Tag Archives: repentance

Is It Wrong to Share Your Faith?

Jun 16, 22
JMorgan
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Evangelism has become passe.  Only 52% of born-again Christians report witnessing to someone at least once in the past year.  And 47% of Millennials feel it’s wrong to share one’s religious beliefs with someone of a different faith.  A Lifeway study found of eight biblical attributes most evident in the lives of American churchgoers, “Sharing Christ” had the lowest average score.

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

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

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

Urgency

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

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

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

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

Methods

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

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

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

Message

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

A Precarious Father’s Day for America

Jun 02, 22
JMorgan
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I attended several churches and a Christian high school growing up but somehow never learned that church wasn’t a place, discipleship wasn’t a sermon, and charity wasn’t a handout.  No one ever shared how pivotal health (physical, mental, and spiritual) is in the Gospel, the ministry of Jesus, and the history of the Church.  And throughout 20 years in ministry, I don’t recall anyone describing how all God’s characteristics are encompassed in His consummate role – that of a loving Father.

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

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

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

Undermining God as Father

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

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

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

Undermining Dads as Fathers

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

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

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

How Can Your Church Advance Fatherhood?

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

America’s Undiagnosed Health Crisis

May 19, 22
JMorgan
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I came to faith in Jesus at 16 and studied Scripture for 20 years, but it wasn’t until I launched Meet The Need 20 years ago (yes, I’m 56 now) that I understood what a church really is, what discipleship means, and how to help the poor.  It also took working with thousands of churches and ministries over 2 decades to realize how pervasive and intrinsic the topic of health is in the Gospel, the ministry of Jesus, and the history of the Church.  Since the Fall of man inaugurated illness and death, God in His infinite love has been executing His plan for reconciliation and restoration.  He will eventually not only restore our bodies to perfect health, putting an end to illness and death, but will heal the spiritual and mental health challenges that are so evident in our world today.

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

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

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

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

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

Church Health Crisis

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

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

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

Personal Health Crisis

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

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

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

National Health Crisis

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

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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

How to Reclaim the Great Commission

Apr 21, 22
JMorgan
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Indulge a hypothetical.  What would churches look like today, what would Christians be doing differently, if most hadn’t outsourced the Great Commission?  How much better would the perception of churches be and how much more impact would churches be having?

A recent Barna study found that 39% of Christians are not engaged at all in discipleship, with 37% of those reporting they didn’t feel equipped and another 46% expressing a lack of interest.  Even among those involved, the majority are in discipleship communities, but most small groups don’t provide enough intensity or accountability for effective disciple making.  Biblical discipleship, “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”, is too large an ask of church consumers and cultural Christians.  So churches accommodate, replacing personal discipleship with lighter forms that foster fellowship and breed loyalty.

Pastors now bear the bulk of the load, simply asking members to invite friends and family to a weekend service.  If churchgoers reclaimed their rightful Great Commission responsibilities, it would free up church leadership to spearhead disciple multiplication (the Lord’s math) rather than pouring so much energy and resources into Sunday mornings (i.e. addition).  The chicken or egg dilemma is who will take the initiative first to reverse expectations based on the biblical definition of “church”, positioning members as Kingdom employees (expected to perform) rather than as “customers” (expecting pastors to perform).

The dearth of discipleship from lowering expectations of churchgoers opened the door to outsourcing compassion to governments and parachurch ministries.  Discipleship and compassion are inextricably linked by the Great Commandment – if you love God you will obey Him and love your neighbor.  Jesus’ parables about the sheep and goats and the rich man and poor beggar make it clear that it’s nearly impossible to be a Christ-follower and ignore the materially poor.  Jesus, the Lord incarnate, spoke the perfect words yet knew words were not enough.  He almost always healed and fed, demonstrating His love, before telling people who He is (i.e. the Gospel).  We can’t outpreach Jesus so we should follow His example.  It’s no surprise that when churches scale back discipleship they nearly always pull away from local missions, shifting focus from equipping and sending to attracting and retaining.

What if the opposite happened?  Imagine Christians and churches reclaiming ownership of the Great Commission and, out of an abundance of obedience, resuming their intended place on the front lines of compassion…

Reclaiming Discipleship

What did the early church do?

Cultural Christians and church consumers don’t exist where following Jesus could cost you your life.  Persecution creates rebel bands of revolutionaries who have to support and encourage one another through discipleship.  In times of peace and prosperity, it’s easy to be complacent and let “Christian” become a label more than a way of life.  Churches in America are free to publicly advertise and promote without fear of retribution from hostile governments or religious zealots.

What do most churches do at first?

When there was nothing to lose, few attenders and no buildings, there was little risk and plenty of incentive for church planters to practice biblical discipleship.  Pastors had to connect with the community, didn’t fear losing members, incurred minimal expenses, and singlehandedly needed to raise up other leaders to work toward a shared vision.

Why did that change? 

When the hard yards of disciple-making finally pay dividends for church planters, growth occurred and suddenly there was more at stake – bills, relationships, members, and reputations.  Demands on pastors became more significant while demands on lay leaders and members often diminished.  To keep the machine running, churches can lose their first love, tempted to cheapen grace by settling for belief and engagement without material life change.  It’s not unlike entrepreneurs whose early success stems from laser external focus, until growth causes mission to get clouded by management and money.  Like companies, churches should never lose sight of who they work for (Jesus) and who the customer is (those who don’t know Him).

How can a church return to its biblical roots?

The hypothetical, utopian picture of a church that has reclaimed ownership of the Great Commission is a repentant return to when it first planted:

  • Nowhere else to deflect or defer one’s discipleship responsibilities
  • All hands on deck mentality around evangelism and disciple-making
  • Supporting and serving one another without hierarchies or consumerism
  • Not able or trying to “compete” with other churches’ programs, music or facilities
  • Measuring health based on personal growth in Christ rather than numerical increase
  • Vision and investment in community transformation and Kingdom restoration
  • Unity and partnering with other churches and ministries in light of resource limitations
  • Little concern about “preaching the congregation down” by sharing inconvenient truths
  • All those who stick around are committed disciples with nowhere to hide in a crowd

Imagine the Kingdom impact of a church whose pews are filled with folks like that!  Being an established, larger church doesn’t excuse members offloading the Great Commission onto pastors, churches outsourcing biblical discipleship to external ministries, or congregations creating committees to abdicate responsibility for work everyone should be doing.  No church should grow or evolve out of personal ownership by all staff and members of the guiding principles (to make disciples that transform communities) adopted at its inception.

What are the barriers to reclaiming responsibility for the Great Commission?

A bleeding edge church courageous enough to flip expectations and treat attenders more like employees than customers will lose most “consumers”.  However, there’s value in finding out who’s who – those willing to endure the costs of discipleship and those going through the motions.  Churches, like people, become healthier when they lose excess weight.

Reclaiming Compassion

What did the early church do?

Despite risks of persecution and plagues, Christians served even their oppressors relentlessly and fearlessly, precipitating an explosion in church growth. The Roman emperor Julian wrote, “the impious Galileans, in addition to their own, support ours, and it is shameful that our poor should be wanting our aid.”  Walking in Jesus’ footsteps, the Church occupied the front lines of compassion for 1900 years, serving as the food bank and homeless shelter, founding hospitals and schools.  American churches traditionally plowed a significant portion of their budgets back into their communities, acting as the original social safety net where people turned to for help.

What do most churches do at first?

Church planters need to form connections, create visibility, and demonstrate an interest in seeking the welfare of the city.  Like Jesus, their approach is typically highly relational and often involves serving the materially poor, working with local leaders to make a tangible and lasting difference.  Pastors treat non-members as “customers”, not outsourcing compassion by referring families to government agencies or public charities.  Because poverty is a result of broken relationships, churches are best positioned to provide those who feel isolated with enduring connections to a loving Father and a caring support network.

Why did that change? 

As churches mature, hire staff, and undertake building projects the demands and expenses don’t leave enough time or funds to continue addressing local causes on an ongoing basis.  The average church reinvests less than 2% of giving back into the city where it planted.  The number of volunteers required to sustain an attraction and retention model also diverts requests from external to internal needs.  Church “chores” are limited and frequently vastly underutilize the skills and passions of members, particularly in this day and age when our culture is eager to make a difference in the world.  Poverty alleviation is left to other organizations, with churches “checking the box” through transactional service events that generally do more harm than good.

How can a church return to its biblical roots?

Again here, the hypothetical, utopian picture of a church that follows Jesus’ Prayer-Care-Share model is a repentant return to when it first planted:

  • Realize and teach that Jesus sees helping the poor as a non-negotiable for all believers
  • Train and equip members for evangelism opportunities that arise as they serve the poor
  • Research societal issues, assess member capabilities, and determine avenues for impact
  • Deploy congregants into existing ministries and support worthy initiatives they devise
  • Utilize the church building seven days a week for outreach rather than letting it sit idle
  • Understand why “outsiders” feel disenfranchised, seen as “prospects”, not “customers”
  • Never acquiesce or appeal to consumerism, promoting compassion as the alternative
  • Learn how to help without hurting, not turning away those who come asking for help
  • Become as generous as you expect members to be, giving the first 10%+ to local missions

If you think implementing these principles is impossible, consider that a church is also the 3rd largest charity in the U.S..  If your objection is that the early church separated caring for widows from preaching, consider that responsibility was still housed within the church.

What are the barriers to reclaiming responsibility for the Great Commission?

Churchgoers have grown accustomed to “church as we know it”, unlikely to adapt readily to surrendering the balance of power, relinquishing their status as the center of attention – suddenly morphing into “employees” expected to pursue the real “customer” (those who don’t know Jesus).  It’s not certain many would want to sit next to the materially poor they serve or to lose their parking spot as people flock to a church that practices what it preaches.  Not to mention nearly half of millennials believe sharing their faith is wrong, likely to turn compassion into the “social gospel” where words aren’t deemed necessary.  Most church leaders would also have a hard time reorienting budgets toward a biblical definition of the “customer”, although members would probably become more generous if churches would lead the way.

It’s Your Turn

Have you seen a church repent of outsourcing the Great Commission and return to its original mission and metrics – to make disciples and transform a city by the power of the Holy Spirit?

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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“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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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…

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture II

Jan 13, 22
JMorgan
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Part 2 (of 2)

Being countercultural but not counter culture means turning the other cheek but not a blind eye to the campaign underway to eradicate Christian influence from our nation.  Jesus instructs us to be as wise as serpents and innocent as dovesrecognizing the coming persecution yet trusting Him to see us through it.  Wisdom with innocence is an acute awareness, not naive ignorance, of efforts to remove the only barrier to absolute dependence on human authority – faith in Christ.  It is that faith that should invoke both confident assurance and heartfelt empathy in believers, knowing the futility of eliminating the outward evidence of Christianity when its inward essence is immutable.  In other words, society can walk away from biblical values and standards but can’t alter facts like the existence of God, the sinfulness of man, and our need for Christ.

Secular leaders only attack visible manifestations of Christianity because they don’t have spiritual eyes to see the invisible.  Yet no amount of reinventing God in our image, denying Jesus, or suppressing His followers has any impact on who God is.  Love remains the entirety of the Father’s character.  Only He can provide true healing, joy and prosperity.  Despite claims to the contrary, no politician, professor or publicist can remove or replace Him as Savior.

Standing on those truths, the appropriate response of those with dual citizenship in an eternal Kingdom and an aging democracy should be Prayer, Care and Share.  We alone know the dire consequences and ultimate outcome of elevating self, glamorizing greed, and pursuing happiness at all costs.  That reality should create a sense of urgency within churches to make disciples who will boldly shine the light of Christ and speak truth with grace.

Christianity has been countercultural for much of its history so this period in America should be familiar territory.  Scripture provides Christians and churches with a gameplan for responding without combating or conforming.  That path is not about regaining control of the 7 Mountains (Government, Education, Religion, Family, Business, Media, and Entertainment).  In fact, our Post-Christian reality today is in part a reaction to resentment over past “imposition” of Christian norms.  Instead, we should wisely discern the motives and strategies of those who now lead those spheres, distinguishing between them and those lured by their sales pitch – the empowerment of Selfism and freedom of relativism.  In the last blog post, we unpacked those differences and biblical responses for the first 3 “mountains” – today we address the final 4:

4. Family

Leaders’ Motives

Many parents implant “traditional” values into their children, only to find out when kids get off the bus or come home for Spring Break that they’ve learned (and possibly internalized) exactly the opposite at school.  The authority of an earthly or heavenly Father hinders reprogramming of young minds, impeding the dependence needed to control a populace and the materialism needed to fuel an economy.  Redefining marriage, convoluting genders and devaluing unborn children are less about defending rights than undermining America’s foundational social structure.

Followers’ Delusions

The next generation slowly distances from the teachings of unenlightened parents, concluding they’re out of touch with the modern world.  Awakened to a higher way of thinking yet unaware they’ve surrendered their identity as children of God, fatherless “sheep” wander aimlessly, settling for lesser labels based on sexuality or politics.

Biblical Response

When we’re not with family at home, we’re most often at workplaces, which are under tremendous social pressure not to tolerate Christian expression in any form…

5. Business (Economy)

Leaders’ Motives

Corporate executives conveniently adopt progressive ideals when they become society’s prerequisites for doing business or increasing sales.  Those who genuinely care instituted policies and touted causes long before they became in vogue.  Business and political leaders have a shared interest in promoting consumerism by encouraging worship of self and celebrities.  What the Bible calls idols are advertised as bare necessities we all deserve.  What Scripture says we should diligently work for become expected entitlements.  CEOs and politicians profess concern and compassion, but their underlying drivers are profit and power.

Followers’ Delusions

Eager to pursue the happiness Americans were promised, many buy those lies, trading eternal treasures for worldly wealth.  We worry and stress about maintaining a standard of living that would deplete earth’s natural resources if everyone consumed as much as the average American.  We crave acceptance and fear poverty, clinging to possessions.  We trust in our capabilities, companies, and Uncle Sam rather than God to provide.  We search for meaning and purpose in our work, fueling the Great Resignation, desperately trying to replace the hope we abandoned.

Biblical Response

Infiltrating and ridding the places we live and work of Christian influence cannot be done without a tremendous amount of support from media through all available channels…

6. Media

Leaders’ Motives

Publications whose primary source of revenues is advertising cannot afford to offend anyone.  The exclusivity of Christianity is offensive and its truth scares a profession that no longer values truth in reporting.  Newspapers once reserved editorials for back pages, but media now opines with slanted views on all current events.  Google and social media networks structure search engines and screening to exclude or deemphasize results that promote Christian concepts.

Followers’ Delusions

Cancel culture leverages media to enforce compliance with principles espoused by media.  Renegades advocating “traditional” ideas like sinful nature, binary genders, biblical marriage, preborn viability, and mistrust of government are monitored and turned in by citizen patrols.  In their minds, silencing nonconforming dissenters is rendering a public service.

Biblical Response

  • Disprove media’s narrative about Christians by not leading with a (verbal) air attack, but confronting the culture war with a ground attack of prayer, humility, confession and compassion
  • Stop expecting those who don’t believe in God to follow His laws; instead focus on leading them to Christ by training disciples with a sense of urgency about sharing the Gospel

Entertainment mirrors media, setting the standard and serving as a barometer for morality…

7. Entertainment (Morality)

Leaders’ Motives

Tolerance, our nation’s highest virtue, defines immorality as “accusing someone of doing wrong”.  Media and entertainment wield tolerance as a hammer to censor and ridicule Christians, who dare to “judge” the behavior of others.  Whatever secularism decides is right and wrong becomes the (vacillating) moral law of the land that entertainment promotes and media enforces.  Relativism’s objectors, namely Christians, aren’t given mainstream airtime.

Followers’ Delusions

Americans want to believe people are inherently good and appreciate when others mind their own business.  Non-believers work hard to suppress their consciences and see no need for Christ.  They gravitate to the lies of media and entertainment, not recognizing that secular humanism, like all systems, hands over authority to someone, in this case to (sinful) humans rather than a (perfect) Father.  Placing faith and giving control to those who do not have our best interests at heart has consequences in this life and the next.

Biblical Response

Our countercultural lifestyles should present a compelling alternative when society awakens to the ambitions of godless leaders and the delusion of living for self.

It’s Your Turn…

Is there hope for revival in our nation, even in its advancing Age of Decadence?  Please pray for our leaders and our fellow Americans.  Despite appearances of animosity or ambivalence, the fields here are ripe for harvest.

Biblical Responses to Post-Christian Culture

Dec 29, 21
JMorgan
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3 comments

Part 1 (of 2)

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

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

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

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

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

1. Government

Leaders’ Motives

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

Followers’ Delusions

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

Biblical Response

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

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

2. Education

Leaders’ Motives

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

Followers’ Delusions

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

Biblical Response

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

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

3. Religion

Leaders’ Motives

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

Followers’ Delusions

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

Biblical Response

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

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

It’s Your Turn

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