When David was settled in his palace, he summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant is out there under a tent!” 2…
Source: How Well Do You Handle “NO!”?
When David was settled in his palace, he summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant is out there under a tent!” 2…
Source: How Well Do You Handle “NO!”?
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!
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
(This is a weekly devotion blog I do. Hope you get something from it.)
Sometimes Mondays come with great excitement, such as this Monday for many in the labor pool. It is a federal holiday, so many will not go to work today. Our offices are closed this morning. But…
Source: Come Along And See For Yourself
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!
The 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
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 ago. 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!
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….
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. 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.
(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 priorities; 7: 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. 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.
(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 priorities; 7: 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:
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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!
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!
(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 priorities; 7: 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. 2 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. 3 They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. 4 They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. 5 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:
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!