Hurt By The Church?

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This is a real issue and a real problem for those who have been hurt; for churches who inflicted the pain; and for churches who are trying to be faithful to the work of The Kingdom Of God who are ignored by those who have been hurt.  In October of 2015 Jonathan Hollingworth wrote a great piece that I offer for your reading.  Jonathan says it much better than I can.  Here is the link:  What Not To Say To Someone Who’s Been Hurt By The Church  And remember:

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

“I Feel The Need To Say Something!”

There are some conversations that I simply find no pleasure in participating.  In fact, I absolutely HATE being in those conversations.  There are some red flag phrases for me that causes my mind to scream, “Run, Forrest, Run!”  For example:

  • “I saw on Facebook…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “From where I sit…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “Some people were talking and they wanted me to tell you…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”  (Perhaps only a fellow pastor or someone in church leadership understands this one!)
  • “Well, I would never…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “Do you know what’s wrong with our world?”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “I was reading in the New York Times…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “The Lord told me to tell you…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “Well, here’s the way we used to do it…”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”
  • “I feel the need to say something!”  “Run, Forrest, Run!”

It’s that last one that makes me want to run like the wind.  Now do not misunderstand me; there are times others can bring the right words, the timely counsel that will make the difference between sinking and swimming.  Did you notice my phrases, “there are times” and “timely counsel” and this is not a rant against them.  I’m talking about those who feel like it is their God-given gift and responsibility to ALWAYS put in their two-cents worth of wisdom and 1 minute of being the Sage.

This morning I had this passage in my mind and it is the basis for this rant, excuse me, Blog!

1-2 Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

3-6 The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

6-8 Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

9-10 Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

11 “No one, Master.”  “Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

John 8:1-11 (The Message)

Some teachers, commentators and scholars hone in on that part where Jesus said, “Neither do I.”  But I’ve heard even more wonder, “What exactly did Jesus write on the ground?  Why didn’t John tell us?”  And truthfully, so have I wondered.  I remember one summer in Emory when I sat at the feet of one of my favorite professors, the late Dr. David Naglee.  He suggested that it may have been a quote from The Mishna which said if a person was in a position to prevent someone from committing a sin but did nothing to try to stop them, then they were guilty of committing that sin.  And in the case of adultery, they would have to be in a place where they could have prevented it from happening.  Sounds reasonable.

But we do not know if that is what Jesus wrote.  So I went to the Greek to see if it could enlighten me.  According to Strong’s Concordance the Greek word used is “grapho” and it has a variety of meanings.  I looked at that word “grapho” and almost immediately I thought of the word “graphics”, as in graphic art.  Maybe Jesus was just doodling on the ground, like some do in class or when the preacher is preaching.  But I digress; what caught my attention this morning was what Jesus did while the Religious Police were spewing their venomous sewage.  Have you ever paid attention to what Jesus did while that sewage of hate, of sinners and Jesus, was flowing at the rate of about 1000 gallons a minute?

“Jesus bent down and wrote with His finger in the dirt.  Excuse me Jesus!  Those guys are making fun of your teachings.  Those guys are spewing hate!  Those guys are being mean to that woman.  You are the one who always took the side of the oppressed.  This woman is being heavily oppressed.  Say something Jesus!  Don’t you feel the need to say something?  “Nope!” and He went back to doodling on the ground.

 And when they kept on pestering Him, He finally gets up and we see His lips start to move.  There you go Jesus!  Now open up and let them have it!  Tell them how wrong they are!  Call them low-down snakes again!  Put them in their place!  Better yet, just rip them apart!  And He says, “OK.”  What???  Is that the best you can do?  Don’t you have something else to say?  And then those lips move again, now we’re getting somewhere.  “Go ahead, but the first rock thrown has to be by the one who hasn’t sinned.  Then the rest of you can let the rocks fly.”  And then Jesus goes back to doodling on the ground.

Nothing else.  Jesus goes back to the silent mode just as when they first presented this “sinner” to Him.  Jesus finally does say more, but I am going to leave those words for another time and another blog.  I want you to see how Jesus responded to a situation that, in our opinions, DEMANDED something be said.  Jesus says nothing but doodles on the ground.  You cannot say that Jesus does not understand the serious nature of this confrontation.  He knows that the future of this woman is at stake.  When confronted with their hate, Jesus simply draws doodles in the dirt.

In our culture and nation, maybe this part of the story has something to say to us as citizens of the Kingdom of God.  When hate and anger is being thrown around like a Frisbee, maybe our best INITIAL response would be to follow the example of The Master.  Get out a sheet of paper, church bulletins work nicely, too, and draw some doodles.  Not every situation demands we say something.  Perhaps Jesus knew something we do not know–that there are moments when we can say a whole lot more by saying nothing.  This is one of my favorite memes:

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Maybe, just maybe, the best way to silence all these protests and unrest is to say nothing at all.  Maybe, just maybe mind you, that when we feel the need to say something we really need to say nothing.  Allow The Master to take those thoughts and work with them and you.  Give The Master the opportunity to bring the wisdom of all eternity to work with those words.  Allow The Master to clean those words up and flavor them with His Love, Grace and Mercy so that when you do speak it will be like His words–Timely and Timeless!  Maybe, just maybe this same process will work when dealing with all those “other sinners” out there.  You will never know if you never try it.

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The Resurrection Parade

      Christ Holds It All Together

15-18 We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.  We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created.  For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in him.  He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment.  And when it comes to the church, He organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

18-20 He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—He is supreme in the end.  From beginning to end He’s there, towering far above everything, everyone.  So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding.  Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross.

Colossians 1:17-19 (The Message)

Who doesn’t love a good parade?  In this fast-paced culture, perhaps parades do not carry the excitement and mystique they once did.  Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, then all those parades on New Year’s Day–but alas, I digress into the past.  Confession time:  I haven’t sat down and watched those in a long time.  But, I do watch our local parades here in Sheffield, Alabama–Homecoming and Christmas–and enjoy them very much.  As these musings ooze out of this not-so-normal brain (the most insulted I have ever been was when someone called me normal) I hit upon a question and a thought:  Why do I not enjoy the parades on TV but find myself enjoying being on the sidewalks of these less than glamorous productions?  In case you didn’t notice, that was the question.

Now for the thought:  I enjoy these parades because they are happening right in the middle of my own community.  And that thought led me to this thought:  We need another parade in our community and in fact, it is a parade that is already forming.  Maybe your community needs one like this, too.  This parade is a perpetual parade that is getting people caught up in the excitement and is going to get even more people caught up.  I just heard someone thinking, “What parade????”  I’m so glad you asked that question.

The Resurrection Parade, of course!  Some people are waiting for The Resurrection Parade.  But me?  I’m already in it!  When I need to take a deep dive in Bible study I do not always turn to The Message.  But when I know I need a fresh perspective, Eugene Peterson and his translators offer me just that.  Such is the case with this Colossians passage.  I once wondered by those Bible editors put headings above each section but now I have come to appreciate those headings.  Especially this one:  Christ Holds It All Together!  Wow!  Now if I could only remember this all the time it would take the load off of my shoulders.

I love this turn of a phrase they use:  “He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—He is supreme in the end.”  I have noticed some Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians spend their life WAITING for The Resurrection.  Me?  I cannot wait for “The” Resurrection, you know, the one at the end of time.  I need The Resurrection NOW!  I once worked in a sales office and there was this cartoon:

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The Resurrection is not meant to be something that we wait for; it is meant to be experienced in the here and now.  Go back to the original Resurrection:  that other Mary experienced a Resurrection, the Disciples minus Thomas experienced a Resurrection, and then Thomas got his own Resurrection.  And I got my own Resurrection, many times over.  Truth is that every time I needed a Resurrection and looked to Jesus, He gave me HIS Resurrection!  Resurrection is this:  Bringing forth life from the dead places.

Resurrection is not limited to cemeteries and graves.  It is a Parade that marches into the dead places we often find ourselves in; dead places like fear, doubt, pain or failure to name a few.  Resurrection creates the most important parade of all:  The Victory Parade!  And Jesus is the Grand Marshall of this Parade.  After all He owns The Resurrection because it is His!  But when we give up the right to our own life and surrender it to Him, lo and behold, He shares His Resurrection with us.  The very thing that is killing us is killed and we have RESURRECTION!

And Christ holds it all together.  As Peterson and his gang put it, “So spacious is He, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in Him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross.”  When we need a Resurrection, Jesus has one just for us.  It is HIS Resurrection but He gladly shares it with us when we admit we need it and that only HE can give it.

Smack dab in the middle of all this negative junk that is happening in our nation, I am seeing the Resurrection Parade.  I see God’s people giving up their love for the institution for the joy of the Kingdom of God.  I am seeing community leaders who realize that it takes more than government and money to fix our problems–you have to bring in God.  I am seeing people who felt like God did not, could not love them catch glimpses of the truth that God does love them and offers them more than they could imagine.  Not enough of it yet, mind you, but the parade is lining up.  Are you going to be in that Parade, The Resurrection NOW Parade?  I’m in it, and I hope to see you here, too.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Oh Lord, Bless What We Are Doing???

Have you ever listened to how we pray, especially at church?  Do you pay attention to the prayers offered during our church council (board or whatever term your Tribe uses for its church governance) meetings?  OK, I will be more direct:  How many times have you prayed or heard another pray, “Oh dear Lord, we ask that you bless this  ministry/mission that we are doing.”  I will admit it:  I’ve prayed that prayer in meetings, gatherings and during worship services.  I will also admit this:  I think I’ve been wrong to pray such a prayer.

“What?  Preacher Man don’t you want God to bless our efforts?”  Well of course I do, BUT, do I need to ask God to do that?  Some who are following or subscribing to this blog may just unfollow or unsubscribe to these musings.  At the very least you wish there was an “Unlike” button.  What has possibly happened to me that would cause me even to suggest that we stop asking God to bless our efforts?  Well, I’ll tell you.  It’s this verse from John 13:17 (N.L.T.)

Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.

Without sounding presumptuous or making assumptions, I have been struggling with asking God to bless something that we, something that I do or am about to do.  Someone reading this just asked “Why?”  Good question, I’m so glad you asked me that question.  And I will try to answer it as best I can.  This blog is about the Monday Spirit that will rob us of the joy and peace that comes from following Jesus and living as a citizen in the Kingdom of God.  One of those “things”, in this case let’s call it an attitude, that crushes our heart is the thought that we must somehow convince God to accept what we want to do and in doing so make us happy.  It is asking for God’s seal of approval to what we want to do.

The Greek word most commonly used for “bless” or “blessed” is makarios, not to be confused with the Macarena dance.  (Some of you just tried to remember the words and gestures from that song, didn’t you.)  It means literally “bless” or “happy”.  It’s like saying, “God just accept what we want to do and be happy that we are doing this.”  I want to propose something really radical, even for me.

I propose that if we are doing what HE wants by following the example of Jesus, then the blessing, the happiness comes along without us even asking for it.  Look at the words of Jesus and then go back several verse and see what Jesus had just done.  Jesus knew His Purpose was about to unfold–death on that Cross.  What does He do?  He takes off his outer garment, wraps a towel around His waist and begins washing the disciples feet; the act of a True Servant.  When He finishes his task, he puts his outer garment back on and asks them this question:  “Do you understand what I was doing?”

And just in case they didn’t, which they didn’t, He tells them what He was doing.  He was setting the pattern for them and all future disciples, including us.  The pattern is rather simple:  Be a servant to anyone and everyone.  It is all about the act of unselfish service to others simply because, period.  It is the emptying of one’s self for the sake of the needs of others.  Pure, unconditional love.

Now, read these words again:  “Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Now that you know what to do, ask God to bless you for doing them.”  Nope, that’s not what He said.  He said if we follow His example, the blessing, the true happiness happens.  I think back and sometimes I have been asking God to bless something less than His standard, something I wanted to do, would RATHER do than wash dirty feet.

So I have stopped asking Him to bless my efforts.  Instead I am looking for what He did and is doing today.  And then my prayer isn’t “Bless my efforts” but “Help me do what You did that night before You hung on that Cross for me.”  I know that if I am faithful to His designs that God will take great delight in me and I will then truly live as I am designed to live, and this makes me happy!  Could it be our misery is the result of living life our way, rather than the way we are made to live?

Deep inside everyone is the desire to live out our true purpose.  Jesus showed us how that night before He died because of our sins.  Happiness comes from being true to our true self.  Our misery comes when we try to live for some other purpose and so we try to eliminate that misery by asking God to make us happy because we are doing less than we are created to do.  Follow Jesus and His example, and you will never, ever, ever have to ask Him to bless you again.  The blessing just comes.  Let’s pray:

Lord, show me how You lived when you walked this earth and help me do the same.  And I know that I will be happy, so very happy!  Amen and Amen!

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Are Your Words Creating An Environmental Mess?

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions for the word Environment is:

the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded

Today is a unique day in our current world:  the Constitutional transition of power.  We are in a minority of this world in that we have a system that allows the peaceful transition of power from one person to another.  There are citizens in scores of nations what would love to have this moment we have today.  Instead, they face violent revolutions and military coups, followed by unrest and imprisonment of dissenters.  One petty despot replaces another without the citizens having a say-so in the process.  But thanks to our Founding Fathers and framers of the U.S. Constitution, we have a Representative Republic.  I know some use the word “democracy”.  Actually, we do not have a true democracy for which I am most thankful.  In a true democracy, the majority rules.  Take a vote and whatever the majority wants, they get.  There’s a word for this type of process:  CHAOS!  Why am I writing such words?

I am moved to write this morning for which we should be thankful is being marred because of all of the unrest being created by WORDS!  I want to speak openly and honestly to only a select group of people (though most will never read them, still it helps me to vent).  I want to talk to those who “say” they love Jesus.  You know who you are.  The ones that post on Facebook, “Type Amen if you love Jesus.”  “If you’re not ashamed of Jesus share on your page.”  “Don’t share but copy and paste if you agree God should be let back into schools.” (As if God was not already there.  If your god is being kept outside schools because of some man-made rules, you’re god is way too small!  You do know Jesus conquered death, don’t you?  And you think a rule is going to keep Him out?  Geez!)

It’s not these comments of yours that I am taking issue with (though I do), I’m talking to those who say they love Jesus but their words about today’s transition of power are filled with hate, anger or gloating.  With all of the recent protests and the planned protests some are wondering why such things are happening.  I know why they are happening.  Remembering Merriam-Webster’s definition, an environment is being created that incites such actions, even by children.  Have you seen this video?  A child says, “Screw the president”?  It’s the environment!

75933b82f55e92db4972ebf70ec4c650The environment is more than weather and living things.  Environment is what surrounds us.  When your words are filled with hate, anger, or even gloating, YOU are partially responsible for warping that child’s mind.  This environment is the exact one our Enemy (that’s Satan for you who did not know our true Enemy) is wanting.  In fact, he thrives and grows stronger when words are filled with anger, hate or gloating.  I do not release the protesters from their responsibility because they, too, have a choice to be influenced by this sinister environment or work to change it.  Words are the direct product of what or who controls our mind.  In your heart you may say “I love Jesus”, but your mind doesn’t and shows that it does not reflect your words that allegedly are coming from your heart.

The mind is must be changed if the words of our heart ring true.  Too many Churchians and promoters of Churchianity (another word I’ve borrowed) think it’s all about the heart.  Well, there’s more to loving Jesus than just with our hearts.  Fact is, Paul had much to say about the mind.  Here are some examples:

Romans 7:23 (NIV) I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.
Romans 8:6 (NIV) The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 12:2 (NIV) Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 15:5-6 (NIV)  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 13:11 (NIV)  Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ephesians 4:22-23 (NIV)  You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV)  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Colossians 3:2 (NIV)  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)  Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Pay careful attention to that last one from Philippians 4:8.  See, I’m not crazy!  Our words, that come from our mind that is being influenced by our real heart, creates an environment.  You hate-mongers, fearful minions and boastful parasites are creating this environment we are seeing on the very day we should be celebrating this Representative Republic, and when we should be modeling the way of Jesus.

To those who say “I love Jesus” but continue to say words of anger, hate. boasting or he’s not my president, take your whiny part of your anatomy that sits on a commode and move to some other nation.  And to those who are thinking, “Preacherman, where is the love?”, I say:  “Do you think that Jesus’ words to the Religious Police were sweet and syrupy when He called then a den of snakes?”  And if my words have offended your “sensibilities”, all I can say is, “Oh, well.” because I am sick and tired of those who say they love Jesus fueling this environment where Satan is roaming free and laughing at us!  Yes, you bear a level of responsibility for this environment we are in.

Listen up to what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write.  Think about what is true (the Greek word used here is “alēthēs” and it also means “to love the truth”, who is Jesus), noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable (was that child who said “Screw the president” admirable?), excellent and praiseworthy.  These kinds of thoughts are not natural to us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  Don’t box in Jesus to just your heart.  Let Him invade your mind in a revolutionary kind of way.  Allow Him to demolish the Enemy’s strongholds which are located in your mind, not your heart.  Otherwise we are headed to total environmental disaster in this nation.

Your words can create environmental change in our culture, if you use the right words that come from your mind that has been taken prisoner by Jesus in order to be liberated to think like He thinks.  And like the knight who told Indiana Jones and Dr. Walter Donovan when trying to decide which cup was the Holy Grail, “Choose wisely.”  And remember the knight’s words after Dr. Donovan dissipated into dust and bones,  “He chose poorly.”  Make good use of your words by allowing your mind to reflect the heart that Jesus wants to put inside you.  DON’T CHOSE POORLY!  #YourWordsMatter

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Curb Shopping

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Another one of my moments of random thinking this morning, and it seems I’m being afflicted with this more often than usual.  The thought?  Curb Shopping!  Now if you are not familiar with Curb Shopping, I will warn you that it may become addictive.  Simply put, Curb Shopping is watching for what people put out on the curb to be picked up and taken to the landfill and quickly thinking if it is something you can clean up and re-purpose.  Then stopping and picking it up and take it home.  It is giving what is being thrown away a new life.

I admit and confess that I am a Curb Shopper.  I never knew the joy of it until a few years 0119170519_hdrago.  My wonderful wife Debbie and I had taken a trip down to Winter Haven Florida to spend time with some of her family and to have a sabbath rest.  Whenever we are down there, we count on seeing some of her cousins she grew up with; one of them is Janie.  That particular year Janie was telling wonderful and humorous stories of her adventures Curb Shopping.  And that got me started.  Every day going to the office, hospitals or visits, I watch the curbs for some hidden jewel, even scrap pieces of lumber.  I also watched businesses for discarded pallets to re-purpose.  The crosses and firewood rack are just a few things I’ve done.  (Notice the Folger coffee cans, that’s where I keep the tender for starting fires in our fireplace, that is, when it is cold enough for a fire.  I do live in Alabama where we defy Mother Nature by having all 4 seasons in the span of a week.)

Point is, I find Curb Shopping expands my thinking and moves me from the realm of “what is” into the wide open spaces of “what could be”.  And this morning’s random thought was more than about “junk” and thrown away pallets.  I realized that Janie had opened my eyes to yet another facet of God.  God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver.  A perfect case study to prove my assertion that God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver, is found in Luke 7:36-50 (The Message)

36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Oh? Tell me.”

41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”  “That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”

49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”

50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Here was a woman who had been pushed to the curb as trash to be disposed.  Others had seen her and thought, “Well, the curb is exactly where she belongs!”  But Jesus was a great Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver for He could see beyond “what is” to “what can be”.  Here’s my two thoughts on this random thought:

First, God does not see you as curb trash or dumpster material.  He sees more clearly than even yourself “what is” your current condition, and regardless your current condition He can see “what you can become”.  He can and will re-purpose your life and keep you from the landfill of despair.

Second, I have a question for you:  How do you see people who have been pushed to the curb?  Who are people pushed to the curb?  Of course we think about the homeless, but there are many others.  It is anyone who has been pushed aside because someone decided that they no longer had any value or purpose.  Do you join in their assessment or can you see that with a little work, they can be re-purposed to a better life, a higher life?

Re-purposing takes some imagination, often a lot of work, and even more patience.  And our God has plenty of both–in fact–more than enough for anyone, everyone, even you.  One more not so random thought and for some it may be my spiritual gift of annoyance that hits you:  What are you going to do with the next person you see that has been pushed to the curb?  Use your imagination and time to invest in someone who has been deemed too broken or no longer needed, and ask God to show you “what can be” for them.  Then stop at that curb, pick them up and watch what happens when we don’t give up on someone.

 Love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

#1 The Worst One Of All

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I have been addressing the decline in attendance, membership and community impact of the western church, primarily here in the good old U.S.A.  Just in case this is the first one you’ve read, a couple of things first.  In the first of this blog series I listed 10 conditions that I have observed that I believe have led to this decline in attendance, membership and impact and would encourage you to and read it first and then read the countdown.

I will confess and admit that I made an attempt at baiting you on this last, but biggest reason why the western church is in decline, except those pockets where congregations fight against these 10 Killers as evidenced by their growth.  I did not list what I sense as the biggest killer of all on purpose and partially in hopes that you, the readers, my try to come up with the Biggest Killer of all.  So, are you ready for the truth?  Can you handle the truth?  And the Biggest Killer of the western church is…drum roll please….

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It’s not that local congregations have forgotten what their mission is to be.  Congregations that are declining in attendance, membership and impact have forgotten HOW to do the mission.  Ask any Tenured Pew Sitter, “What is the purpose of the church?” and they will likely reply, “To make new disciples for Jesus” or some similar term.  Churchians (by the way, InsanityBytes, thanks for this new word, I am using it more if that’s OK with you) may say it like this:  “To grow the church”, though that is not what Jesus told us to do.  But that response is, at least to me, a very clear indicator that churches in decline have forgotten HOW to do the mission of Jesus.

Most churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters can quote the Great Commission, and many can quote it with deep piety.  But it is never enough to know just “the mission”.  Ask the infantryman in the trenches about the importance of knowing how to do the mission.  Some Captain comes over to that infantryman and says, “Go clear that village over the hill and get rid of the terrorists.”  The infantryman knows that’s his task, what he needs to know is the “how”.  Declining congregations know the “what” of the Kingdom but it is in the “how” that has messed them up.  And to a very large degree, it has tainted and polluted the “what”.  But for sake of helping get my point across, let’s be gracious and say that churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters know what to do.  So how are they doing it, and doing it wrong?

Here is the common thread I have observed in every mainline congregation that is in decline in worship attendance, membership, and impact on their community.field-of-dreams  They have adopted the “Field of Dreams” technique.  You remember the movie, don’t you?  Kevin keeps hearing a voice whispering, “If you build it, they will come.”  So, he built it and eventually they did come.  At the end of the movie, it is night and there is this long line of cars headed to this unknown corn field in Iowa.  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters alike said, “Eureka!  This is it!”  Actually they adopted this technique back in the 1950’s, even earlier.  Build a building, give it a good church sounding name.  Announce what times you are in business, and they will actually come.  Well, it did work for a while, but it’s NOT been working even longer.  But by George, if 1950 ever comes back, they are ready.  Problem is, if it doesn’t come back in the next 7 years those buildings will be vacant.

The primary model has been “Well, y’all just come on over.”  And for those who actually did come over, the message was very clear from the Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, “Look, we are here to help you meet Jesus and then you can look just like us.”  And, God forbid, someone who did not look like, dress like, talk like them actually showed up, they would offer them “Frozen Politeness” and then hope they took the hint.  And they did.  They sit there Sunday after Sunday, go through pastor after pastor (because it’s our fault, you know) and wonder why people are showing up at their desirable location and time.

Now, before you think I am anti-mainline church, remember I see signs of hope everywhere and I am hopeful for the western church.  But the Field of Dreams model stopped working a long time ago.  And though the message never changes, the strategies must–in other words, HOW we do The Mission.  Would you like a Biblical passage to back up what I’m saying?  Good, I thought you would never ask.  It’s in Matthew 25:41-16 (NLT), and I want to add my commentary along the way:

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’  44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

Commentary Time:  Can’t you see it?  “Field of Dreams” model.  “Well, if they CAME TO US we tried to be like you.”  Jesus is not going to ask, “Well how many people came up to you and you showed them Me?”  Nope, not going to happen that way.

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Look the least, last, lost and broken are not rushing to the church building.  But those who attend to those buildings need to get out and get to know who is living around them.  Refusal to leave the building is the refusal to connect to Jesus.  Look even Elvis left the building, it’s  time the church left the building.

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

 Do you really need a commentary on this verse?

Before churches here in the good old U.S.A. can reverse this current trend and once again thrive by growing in worship attendance, membership and community impact, they need to get out into the community and get to know who lives around them.  A couple of Sundays ago, I shared in my sermon that I felt like we had a real friendly church.  I say a lot of smiling faces and heads nodding in agreement.  But, you know me, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  My next statement was this:  “But those who are not yet in church are not looking for a friendly church.  They are looking for friends, those who will build relationships with them.”  The smile left some faces and in its place was, I still cannot tell if it was surprise or confusion.

How we do THE MISSION is by getting into the streets, communities, neighborhoods and getting to know them.  It is US reaching out and going TO them.  Now excuse me, but I have to leave.  I’m volunteering in a low-income neighborhood to help elementary students become better readers.

#2 False Humility

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(This is Number 9 in a series.  I encourage you to read in order, Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude#6. Self Reliance#5 Fear Of Change;  #4 Form Rather Than Substance; and #3 The Loss Of Passion.  The tenth and final one in this series should come tomorrow!)

Remember that these are my reflections on what I have observed about the western church, and in particular the church in the good old U.S.A.  Without the empirical work such as that done by groups like Barna I am left with simple observations, deep reflections and even deeper prayers.  So this work is subjective so I do not ask nor even expect anyone to agree with my conclusions.  This blog has simply given me a means to express the deep burden I have for the local church in the U.S.A., and for my own Tribe.

This next one may not have made the lists of others who have tried to label the various maladies that has infected (and might I add “affected”) the western church.  It is the most subtle, and thus most deceptive, of all the reasons why our churches are in an overall state of decline (with pockets of exceptional congregations that are in fact growing).  It is because of its deceptive nature that it comes in strong at #2:  False Humility!

Because someone will take me out of context, I must preface my next remarks with this. true-humility-871x650 Humility is a much-needed and often missing virtue.  I have found that many think it is M.I.A. among those in my profession, that of being a pastor.  And I will admit that some of my fellow shepherds seem to have a propensity of not modeling this virtue of humility.  So, in some sense, I would have to agree that some of my companions really appear to lack this essential virtue.  But humility is not limited to the “Backward’s Collar Society” (known by most as “preachers”).  It is to be modeled at every level in the life of local congregations.  Humility is what gives our witness and message credibility.  But not all that is called and treated as humility, is true humility.  There is a false, counterfeit humility that is greatly impending the impact of the local church.

While some my think my reflections and comments reveal my lack of hope about the future of the western church, I am very optimistic about the future of the, let’s call it “organized western church”.    One of the reasons I am so optimistic is the rise of the group known as the “Dones”.  I believe the Dones reveal something more than just giving up, as some critics have said about them.  No, they are done with the institution of church, to which I gladly shout, “Bravo!  Amen and Amen!”  These Dones have understood which so many Tenured Pew Sitters have either not understood, or have simply been living in denial.  The local church will never prosper as she is designed as an institution.

She truly is a living organism.  But when programs and missions are clearly designed to maintain the institution and to protect their version of orthodoxy, it slowly bleeds the church until she is on life support without much hope.  The Dones are teaching us that it is futile and a waste of God’s many great gifts to focus on survival in order to protect a history that once reflected the Kingdom but is far removed from that Kingdom today.  If we listen to the Dones, we can hear not just them, but God calling us back to our deepest roots and richest orthodoxies which is that of caring about and caring for others in the ways that Jesus did as He walked this earth and now moves on this earth through the Holy Spirit.  The Dones are teaching us again about the importance of relationships–both human and Divine.

Another reason I see that there is hope for the future of the western church is The Nones.  Like the Dones, they have no interest in the organized institution that is being guided and maintained by the Tenured Pew Sitters.  The Nones are longing for a better world and they clearly see that the push by liberalism that WE can make the world a better place is nothing more than political promises–empty and without hope.  This longing for a better world by The Nones is closer to the Kingdom of God than many realize.  You see, Jesus came for this very reason–to give us live and show us how to live life that has deep purpose and abiding peace.

The difference I see between The Nones and The Dones is that The Dones know that the source of this deep purpose and abiding joy comes from God, not by sitting in the pew.  The Nones know there is a better way to make a difference in their community and they are looking for ways to make it a reality.  This is GREAT news for local congregations.  Here is a group of people who know little or nothing about the Bible, and what they know about religion is enough to know that religion doesn’t work.  I say this is great news for the church because we are surrounded by a growing number of Harvest Hands, hands that are longing to do the work of God.  We just need to show them by our example.

But the main reason I am hopeful for the future of the western church is because I am seeing signs of God’s Kingdom strong and vibrant almost every day.  God is on the move here in the good old U.S.A.  The Dones and The Nones are not the only ones dissatisfied with the status quo.  I am seeing and hearing stories of real Disciples of Jesus connecting with their communities, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to make a difference in hearts and lives one at a time.  I am sensing and seeing the beginnings of a great upheaval and revival.  Some are hearing and faithfully responding to God’s call, even in small pockets of communities.  But more are needed.

I believe with every fiber of my being, that God is calling out to new leaders in our local congregations.  God has put within them the gifts, tools, abilities, and most of all, a passion for the true mission of the Kingdom of God.  I hear of pastors reaching out to those who have not been in leadership before but…but those being called out are saying No!  No to the Mission.  No to the Kingdom of God.  And it is not because they do not believe in the mission of the Kingdom.  It is Reason #2:  False Humility.

I hear people and hear the stories from other pastors of those being called out into new ventures and new adventures repeatedly say, “Well, I’m just not the leadership type.  I’m just a poor Christian that doesn’t have what it takes to be that kind of leader.”  They pass it off as humility.  By the way, if you are one of those who thinks that you don’t have it, remember Gideon, hiding in a wine pit threshing wheat because he was afraid of his enemies when God called him a “mighty man of valor”!

This False Humility that comes from the mentality that you do not have what it takes, is robbing the church of valuable leadership and keeping her from the task at hand.  False Humility keeps one out of the mainstream of the movement of the Holy Spirit because He is calling us out of our comfort zones into places where we will fall flat on our faces, UNLESS we have on to Him.  It is not easy getting out of these comfort zones, and though getting outside these comfort zones is the place to grow and be who God created you to be, still they resist.  Why?  Either they do not see what God has placed in them to achieve His purposes, or they doubt that God will do it for them.  If you are one of the doubters, then listen to Paul’s words here:

Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master.  All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.  It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful.  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness.  We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives.  That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.  As it is, there’s not much chance of that.

2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (The Message)

Our message is not about ourselves, it is always about Jesus, who is living in the hearts of every person who trusts in His Redeeming work on the Cross and who is willing to be His Disciple.  The more you see yourself as ordinary, the more you see yourself as an unadorned clay pot, or in my case–a cracked pot–the more your local congregation needs you and it is the reason He is calling you into the work of the Kingdom.

God is calling up a new group, a new class of leaders.  Here is the best definition of leadership:  One person influencing another person with the Gospel for the sake of the Gospel!  You have a sphere of influence and God needs you to be found–found to be available.  Don’t worry about being ready, God takes care of that part when you trust Him, listen to Him and Follow Him into the domain of the Enemy; and let His power flow through you.  Trust Him to provide the power, and do not let False Humility keep you away from where God is calling you.

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#3 The Loss Of Passion

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(This is Number 8 in a series.  I encourage you to read in order, Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude#6. Self Reliance#5 Fear Of Change and #4 Form Rather Than Substance.  The ninth one should come tomorrow!)

OK, OK, OK; so I did not follow my original plan of writing of writing in consecutive days.  Give me the 40 lashes minus one with the wet noodle.  I do have a good excuse (don’t we all?).  Actually I have a reason; in addition to my usual activities as pastor, I was helping in a new tutoring program started by our school system called STIC–Students Tutoring In Churches.  Sometimes one just needs to do the work of the Kingdom of God rather than write about it.  After an hour and a half with second graders I reaffirmed my support and thankfulness for teachers, and that I am not one of them.  Yesterday I had to change hats from pastor to being our Tribe’s Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.  No, there were no disasters, but a lot of paperwork that needed my attention; a full week’s worth in one day.  And yes, sometimes the work of the Kingdom of God requires attention to the details.  Now that I’ve justified my failure (sound familiar to anyone?), let’s get to the task at hand.

In churches I hear and see a lot of questions about understanding John’s last book “The Revelation”.  Please notice that there is no “s” in that word Revelation.  Their fascination and their questions center around chapters 4 through 22.  I’ve seen teachers and “prophecy experts” design elaborate flow charts carefully detailing every event in chapters 4 through 22.  Many even have designed a timeline for when these events will happen.  (Wow!  Didn’t Jesus say no one would know the time or the hour but the Father?)  It can get complicated and confusing.  Your bonus feature in today’s blog (at no extra charge to you) is that I am giving you the full meaning of chapters 4 through 22 and all that you need to know in 2 words.  Here it is:

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Now that we’ve got all that out-of-the-way, let’s move forward in understanding what else is killing the church in the U.S.A.  The most important lessons in Revelation (without the “s”) are found in chapters 2 and 3.  It is one of the churches mentioned in chapter 2 that has landed this as firmly planted at Reason #3.  It is the problem at the church in Ephesus.  Look at Revelation 2:1-5 from The Message:

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church.  The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.  I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders.  I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.”

4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why?  What’s going on with you, anyway?  Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?  A Lucifer fall!  Turn back!  Recover your dear early love.  No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

Little wonder most folks who are fascinated with The Revelation (again, no “s”) overlook chapters 2 and 3; unless it is to criticize some other Tribe and then it becomes useful ammunition.  I had an Epiphany Moment writing this edition that began with this question:  “Why did He start with Ephesus?”  He could have started anywhere, but why Ephesus?  I mean, there were some churches who were worse off than Ephesus.  And here is my light-bulb moment and why Ephesus is mentioned first:  It Is Easy To Lose The Passion And The Loss Of That Fire And Passion And Fire Opens The Door For Even Worse Things.  In fact, it leads not to opening doors, but closing the doors of local congregations.

I know that a lot of those flow charts and timeline teachers would say that Ephesus lost love, not passion.  But what is love without that passion and excitement of being loved by The Father and loving Him back through loving others?  The issue for many is that they see love as an emotion.  Love is more and deeper than an emotion.  It is the drive, energy and excitement that propels us into the very thing Jesus came to bring:  The Kingdom of God.  Jesus never said “The church is at hand.”  But He did frequently speak about The Kingdom of God and it being at hand.

I am the advocate for mandating that every church have cameras in their sanctuaries/worship centers.  And those cameras should be panning the congregation and those images projected on screens.  I mean, if you could just see what pastors, choirs and music leaders see many Sundays in congregations that are declining.  And then there is the passion, rather lack of passion for the Kingdom of God that manifests itself for the rest of the week.  There is passion out there, but it is not focused on The Kingdom of God.

Every person has a passion, a fire burning deep down inside themselves.  You see it in sports, especially college sports (I see a lot of it because I live in the heart of the SEC).  And the past few months we have seen a lot of passion and continue to see even more passion in the realm of politics.  Perhaps I should define passion in the context of which I am writing.  Here goes:

Passion is the force and desire that forms our attitudes, shapes our words, and guides our actions.

Everyone is passionate about something.  Even the person who says they are miserable has a passion.  Their passion, that burning desire, The Force and The Desire that is forming their attitudes, shaping their actions and creating their actions is misery.  To recognize and name YOUR passion answer these 3 questions:

  1. What do you think about most of the time?  Pay attention to your thoughts because your thoughts extend into and impact everything else in your life, and in your day.
  2. What do you talk about the most?  Words are the mp3 of your mind and heart.  Words are powerful because they repeat what is in the mind and heart.
  3. What are you doing most of the time?  What you consistently do in moments and situations reveals your true self.  Your actions and reactions are telling you something about your passions.  Occasionally you can do something good, but look at the consistent action and reaction.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.

Think about that time in human history when Jesus was human like us.  When I look at some of the art that has Jesus as its subject, I can easily see why some see Jesus as dispassionate about life.  I really did not have a taste for so-called “Christian” art until I discovered Stephen Sawyer.  You can find his story-his Passion- and his work at Art4God.  I see a bright smile on Jesus’ face when He invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus.  I see this burning love in His eyes as that “sinful” woman washes His feet with her tears.  I hear a joyful laugh as He watches Peter and the others trying to pull all those fish in their nets into their boat.  I feel the heat from His anger as He drives the money changers from the Temple.  I sense the depth of His compassion as He hangs on that cross.  And there is an indescribable emotion as He tells death to step aside and walks out of that tomb.

The loss of passion that I am talking about that is literally draining the life from declining congregations is that lost passion for what God is doing.  Some say it is the lost passion for the things of God.  I disagree because have seen many people passionate about the things of God, but not about the work of God.  The passion is around the budget, committees, pastors, programs, hierarchy, and institutions–but NOT God and what HE is doing in HIS world.  The result of losing that passion for God and what He is doing creates many things but I would like to sum up that result in one word:

mediocrity

The loss of Passion for God and what He is doing results in the passion for mediocrity.  To be and do “just enough” seems to suffice in those congregations that have plateaued or have already begun to decline.  If your congregation is experiencing mediocrity, meaning decline in attendance, membership and impact on your community, the message, the FIRST message of God in Revelation (without the “s”) to the church is COME BACK!  Come back to that first passion you had when you knew God loved you, that the blood of Jesus forgave your sins, and that God now lived in you through the Holy Spirit.  Remember!

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Right now picture in your mind the actor Samuel Jackson and try to image his voice saying “What’s your passion?”  Will the rest of your life be average or memorable?  Remember that first love!

#4 Form Rather Than Substance

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(This is the seventh in a 10 part series.  Item Number 3 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude;   #6. Self Reliance; and finally read #5 Fear Of Change before reading this one)

In this exploration of those things that are among the most vile things that are destroying the western church, particularly in the U.S.A., I hope you have seen a common thread.  In each item there is a corresponding Scripture.  The passage is either an indictment against that attitude or it is a passage that shows the exact opposite and how the church needs to embody that positive trait in order to be faithful in and to the Kingdom of God. Any single one will diminish the impact a local congregation has on a community.

Coming in at a very strong #4 is one that has plagued the church since her inception.  It has rightly earned its place on this list.  It is Choosing Form Over Substance.  Look carefully at 2 Timothy 3:1-5 from the New Living Translation:

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

Hone in on verse 5:  “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  The King James Version puts it like this:  “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power .”  Unlike the other symptoms of a dying congregation, this particular one manifests itself in 2 diametrically opposed systems, and we need to look at both of them.

First, there is the form of traditionalism.  Now, do you go spouting off your mouth and revealing your ignorance by saying that I do not like traditions.  I know we live in a free country where you are free to act and speak as stupid as you so please, but don’t abuse this freedom.  I love rich traditions both in family and in the family of faith.  But I did not use the word “traditions”; I used the word traditionalism.

Traditionalism does not value the rich traditions because they elevate them to the status of idols by making them simply a means to create a faux self that they think looks good on the outside.  And they believe they can produce this themselves.  It is all about human effort.  You can look through that litany of things Paul writes about to Timothy and one thing becomes evidently clear.  They are promoters of Self.  Everything is about the external and nothing is about the internal.  They are more concern with their outward appearance than they are about their true inward being.  Seems like I recall Jesus having some tough and harsh things to say to, who were those really religious folks?  Oh, Pharisees!  I seem to recall something about them being low down snakes and something about looking like a cemetery on Decoration Sunday; really pretty on top but below they were nothing but dead bones.

Traditionalism is all about keeping up the appearance and it becomes a cheap substitute, much like when King Rehoboam replaced the gold shields that had been stolen with brass shields.  It keeps a person from dealing with the truth because many Tenured Pew Sitters simply cannot handle the truth.  Rather than looking for where God is at work and pursuing those things with Him, they are more concerned with going through the motions rather than being swept up by this fresh wind of the Holy Spirit.  This is one extreme.

The other extreme of this is where brokenness that comes from sinfulness is celebrated and worn as a badge of honor.  It’s like, the more brokenness you reveal and share, suddenly the more holy and Christ-like you become.  This idea of celebrating brokenness has gotten a bit out of control.  Yes God loves us where we are and as we are.  But God wants to do more.  He wants to bring about a complete transformation.  But instead, some seem to take pride in their brokenness by calling it, “the way God created me”.

There is a movement afoot that promotes that God is such pure love that just about anything is permissible, within their definition of reason of course.  In this group no one wants to embark on the journey to become who God created them to be.  But it seems that some want to celebrate how they feel rather than how God’s grace makes us whole and brings us back to our true self–the self HE created us to be.  They insist that it is God’s love and His love alone, without anything else happening, that makes them whole.

But notice that last line of Paul  They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  The Gospel Jesus came to share and the Kingdom that His Gospel points to is the one that yes, loves us just as we are, but goes much further and even deeper.  It is about trusting His power to change the brokenness that truly exists in all of us into that intended design God has for us.  He wants to make us holy and this image of holy is to become exactly like Him.  It is not about self polishing or throwing away old ideas of what sin is and does to us.  It is about radical transformation that comes from His power working on the inside of us.

One of the founders of my Tribe was a fellow by the name of John Wesley.  He once wrote:

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I am seeing Wesley’s troubling concern coming true in my Tribe.  But not only in my Tribe, but in other Tribes as well.  We can be just as beautiful as a cemetery on Decoration Sunday but without the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and without His presence and power to help us overcome our sin, we will remain sinners–sinners that are lost without the Savior.  We become a form that has no substance.  Oh Lord, save us from ourselves!

#5 Fear Of Change

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(This is the sixth in a 10 part series.  Reason Number 4 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude;  and finally read #6. Self Reliance before reading this one)

There are a lot of reasons why western congregations are declining in membership, attendance and impact.  This list is by no stretch of even my active imagination, not an indictment against all local churches.  I have not engaged in Barna-like  research polls; nor have I started a consultant business going about to different congregations across the nation analyzing what is ailing them.  No, this is what I said it would be at the very beginning:  simply observations that I have drawn by reading and listening very carefully.  And I do not expect everyone to agree with my conclusions and I am sure there are other reasons that could make it on a Top 10 List such as this.

But after a season of prayer, these are the ones that I see as significant “Destroyers Of The Church”.  The Enemy does not have to get a local church to embrace all 10 of these, or 9 or 8 or 7 or 6 or 5 or 4 or 3 or even 2 in order to effectively make a local congregation ineffective.  I realize I did not have to do the entire countdown for most of you.  But I have met people who need the whole shebang to understand; they are not creative thinkers; heck, they aren’t thinkers at all; but I digress, so forgive me.  Any local congregation that is guilty of even 1 of these has greatly reduced their impact for the Kingdom of God.  This is why self-evaluation should always be an ongoing and unfinished project; not just people, but for the entire congregation, especially its leadership.

Now we have finished the bottom tier of this list, it’s time to move on to our Top 5.  This part of The List was the most difficult because of so many other things could have fit here as well.  But coming in at Number 5 is Fear Of Change.  But it is the unique beginning of Change that qualifies it to be in solidly at Number 5.  To show how this has been a persistent problem, let’s look at a story about change from Numbers 14:1-4 (The Message)

1-3 The whole community was in an uproar, wailing all night long. All the People of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The entire community was in on it: “Why didn’t we die in Egypt? Or in this wilderness? Why has God brought us to this country to kill us? Our wives and children are about to become plunder. Why don’t we just head back to Egypt? And right now!”

Soon they were all saying it to one another: “Let’s pick a new leader; let’s head back to Egypt.”

Unless one is a pastor or member of the military, two callings that require adaptability to change because change is a constant, change creates a lot of anxiety in many people, especially long-term members of a local church.  This does not seem to be a problem with new Christians because they typically have not developed their hierarchy of importance.  The excitement of new birth and new life, well, all they want to do is serve Jesus.  Everything is new and everything is changing for the newborn Disciple of Jesus.  But for the church members with long-standing tenure, it is usually viewed with more than just suspicion, but downright hated and anger.

But it is that first great Change mentioned in the Bible that takes fear of change into that realm of being an oxymoron.  You see, prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, everything was moving forward.  The only constant that had never changed in the Garden and in their lives was that God was in charge.  Then comes Satan on the scene with an offer to, you guessed it, CHANGE!  He came at them proposing that things needed to change:  “Why should HE be in charge?  You could do just as good, probably better.  In fact, He knows you could do better, that’s why He doesn’t want you eating from this tree.”

So in the beginning, humans were not afraid of change.  And today, many tenured pew sitters are terrified of change and see any change as spawns of Satan, himself.  But there was a time when humans were not afraid of change.  Oops, I just heard a tenured pew sitter saying, “See!  That’s why we need to be afraid of change!  Look at what it got us back then!”  Well Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, had things not changed back then, we would not even be having this discussion now.  But because of the fallen nature that exists in each of us, even Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, change is needed.

Our world has been in a constant state of change.  Growing up, education was based upon books and pencils and paper.  Today it’s about I-Pads and Google Books.  Where I learned through the sense of hearing, kids today are more visual learners.  When I was growing up, single parents were a minority.  In some school systems, the majority of students come from a single parent family.  I could go on and on with the changes that happen in our culture.  Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, you know I’m right on this.

In the midst of all these changes, the church does have something that never changes–and it’s not our traditions.  It is the truth of God’s Word.  We call it the Bible.  And within this Bible, God reveals more than truth, He reveals Kingdom Truth about how life is without Him and how it can be with Him.  But how we present and share the Kingdom Truth, that does go through changes.  Think about the dinosaur.  What happened to the dinosaur?  It’s culture changed; it didn’t; it died.  Remember the 7 words of a dying church (or any organization) “We’ve never done it that way before.”  Hear this consistently and know that death is imminent.

Look back at the passage from Numbers.  For a long season everything was predictable for the most part.  Now they were about to be challenged to trust God even deeper as the conquest of the Promised Land was at hand.  Big changes are coming!  And what was their response to entering the Promised Land, a Land that God said He guaranteed they would occupy and would fight for them?  “Let’s get us a new leader/pastor (I just had to throw that in) who can lead us back to Egypt!”  Now, what was it they had in Egypt?  Slavery!  go back to chapter 11 and you see even then they were wanting to go back for free onions AND SLAVERY!  Why did they want to go back to slavery?  Why do Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter fight so fiercely to maintain the status quo?  I know the answer!  I know the answer!

Once the Enemy got Adam and Eve to believe that his idea of change was good, he then gave humanity a new lie.  He gave them, and so many still today, the idea that predictability is the preferred status over some unknown future.  Predictability is believed to produce peace and stability.  It gives neither.  Predictability always, always, always produces complacency.  When complacency happens, one becomes both deaf and blind to the movement of the Holy Spirit and oblivious to what and where God is moving.  The Enemy knows that if he can keep Mr. & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter as Guardians Of The “We’ve Always Done It This Way” dogma, he knows that local church will never ever be a threat to him.

I’m not suggesting that all change is good and I do not believe in change simply for the sake of change or to follow the latest fad.  I am doing more than suggesting, I’m outright telling you, that to defend the status quo simply because it is the status quo has deadly consequences.  Congregations who stubbornly resist any change need to be ready to plan their last Sunday Service, because it will not be long until they can no longer sustain their facility.

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#6. Self Reliance

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(This is the fifth in a 10 part series.  Number 5 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War;  #8: Wrong priorities; and finally read 7: Cookie Cutter Attitude before reading this one)

Self Reliance, now that doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?  Isn’t it a good thing to be Self-Reliant?  Look at the definition:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  You’re not a burden on anyone or a drain on any system.  Shouldn’t that be a good thing?  Yes, in one real sense, Self Reliance is a good thing.  In farming Self Reliance means that you figure out how to be profitable year in and year out.  For a corporation it can mean sustainability.  All of these can be good things in the right situation and environment.

But like all good things, they can be abused.  I am not suggesting that anyone needs to become dependent on the government as the only means to have the basics of food, shelter and clothing.  But I’m not writing about economic self-reliance.  The context is looking at the Top 10 things that are killing the church.  Self-Reliance has definitely deserved its spot at #6.  Hang with me just a little bit longer.  Let’s look at Proverbs 3:5-12 and from The Message it goes like this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.      Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction.  

It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.

The NIV puts it this way:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  After nearly 2,000 years of history, suddenly there are those in the church who think they have this thing called “church” and “Christianity” all figured out and no longer need those ancient and outdated things of the past.  Here is how I see Self Reliance being played out to the harm and even death of the local church.  I will start at the top with the most damning and damaging and work my way down the list.

First, there is a lack of Biblical Authority.   The tried and proven true values of the Bible are being traded in for a new set of values that, well, just makes more sense for today’s times than those of the Bible.  There’s this group that promotes this within the church.  They call themselves “Progressives”.  They insist that their views are more in line with God’s standards.  In fact, they proclaim, that thanks to Jesus, things once considered wrong and sinful, well those definitions of sin are just outdated biases and prejudices of a long gone generation.  People are free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible best fits them and the parts that don’t fit–just ignore them as cultural bias and a lack of understanding of the real world.  Without true Biblical Authority in us and over us, we end up choosing our own way and they simply leads to chaos.  Wasn’t that the real temptation in the Garden of Eden put before Adam and Eve?  I realize that some people misread the Bible because they bring their personal biases into it.  But that does not negate that the Bible still has authority over us in matters of personal holiness, individual integrity and how we are to live as God’s people in this fallen world.

Second, there is a lack of understanding the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to bring us the power we need become more like Jesus and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current world.  I still believe we need spiritual power.  I still believe we need spiritual gifts.  And I still believe we need that fruit which only the Holy Spirit can produce.  But so many today, too many today want to lean on their abilities, human knowledge and human training.  Fewer and fewer people live with that sense that God is actually living in them THROUGH the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are like those disciples who tried to cast out that demon but failed.  To their credit they did ask Jesus why they failed.  And Jesus replied to them that they needed more prayer and fast.  In other words, put themselves in those positions where we become more keenly aware of the Holy Spirit and rely on Him with His power and abilities over our powers and abilities.

And third, there is the desire by some in the church to be in control of what happens in or through the church.  They have either been self-appointed authorities or they inherited that position because their family has always been in control.  Self Reliance says that WE determine the who, what, where, when and the how of the Mission of the Church.  The Mission of the church is defined by those places where God is already at work.  But too many want to be in control of the Mission, not messy people, places and organizations.  Self Reliance says we are smart enough to figure out on our own what should or should not be done.  Focus in inward and we have already seen what happens when churches turn inward.  The focus is on survival of the church rather than the transformation of the world through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Self Reliance means that WE get to be in charge and that is exactly why many churches continue to experience decline.

Look again at that definition of Self Reliance:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  Throw the Bible out.  We are wise.  Keep the Holy Spirit outside because we are smart enough and strong enough to take care of ourselves.  And we are quite capable doing this “church” thing, we so God, just take care of others things  We’ve got this!

No, we don’t; it’s got us.  Got us in a mess.  Got us confused.  Got us bewildered.  Got us lying–lying that we are much happier and stronger through Self Reliance.  Until we learn to let go and trust God to guide us through this thing called life, until we quite thinking we are strong enough to handle it–we will never seen the transformation of the world, and the Kingdom of God will not be seen, at least in the areas around the western local churches.

self-reliance Faith in ourselves just leads to more disappointment and more emptiness for us.  Until we align our lives to the authority of Scriptures, until we are filled with the power and gifts of the Spirit, and until we stop trying to be in charge and control–we will never make a lasting impact on the world.

God is calling us to become involved in something much bigger than any of us, even all of us, could ever imagine.  But as long as we leaning on self, we will continue to miss it every day and all day long.  Growth happens when God is given complete and total control of our hearts, minds and lives.  Jesus never promoted self-reliance.  To the control, He INSISTED on Surrender and Self-Denial.  We can’t grow the church; heck we can’t even sustain it.  But God can and God will.  Give up that you can make everything better.  Let Him make everything better by first making you new.

Love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

7: Cookie Cutter Attitude

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(This is the fourth in a 10 part series.  Number 6 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War; and finally read #8: Wrong priorities before reading this one)

First of all, this has nothing to do with this edition of Kingdom Pastor but I stand amazed and in awe of the bloggers I follow who post something every day, sometimes 2 or 3 things a day.  I applaud your strength and resolve and am the richer for it.  Me?  I usually do a couple a week, so needless to say, this is challenging to me.  Fortunately, I have many great examples around me in Blog Sphere who let me know I can do this for 10 consecutive days.  Maybe it will even inspire me to finish my book.  Oh well, enough rambling, on to today’s topic of what is killing the church.  Coming in at Number 7 on my list is The Cookie Cutter Attitude.

Normally, I wait a few paragraphs before I introduce the passage that the Spirit has led me to; but today, let’s get right to it.  Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

Now before some purist takes me to task for using this passage out of context, let me explain.  I know Paul wrote this to challenge the church at Rome not to be like the world around it, or as The Message puts it–“your culture”.  Not only does “the world” have a culture, but so does the local church.  A fellow blogger, InsanityBytes,  absolutely inspires and challenges me through her blog See, There’s This Thing Called Biology and she taught me a new word:  churchian.  To me “churchian” is a perfect word to describe the culture of a local church that is declining in influence, and thus declining in membership and attendance.

Somehow, some local churches seem to think that in order to be effective, then everyone needs to see, think, dress and act alike.  Cookie Cutters!  Where does a local church get the idea that God wants us to look just alike, think just alike, speak just alike, and act just alike?  Wait, I know the answer to my own question:  it’s the Enemy!  The Enemy knows he is no match for the body of Christ when each member is faithfully using their uniqueness in the Kingdom and for the glory of God.  No way he can stand up against us.  So to help himself (because he certainly does not care about helping us) and his cause, he has convinced some local churches that UNITY can only occur through UNIFORMITY.  This is why it has earned a solid spot at #7 on our list of Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.

Think about the early churches, particularly the church at Corinth.  Every time I hear someone say, “We need to get back to being like the earliest churches!”, I want to gently cup my hands around their face, look them square in the eyes and shout, “Are you kidding me?  Have you ever read 1 Corinthians?”  Right out of the chute, Paul chastises them for their divisions; some saying they were followers of Apollos or Peter or Paul, as if that made them better than the rest.  It was like saying, “You’re not a real church member unless you are like us!”  Cookie Cutters!  (Oh, and don’t get me on how they were acting during Holy Communion.  Come on, you want the church today to be like that?  Really?)

And that’s not all, some were promoting the ridiculous idea that God wanted everyone to have the same spiritual gift.  If you did not have that particular spiritual gift, well you just weren’t being a part of the true church.  Cookie Cutters!  But Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:4-6 (The Message)

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all.  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.

Then Paul gives a small partial litany of those spirit gifts, gifts designed by God for us in order to bring out the UNIQUENESS that HE put in us, not to make us the product of Cookie Cutters.  Then Paul does one of the things Paul does well–he makes an analogy with the human body.  Same chapter 12, listen to verse 12-13  from The Message:

12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body.  Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.  It’s exactly the same with Christ.  By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.  (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.)  Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.  The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful.  We need something larger, more comprehensive. (emphasis mine)

Paul goes on to ask them to imagine the human body if it was just one thing, say for example, an eye.  If we think it would look ridiculous if the human body was just an eye (like a scene out of those 1950 Sci-Fi B movies), how dare anyone think that the church looks best when we see, think, dress and act alike.  I have heard those in the churchian culture comment about someone who just gave their life to Jesus and was all excited say, “Oh, give them a couple of months, and we will make them just like us.”  Every time a churchian says that, the Enemy gives out a belly laugh because he knows he has his instruments in place to keep that church from becoming another one of those churches that he absolutely fears.  Cutter Cutters!

One reason that the “Not Yet In Church” crowd (others call them the Nones and Dones; I prefer the term “Not Yet In Church”) give for not becoming a part of a local church is that they do not want to lose their individuality.  They see the church as the place of conformity, not the place for transformation.  I have personally seen and heard of church after church after church after church after church believe that UNIFORMITY is the key to UNITY.  Uniformity will never cause unity because our God is not a Cookie Cutter.  He seeks for ways to express a piece HIS UNIQUENESS within the only part of creation that was deemed by Him to bear His Image.

Those “Not Yet In Church” will never come to a church it they see that a church’s mission is to conform them into the “correct” image.  Cookie Cutter!  Local congregations that stifle individuality and have difficulty accepting others as they are–others who see, think, dress and act differently–then that congregation will continue to fail at impacting their community and thus continue their decline in membership and attendance.  Without their own radical transformation, those local churches will die.  Cookie Cutters Kill Churches.  I dare you to say that 12 times real fast.  Better yet, if you are one of those who think Cookie Cutters create unity, then say it slowly, over and over until you know that it is the truth.

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The way to reverse this inevitable conclusion is really rather simple.  Go back to Romans 12:2 and again from The Message:

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Allow God to define you and most of all, allow God to define others.  After all, HE knows you and them better than you know yourself, and much better than you know them.  Cookie Cutters!  Leave them in the kitchen and NEVER bring them to church.

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#8: Wrong priorities

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(This is the third in a 10 part series.  Number 7 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship  and #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War before reading this one)

A careful examination of the focus and operations of many struggling churches reveal that one of the significant causes of their declining membership, attendance and impact on community is that they simply have endorsed and embraced the wrong priorities.  And what breaks my heart the most is that those churches sincerely think they have the right priorities.  Churches with the wrong priorities are not deliberately attempting to kill their church.  The sad fact is they believe, believe with all their heart, that by their strict adherence to these wrong priorities, somehow there will be a turnaround in membership, attendance, and impact on their community.  They are looking for leaders who will have the skill sets to gladly and proudly march them backwards to the 1950’s, when membership, attendance and community impact were at the highest.

There is only ONE priority that any church really needs to change the current downward spiral.  Do you know what it is?  I think I just heard someone say, “Put God first!”  In congregations that have plateaued or declining if asked they would say that they are putting God first but continue to decline.  I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now, suffice it to say that the #1 Priority for the church should be The Kingdom of God.  Some of you just said, “But isn’t that what I said when I said the one priority the church needs is to put God first?”  Maybe I’m just being my Annoying Self when I put this out there for your consideration.  Who knows, maybe I’m turning into a heretic in my old age.  But what did Jesus have to said about what should be our ONE priority?  Let’s look at Matthew 6:24-34 from the New Living Translation:

24 “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

25 That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 And why worry about your clothing?  Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The cause of the decline of the Western Church, again this is how I interpret what I see, is that first word, rather the lack of seeing that first word–seek!  According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used was zēteō.  It has several usages and the one that caught my eye is this one:  “to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after”.  In these latter years I have this deep sense from God that we are missing so much, too much, by overlooking that phrase, “The Kingdom of God”.  A Kingdom requires a King but here in the good old U.S.A., we fought a war so that we would be free from a King.  And so, we have this problem of declining membership, attendance and influence and the reason I see is that we tend to operate the local church more like a democracy and less like the Kingdom.

I realize that some of my fellow pastors can act like a ruthless dictator, but the fact remains that God has called us into HIS Kingdom, not our democracies.  What does all this have to do with the wrong priorities?  Glad you asked, and I will gladly give you an answer.  Churches that are losing in membership, attendance and influence are 99% of the time churches that have forgotten the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And the purpose of this Kingdom is defined by Jesus when He declared in John 10:10

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

If we follow the example of Jesus, giving life happens when we come to know their deepest needs and then offering what we have to meet those needs.  If they are hungry, give them food.  If they are homeless, give them shelter.  If they have trouble reading or can’t read, we teach them how to read.  If they are lonely, we build relationships with them.  Everything about the Kingdom is externally focused on others, those outside the Kingdom, those outside the church.  And herein lies the problem.

The wrong priorities seen in declining churches is that its members see themselves as the consumers of what the church offers.  I dare say that you, the reader, have heard someone say, “Well I quit that church because they just weren’t meeting my needs.”  The pastor, the programs, the staff, the music, the ANYTHING–it’s all about them consuming what is produced in the church buildings.  They do not seem themselves as the “providers” of mission, but the consumer of services.

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Every program, every ministry, every mission, every activity is to be focused on them, the members.  When the pastor and/or staff fails to serve them, it is time to get rid of them and find someone who will.  Consumption, consumption, consumption!  All this consumption has led to the decline in membership, worship attendance, and most of all, community impact.  Programs are not to serve the members.  Staff does not have the responsibility of serving the members.  And the Mission does not exist to meet the needs of the members.  When the focus is inward, it is leading to the eventual death of a local congregation.

But there is good news:  When the focus is outward, when the local congregation readies itself to meet and welcome those who are not in church YET, the decline is reversed.  We are called to serve the Mission of the Kingdom of God, not be served by the Mission.  We are called to become the providers of Mission and not the consumers of ministries.  To become once again people who impact communities with the power of the Kingdom of God we have to change the focus–from self to others.  When our focus is outward and outside the walls of the local congregation and on those who are among the least, the last and the lost, the local church will grow in membership, attendance and best of all, grow great in impacting their community with the Gospel.  Of this I am confident, absolutely confident, because our King said so:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War

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(This is the second in a 10 part series.  Number 8 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first and then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship before reading this one)

I remember when our Tribe released its new “Official Hymnal” back in 1989.  It had been 25 years since the previous “Official Hymnal” had been release after 4 years of work.  My Tribe is not known for being among the fastest to embrace anything new.  And now, 27 years later, the process has started for another new “Official Hymnal” for our Tribe.  One thing I remember about the process that produced our current “Official Hymnal” is a controversy around one single hymn:  “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

There was a group of people who became very vocal in their opposition to this ancient classic being included in this new “Official Hymnal”.  Their opposition was not based on the tune or range of musical notes, meaning, “It’s a hard hymn for ordinary people to sing.”  No!  Their opposition to the hymn was that it was too militaristic; that the image of being soldiers, moving forward, and fighting a “war”, well that just offended them.  They said that the church is NOT an army and should not be singing about being one.  As a footnote, they lost that battle and it was included in our current “Official Hymnal”.  My best guess estimate is that they don’t sing it when it is listed in their bulletin.

They were and others continue to be offended at the idea that the Body of Christ, the church, their local church are to be an army engaged in a war.  I am offended that they are offended!  And the failure to recognize this “war” is literally killing the western church because the Enemy is winning more battles because soldiers are M.I.A. from their posts.  Allow me a moment to explain why I believe this made my list at #9.

When I discovered the New Living Translation, I experienced a profound appreciation for both its simplicity in understanding, and its depth in translating the ancient texts.  One of the earliest differences I discovered was how it rendered the  Old Testament phrase Yĕhovah  tsaba’.  Other translations coined it as “the Lord of Hosts” or “the Lord Almighty“.  The New Living Translation put it like this:  The Lord of Heaven’s Army.  Then I noticed that Eugene Peterson and his translators put it like this:  The God of the Angel Armies.  So I just had to check Strong’s work and, lo and behold, that word tsaba’ actually means “an army”. (As a footnote for any purists that might accidentally be reading my blog who insist that the KJV is the only translation that accurately renders the original Hebrew and Greek texts, you need to find another argument.)

The origins of this war goes back prior to the Creation work of God.  The prophet Isaiah  in chapter 14 verse 12 introduces us to one named Lucifer.  Some call him the Devil and others call him Satan or the Evil One.  I prefer the term “the Enemy” and I do so because I recognize the war that is going on around us.  Lucifer was once a high ranking officer in the Lord of Heaven’s Army but he lost that position when he tried to claim the position of God, himself.  He lost that battle and when God created this universe and put His image on Adam and Eve, the Enemy turned his efforts against the image bearers.  Ever since the Enemy won that battle, the war has been on.  The Enemy knows he cannot defeat God (already tried and lost), so he turns his attention on us.

Now Paul writes in Ephesians 6:11-13 (NLT)

11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

That word “fighting” or “wrestle” is an interest Greek word, palē.  It literally means “wrestling; a contest between two in which each endeavours to throw the other, and which is decided when the victor is able to hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck.”  Hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck?  That sound pretty serious to me.  And I am just wondering, when was the last time I had thrown the Enemy down and had my hand around his neck?  When was the last time YOU have thrown the Enemy down and had YOUR hand around his neck?

Now I add this point to my 10 Top List knowing that there are some local Tribes (otherwise known as local churches) and a few renegades who left the reservation, that are fighting a war, but against the wrong ones.  They are fighting against Target, Lowes, the F.C.C. and F.T.C.  Heck, they even fight within their own local Tribe, attacking those who do not agree with them.  In short, many are fighting the wrong enemy.  And the Enemy is laughing so hard that he peed in his pants (as opposed to peeing in his pants out of fear of us, the church).

Why are there so many in the church, particularly in the realm of what we call the “Western” church (no, this isn’t about those wild west movies) believing that we are not in a war and oppose that very idea?  My personal observation is that too many are following what I call the “Faux Jesus”, which was born in the imagination of the Enemy.  Here are some of the key characteristics of Faux Jesus:

1.  He is more meek than anything else

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Think about the pictures drawn by the Masters from the Renaissance.  He is mild looking, thin, almost emaciated looking.  Does this picture look like the Son of the God described in Exodus 15:3 (NLT)?

The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!

People want the meek Jesus because then they believe He does not want to rule over us.  The meek Faux Jesus doesn’t make any demands from us.

2.  He is always gentle

The gentle Faux Jesus is preferred because it makes it easier for them to focus on the gentleness and overlook the rest.  Jesus was the object of some mean people’s anger.  A gentle Faux Jesus means we are to be gentle and kind and that is all.  I mean, Faux Jesus can be gentle, but real Jesus?  Yes he showed gentleness in dealing with sinners, but He also made a whip and used it to drive out the money changers in the Temple.  And when the crowds around him built up, He was always saying hard and harsh things that caused many to quit follower Him around.  Faux Jesus is always gentle but the real Jesus is a force to be reckoned with.

3.  He just wants us to love each other like He loves us.

Now, the Real Jesus does want us to do that.  But followers of the Faux Jesus take it to the extreme.  They want us to love and let live.  Moral integrity and spiritual holiness of heart, mind and action are old fashion and out of date.  Faux Jesus followers say that we just love others, that’s all.  Loving others being defined as simply approving of their lifestyle and life choices.

I could go on listing other attributes of Faux Jesus, let’s just say that Faux Jesus doesn’t want us to realize we are in a battle and the hearts, minds, future and eternity of others are at stake.  When we fight the wrong enemy, when we refuse to fight, the real Enemy wins and maintains his control over a realm he stole from God in the Garden of Eden.

The church that is not throwing the enemy down to the ground and wrapping their hands around his neck are only being instruments for the Enemy to work his mayhem within this world, and in the lives of those around us.  Living as if there was not war going on is shameful and disgusting.  The church in the Western world will continue in its decline until we start acting like we are at war, because the war is going on whether you are engaged in it or not.

Don’t follow Faux Jesus!  Enlist with the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Heaven’s Army.  Army means we fight, fight all the way to the end!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!number-9

#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship

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(This is the first of 10 blogs about The Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.  Number 9 will publish tomorrow)

As I read about the Church, I am seeing two opposing experiences.  In places other than the United States the Church is growing and flourishing, but here in the good old U.S.A. it appears to have fallen on hard times.  While there are pockets of places where the church is growing by making new disciples and those disciples serving their communities with the Good News, the overall condition of the mainline churches, even those classified as “evangelical”, is that it is about to approach life support status.  I do not say this to be cruel or mean; but to be honest because I love the church.

There are a myriad of reasons why this is happening but for this series of blogs, I am focusing on what I perceive as the Top 10 Reasons.  This is my conclusion and opinion and am not expecting anyone to agree with me.  But I am hopeful that it will cause each reader to reflect and see if there is something that needs tweaking in their life.  We will do a countdown of sorts and today we are looking at #10:  Choosing Religion Over Relationship.  My mind and heart goes back to a passage found in Matthew 15:1-2 and let me share it from 2 different translations:

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him,  “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” (NLT)

After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?” (The Message)

For the Pharisees it was all about the age-old traditional rules.  For these folks to be a part of God’s people it was all about keeping the Rules.  These Rules had been around long enough for most people to be aware of them.  In other words, it was all about the external appearances and nothing about the mind and heart.  Rules were not just “important”, they were the ONLY thing considered “important” by the Pharisees.

Think about it.  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were picking grain on the sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2).  The Pharisees complained to His disciples that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and other various sinners (Mark 2:16).  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were making too much noise praising Him (Luke 19:36).  Do you see a common pattern and a common word describing the Pharisees attitude?  Complaining!

Over the past 42 years, I have been the object of someone complaining.  At one appointment, someone complained that at the end of my prayers, I pronounced the word “ah-men” rather than “A-men”.  At another appointment someone complained that I was the reason why someone was leading an aerobic’s class, thus I was allowing those “non-members” to use the church facilities.  At another appointment someone complained that my motorcycle helmet (known in slang as a “shorty”, which is the type motorcycle police officers wear) looked like the Nazi helmets from World War 2 and that I needed to quit wearing it.  Once I heard the complaint that I was wearing my clergy robe.  Another time I heard the complaint that I was NOT wearing my clergy robe.

Religion loves to complain.  And in the United States the church is losing credibility because we put more emphasis on the “religion”, meaning the rules and traditions, than the relationship God offers.  Here are the dangers I see in religion.

1. Right Opinions matter more than righteousness

Religion is built around a set of doctrines which are mandatory if one wants to be a part of that religion.  One time I attended a church in the community and at the front was a list of “things” one had to believe in order to be a Christian and a member of that church.  I think there were 21 items on that list, and it was a list where one had to embrace all of them.  There is no room for other ideas, opinions or even disagreement.  Religion fears anything that resembles even vaguely something new.  Essential to religion is the strict adherence to a set of beliefs, most of the time without understanding why one believes it or if it is even essential.  Religion demands submission to right opinions, beliefs and doctrine.  Religion is best identified by its desire for the status quo.

 

2.  It identifies you as to what you are not

You are not Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Scientologist, therefore you must be Christian.  It’s like going through a buffet line of ideas and selecting the one that makes sure you aren’t “one of those others”.  Relationship is about what you could become.  Religion is about who you are not.

 

 3.  Rules matter more than people

Conformity in appearance and beliefs is essential in religion.  Conformity is developed through the rules, both written “laws” and unwritten traditions.  It stifles the creativity and uniqueness that God puts in every person.  Since rules matter the most, people who do not conform to the rules are pushed aside.  This creates a judgmental attitude like that of the Pharisees and we all know how Jesus felt about the Pharisees.

 

4.  It’s the safest place to hide from God

Now I want you the reader to know that I did not come up with this line.  It was first penned by Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.  Father Rohr is correct.  It is the safest place to hide from God because religion gives us the veneer of respectability.  Respectability is a powerful way to ease one’s conscience and keep the awareness of one’s guilt of sin from getting too close to the mind and heart.  If religion is guiding you, may I suggest you read and reflect on Matthew 25:42-46.  If this doesn’t scare the religion right out of you, then you are firmly entrenched in religion.

 

5.  It makes one impotent for the true work of the Kingdom of God

God is all about building relationship and through this relationship with Him, He takes us on a journey to be our true self, the one He created and the one He knows we can become with His presence, guidance, and power; and to help us overcome the dominion of sin in our life.  Religion takes us captive and robs us of the Divine Spark and power that will bring the Kingdom back onto this His Creation.  Religion makes us powerless by making us its captive.  Maintaining the status quo strips us of the power needed to be involved in the things God is doing.

 

6.  It makes the Enemy laugh at us, though he knows deep down that he fears us

The Enemy, YOUR Enemy, knows exactly what you can become through the relationship God offers, and it makes him pee in his pants when he sees you becoming that person God created.  To take away his fear of you, he convinces you that religion is what it’s all about.  He knows he can control a religious person, so he deceives us into some second best; and that is religion.  Nothing makes the Enemy laugh more than when he sees people following and protecting religion.  And nothing makes him more afraid than seeing someone who is committed to the relationship with Jesus.

Religion is a genuine imitation pearl.  New it looks great, but over time, the beauty is gone and so is the joy.  Religion is all about the appearance and nothing about the heart and power of this relationship with God  There are a significant number of churches in our culture that are more interested in protecting their territory than they are about knowing where God is working, joining in where God is moving,  and building relationships with the people He is trying to reach.  Religion strips one of their promised glory; and you do have a promised glory in this Relationship.

If the church in the U.S. is going to reverse our current downward trends, it begins when we throw away religion and run to the One who is offering us a Relationship.  Religion doesn’t need the cross, but we do.  Religion doesn’t need the resurrection, but we do.  When we surrender at the foot of the Cross and allow the power of the resurrection to work in us right here and right now, well, the Enemy is going to have to change his underwear because I know what he just did in them.  #9 comes tomorrow.

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!

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This morning I had another one of my moments of random thoughts.  It is a condition I am afflicted with regularly and I am learning to use it in ways that would be both inspiring and challenging.  This morning’s random thought came out of a conversation I had in 2016 with someone at church.  Our conversation emerged from that Sunday’s message that was about the question of human sexuality.  If you are a member of or are following the news in our Tribe, it is a hot topic button.  My point was that God calls us to love and care about others and that homosexuality is not the worst sin, and we needed to stop treating it that way.  We need to bear witness to the truth of Jesus through our lives and give the Spirit the opportunity to change whatever needs to be changed in our life.

This member told me a little later how much she appreciated my conversation on this delicate subject and asked me what I thought was the “worst” sin.  This random thought continues to flow through my gray matter.  I want to say up front and to be consistent with last Sunday’s sermon, that all sin is equally hideous and ugly.  At the foot of the Cross we are all equals, from the person in church to the criminal in a maximum security prison.  All sin demands a terrible price which Jesus gladly paid on the Cross out of His favor, kindness and mercy.  But…

But there are, call them “things” or “attitudes” or “beliefs” that are absolutely killing the western church.  As I reflected on what is killing our efforts to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, what is killing our desire that His will be done here as it is in heaven, I have come up with what I’m calling a “Top 10 List”.  This list is not, by any stretch of even my imagination, the only things that are killing the church’s effectiveness today.  I would say this Top 10 list is among the deadliest for any congregation.

So, for the next 10 days I will be addressing each of them.  Today all you are going to get from this blog is The List.  I would invite you to comment on other things you see that are killing the church today.  Now, this is not meant to condemn the church or any particular congregation.  It is not meant to tear down anyone or any church.  Think about this series like you would a visit to your doctor when you know something is wrong.  Would you want your doctor to simply say that you are OK, or would you rather she or he be truthful about what might be physically wrong with you?  To let you see where my heart is in all this, let me share my motivation and my heart with you.  It comes from Ephesians 4:15 and in God’s Word Translation is goes like this:

Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head.

I write and speak out of love for Jesus first, and also for you.  So here is my Top 10 List of things we need to stop doing.

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10.  Choosing religion over relationship

9.  Ignoring that we are in a war

8.  Wrong priorities

7.  Cookie Cutter attitude

6.  Self Reliance

5.  Fear of change

4.  Form rather than substance

3.  Loss of passion

2.  False humility

 1.  The worst one of all

I am not expecting everyone to agree with my conclusions.  Reality is, I expect some to be offended at me.  I strongly suspect that when Jesus walked this earth He deliberately said some things just to offend some in the crowd.  Well, here goes to 10 straight days of blogging.  Usually I do one per week here, and one on my other blog.  I ask for your prayers as I step into what I believe, are thoughts put in my heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.  And remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Pray as you will…

Pastor Randy