Tired Of Being Tired!

After just a short day of working in the yard, I had an epiphany.  Actually it was more like a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up back of the head.  I am so tired of being tired.  I remember when (dear Lord, I am so sounding like an old geezer!) I would work all day in the yard and not be as tired as I was after only 3 hours.  I know that this body doesn’t work at 61 like I did when I was 21.  But dog-gone-it, I should not be that tired.  I knew which parts of my body I wanted in better shape.

Call it Prevenient Grace, but I received an email from my health insurance provider about a discounted rate for members to join local fitness centers.  A simple 6 minute drive from our home is one of those fitness centers.  It is located next to and operated by the local hospital–that’s good in case I have a coronary event.  They have a variety of exercise equipment that would help meet my personal goals.  And as an added bonus, they have a whirlpool.  I knew my aching joints and muscles would appreciate the treatment.  So, with the debit card information and a click, I joined the Keller Wellness Center.  So, what does my story have to do with the Kingdom Life?  Thank you for asking.  I’ll tell you.

When these thoughts first started fermenting in this mind of mind, I had an idea of which direction I would go–but now, forget that!  I’m now thinking about how this relates to the human tradition of what, in Churchian and Tenured Pew Sitters terminology, is called “church-membership”.  We see nothing in the New Testament about the necessity and value of “church-membership”, yet today a high value is placed on such a concept.  So high that a new group of people have been identified as the “Dones”.  These are the people who were once very active in a local congregation but now, for a variety of reasons, are “Done” with the church.

I’m not exactly sure of where and when this concept of “church-membership” developed, but I do remember what the early Body of Christ looked like and what they did.  You can find in it Acts 2:42-47 (NLT)

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.  And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Oops, I just heard a Tenured Pew Sitter say, “Wait a minute.  There it is, church membership–“the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.”  Very astute of you to notice that, but your application of the context is all wrong.  The Greek word for “fellowship” (or “church” in the KJV) is ekklēsia”  and it means:  “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place”.  There’s nothing here about catechisms to be learned or rules and boundaries to be observed.  The only stipulation was that God had called them out of their old life into His New Life.

This new life is not the church life, but the Kingdom Life.  And this Kingdom Life is all about sharing the life of Jesus with each other and with their communities.  Unfortunately, many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have taken this being “called out” to mean that we are now like American Express.  What do I mean by such a blasphemous statement?  Well it is like this, American Express had an ad campaign back in the 1990’s that said, “Membership has its privileges.”  Actually, it would not surprise me if those mad men (and women) of advertising were actually inspired by the American church.

For decades now Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have viewed church-membership as such.  You join and work your way up the ranks.  The more you conform (forget transformation) to the pattern, the more privileges you earn.  But church-membership should be more than earning privileges.  It is about aligning one’s heart, mind, soul and whole life to the principles of Kingdom Living.  Now let me show you how this relates to my recent “joining” the Keller Wellness Center.

I signed up and paid my monthly dues.  But what if I go in there and simply sit, watching others improve the fitness of their bodies?  How is that making my body more fit at 61?  And I even found myself doing something I loathed one day.  I was on an exercise bike, which is quite a feat for me.  For me to sit on a bike, it has to have at least a V-Twin under me; no pedaling for me.  But there I was just pedaling away.  I noticed one person working out on an elliptical and I thought to myself, “They are doing it all wrong!  Don’t they know how ridiculous they look?”  And now I hear the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear, “Well played, Tenured Pew Sitter, well-played.”

To be included in the ekklēsia” requires more than sitting.  Looking at the Acts 2 example and pattern it is about 5 things:

  • A shared life together where you get to know, appreciate and support each other
  • Remembering our living is to look like Jesus dying–caring more for others than for self
  • Loving others in ways that they experience the Life God offers
  • Worshipping God only, not our ways and styles of worship
  • And doing it publicly in ways that draws attention to Jesus, not yourself.

Membership does NOT have its privileges when it comes to the Body of Christ.  Membership has duties and responsibilities–like getting out into our neighborhoods and communities living out what we learned together in our gathering and sharing the life of Jesus–the Kingdom Life.  And shamelessly I want to speak to those who live in the vicinity of Sheffield, Alabama.  If you are one of the “Dones”, I want to personally invite you to Sheffield First United Methodist Church where others and myself are moving away from the story of “the church” and into a much bigger epic–the story of The Kingdom of God.

Sorry Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Membership has NO, absolutely NO privileges.  It does have, however, great responsibilities and even greater joy, the joy that comes from living in a much bigger narrative, a life much bigger than any and all of us–it’s called The Kingdom Of God!

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

Are You Thomas?

(I am being led to start sharing some of my sermons through this blog.  This one is from our Ash Wednesday Service.  Honest appraisals and critiques are always welcomed!)

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 John 11:6-16 (NLT)

6 He stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.”

But his disciples objected. “Rabbi,” they said, “only a few days ago the people in Judea were trying to stone you. Are you going there again?”

Jesus replied, “There are twelve hours of daylight every day. During the day people can walk safely. They can see because they have the light of this world. 10 But at night there is danger of stumbling because they have no light.” 11 Then he said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but now I will go and wake him up.”

12 The disciples said, “Lord, if he is sleeping, he will soon get better!” 13 They thought Jesus meant Lazarus was simply sleeping, but Jesus meant Lazarus had died.  14 So he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And for your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe. Come, let’s go see him.”

16 Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus.”

If you can remember only one thing from this message it needs to be this:  The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.

What you decide tonight will greatly impact and shape your life tomorrow—next week—next month—next year—for the rest of your life—even into eternity.  Understand this:  Every moment of Every Day, God is offering you choices and those choices shape and influence you until and unless you make a different choice.  We call it consequences.  Consequences are the effect, result, or outcome of something that happened at some earlier point.  They may happen quickly after that choice, or it may happen much later.  Those consequences can even be, and usually are unanticipated.  The consequences of our choices will catch up with us at some point.  There is no escape from the consequences of our choices.

Let’s look at tonight’s passage.  The key character is Jesus, of course, but there’s another person we need to look at:  Thomas, good old Doubting Thomas.  But wait!  Look at what Thomas said: “Let’s go, too—and die with Jesus!”  Be honest, does that sound like the words of a doubter?  I admit that I was one of those who gave Thomas a bad image as being The Doubter.

But back in 2000 I was invited to take part in a living last supper drama when serving in Scottsboro.  No, I wasn’t Thomas, but one year I was Thomas.  It’s a powerful drama built around the Last Supper and the moment right after Jesus said, “One of you will betray me.”  Each disciple shared something about their life with Jesus and I remember Ron Crawford who played the part of Thomas say with conviction:  “It was I who said ‘Let us go with Him that we may die with Him.’”  I had to let that sink in.  Did Thomas really say that?  Well, I found out he did and it changed how I saw Thomas.  And tonight he is the focus of what choice you will make.

Let’s step into the scene.  Jesus knows the reason for his coming is now closer than ever—just a couple of weeks later He will be hanging on that Cross.  These Disciples sense something ominous in the air.  They know the Sanhedrin is out to get rid of Jesus.  He’s humiliated them and proven them wrong on every occasion.  They know that the Sanhedrin’s power over the people is threatened and their only way to get back control over the people and rise back to their deserved place of Religious Police is to kill Jesus.

Sure, there have been other times they wanted to get rid of Jesus, but this time is different.  Each trip to Jerusalem intensifies their desire to put an end to Jesus.  They sense that their next trip will probably be their last.  Then Jesus gets word that one of his best friends Lazarus is extremely sick and Martha and Mary are calling for Jesus to come heal Lazarus.  They lived in Bethany, less than 2 miles from Jerusalem, and I’m sure these disciples were worried that if Jesus went to Bethany that the Sanhedrin would find out; and they would have found out.

At first, it seems Jesus isn’t moved by Martha and Mary’s request, but He has a greater plan.  2 days later Jesus announces it’s time to go to Bethany because Lazarus is “asleep”.  They think, “Oh, good, he’s resting and will get better and we won’t have to go.”  But Jesus quickly corrects them that it’s the sleep of death and they need to go.  They believe it’s a bad idea to go there because of the threat of death by the Sanhedrin.  There’s a sound of both desperation and resignation in their words.  Desperate that Jesus avoid going there, resigned that this time He would die there.

That’s their view, except for good old “Doubting” Thomas.  Thomas has a different view, a different desire from the other 11.  Thomas is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of dying with and for Jesus.  Thomas faced the most important decision of his life up to that point.  As important as was his decision to become a follower of Jesus, this decision becomes even more important—because it speaks about commitment.

We observe Lent because we need to have a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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In Mark 10 we see the story of that rich young ruler coming to Jesus with the question of every heart:  “Where do I find lasting and meaningful life?”  Jesus gave the map to finding that life—let go of everything and take hold of God.  It’s not easy giving up control, giving up the things we want and love.  Jesus doesn’t like it when we share our affections and priorities on anything other than Him.  Jesus comes to confront us and challenge us on every thing, every issue of life.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Remember the story in Matthew 14.  Jesus came to the disciples being tossed about it the middle of that storm.  When Jesus arrives, He invites Peter to join Him in a walk on the stormy sea.  That’s not safe.  Jesus calls us to get out of our comfort zones because He knows as long as we stay where we are comfortable, we will never risk or dare great things.  It may mean that we have to give up on a promotion because to get the promotion we would have to violate the values of The Kingdom.  To follow Jesus means we have to be willing to risk rejection and ridicule.  We observe Lent because we need a reality check on the level of our commitment to Jesus because…

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Jesus never asks us to fit Him into our schedules.  He demands that HE becomes the schedule.  When we have our plans and our schedules and our agendas, truth is it is not convenient to invite Jesus to become the core and center of our lives. Jesus marched right into the midst and middle of the brokenness of his culture and the people.  And so must we.  As Jesus died for the broken and messed up people, which includes us by the way, so must we.  He calls, no, He DEMANDS that we live the way He died.  To put to death every bit of selfishness that is always trying to take control again.  To die to our own concepts of what our life should be like and what we think the church should be like, look like, act like.  Following Jesus Requires Our Death.

The Ultimate Temptation We Face Today Is To Follow After An Easy, Safe And Convenient Jesus.  The easy Jesus never existed.  The safe Jesus is an illusion.  The convenient Jesus will never be found.

We want power without painful rejection.  We want risk with no danger.  We want victory with limited commitment.  Lent is a great time to choose our level of commitment to Jesus.  Will you be like Thomas, willing to die with and for Jesus?  Or will you follow the Easy, Safe and Convenient Jesus, who is just another false Messiah?

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Could It Be The Greatest Tragedy?

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17 As he went out into the street, a man came running up, greeted him with great reverence, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”  18-19 Jesus said, “Why are you calling me good? No one is good, only God. You know the commandments: Don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, honor your father and mother.”  20 He said, “Teacher, I have—from my youth—kept them all!”
21 Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him! He said, “There’s one thing left: Go sell whatever you own and give it to the poor. All your wealth will then be heavenly wealth. And come follow me.”
22 The man’s face clouded over. This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.
Mark 10:17-22 (The Message)

I do not want this edition to become a battle arena of which experience of tragedy is the worst.  All tragedies are painful and that pain is real and must never be minimized.  We are not in a spitting contest folks.  I am not even suggesting that your individual tragedies are unimportant, because they are.  I have wrestled and struggled over this post more than any other.  But could it be that the greatest tragedy is to love Jesus, but on our terms?

The focus of this blog, and the reason the Spirit prompted (more like pushed me kicking and screaming) is to take our focus off of what we think it means to be a real Christian by making the story of our life bigger than the story of our local churches by entering the narrative of the Story of The Kingdom of God.  And today’s edition is about asking the question:  Do we love Jesus, but on our terms?  How you and I answer this question determines how big, or how small, the story of our life becomes.  Does the narrative of our life tell a story as big as the Kingdom of God, or is our story as small as the small amount of real estate our life covers?

Look again at this passage we call “The Story of The Rich Young Ruler”.  He is called rich, meaning he has experienced financial success in life.  But his wealth is not mentioned until the end of this encounter with Jesus.  Look at his initial encounter with Jesus.  The Message says he shows “great reverence” and other translations says he “kneels” or “bows”.  It is obvious, at least to me, this young man recognizes at the very least that Jesus is someone special because he senses that Jesus holds the answer to the deepest need of his heart:  “How can I find unending life?”

I know the translations say eternal life but the Greek word used here is interesting.  There are two particular Greek words translated as “life”, bioswhich means physical life; we get our word “biology” from this word; and zoe—which means life that is full with purpose and meaning.  What I am trying to say is that this man is not asking “How do I get into heaven?”  He is asking Jesus, “How do I find life that has lasting purpose and meaning that begins right now?  I don’t wait to wait until I get to heaven.  I need it NOW!”

Others had been around Jesus but no one asked the question that He loves to hear:  “How do I find unending life that has purpose and meaning starting right now?”  And when this young man came to Jesus with that question pay close attention to how Jesus responds:  “Jesus looked him hard in the eye—and loved him!”  Can’t you see the great big smile on the face of Jesus?  Finally, someone asks the question that is at the core of why Jesus became one of us.  Jesus came as one of us so that any of us, all of us could experience zoe life to the max.

Obviously this successful young man loved Jesus because he brought the question of his heart to Him.  But when Jesus gave him the answer, it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear.  In that instant this young man realized by while he loved Jesus, it was on his terms.  And when Jesus upped the ante and raised the bar, this young man knew he was unwilling to let go of his bios life in order to take hold of the zoe life.  Look at how he leaves the presence of Jesus, the presence that once offered him hope:  “This was the last thing he expected to hear, and he walked off with a heavy heart. He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”

This is the epitome of the greatest tragedy.  This passage from Mark’s Gospel has led me to believe and become convinced that the greatest tragedy in life is to love God but on our terms.  And here is why:

1.  He turned away from the only Hope!

Everything points to his quest.  He knew the life he was pursuing would not get him to where he needed to be.  There is only one hope to find this life.  He choose to walk away from that Hope for life that could be rich with purpose and meaning.

2.  He rejected the only Cure!

The Message puts this man’s spiritual condition with very clear words:  “He was holding on tight to a lot of things, and not about to let go.”  He could not “fix” what was wrong with his heart, but Jesus could.  Yet he chose to reject the cure for his pain and emptiness.

3.  He walked away from the only Life!

He accepted a life that he wasn’t was designed for, a life that did not meet his created purpose.  His created purpose, and our created purpose, is to join in with all that our Heavenly Father is doing.

Any experience that meets the definition of “tragedy” is awful and painful.  But I see that the greatest tragedy for any human heart is to love Jesus but on our terms.  Why do I call it the greatest tragedy?  Because Jesus will not accept us on our terms and this means only one thing.  We do what this rich young man did:  we walk away from Jesus.  To walk away from Jesus is to walk away from the only One who loves us enough to die for us.  And that, my friends, is the greatest tragedy—to be so close to the zoe life, one word from zoe life but walk away from it.  Jesus will never accept love on our terms.  He is too good, too holy, too majestic for such a love.  Such a love, a love on our terms, is unworthy of The Eternal One!

We cannot experience the life for which we are created by loving Jesus on our own terms.  Those who know me know that I love to ask questions, even to the point of being annoying.  But I must ask you, the reader, as I often ask myself:  Do you love Jesus, but on your own terms?

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

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Are You A But? Don’t Be A But!

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Most of the time, well, practically all the time, the title of this blog is spelled with an extra “t”–“Don’t be a butt!”  What we usually mean by this statement (putting it nicely) is “Don’t be so critical!”  “Don’t be so ignorant!”  “Don’t be so mean!”  “Don’t be so judgmental!”  “Don’t be so stinky!”  Well, that’s not the word I’m using, but the meanings could be applied to my thoughts today.  So be forewarned, I could become offensive.  And if this post doesn’t offend you, keep reading future posts because I will get around to you in due time.

No, I am thinking about a certain passage that has this left-handed right-side-brain pastor with some more musings about The Kingdom of God.  The passage is Luke 9:57-62 and it sounds like this from The Message:

57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”  Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”

Most of the time we “backwards collar types” (that means preachers for the uninformed) use this passage to talk to those who are “lost” and need to make a decision for Jesus right now.  And the Grace Pharisees like to use it in the same way.  What?  Grace Pharisees?  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  Sounds like it, but there is a new Pharisee in town, actually in the church, who feel it is their duty to determine who is worthy of Grace.  Ain’t that a hoot!  Worthy of Grace!  They must have fallen out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down.  Oops, I may have just offended someone.  Oh well, if the shoe fits…

Today, I want to apply this passage to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters.  Only  someone who has their head buried in sand cannot see that the Western Church is in serious trouble, which is what inspired me to even start this blog.  In all fairness to the Churchians and the Tenured Pew Sitters, I do believe that they want to see this downward spiral (because it has become more than a trend) stop and reversed to significant growth.  They sincerely want to see the sanctuary full every Sunday.  They want to see every classroom in use and full of Sunday School students of all ages.  They want to see more programs and more than enough volunteers to handle a myriad of ministries.  They want to see people outside their church oohing and aahing over all that’s happening at their facilities; so much so that they will just rush in to join and be a part of it.  BUT…

  • But don’t change anything as it is now
  • But make it like it was in 1960
  • But don’t make me give up what I like
  • But don’t ask me to get out of my comfort zone
  • But don’t expect me to do it
  • But don’t fill this place up with all “those” people
  • But don’t expect me to fast and pray
  • But make it easy
  • But don’t make me give up my sin because it’s not all that bad
  • But give us a pastor and staff who can be successful doing it our way
  • But, but, but, but….(can you think of other “buts”?  Add them to the comments below)

Some may think I’ve gone on out a limb, a very thin and fragile limb, this time.  BUT there are those comments by Jesus:  First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  And No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”  Did you find it?  God’s Kingdom!  You cannot add a “but” to God’s Kingdom.  Either He rules completely over your life, your activities and your congregation or He doesn’t rule.  In which case, it is no longer God’s Kingdom in your congregation, but YOUR social club.

Do not be a BUT!  Jesus is right!  (Isn’t He always?)  Our business is life and it is urgent!  So seize the day!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure that all the glory goes to Him!

#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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#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

Your Date That Will Live In Infamy

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Tomorrow is December 7, Pearl Harbor Day.  As President Roosevelt addressed Congress, he coined a phrase that is synonymous with that dreadful day.  He called it “a date that will live in infamy.”  This quote marked that date not only in history books but in the hearts and minds of those who were alive that day, and continues to define that moment in history.  And the result of that date that will live in infamy was the rising up of what has been called the greatest generation ever.  And now on this upcoming seventy-fifth anniversary, this generation is becoming fewer and fewer.

This started me to thinking about our times, and the generation of young men and women who are now the age of The Greatest Generation on that date in infamy.  They have a name and they are called the Millennials.  Millennials are generally called “The Entitlement Generation”.  No, this is not another rant against them; for there are Millennials who do not feel entitled and are actually angered at their compatriots who feel entitled.  But still it made me angry, this generation of Millennials who believe they are entitled to anything but without making any effort or sacrifice.

But then I thought so more, and more deeply.  I reflected on the condition of the U.S. church and those who occupy the church with the single thought that they are the consumer and that the church exists to meet their wants and wishes.  And I thought even deeper, “This is the entitlement generation!”  And that thought made me angry, but then I thought, well actually it was the Holy Spirit that gave me a Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap up the back of my head:  “At times I feel entitled!”  If that doesn’t knock your feet right out from under you, something is seriously wrong with you.

And so I did some more thinking and this question came and would not let me go.  What marked this “Greatest generation” to be called such?  First they were predominantly isolationists, those who did not want to be involved in any shape, form or fashion with that war in Europe and the Pacific.  Why did I mention this first?  Hold that thought and hopefully it will become clear.

Second, I believe they are called the Greatest Generation because they were willing to rise to the occasion.  Though their deep convictions centered around isolationism, they were willing to meet the problem head on, most without any reservations.  Their world changed on that date in infamy and while they may not have liked giving up the isolationist view, they did!  On December 6, 1941 most were isolationists.  Early in the morning on December 7, 1941 they were isolationists.  But when their world drastically changed and needed someone to step up to this crisis, they stood up and declared they could be counted on in the days, months, even years ahead.

Third, they were willing to sacrifice in order to achieve the goal of ending this world at war.  They left behind jobs, families, and some even lied about their age and left high school to enlist.  They sacrificed more than time, they sacrificed strength and even their lives for something much bigger than themselves.  Even on the home front, sacrifices were made.  Many staple products were put on “ration” and one had to have a ration card for something as basic as sugar and gasoline.  At a time when women were primarily “housewives”, they entered the factories because most of the men were in the war.  And something else you need to remember–in this age of “recycling” where people seem to think we are the original recyclers, there were drives to collect anything that could be recycled into war materials.  And people often gave up items still usable for the “war effort”.

Finally, I believe they are the Greatest Generation because they did what needed to be done often with fear and uncertainty.  I love channels like The History Channel™ because of the details they often reveal.  Many of these men and women went into battle with differing levels of fear and uncertainty.  Now the survivors often share that they faced those feelings of fear; fear of being wounded, captured or even killed.  But those feelings of fear and uncertainty did not stop them from their tasks at hand.  As has been often said, bravery is not the absence of fear, but the strength to move forward with and through those fears.  Personally, I think this alone would qualify them to be called The Greatest Generation.

Now, back to my first reason why they are called The Greatest Generation:  their desire for isolation.  It was the date that will live in infamy that transformed them into a generation that was willing to step into, live in and even die for something much bigger than them.  The date that will live in infamy was their defining moment and their reaction to this defining moment is what earned them the title of The Greatest Generation ever.  It forever transformed them.  And this got me to thinking.

We need a “date that will live in infamy” to transform us.  I need a date that will live in infamy to transform me.  I am convinced now more than ever that we the church, the Body of Christ, those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, need to forever throw away this lie from the very pits of hell that following Jesus is about living in comfort and ease.  Personally, I think that the person who invented pew cushions was under the influence of our Enemy.  People wanted something to make them more comfortable in church, so voilà, comfort!

When we are comfortable in the pew, it makes it easier to be comfortable in a world filled with injustice, hurt, pain and loneliness.  When we are comfortable in the pew it makes it easier to forget that we are called to be involved in spiritual warfare.  When we are comfortable in our pew it makes it very easy to forget what Jesus said about following Him.  Read very carefully what Jesus said in Matthew 16:24 (NLT)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.

The “date that will live in infamy” was perhaps the most uncomfortable day for that generation; but they allowed it to transform them into The Greatest Generation ever.  We, too, have a date that will live in infamy.  No, it wasn’t Christmas Day; it came some 33 years later when Jesus allowed humanity and Satan, to do their worst and most evil work of all.  In that sacrifice, and that sacrifice alone, HE paid the debt for our sins and offered to restore us and make us whole.

And along our life journey, there will be other infamous dates that will challenge us and try to crush us.  But remember, remember the first date in infamy, when God’s only Son said from that cruel cross, “Father forgive them.  They do not know what they are doing.”

Love God with all your heart; love others the way God loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Let’s pray:

I ask You to show me if and where I have sought comfort rather than the cross.  And when those infamous dates come at me, I ask You for 2 things.  First, remind me of that first date that lives in infamy when You died on the cross for me.  And second, help me to see it as another defining moment where Your power and glory can shine through me.  Amen and Amen

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