than any advice or articles, even one like this grounded in Scripture.  However, blog posts about evangelism are only necessary because few churches prioritize equipping and sending disciples (who then make more disciples) into local mission fields.

It’s Your Turn

If most churchgoers are out of practice, uncomfortable speaking about Jesus around non-Christians, how could discipleship and on-the-job training overcome those reservations?

Do We Have Evangelism Backward?

Jul 14, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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”?

Is It Wrong to Share Your Faith?

Jun 16, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
8 comments

Evangelism has become passe.  Only 52% of born-again Christians report witnessing to someone at least once in the past year.  And 47% of Millennials feel it’s wrong to share one’s religious beliefs with someone of a different faith.  A Lifeway study found of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of American churchgoers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score.

Today’s culture is not less in need of the Gospel, but Christians are more reticent to talk about it.  That reluctance to evangelize has (ironically) made America less fertile soil for evangelism.  The longer difficult conversations are avoided, the more uncomfortable they become.  It’s easier to criticize from afar than engage challenging topics at close range.  A vicious cycle ensues where the less we talk about Jesus the less important non-believers feel He must be – to us and them.

Church leaders understand and hesitate to pressure congregants to endure too much discomfort, offering to alleviate that Great Commission burden.  Rather than train disciples to be itinerate “preachers” in their workplaces and de facto “pastors” of their neighborhoods, churches encourage sharing personal testimonies and extending invitations to a weekend service.  Of those 52% reportedly making Gospel presentations, how many were simply a testimony or directions to the church?

Few acts could be considered more selfish and inhumane than withholding a known cure from the terminally ill.  Yet church leaders withhold evangelism training and intensive discipleship for fear of losing members.  Churchgoers withhold the remedy for sin, fearing a loss of social status.  The urgency, methods and message of evangelism have been reshaped around self-centered interests.  It’s no coincidence secular society now sees selfishness as Christianity’s principal characteristic.

Urgency

Christians have contributed to our divisive culture by segmenting into “us” versus “them”, alternating between playing “offense” or “defense” depending on which President is in office.  Being offensive during the term of a church-friendly administration has Christians on the defensive today.  Focus has shifted from winning people to Christ to fending off a barrage of attacks.  The tone of comments on this blog’s social media pages have turned dark and aggressive, insulting and deriding anyone who dares to speak positively about Jesus.  Honest debates about the need for God’s grace and forgiveness have evolved into angry, name-calling rants.  Admittedly, leading someone toward faith in that environment seems a more daunting uphill climb today, fraught with abuse along the way.

However, Scripture doesn’t exempt any Christ-follower from imitating Jesus’ Prayer/Care/Share lifestyle.  Our excuses for abdicating personal evangelism don’t hold water, even in the face of hostility:

  • “Faith is a private matter” – yet we talk about what we love (e.g. our spouse and children)
  • “Imposing my beliefs on others isn’t loving” – yet it’s love that should compel us to share our beliefs
  • “It’s not my gifting”not all are a “hand” or “foot”, yet all should be His “hands and feet”
  • “God has already chosen the elect” – yet we should consider it a privilege to be part of God’s plan
  • “I’m not around many non-believers” – yet churches adopt growth models that unintentionally encourage “social distancing”
  • “Speaking up could cost me my job” – yet the Great Calling says we should not draw lines between work and ministry, separating sacred from secular
  • “My pastor can do it better than I can” – yet we can reach many people that he can’t
  • “If I don’t someone else will” – yet you may be the only glimpse of Jesus they see
  • “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” – yet this adage containing a modicum of truth conceals a cop out
  • “I don’t know what to say” – yet all believers should be able to adeptly explain the gospel and have biblical responses to typical objections

Church is not a destination for attracting and retaining but a vehicle for equipping and sending.  If more pastors had the audacity to teach that the Great Commission isn’t optional, society would be more convinced to listen.  But as it stands, our lack of urgency to evangelize comes across as uncertainty that we truly believe the Gospel is a matter of life and death – or as further evidence Christians are primarily concerned about themselves.

Methods

Even if we drum up the courage to broach the topic of faith, the ways we’ve been coached by most American churches to evangelize are designed around self-interest, not selfless urgency:

  • Efficient – Just tell your story and let pastors do the rest
  • Egocentric – Focus on what God did for you, and what He could do for them
  • Convenient – No need to get your hands dirty caring before sharing, like Jesus did
  • Transactional – If they don’t respond to your story or invitation, you’ve done your part
  • Easy – Evangelism training isn’t necessary; we’ll answer their tough questions for you
  • Comfortable – No one can argue with your personal story so that route carries little risk
  • Non-Committal – There are no requirements or timelines; just speak up when you feel “led”
  • Indirect – Get to know people, show them who Jesus is by how you live, and see if they bring Him up
  • Arms-Length – Take a stand for moral issues, virtue signal, and keep a safe distance
  • Worldly – Tell how God got you through tough situations, the theme of most Christian songs
  • Attractional – Convince those who don’t worship Jesus to come to a holy worship service
  • Non-Controversial – Don’t bring up sin even though its resolution is the basis for your faith
  • Liberating – Cheap grace frees you from the obligation to align your words and behaviors
  • Lighthearted – Don’t be a downer, making anyone feel guilty even though suppressed guilt is driving rampant medication (escapism) and self-justification (cancelling others)

God’s justification in Jesus is the only viable alternative to self-justification.  But learning how to present and contrast those options requires more time, effort, and risk than most churchgoers are willing to endure.  Statistics and the evening news confirm that designing evangelism to suit the schedules and preferences of cultural Christians isn’t effective in leading people to Jesus or growing churches.  In fact, it is validating society’s caricatures of Christians as uncaring.

Message

Assuming a Christ-follower senses the urgency of evangelism and understands biblical methods for sharing our faith, it’s unlikely he or she was taught by a church how to communicate the Gospel in ways that will resonate in Post-Christian America:

  • All roads lead to God – Since Adam and Eve, creation has tried 1,000s of ways to make things right with the Creator. All world religions except for Christianity go down the same path – telling mankind how to fix what we broke.  Christianity alone contends that our “good” works or “enlightenment” can never do what only God can.  We cannot raise ourselves up or bring God down, trying to earn a “wage” (salvation) we feel we’re due – that’s why Jesus came down, to offer a “gift” we don’t deserve.
  • “I’m living my truth” – Being your “authentic self” is impossible if your identity is not as a child of our Father.  However, America’s fastest growing religion, Selfism, places its faith in mankind rather than God, believing human nature is good with the capacity to define “truth” and no need for redemption.  Evangelism today requires proving that we are not innocent and therefore it’s unwise to bet our eternal lives on our goodness rather than God’s.  Only Jesus satisfied the requirements of the law (works), qualified to graciously gift us His righteousness.
  • “I’m not religious” – The ranks of “Dones” and “Nones” have grown so rapidly because they rejected church growth models that appeared self-serving, and/or the self-centered Christians it produced.  Getting through to them starts with humble confession and by encouraging them not to blame God for man’s mistakes.
  • “There is no God” – When entering into conversations with someone who claims God does not exist, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as an Atheist.  While listening and respecting their views, it should give us courage to know deep down everyone understands something didn’t come from nothing and has an innate desire to reconnect with our Father.  For most, unbelief emerged from belief – at some point consciously walking away from God when He didn’t give them what they wanted or allowed something to happen they didn’t want.
  • “Christians are nothing like Jesus” – As churches have lowered expectations for following Jesus’ model for evangelism, His emphasis on (and example of) demonstrating His love before telling people who He is also went by the wayside.  Jesus served the poor and solved real-world problems, but compassion is now a low priority for most churches.

Pitting our story, our Scripture, our God, our world view, or our philosophies against someone else’s is just our truth against theirs (from their perspective).  Christians won’t often win those arguments in today’s culture, but can disrupt the self-confidence of non-believers by making them question its underpinnings – the enormous wager they’re making on their “goodness”, capabilities, intellect, identity, and spirituality that obviates their perceived need for God’s descent into our decadence.

It’s Your Turn

What methods and messages for conveying the love of Jesus have you seen most effective in breaking down the walls of self-determination and self-actualization?

A Precarious Father’s Day for America

Jun 02, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

I attended several churches and a Christian high school growing up but somehow never learned that church wasn’t a place, discipleship wasn’t a sermon, and charity wasn’t a handout.  No one ever shared how pivotal health (physical, mental, and spiritual) is in the Gospel, the ministry of Jesus, and the history of the Church.  And throughout 20 years in ministry, I don’t recall anyone describing how all God’s characteristics are encompassed in His consummate role – that of a loving Father.

It took studying Scripture personally and listening to the Holy Spirit to realize Jesus continually referred to God as His Father.  As always, Jesus modeled how we should live and love – in His prayer, His compassion, His evangelism – and in His relationship with the Father.  Unfortunately, most pastors don’t teach about God in the context of a Father.  If they did, they would have answers to questions about His actions in the Old Testament, explaining that when it comes to His children, the Father is fiercely protective while necessarily strict.  Instead, many churches selectively skip over passages that don’t align with society’s standards for “tolerance”.

God is not just a caring friend, demanding judge, merciful benefactor, or omniscient engineer.  He is all of those and everything else a Father should be – but can never achieve.  Humans are not just hapless sojourners, wayward sinners, preprogrammed robots, or autonomous beings.  We are the Lord’s children, guided by His fatherly counsel and discipline – and made in His image.

It is now apparent to me how fundamental fatherhood is to the construct of the Kingdom – as central here on earth as it is in heaven.  Atheists and activists seem to understand its importance better than many Christians.  They know that eradicating America’s deeply rooted Christian heritage from modern society requires undermining perceptions of God as our heavenly Father and the authority of our earthly dads.

Undermining God as Father

Scientists, doctors, professors, and politicians can’t be saviors if Americans already have One.  Wrestling the “savior” mantle away from the Father is the first step toward certifying state-sponsored education and government as ultimate authorities.  The battle for allegiance must be shifted from God to mankind to control behaviors and create dependence – maximizing power and profit.  The front line of that battle is questioning whether the Father can be trusted…

  • Is God good?  How could He let bad things happen to good people in your Bible and in our world today?  But as a Father with an omniscient perspective, only He understands fully what needs to be done for the good of His children.
  • Is God fair?  Why doesn’t God answer all your prayers?  But as a Father in charge of His creation, He defines what is fair and as children it’s not our place to disown Him for not giving us what we want or allowing us to suffer the consequences of our mistakes.
  • Is God wise?  If there is a Creator why didn’t He design everyone perfectly?  But as a Father who made all humans in His image, the differences and “deficiencies” we perceive are rooted in our sin and prejudice. not the inadequacy of God’s workmanship or capabilities.
  • Is God loving?  If so many Christians aren’t loving, then how could God be?  But as a Father whose children are often rebellious, God is not to blame for their exercise of free will.  In fact, His unconditional love is what drove Him to atone for their sins on the cross.
  • Is God attentive?  Does He even exist or just not paying attention to all the evil in the world?  But as a Father so often rejected by those He created, He is saddened by yet not responsible for the implications of choices we’ve made since the Garden of Eden.
  • Is God in charge?  If He exists and runs the show, how can you believe in a God who avenges and condemns?  But any great Father is intolerant of wickedness that infiltrates the household, particularly when it calls into question his judgment, values, and authority.
  • Is God intimidating?  Why worship a God where fear is the basis for the relationship?  But understanding He is a Father clarifies the true meaning of “fear of the Lord” – respect and reverence like we had when we worried our dads might (justifiably) discipline us.
  • Is God reliable?  Why would you allow anyone to tell you what to do?  But as a flawless Father who only has our best interests at heart, we can trust God with everything we own, which in actuality is nothing since even our bodies are only on loan to us, for a short time.
  • Is God controlling?  Why would you surrender your will and sacrifice your lives?  But when we see God as a loving Father and our identity as His child, we’re not giving anything up but gaining purpose and meaning for now and eternity.

When viewed through the prism of fatherhood, we acquiesce to the truth of Scripture – that God’s patience, goodness, and mercy as well as His justice, anger and discipline are entirely wrapped up in His role as a loving Father.  That paradigm poses the greatest threat to the powerful forces seeking the demolition of Christian values and institution of secular humanism as the prevailing world view.

Undermining Dads as Fathers

When Scripture and the Holy Spirit eventually revealed that God was my Father, I quickly realized why those who rejected God also sought to break down the “traditional” family.  As long as the foundational biblical underpinning for society remained in place, so would the values behind that structure.  No matter the social cost, destruction of God’s design for the family was a prerequisite for redirecting trust and dependency away from Him.  Redefining marriage, genders, roles, sex, and preborn viability all work in the same direction – away from the Lord’s intent for dads, moms and children.  Choreographed campaigns pressure youth to declare their independence from the outdated principles of their parents using the same set of questions…

  • Is your dad good?  Has he let you down?
  • Is your dad fair?  Did his mislead you?
  • Is your dad wise?  Was he uninformed, misguided by religion?
  • Is your dad loving?  Is he intolerant?
  • Is your dad attentive?  Was he there for you?
  • Is your dad in charge?  How could you follow in his (unenlightened) footsteps?
  • Is your dad intimidating?  Aren’t you glad to be out from under his influence?
  • Is your dad reliable?  Can he be trusted since he holds antiquated values? 
  • Is your dad controlling?  Do you still answer to him?

The result is (and will likely continue to be) “fatherless” generations, orphaned by detachment from relationships they once held dear.  Inserted to try to fill that “Father-shaped hole” are empty promises of freedom, the pursuit of happiness, and faith in those certain to let them down – all dead-end roads leading only to separation from a loving Father and (Christian) dads.

How Can Your Church Advance Fatherhood?

When I realized God is my Father and how important fatherhood is in His design, it became clear that the Lord expects His Church to promote and protect the biblical family.  Churches are culture’s last line of defense against efforts to discredit God as Father and dads as authority figures.  Without the Father and dads to guide children, society will keep slipping into a moral morass.  Poverty and prison statistics point out the risks of removing fatherly guardrails.

Any attacks on fatherhood are attacks on the family which are attacks on the Church (a family comprised of families).  The authority of churches will be supplanted as the loss of social structures at the lowest level (households) give way to control at the highest (secular) level.  Government intervention will be deemed necessary to quell the chaos ensuing from what John Adams forewarned – the inadequacy of the Constitution to govern a society that encourages evolving social norms with no obligation to family or God.  Before it’s too late, churches must…

  • Teach about God in the context that Jesus exemplified – as a loving Father
  • Train men to be godly dads and husbands
  • Never substitute spiritual “fathers” for the role of dads discipling families in the home
  • Advocate for biblical family units in a spirit of love and compassion, not judgment
  • Confess that “traditional” was not always biblical, but fatherhood certainly is
  • Warn about the pitfalls of putting our faith in mankind given our sinful natures
  • Make sure the Father, not churches or pastors, remains the “first love” of His children
  • Restore personalized, intensive discipleship, showing congregants how to provide directions to the Father and not just to a church service next Sunday

Only when churches recognize the strategy in place to expunge any vestige of Christianity from America (by removing the influence of the Father and dads) will pastors take appropriate actions in response.  Meanwhile, youth will continue to be indoctrinated in principles that undermine faith and families, precipitating the inevitable demise of a fatherless society.

It’s Your Turn

Are battles over marriage, gender, and preborns less about defending rights than breaking down paternal social structures to foster the dependence needed to steer a populace and the materialism needed to fuel an economy?

America’s Undiagnosed Health Crisis

May 19, 22
JMorgan
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
one comments

I came to faith in Jesus at 16 and studied Scripture for 20 years, but it wasn’t until I launched Meet The Need 20 years ago (yes, I’m 56 now) that I understood what a church really is, what discipleship means, and how to help the poor.  It also took working with thousands of churches and ministries over 2 decades to realize how pervasive and intrinsic the topic of health is in the Gospel, the ministry of Jesus, and the history of the Church.  Since the Fall of man inaugurated illness and death, God in His infinite love has been executing His plan for reconciliation and restoration.  He will eventually not only restore our bodies to perfect health, putting an end to illness and death, but will heal the spiritual and mental health challenges that are so evident in our world today.

Jesus could have chosen any way to demonstrate His power – any miracles to show His love – but He chose healing and feeding.  Health is our greatest concern.  Nothing stops us in our tracks like pain and disease.  The instant we get in an accident or receive a dire diagnosis, all of our seemingly significant problems suddenly fade into the background.  Nothing brings us more joy than healing – physical, spiritual, and psychological.  Restoration to health directly and dramatically affects us like nothing else can.  Imagine taking your first deep breath in weeks following COVID-19 or getting word from doctors that you’re in remission or cancer free.

The Old Testament foretold that Jesus, the Great Physician, would one day take our infirmities and carry away our diseases, a uniquely encouraging prophecy.  No act of compassion is more intimate and impactful than the touch of a healing hand.  Consider the ripple effect of Jesus violating social distancing laws and touching the leper.  Consider the “word of mouth” effect of the thousands Jesus fed telling everyone they knew how a few fish and loaves filled all of their bellies.  It’s no wonder Jesus referenced food so frequently in His messages to those who were physically and spiritually hungry – “eat my flesh”, “bread of life”, “shall never thirst”.

Meet The Need follows suit and focuses much of our efforts on feeding and healing.  We’ve partnered with Feeding America for 9 years to build the world’s largest food rescue network, redirecting over 3 billion pounds of food before it goes to waste to shelters and agencies who feed the poor.  We’ve also helped Tampa Port Ministries connect with the University of South Florida College of Nursing to provide a more personal service to sailors than it ever had before – health care.  That port-based clinic may be the first of its kind in the world – long overdue given the duration seafarers are on ships.

Since its inception, the Church was instrumental in the provision of health care services.  Jesus’ gave His disciples the power to heal, before and after His ascension.  Early believers risked their lives to care for their oppressors in Rome suffering from the plague.  The first hospitals originated from distinctly Christian principles like charity, dignity, and healing – and most were founded by churches.  Yet few churches today are integrally involved in providing health care or regularly feeding the hungry, which (ironically) has significantly diminished the Church’s own “health”.  Church “health” is a frequent topic in pastor publications and conferences, but few assess their own churches’ “health” biblically.

It took years in full-time ministry to realize that how churches measure their “health” determines how people in those communities assess their “health”, which in turn dictates our nation’s “health”.  To the extent that churches focus on numerical rather than spiritual growth, their members and those in their circles of influence are more likely to adopt self-centered views of their welfare as well.  The healing and restoration that our nation needs right now hinge largely on whether pastors will revert to Kingdom-centric measures of congregational, community, and (big “C”) Church “health”.

Church Health Crisis

Churches underperform on “health” metrics they track (e.g. attendance, growth, giving, programs, volunteers, facilities) when they don’t pay close enough attention to what they should be tracking:

  • Nutrition – No longer positioning church as a “hospital for sinners”, which casts members as patients served by doctors rather than medical staff trained to treat others.
  • Fitness – Making disciples who’ve essentially attended “medical school”, taken the proverbial Hippocratic Oath, and are fully committed to doing the Lord’s will no matter what that entails.
  • Medical Missions – Deploying churchgoers into neighborhoods and workplaces, equipping them with medical instruments provided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
  • Healing – Offering vital services to those suffering, not just spiritually but psychologically and emotionally, recognizing only Jesus offers true, enduring hope.
  • Triage – Resuming a role on the front lines of poverty alleviation since only churches are ideally suited for short-term Relief as well as long-term Rehabilitation and Development.
  • Hunger Relief – Serving food insecure families and walking alongside them as they navigate the road to a brighter future, demonstrating the Father’s love the way Jesus did.
  • Home Health Care – Doing a better job of preparing members to make “house calls” during the next pandemic because most chose self-preservation over self-sacrifice during COVID.
  • Pro Bono – Only expecting members to be as generous in giving to the church as that church is in giving to those in desperate need of a cure for loneliness and hopelessness.

As churches have gradually outsourced the Great Commission over the past few decades, Americans and our nation as a whole have increasingly experienced a mental and spiritual health crisis that exceeds the damage from any physical ailments.  Once churches changed their definition of the “customer” from those outside the “4 walls” to those in the pews, their measurement and incentive structures shifted from equipping and sending disciples to attracting and retaining members.  Consequently, the “health” of churches and our country has declined as the (discipleship and compassion) expectations of churchgoers diminished and the (performance and program) demands placed on pastors skyrocketed.

Personal Health Crisis

It’s no coincidence that church “health” metrics that favored building institutions over making disciples precipitated a correspondingly self-interested view by Christians of their own spiritual and mental “health”:

  • “Blessed” – Success and wealth became seen as the Lord’s reward for “good” works
  • “Favor” – Absence or escape from trouble became signs of God’s preferential treatment
  • Consumption – Shopping for the best church experience became normalized
  • Recognition – “Church chores” became expectant and deserving of acknowledgement
  • Sin – Obedience to God’s laws clearly spelled out in Scripture became optional
  • Surrender – Cultural Christianity, in name only, became acceptable for church attenders
  • Sanctification – Holiness became something acquired at conversion, not a process

That self-oriented view of faith focuses primarily on what God can do for us and our welfare in this life.  It fails to worship God as He deserves through our submission to His will and service to Him at any cost.  Those lower standards churches and Christians began to use to evaluate their “health” filtered over into the rest of our culture.  Studies of “flourishing” rarely assess an individual’s impact on the “health” of the community or world, but simply record personal views of one’s own happiness, virtue, character, and life satisfaction.  As a result of our society’s accelerating detachment from Christ and grounding in Christian values, those measures of “health” (happiness, virtue, character, and life satisfaction) are nearing unprecedented lows.

National Health Crisis

America’s spiritual and mental health crises are primarily attributable to the Church’s health crisis.  The growing contingent of “Dones” (with church) may not have walked away from God, but have rejected “Church as We Know It”, which redefines “church” (as a place and pastors, not people) and its “customers” (as members, not those who don’t know Jesus).  A brief glance at the news shows how far and how fast a society untethered from the Father can fall.  Our culture measures “health” today in self-centered terms reflective of the shift churches and Christians made toward emphasizing the benefits of faith rather than the costs of discipleship – religion over relationship:

  • Happiness – The ultimate objective and excuse for hedonism
  • Tolerance – The consummate, strictly enforced virtue, justifying deviance
  • Freedom – Escape from the oppression and suppression of Christianity
  • Activism – Realization of meaning and purpose in fighting for a cause
  • Justice – Seeing human nature as inherently good, so even criminals are victims
  • Charity – Defining poverty as material, not spiritual or psychological, fueling hand-outs
  • Independence – Not allowing anyone to tell us who we are or what we should do
  • Equality – Noble, yet twisted to negate the differences in God’s perfect design
  • Control – Doing whatever we want with our bodies (which in actuality don’t belong to us)

While some of those may appear innocuous, the outcome of assessing America’s “health” based on self-aggrandizing metrics are rampant depression, suicides, substance abuse, isolation, crime, division, and hatred.  We’re reaping exactly what we’ve sown by teaching children that they are cosmic accidents, giving fallible humans authority to determine “truth”, instituting policies that break apart families, and positioning government (not Jesus) as savior.

It’s Your Turn

Do you see the connection between Church “health” and America’s “health”?  How can you be part of what God is doing to bring healing and restoration to congregations and communities?