Tag Archives: poor

Sin and Hopelessness: The Cause and Cure

Dec 15, 22
JMorgan
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Merry Christmas!  There, I said it – not “Happy Holidays” or “X-mas”.  Many Christians are offended by the secularization and commercialization of Jesus’ birthday, unaware they may be complicit in campaigns to take Christ out of Christmas.

Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed how America has become more divided, consumeristic, stingy, and stressed out not despite Christianity but in large part because most Christians lack unity, act like (church) consumers, don’t share Jesus’ concern for the poor, and fail to exercise unwavering faith.  Similarly, our culture is becoming more decadent and depressed largely because people look elsewhere for answers to life’s most pressing questions when Christians don’t enthusiastically celebrate and speak up about the forgiveness, freedom, hope, salvation, and sanctification that only Christmas can bring.  In other words, if our Christmas spirit were fueled by the Holy Spirit, we’d possess the wonder and joy of the three wise men and help America rediscover the reason for the season.

Forgiveness

America rejects the best Christmas gift of all (redemption), believing there’s no need for justification because there’s no such thing as sin, when Christians and churches don’t take (their own) sin seriously enough.

  • Acting self-righteous, hypocritically pointing fingers at non-believers for committing that exact same sin (i.e. presuming their own righteousness)
  • Keeping a distance rather than pursuing “sinners” at close range like Jesus did
  • Speaking out about what we’re against, rather than exhibiting what we stand for
  • Applying our moral standard to those who do not follow our Standard-bearer
  • Conforming to culture such that culture sees little need to conform to church

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29)  If Christians are less cognizant of their sin than the sins of others, why would we expect people to understand what Christmas is all about?  In other words, if we’re less transparent it’s harder to see Jesus through us.  Dutiful churchgoers can start to believe their own press, less aware of their need for grace now that they cuss less and serve more.  Ironically, we wonder how non-believers can squelch their consciences while ours atrophy.  Christmas will continue becoming more about Santa than our Savior unless Christians fully recognize the value of the gift they’ve been given.

Freedom

America rejects the true freedom the Father offered us that first Christmas, believing Christianity represents the opposite (restraint and oppression), when churchgoers are legalistic and dogmatic the rest of the year.

  • Clinging to our “free” ticket to heaven instead of freely sharing our good news with others so they can be liberated from sin too
  • Fighting for our religious freedoms by politicizing faith and backing church-friendly candidates, only to discover any short-lived victories incite a backlash against perceived imposition of Christian values when secular leaders regain control
  • Growing large, prominent churches that invest more in buildings than discipleship (in times of peace and prosperity), whereas the Church in persecution tends to decentralize, take ground, and make disciples

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)  Given attempts by activists and educators to associate slavery with Christianity, ostensibly to remove the shackles of Christian heritage and morals from American culture, it’s challenging to make the argument that those who’ve removed Christ from Christmas are enslaved to sin.  Yet without repentance and redemption, no one is free from the lure of temptation and the burden of guilt.  Contemporary society threatens to curb the rights of Christians to speak and practice freely in order to protect their rights to sin freely, without reminders of or remorse for their actions.  Christians and churches shouldn’t go through the motions at Christmas but truly celebrate the emancipation it can bring to anyone humble enough to recognize their captivity (to sin).

Hope

America rejects the only source of enduring hope, settling for the traditions of the Christmas season without the hope it brings, when Christians appear to be subject to the typical holiday concerns and stressors.

  • Running from shopping malls to family gatherings, worried about racking up debt and seeing relatives who were more easily avoided the other 364 days
  • Cleaning up our act, careful not to reveal our true selves, making God seem less accessible to those with a more realistic (and honest) view of their depravity
  • Engaging in the religious activities, cards, and decorations of the holidays yet not truly putting Christ back in Christmas by living a prayer, care, and share lifestyle

“Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Ephesians 2:12)  We live in a nation where young people who’ve been pressured by professors into renouncing their parents’ faith aren’t being given any satisfactory alternative sources of hope.  It’s only a matter of time before most realize they’ve been duped, unable to find any enduring purpose or meaning in things of this world – all while edging closer to their eventual demise, fearing those in whom they entrusted their eternal fate were wrong.  However, attempts to point people back to Christ at Christmas will fall on deaf ears unless Christians are unusually loving, selflessly compassionate, and oddly calm in the face of adversity.

Salvation

America rejects the arrival of our Savior, trusting instead in governments and economies to save them, when they don’t see convincing evidence of the supernatural or transformation (in keeping with assurance of eternal life) among Christians and churches.

  • Failing to convey the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice and inadequacy of our works by publicizing the good we do, seeking praise from people when eternal life is our “reward”
  • Not understanding how to communicate the Christmas message clearly, that Jesus descended into our decadence because only He was capable of obtaining salvation the “hard way” (complete obedience to the law), the one perfect Lamb qualified to take our place and give us the opportunity for salvation the “easy way” (grace)
  • Living for the “dot” and not the “line”, without eternal perspectives or priorities that alter and mitigate typical human behaviors, like anxiety and greed

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)  Since the beginning of time, humanity has been searching for a way to fix what we broke – the relationship with our Creator.  Only God can make things right, which He did that first Christmas.  To the extent Christians tout our good deeds and criticize the errors of others, we give the impression that salvation is in our hands, not a Christmas gift but an earned wage.  When Christians and churches exude the joy of salvation, give God all the glory, and discard “cheap grace” (salvation without surrender), America may once again discover the meaning of Christmas and stop looking to self and worldly “saviors”.

Sanctification

America rejects Christmas carols like “O Holy Night”, believing those “true to themselves” are perfect just as they are, when churchgoers and churches don’t reflect Jesus’ holiness or the new nature His birth, death, and resurrection should illuminate in believers.

  • Exhibiting characteristics misaligned with those typically ascribed to Jesus, like love, humility, and sacrifice
  • Forging our own path and priorities rather than God’s plan and instructions, leading culture to follow our example and declare its independence
  • Not realizing and debunking the fundamental misconception fueling progressive ideals – the false premise that human nature is inherently good
  • No longer occupying the front lines of compassion, losing our voice in society because most churches treat members, not the community, as their “customer”

“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)  When we confess our inadequacies and admit only God is good, non-believers may rethink their overestimation of their own virtue.  Our culture has no issues with Jesus’ values, but over time adopted a different set of values they observed in His followers (e.g. pride and self-centeredness).  If Christians and churches truly learn and practice what it means to be in the world but not of the world, seeing the Holy Spirit in us will attract those disillusioned by progressivism’s failed promise of “sanctification”, proving Christmas is the only path to holiness.

It’s Your Turn…

Have you seen a church’s Christmas celebration spark revival in a city or a family’s Christmas spirit awaken faith and hope in a neighborhood?

Stress and Anxiety: A Cause and Cure

Dec 01, 22
JMorgan
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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)   Thanksgiving last week reminded us that thankful is the opposite of stressful.  To represent Jesus well, Christians should be joyful and peaceful at all times.  Thankfulness is an attitude of gratitude for the Father’s faithfulness in blessing and rescuing us, the undeserving.  Worry demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s love and His plan, disappointing a watching world wondering if Christianity could transcend the distress of a hopeless existence.  Because most Christians appear just as concerned about life’s challenges and dangers as everyone else, those who don’t know Jesus look elsewhere for an escape hatch from reality – drug and alcohol abuse, avatars, affairs, or even suicide.

In other words, just as our division contributed to the fracturing of American culture, our consumerism exacerbated America’s overindulgence, and our stinginess made America less generous, our lack of faith has raised our nation’s collective stress level about…

Survival

America rejects our faith as the source of hope, taking extreme measures to blind themselves to the inevitability of death, when Christians act as if eternal life in heaven is not a certainty.

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)  When Christ-followers strive and stress about growing careers, families, and churches, our fears devalue God’s provision and promises.  Living for self, success or survival conveys the sufficiency of mankind and insufficiency of God, freeing secular observers to dismiss the Gospel and face the trials of life without peace – and eternity without Jesus.  When churches and Christians exhibit countercultural reactions to adversity, the world will find the hope it’s desperately seeking.

Health

America rejects the idea that the Holy Spirit lives in believers, writing off the supernatural as “fairy tales”, when Christians and churches don’t conduct themselves as if they were His temples.

  • Damaging our bodies through anxiety and stress we shouldn’t be experiencing as acutely as those not indwelled by the Holy Spirit
  • Becoming addicts to ease pain Christ-followers should endure more courageously knowing this world is not our home as citizens of an everlasting Kingdom
  • Suffering as a result of unhealthy lifestyles, not understanding we, like Jesus, will be resurrected in physical form
  • Humanizing church, making it seem like any other organization, by focusing excessively on how it appears on the outside versus who we are on the inside

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matthew 6:31)  The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the dearth of discipleship in America’s churches.  Most Christians appeared more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice, not personifying “church” when the buildings’ doors were closed.  If we rested on the Sabbath, accumulated less “stuff” (since each asset we acquire adds stress), and trusted God to take care of us, imagine how much healthier Christians, churches, and our nation would be.

Value

America rejects our churches as being necessary and relevant, turning to government and academic institutions for answers, when we don’t pursue biblical opportunities to remain integral in a post-agrarian society.

  • Abdicating the front-line role in alleviating the pressure of poverty, leaving it to those who can only provide (transactional) handouts, not a (relational) hand up
  • Imitating churches in worrying about having enough to pay the bills, only giving leftovers, not first fruits, to help struggling families
  • Developing church strategies and programs to feel needed, wondering whether the community would notice if we shut our doors
  • Wanting to return to a position as the “center of town”, as churches were for centuries in America, yet realizing post-agrarian culture now has other social, charitable, and educational outlets

“Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)  Jesus was more concerned about growing disciples than growing churches.  We’re the only light in a dark, anxious world – but our light dims if we’re not active in compassion and evangelism.  Today, it’s not just secular media questioning the importance of churches.  According to Lifeway, 1 in 4 pre-COVID regular churchgoers have not returned.  Regaining reach and relevance requires following Jesus’ example – going out to care and share, not just inviting the “lost” to come in.

Reputation

America rejects the (traditionally) positive public perception of churches and Christians, showing greater respect for resolute post-modernists who hold their ground, when fearful believers compromise to adapt and conform to culture.

  • Protecting social and employment status by pretending to be who we aren’t, not taking risks like speaking out about Jesus or professing to hold Christian values
  • Inviting accusations of hypocrisy when churchgoers live inconsistent with their beliefs
  • People-pleasing, losing sleep over how others perceive us instead of how God sees us
  • Attracting congregants by catering to their needs rather than challenging them, soft-pedaling the costs of discipleship and commands to keep the Church holy

“And why do you worry about clothes?  See how the flowers of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.” (Matthew 8:28)  Jesus wasn’t concerned with being liked, nor should we.  Our efforts to impress anyone but God has the opposite of its intended effect, causing anxiety for us and for secular observers by taking the spotlight off Jesus and shining it on our insecurities, making it less likely they’ll see Him clearly.  If Christians and churches would focus on loving God and others, not being liked but respected, our faith would lower our nation’s collective stress level.

Influence

America rejects conservative values, gravitating toward those who don’t have their best interests at heart, when Christians and churches fret over gaining influence in society rather than electing to pursue Jesus’ path to prominence (caring for the “least of these”).

  • Stressing about politics and elections when we’ve already read the end of the story (The Book of Revelation), knowing Jesus and His Church win
  • Bemoaning the state of our world in this Age of Decadence as if the sky is falling when fulfillment of prophecy should increase our faith, not jeopardize it
  • Seeking earthly power, scaling the tops of the 7 mountains rather than relying on God’s power, realizing Jesus walked away from every attempt to enthrone Him
  • Centralizing into “skyscrapers” that don’t occupy much ground instead of equipping and sending disciples to engage those who would never darken the door of a church

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say.” (Luke 12:11)  Quietly serving in obscurity or decentralizing church to occupy a larger footprint doesn’t create notoriety but expands the Kingdom exponentially.  The Lord’s math is the multiplication of disciples making disciples, not the addition of Invite/Involve/Invest church growth strategies.  There’s tension in the precarious task of trying to build a large platform, and it’s hard to compete for attention with secular, for-profit organizations.  If Christians and churches were less concerned about size and influence, we would gain more of both, and Americans would be less stressed in trying to outdo one another.

It’s Your Turn…

Where have you seen a Christian’s or church’s faith in dire circumstances move the needle on a family’s or community’s sense of peace and hope in the midst of trials?

Poverty in America: A Cause and Cure

Nov 17, 22
JMorgan
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2 comments

Throughout most of America’s history, churches were the food bank and homeless shelter, the first place the destitute went for help.  In fact, across much of the world for over 1900 years, churches followed Jesus’ model of demonstrating the Father’s love before telling people who He is (i.e. the Gospel).  During recent decades, however, churches in America developed growth strategies that precluded continuation of its indispensability in helping the materially poor.  If all Christians still took Jesus’ example and commands to serve the poor seriously, our nation as a whole would be more accepting of Christians and less tolerant of poverty on our shores and abroad.

In other words, just as our division contributed to the fracturing of American culture and our consumerism exacerbated America’s overindulgence, the Church’s decision decades ago to abdicate its lead role on the front lines of poverty relief has diminished our influence and convinced many not to follow our…

Leadership

America rejects Christianity as the model for how to live, believing government and secular charities are kinder and more compassionate, because the average church’s investment of time, energy and dollars into serving the poor has dropped 95% over the past hundred years.

  • Changing the definition of “church” to emphasize gathering of Christians in a place on a weekend rather than scattering of disciples into ministry the rest of the week
  • Consequently, catering to those Jesus challenged (to live out the Great Commandment and Great Commission) while underserving those Jesus catered to (the poor, ill, and hopeless)
  • Finding intensive discipleship too demanding for church “consumers”, therefore not understanding how Jesus truly lived and what it means to follow in His footsteps
  • Not dying to self as the Bible commands, more concerned about our wants than the needs of others

Every human being is looking for a light in this dark word.  Christians are to radiate the love of Jesus to illuminate the path to the Father.  In America and around the globe, history reveals a direct correlation between compassion of Christ-followers and the growth of Christianity.  Similarly, there’s an indisputable connection between times our faith becomes associated with legalism, judgmentalism, and political parties and its decline.  As churches in the U.S. became more consumer-driven and less compassion-driven, that influence spilled over into secular culture, turning it more consumeristic and less generous.  Where else will people learn about love and mercy except from Jesus?  Yet society no longer looks to churches as viable examples of those qualities, nor will they until we again become a shining beacon of light to the poor and marginalized.

Savior

America rejects our Lord as the answer to meaning in this life and hope for the next, looking to secular flourishing and social justice causes for fulfilment, as Christians and churches increasingly deviate from Jesus’ model of Prayer, Care, and then Share.

  • Wondering how Jesus can save people eternally if churches in their communities aren’t active in rescuing those suffering on this side of heaven
  • Hearing stories about Jesus’ miracles of healing and feeding during their youth, but not observing anything transformative that borders on the “miraculous” today
  • Instead seeing Christians occupied in the unremarkable, indistinguishable work and worries of managing careers, raising families, and operating (religious) institutions
  • Losing respect for Jesus when Christ-followers attempt to “outpreach” Him (who despite speaking perfect words still felt it necessary to open ears through loving acts of service)

Whenever Christians fail to reflect Jesus’ deep concern for the (materially) poor or don’t imitate His approach for reaching them with the Gospel, we misrepresent and discredit our Savior.  America’s accelerating departure from its Christian heritage is not an indictment of Jesus, but of those who depart from His model and mission (“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”.)  Despite our nation’s entree into the Age of Decadence, a last gasp for revival by the power of the Holy Spirit could be sparked by a repentant reassumption by Christians of the leadership mantle for poverty alleviation, a responsibility Jesus (and His disciples) told us never to abdicate.

Philosophy

America rejects our approach to dealing (compassionately) with those we don’t agree with, even if they’re Christians, turning to godless yet more welcoming friends and groups for answers about how to treat others, because most Christians and churches no longer clearly convey what Scripture commands about love, relationships, forgiveness, and humility.

  • Coming across as morally superior, a stance Jesus reviled and repudiated
  • Being known more for what we’re for than what we’re against
  • Taking a back seat on discrimination and injustice when Jesus condemned silence
  • Essentially ignoring our own persecuted brothers and sisters overseas

Poverty is not just in material wealth and possessions.  Nearly everyone endures some from of poverty – whether emotional, spiritual, relational, or financial.  The materially poor lack hope for the future because they’ve lost and haven’t been able to reestablish symbiotic connections to God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Their isolation leaves them without the opportunities most of us have for relational (rather than transactional) support when times get tough.  Our society knows enough about Jesus to understand He commissioned churches to be the only earthly institution that’s perfectly designed and equipped to provide compassionate assistance for all 4 types of poverty to rebuild all 4 types of relationships.  Non-believers will become interested in and curious about Christianity again when churches stop walking by the poor, going about our “business” rather than fulfilling our calling and emulating Jesus.

Religion

America rejects our religion as truth, opting to invent their own realities and identities, because if what we claim is actually true, then more churchgoers would be radically transformed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection and eager to pay forward the grace of Jesus’ sacrifice.

  • Talking the talk (“I’ll pray for you”), not walking the walk (“I’ll feed and clothe you”), when the gift of eternal life should compel action on behalf of the lost and hurting
  • Complaining church members only give leftovers when they’re imitating churches who have little or nothing left over for local missions after other bills are paid
  • Missing opportune moments to preach our message of hope to the hopeless, making non-believers question whether Christians really think there’s a Hell

Our culture increasingly elects the visible over the invisible, doubting God’s existence or goodness as they witness abject poverty and the complacence of wealthy American Christians.  We may signal concern (virtue) on social media about injustice and oppression to gain clout, yet most of us said or did little before it was in vogue.  If all Christians practiced what Jesus preached, we’d have ample resources to ensure no one goes without and far greater influence over the generosity, compassion, and spiritual health of our nation.

Institutions

America rejects Christianity when churches devise solutions for alleviating (material) poverty that appear more like self-serving, thinly veiled advertising – seasonal events that may make churchgoers feel good but actually perpetuate poverty.

  • Replicating in local missions the “fast-food”, event mentality practiced by most churches on weekends to appease a busy, time-constrained congregation
  • For convenience, writing checks at arms-length without getting hands dirty in the hard relational work of true, needle-moving charity
  • Preferring geographic distance, afraid Jesus’ proximate model would attract those He did
  • Redefining “outreach” in the church lexicon to mean initiatives to grow membership

When churches were the center of town, a safe haven and shelter for America’s poor, we did more than provide short-term relief.  We offered the chance to become part of a family of Christ-followers, a support structure to help navigate the path to a brighter future.  When government usurped the lead role in compassion, it could only offer a “safety net” of handouts that extend the relief phase indefinitely and foster unhealthy dependence.  Surveys indicate that the American public still expects churches to be a first responder in compassion but the approach most have adopted looks more like government assistance programs, not the Church’s traditional, dignifying, biblical model.

It’s Your Turn…

Where have you seen outpouring of compassionate service to the poor soften hearts toward Christianity and open doors to evangelism among those who had appeared unreceptive?