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If Everyone Likes Your Church, There’s a Problem

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

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

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

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

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

  • New Definition of Church – Centralizing “church” around a place, pastors and a weekly event gives the unchurched the impression that the only path to God passes through the front door of a church, when all have direct access to the Father.  Reducing the “ask” of congregants (who are the embodiment of “church”) to inviting people to church services disenfranchises those not only authorized but commanded to play a key role in God’s redemptive plan.  Meanwhile, our culture is losing faith in institutions, particularly churches, putting their trust in self and a shrinking number of close relationships.  Directing non-believers to a church building or a leader was never the intended roadmap to the Father and doesn’t work well in post-Christian America.
  • New Definition of the “Customer” – In business, whoever pays is the customer.  Not so with churches.  Those paying the bills are the (unpaid) Kingdom employees who should be trained to pursue the real “customer” – those within their circles of influence who don’t know Jesus.  However, the discipleship required to execute that biblical model is too time-consuming to dare request of people churches hope will come back next Sunday.  Treating members and not the community as “customers” also explains why the Church has almost entirely outsourced the integral role it played for 1900 years on the front lines of compassion confronting issues (e.g. poverty) near and dear to Jesus’ heart.
  • New Approach to Sin – To make the experience more hospitable and comfortable, most churches address sin less frequently, directly, and aggressively today from the pulpit and within the congregation.  Marketing slogans like “no perfect people allowed” under the guise of humility fuel hypocrisy as churches adopt the world’s definition of “tolerance” and circumvent biblical commands to preserve the holiness of the body of Christ.
  • New View of Society – However, lowering moral standards internally hasn’t translated into lower expectations of those outside the 4 walls.  Even though it’s unreasonable to judge non-believers by rules of a God they don’t worship, pointing fingers is much easier than sharing the Gospel.  Judgmentalism is the logical consequence of retention and growth strategies that deemphasize personal discipleship, accountability, and evangelism.

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

Making Enemies the Right Way

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

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

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

Making Friends the Wrong Way

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

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

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

Making Friends the Right Way

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

If Everyone Likes You, There’s a Problem

Mar 10, 22
JMorgan
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2 comments

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

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

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

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

Making Enemies the Wrong Way

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

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

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

Making Enemies the Right Way

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

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

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

Making Friends the Wrong Way

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

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

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

Making Friends the Right Way

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

Why America Hits the Snooze Button on God’s Alarm Clock

Feb 24, 22
JMorgan
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2 comments

The greatest testament to God’s goodness is Jesus’ payment of a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.  The next exhibit God offers as proof of His love for humanity is the vast number of wake-up calls He makes, no matter how many times we hit the snooze button.  Just as the Lord demonstrated throughout Scripture how much He cared by awakening Israel to the errors of its ways, He continues to try to get our attention today through challenges and blessings.  Those who never answer will one day have to endure the shock and regret of finding out just how many times the Lord called and knocked on their door.

It’s not just non-believers who need wake-up calls.  God is kind enough to intervene in the affairs of Christians, churches and even entire nations to offer 2nd (and often 1,000th) chances for repentance.  Regardless of the recipient, each has the choice to accept or reject the call.  For those who don’t know Jesus, ignoring His repeated attempts to reach them exchanges eternity with a good God for the hopelessness of life without Him.  For believers, failure to recognize the signs means continuing to walk in disobedience.  In any and every case, God’s generous admonitions carry with them accountability for understanding and responding to what He’s trying to convey.

Christ-followers bear the additional responsibility of serving as interpreters for those most likely to miss the intended messages.  Like Pharoah who needed Joseph to explain his dream, only Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit to warn non-believers that events in their lives could be urgent wake-up calls.  Yes, the invitation to faith is between that person and God, but He can use us to awaken those who would otherwise sleep through the alarm.  Like the story of the flood victim trapped on the roof praying for help, we can be the rescuers that God sends.  We don’t want to miss that opportunity, even though we’re not responsible for the outcome.  The story of course ends with the man turning away the boat and helicopter that arrive, saying “No thanks, God is going to save me”.  Then after his demise he angrily asks God why He didn’t answer those prayers, only to hear, “I sent a boat and a helicopter”.

Ideally, wake-up calls produce happier results such as Redemption (of individuals), Revitalization (of churches) and Revival (of nations), but they’re often ignored or dismissed unless someone brings to their attention the possibility that God is telling them something…

Personal Awakening – Redemption

It’s not only trials and difficulties like the Great Recession, 9-11, a pandemic, natural disasters, and illness that force people off the hamster wheel of life.  Yes, disasters and diseases make us think more about mortality and less about immorality.  But so should the beauty of creation, “chance” encounters, deliverance from catastrophe, and “God-winks” that most attribute to coincidence or karma.

Answering Personal Wake-up Calls

When someone recognizes those events for what they truly are, the response should be…

  1. Recognition (of our identity) – discovering that who we are is not our gender, race or sexuality but our status as children of a Father who cares about us enough to wake us up
  2. Repentance (of our sins) – witnessing God’s holiness should awaken us to our sinfulness and show He is willing to forgive “prodigals” who accept His invitation to come home
  3. Realization (of our purpose) – understanding that answering the Lord’s wake-up call means heading in a new direction and taking on a new mission no matter what the cost

Those transformations apply not only to “Nones” but also to “Christians” in name only (cultural, passive, pensive, private, or perpetually sinful) who God is gracious enough to warn to repent.

Why People Hit the Snooze Button

People ignore wake-up calls for any one of the 7 reasons listed in the last blog post – disappointment, rules, guilt, myopia, “logic”, hypocrisy, or control.  At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, even non-believers found themselves praying when death appeared imminent but praised mankind when it was over, not giving credit to Jesus for sending the rescue boat and helicopter.  As many times as the “science” was incorrect, placing faith in people rather than God permits unhindered pursuit of personal preferences and pleasures.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

Christians should be the wake-up call “first responders” in our neighborhoods and workplaces but aren’t being equipped adequately by churches to step into Joseph’s role as interpreters.  During the pandemic, when churches’ doors were closed, we should have been prepared to be the personification of “church”, showing and sharing how God can use all things (regardless of their origin, from Him or our sin) for our good and His glory.  We could have served as “pastors” within our circles of influence, but most weren’t discipled, evangelistic, or courageous enough to choose self-sacrifice over self-preservation.

Church Awakening – Revitalization

America’s prevailing church growth model (Invite, Involve, Invest) set the alarm that’s ringing now – its declining attendance, influence, impact, public perception and trust in this Post-Christian culture.

Answering the Church’s Wake-up Call

Churches responding appropriately to those alarming statistics will…

  1. Reimagine Church – reject the common definition of church as a place and members as customers, reverting to the biblical perspective that members are the embodiment of church commissioned to pursue the “lost” in the community
  2. Reimagine Discipleship – abandon attraction and retention (addition) in favor of equipping and sending (multiplication) disciples who can reach those who wouldn’t consider stepping through the doors of a church building
  3. Reimagine Compassion – stop trying to out-preach Jesus, who rarely revealed who He was without first demonstrating His love and power to open ears to hear the Gospel

Why Churches Hit the Snooze Button

Why would churches be so anxious to get back to (a prepandemic) normal that wasn’t working – a return to Egypt?  Continuing the status quo would leave us in a similar position during the next wake-up call, unwilling or unable to help unchurched friends and family recognize and respond to another Kingdom-building opportunity.  Yet Church as We Know It (CAWKI) is all that most church leaders and consultants have ever been taught and known.  Reorientation toward decentralized, empowerment-based models investing time, energy, and money into disciple-making and not buildings, programs and staff would be like learning a foreign language.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

The Bible provides the strongest argument and impetus for establishing a new normal among churches in America.  The ekklesia or “assembly of called out ones” provides a vivid image of a church characterized by traits not valued or practiced enough today – united, holy, accountable, surrendered, evangelistic, discipling, Spirit-filled, repentant, and boldly sharing truth (with grace).  Society is watching closely for anything supernatural or miraculous, evidence we truly know God, but instead sees institutions more influenced by culture than they’ve influenced it.

America’s Awakening – Revival

Government, education, media and activists have conspired to eradicate Christian influence from our nation.  Their efforts have been tremendously successful – only 28% of Millennials believe the Bible is the Word of God, 4% hold a biblical world view, 74% think all faiths have equal value, and 31% are now Nones (Barna).  The result among those same Millennials and Gen Z are unprecedented rates of substance abuse, depression, and suicides.

Answering America’s Wake-up Call

An awakening to the futility of life apart from Jesus given those statistics would involve…

  1. Faith – reclaiming the identity, purpose, values, hope and humility that comes with accepting the reality that human nature is sinful and our forgiving Father is good
  2. Family – restoring the foundational unit of society that leaders of the 7 Mountains have worked so hard to destroy to eliminate any resistance to their authority over our lives
  3. Fellowship – rebuilding a spirit of unity and justice around Christian principles, like the inherent worth of all human beings, whereas today we see only division that devalues

Why America Hits the Snooze Button

Our culture wants nothing to do with Christianity because we worship another God besides government and don’t bow to idols that fuel our consumer-driven economy.  The road to political control and corporate profits begins by detaching citizens and customers from the Savior by elevating self, vilifying believers, and defaming our nation’s heritage.  Then when a self-centered, divided, individualistic, standard-free, lust-filled, hopeless, and crime-ridden society inevitably breaks down, they will swoop in as “saviors” to rescue us from ourselves.

How to Awaken Deep Sleepers

Ultimately, revival can only come by a move of God so prayer is the best way for Christians to set an alarm for America.  At the same time, we most remove any impediments to faith and excuses for disbelief, many of which we constructed.  For example, our love can conquer legalism, our confession can diffuse hypocrisy, and our compassion can overcome (perceived or actual) “intolerance”.

It’s Your Turn

How could you be in a better position to help your friends, family, church and nation hear, understand and respond to the frequent calls our loving Father makes to wake them up?

A New Declaration of Independence

Jan 27, 22
JMorgan
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one comments

Part 1 (of 2)

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

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

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

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

God (and God Alone) is Good

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

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

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

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

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

Why Declare Independence from Such a Good God

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

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

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

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

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

Consequences of Declaring Independence

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

Countercultural but Not Counter Culture

Dec 16, 21
JMorgan
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5 comments

Jesus was countercultural but not counter culture.  Yes, His teachings flipped the script on all mankind valued – rich is poor, strong is weak, greatest is least, up is down and down is up.  His lifestyle conflicted with everything society held dear – rejecting popularity, power and prosperity.  He chose homelessness, loved enemies, defended the oppressed, marched undaunted toward persecution, remained silent when accused, and forgave His murderers.  No one has ever spoken or lived more counterculturally.  Yet no one has ever shown more care and concern for the people He encountered.

Jesus’ words and actions, if conveyed literally and imitated fearlessly, would be considered just as radical in America today as they were in Israel then.  However, studies show our society sees most Christians and churches not as countercultural but counter culture.  Scripture calls us to be transformed in our thinking but not conformed in our behaviors.  Yet the majority of believers are far less radical in their lifestyles and more vocal in their personal opinions than Jesus, who did and said only what He heard from the Father.  It’s become difficult to distinguish Christian neighbors and coworkers from the rest of the crowd, at least not in ways that intrigue or endear.

In a culture increasingly demanding conformance to its ideals – tolerance and acceptance of each individual’s unmitigated pursuit of happiness – we have an unprecedented opportunity to contrast that myopic, self-centered world view with the enduring hope of Christ-centered living.  Imagine the shock and awe of watching millions of countercultural revolutionaries walk away from popularity, power and prosperity.  How would the public perception of Christians change if we practiced what Jesus modeled – understanding without convergence and compassion without condemnation?  The Gospel will offend, but being offensive or defensive will never awaken America from its collective conscience coma.  It’s illogical to counter culture by imposing our moral standards, which many of us don’t live by, on people who don’t believe in the God who set those standards.  What would be more effective is praying, caring and sharing so counterculturally that it illuminated the shallowness of living for the dot (here and now) and not the line (eternity).

Biblical Counterculturalism

Disciples obey the commands of Jesus, most of which go against nearly every fiber of our being and every principle of secular humanism.  To diagnose issues and prescribe solutions for helping churches and Christians become more countercultural and less counter culture, we first need to look at how Jesus obliterated established norms and instructs His disciples to do likewise…

Biblical shouldn’t be radical.  However, taking those principles seriously would be culture shock for a post-Christian America that long ago passed the Age of Commerce, Age of Affluence, Age of Intellect, and has entered the Age of Decadence.

Conventional Culture

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.  As countercultural and irrational as His words and example may appear, the alternative eventually leads to hopelessness and chaos…

  • Preserving the freedom of one group to defy God’s commands unavoidably decimates the rights of other groups
  • Pretending there is no life after death is convenient and comfortable until disaster strikes
  • Teaching kids they are cosmic accidents produces exactly the response we would expect and now observe
  • Believing mankind is inherently good leads to disappointment when sinful human nature inevitably prevails
  • Ascribing the illogical ability to invent truth ends in disillusionment when ill-conceived fallacies prove one day to be untrue
  • Authenticity is impossible apart from our intended identity as children of God, so being “my authentic self” expediently evolves to mimic transitory cultural norms
  • Identity crises tempt youth to portray façades on social media and escape reality via VR and avatars
  • Trust in human wisdom requires cognitive dissonance when science must be ignored to justify immorality (e.g. gender designations by doctors, heartbeats of unborn infants)
  • Tolerance, secular society’s highest virtue, is necessarily intolerant of those who don’t share its progressive views
  • Advertisers pitch seemingly altruistic messages linking possessions to personal empowerment when money is their only true motive
  • Politicians know the path to ultimate power lies in defining everyone as an oppressor or oppressed to regulate the first and rescue the latter
  • Government positions itself as savior, directing attention from the Savior, by “generously” offering healing and funding to create dependence

Those who are Fatherless lack a trustworthy guide, drawing wrong conclusions because they process information through a filter based on bad assumptions – that there is no God or that He is not good.  Sands shift with no firm foundation, not knowing where they came from or where they’re going.  Only Christians know the end of our story because we’ve read the last chapter of the Book.

Are We More Countercultural or Counter Culture?

Against that backdrop, are churches and Christians conforming to conventional culture or to biblical counterculturalism?  In other words, are we influencing culture more than we’re influenced by it?  The answer lies in our responses to questions like the following…

Countercultural but not counter culture means awakening society to the truth of Jesus by our humility, love, evangelism and service – not our accusations and expectations.  Non-believers will recognize their sin and need for forgiveness when we shine the bright light of Christ’s righteousness.  Churches and Christians dim that light, revealing our hypocrisy and not His holiness, when we compromise to look more like the world and less like Jesus.  Yet being different does not mean being distant.

It’s Your Turn…

In our next post, we’ll explore practical ideas for striking that delicate balance between being countercultural but not counter culture.  Please share your thoughts to start that conversation…

I Have a Confession…

Dec 02, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

The defining characteristic of post-Christian culture is a belief that mankind is good and God is bad.  Accusing the Lord of the greater “sin” for letting bad things happen to presumably “good” people obviates any perceived need for forgiveness through His Son.  Moral relativism recalibrates the compass (a conscience pointing to Jesus) that God instilled in every human being.  Secularism eliminates any standards by substituting a comparative claim to a morally higher ground than God and those who follow Him.

Now on the defensive, churches and Christians took the bait and responded in the worst possible way, fueling the fire by claiming moral superiority of “Team Jesus” over “Team World”.  As a result, media lies in wait to pounce on any opportunity to highlight the hypocrisy of players and coaches on the opposing team.  A vastly better approach to awaken America from its collective conscience coma and possibly spark revival is a (seemingly ironic) preemptive strike…

The Principle of Confession

The stark division in our nation today between those who place all their faith in mankind and those who trust in Jesus is about whose version of “truth” is better.  However, Scripture consistently awards the victory to whoever confesses they are worse.  Our proud American culture sees confession as losing, but abject humility always triumphs over self-righteous pride in God’s economy…

  • Woman washing Jesus’ feet with her tears exalted over cynical Pharisee (Luke 7:38-39)
  • Repentant tax collector Zacchaeus exalted over disbelieving crowd (Luke 19:1-10)
  • Apologetic prodigal son exalted over jealous older brother (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Traitor crying out for mercy exalted over condescending religious leader (Luke 18:9-14)
  • Servant-minded sheep exalted over self-centered goats (Matthew 25:31-46)
  • Dependent children exalted over self-sufficient adults (Luke 18:15-17)
  • Woman caught in adultery exalted over her accusers (John 8:3-11)
  • Reluctant, meek Moses exalted over arrogant, hard-hearted Pharoah (Exodus 3:11)
  • Remorseful David exalted over obstinate Saul (Psalm 51:1-17)

The list goes on and on throughout the Bible of those rewarded for confessing their weaknesses and others derided for concealing them.  “Look at how bad I am!” wins every time over “Look what we did!”  Jesus modeled humility and taught that the last (servants) will be first and least will be greatest in the Kingdom.  Yet rather than being transparent so that people can see Jesus through us, most Christians hide their flaws, essentially rebuilding the veil Christ tore when He died to pay for our sins.  That pious pretention, in defiance of Jesus’ model and teachings, prompts the negative perception many Americans have today of Christians and churches.

The Power of Confession

Eventually the truth comes out.  Even faithful believers can’t help but do things wrong.  We know human nature is sinful.  Yet most pretend to be “better” than we actually are.  To look good in front of our church friends we’re on our best behavior.  Around non-believers many Christians see being “nice” as the key to evangelism, letting our actions speak for themselves.  Yet that’s a convenient excuse to keep faith private to avoid ridicule, controversy, accountability, or confession.  We don’t want to be held to a higher standard, like refusing to put a “Jesus fish” on the back of our cars in case we cut someone off or honk impatiently.  Most Christians mistakenly think people won’t want to know Jesus if we’re not perfect, when it’s actually our admission that we mess up that attracts people to Him (and to us).

In this Age of Decadence, the trajectory America takes next depends on which religion, Selfism or Christianity, will be first to drop the charade and openly confess their shortcomings.  Youth in our nation worship at the altar of self-reliance and feigned authenticity while rates of teen depression, addiction and suicide soar.  Underneath the world’s façade lies a fragile veneer barely suppressing their guilty consciences.  That’s why secularism works so hard to rid society of any vestige of Christianity lest it puncture the veneer, bringing them face-to-face with the only One who can fill their “God-shaped hole” and offer freedom from guilt.  Meanwhile, Christians erect an unintended blockade at the church door by not openly confessing our sins, making the unchurched wonder if they’re too immoral to be accepted by Jesus.  When believers walk on eggshells, hoping no one discovers any skeletons in our closets that could reflect poorly on Jesus, it actually has the opposite effect – making Him seem less accessible and His followers more hypocritical.  If we would instead convey our deep need for forgiveness, it would encourage non-believers to recognize theirs.

The Practice of Confession

Humble confession is central to every aspect of our walk with the Lord and critical for effectively living out our mission in this world…

  • Prayer – Approaching our loving Father with reverence, thankfulness and honesty (James 5:16)
  • Evangelism – Public profession requires personal confession (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)
  • Salvation – Confession is a precursor to forgiveness and justification (1 John 1:9)
  • Compassion – “Washing feet” as servants compelled by love levels the playing field (John 13:1-17)
  • Generosity – Admitting we’re only stewards and not owners deflects glory to God for our giving (1 Peter 4:10-11)
  • Discipleship – Accountability and authenticity are not one-way streets (John 13:34–35)

Faithful practice of those spiritual disciplines by the power of the Holy Spirit is the only hope for bridging the divide in America between those who trust in mankind and those whose faith is in God.  Both sides of that debate have dug in their heels, unwilling to confess their faults, afraid giving any ground would involve compromise.  As a result, Christian conservatives and secular progressives see each other as arrogant.  No one likes arrogant people.  Humility is foundational to Christianity but antithetical to Selfism, so it’s on believers to take the first step to break through relational barriers if we are to have any chance of pointing our society back toward Christ.

The Plan for Confession

Taking the initiative to show our cards, beating humanism to the punch by revealing our flaws (before they do), requires shifting focus from what divides to what unites us all – an eternal soul, a sinful nature, and a conscience.  Eternity and awareness of sin are fixtures in every heart and mind, no matter how hard anyone tries to deny their existence.  Yet the emotion that accompanies current hot button issues has kept churches and Christians from seeing that those who don’t know Jesus are “lost sheep”, suffering in that denial.  It wouldn’t take much to awaken those dormant longings and offer what they’re so desperately looking for – a true identity, available only to children of our loving Father.  But seizing the opportunity will necessitate wildly countercultural acts of humility and sacrifice on our part…

  • Stop professing without confessing, otherwise we look like celebrities endorsing a product they don’t believe in or use themselves
  • Admit that keeping our faith “private” is really a cover to avoid scrutiny and confession, because cultural Christians speak of everything else they love (except for Jesus)
  • Brag only about our Savior and how badly we need Him, not about any accomplishments
  • Never couch our identity in a church or denomination, as if our faith rests in earthly affiliations rather than an eternal Savior and heavenly Father
  • Distance from political parties and candidates, not risking alienating those who will never agree until they meet Jesus and experience His forgiveness
  • Disassociate from any groups that could make it appear we’re brainlessly adopting ideology rather than fully dependent on Jesus for direction
  • Recognize swallowing pride and unveiling weaknesses is the key to knocking down barriers, making Jesus seem accessible, and countering accusations of hypocrisy
  • Don’t lose touch with your own sinfulness and “sinners” by always hanging around “good” churchgoers
  • Call out sin within the church, acting as a whistleblower if no one else speaks up, so the church at least adheres to the standard it tries to apply to those outside the “4 walls”
  • Be the first to admit you’re wrong and eager to give credit to others
  • Let the contrast of the Lord’s bright light of love illuminate the darkness through mind-blowing acts of kindness

Walking this path means drowning out the noise of a culture that in the name of tolerance demands conformance to the fallacy that sin does not exist, which we combat not by accusing others of sin but by confessing our own.

It’s Your Turn…

Are you and your church willing to boast in your weakness to highlight Christ’s strength?

America’s Collective Conscience Coma

Nov 11, 21
JMorgan
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one comments

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

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

A Fully Functioning Conscience

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Church’s Conscience

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

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

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

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

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

Culture’s Conscience

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

Oct 28, 21
JMorgan
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5 comments

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

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

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

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

The Football Field

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

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

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

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

The Teams

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

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

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

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

The Playbook

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

Giving Wrong Directions to Lost People

Oct 14, 21
JMorgan
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What is life like without a dad in the home?  One fourth of America’s children know that reality all too well.  They are at four times greater risk of poverty and twice as likely to drop out of high school.  Prisons and addiction recovery programs are filled with the fatherless.  A child’s social, emotional, behavioral and academic development hinge largely on the support and guidance of a dad.

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

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

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

What Directions Did God Provide?

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

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

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

What Directions are Christians Giving Out?

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

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

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

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

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

Wanted: More Workers Giving Good Directions

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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

Rescuing “Love” from Society’s Clutches

Sep 30, 21
JMorgan
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Part 3 (of 3)

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

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

How Religion Undermines Relationship

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

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

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

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

How Christians and Churches Often Miss It Too

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

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

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

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

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

Reestablishing God’s Love as the Gold Standard

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn…

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