(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!