A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Our Warrior God! Part 2 of 2

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Yesterday I hopefully left you wanting to know a secret about this Warrior God.  So here it is:  WE Need To Know That Our God Is Our Warrior God!  When we face our personal battles, we need The Warrior God.  When we are facing the mountains we need The Warrior God.   When we are facing the giants, we need The Warrior God.  When we are hemmed in by confusion, chaos, or fear, we need The Warrior God.  When Satan attacks us and his blows hurt, we need The Warrior God.  When the weight put on our shoulders is about to crush us, we need The Warrior God.  And when we make up our mind that we are going to be followers of Jesus and become the Body of Christ, we need The Warrior God.

We gather as the Body of Christ in worship, in study, and in fellowship because there is a war going on out there.  We need our wounds healed.  We need our minds encouraged.  We need our spirits renewed.  We do all this because we need to get out there in the battle against sin and against Satan.  Think about God as the Warrior who does powerfully amazing things like…

God Is The Warrior Who Fights For The Heart, Mind And Soul

God’s love is pure and unconditional.  At His heart is this unconditional love.  Love is His identity.  But God’s love isn’t an emotional sentimental kind of love.  Our God’s Love Is Fierce And Intense.  Our God’s love is unstoppable.  His love is strong, durable and resilient.  He never stops His pursuit for any of us.  He goes the distance with a determination that cannot be matched or exceeded by anything or anyone else.

God’s love, yes, is kind and gentle, compassionate and merciful; But His Love Is Also Fierce And Intense.  You and I are so important to the Father; more important than we could ever imagine.  But Satan doesn’t want us to know this!  Satan lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t love us, can’t love us.  And when we believe his lie, he owns us.

Once he owns us, he controls and dominates us, and we are powerless to stop him.  And he doesn’t want to let go of us.  So God fights for our heart, mind and soul.  Jesus fought for us in the wilderness.  He fought for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  He fought for us on that Cross.  He fought for us in death.  And He still fights for us, to give Him our heart, mind and soul.  He fights for us to discover, accept and live in the only life we are made for.  If you have never accepted God’s gift of a new heart and a new life, right now He is fighting for you to see your emptiness, to see your brokenness, and see that He will set you free.  He will never stop fighting for you.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—Against Darkness, Fear, And Sin

If we will accept The Gift of New Life, God doesn’t stop fighting.  The Warrior God doesn’t fight against ideas or groups or ideologies.  He fights against the powers that seek to enslave us again.  He fights against the darkness that seeks to rob us of our joy.  When we are living in joy, Satan wants to steal it away.  He tries to put us in a fog so that we can’t see our way out.  When the darkness tries to creep over you, when Satan is trying to cause you to give up, The Warrior God is there fighting for you and for me.  He fights the darkness with the Light that is His love.

When Satan comes against us with fear it can unnerve us.  We can allow fear to control us—fear of being alone, fear of being sick, fear of losing our job, fear of what might happen.  And if we are not careful, we will let fear control us.  But we have The Warrior God who fights against fear by giving us His peace that nothing can take away.  He will remind us of His peace because He is fighting against our fears.  And He fights against sin—sin in the world, and the temptations we face.  It’s easy to be overtaken with sin.  But our God is The Warrior who will always be in the world fighting sin in whatever form it takes.

God Is The Warrior Who Fights—With Us

Now, here is where we need to be every day of our life.  Our God, The Warrior Who Fights For Our Heart And Against Everything That Tries To Destroy Us, Want Us To Join In The Battle.  Being a real disciple of Jesus isn’t a spectator sport.  It is not enough to show up and be counted on Sunday morning.  God wants us to fight, to join in the battle.  But He doesn’t want us to go with just our strength, or with the strength of a few friends.  First, He fights FOR us, But Then He Wants Us To Fight With Him.  He wants us to fight for the hearts, minds and souls of those around us.

The Way He Wants Us To Fight For Them Is To Do What He Does—To Fiercely Love Them.  He wants us to put our time, energy and efforts into making more disciples for Jesus.  To fight means we make the commitment to do whatever we can to show them God’s love.

To fight means that we need to become restless, to feel the burden God feels for those who do not know Him.  He wants us to fight against the darkness, the fear, and the sin that is in our world.  He wants us to fight by feeding the hungry, clothing those in poverty, caring for the least, the last and the lost.  And We Can Make A Difference In Our World When We Remember—Remember That God Is The Warrior Who Fights With Us.

Our God Is The Warrior God, and He waits for us to remember—remember that He is calling us to join in the battle.  The great tragedy of many churches is that they have either forgotten we are in a war, or worse, they have given up.  We are called to become engaged in the most significant battle of all time and eternity.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:12-13—“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.  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.”

And remember, that we do not go into this battle alone.  You can’t sit on the sidelines and follow Jesus.  Many want to think of Jesus as being gentle and mild.  Jesus is gentle for sure, but He definitely isn’t mild.  He is The Warrior, and He fights for you.  Will you accept His offer for a relationship with Him?  And if you have, will you step onto the battlefield with Him?

There’s movie called “We Were Soldiers.”  It was based on what happened to the Lt. Col. Hal Moore in the Ia Drang Valley in Vietnam.  Before they were deployed, Col. Moore said, “I will be the first to step onto the field of battle, and I will be the last to leave.”  He’s not the only one who said that.  Jesus said it long ago and He is still on the battlefield.  This is MY God—The Warrior!  Is He your God?

Remember these words from that same Psalm, Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)

32-35 Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth.  Sing praises to the Lord.  Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, his mighty voice thundering from the sky.  Tell everyone about God’s power.  His majesty shines down on Israel; his strength is mighty in the heavens.  God is awesome in his sanctuary.  The God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.  Praise be to God!

 

 

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

You Are Gifted, But You Are Not THE Gift, Part 2 of 2

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Let’s pick up where I left off yesterday.  Every church of every tradition and size has only one mission from God:  To Make More Followers For Jesus.  This is why every church exists.  It’s not to serve us, but to give us a place to serve God through serving others.  The vision must be to serve the mission of making Followers for Jesus at all costs.  Folks, we have made church more complicated that it really is.  There is a simplified way to make followers for Jesus!

But it is not all that easy but it is really simple.  If we believe that Jesus is God’s Son, that He died on the Cross for our sins, that He arose on the third day, that He ascended back into heaven and sent down the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of believers, and that this is true IN us, then we have to believe what Jesus told His first Followers is what He tells us:  Go make followers!  Listen, Jesus didn’t say, “Uh, folks, I would like for you to try to make more followers.  As long as you try, that’s good enough.”  No!  He said:  “Go make Followers!”  If we aren’t making followers then we are not the Church.  Some of you may be thinking, “Preacher, that’s hard to do!”  My response is this:  It’s NOT hard to do.  It’s not hard to do, if we remember 3 things:

 1.  Presence. (Verse 3—So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.)

We live with the confidence that He actually is present with us.  Only His presence gives us the passion, the desire to do what we are redeemed to do.  The Holy Spirit is who sets our hearts on fire.  If Jesus has never done anything for you, then there is no fire in our hearts.  But we can have a fire when we realize what God has done for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God is doing for us.  We can have a fire when we realize what God will do for us.

And what has God done for you?  He has nailed your sins to the cross and you bear them no more!  What is God doing for you?  He is at work transforming you and your moments for your good and His glory.  What will God do for you?  Stay by your side until you as you live forever in His Kingdom!  To make another Follower of Jesus doesn’t take a committee nor a team, but the passionate conviction that God has been, is now, and will continue to be present and at work in your life.  The Passion To Make Followers Comes From Knowing The Presence Of Jesus.

2.  Power (Verse 4—There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all.)

The source of our power is the Holy Spirit.  Have you ever been surprised or amazed by something you did or said?  Then afterwards you wondered, “Well where did that come from?”  Those are moments when HE has complete control of us.  It is so important that we stop relying on our abilities by living in His power.  Do you know why some meetings are irrelevant, dull and boring?  It’s because we have forgotten the real power of the Church.  Whatever it is that God calls you to do, He will give you the strength and power to do it.

When you feel the nudging and prompting of the Spirit to do something, do it because with His Prompting comes His Power.  God designed the Church to withstand the power of hell itself!  And this is the power that lives in us.  Did you hear me?  The power that conquered death, the power that hell cannot overcome, is the power that lives inside each and every one of you when you desire God above all else.  Remember the third thing:

3.  Provision (Verse 7—A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.)

To engage our heart in what God is doing, we have to know the Provision of spiritual gifts that are designed by God for the common good.  The gift God gives you is designed so that you are able to help others both inside and outside of the church.  The Work Of The Body Of Christ Is A Spiritual Work And Requires Spiritual Tools.  These provisions are not rewards for us being good, but they are the result of our God being awesome!  God Gives Us The Tools We Need Not To DO Church Work, But To BE The Church That Is The Body Of Christ In Your World.  You have to know your spiritual gifts.  God does reveal your spiritual gifts.  If you do not know your Gifts it’s your fault.

It’s not easy, but it’s not hard.  I know, I know, I’m sounding like a politician.  You’re thinking if it’s not hard, then it is easy, but if it’s not easy then it must be hard.  If you think it’s too hard to do the ONE thing God wants this place to do, then remember Genesis 18:14—Is anything too hard for the Lord?  God had just told Abraham that he and Sarah would have a son within a year.  He was an old man and she was an old woman.  Looking at them, you would be right to believe that they were too old to have a child.  It was impossible for them.  But do you know what?  By the next year, they had a son.  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is too hard for the Lord.  All you have to do is Trust Him with all your heart.

When you give Him all of your heart, over and over again, when you worship Him with all of your heart, when you listen to Him with all of your heart discovering the truth about God, the world and yourself, here is what you will discover:   God Is Making Available To Us His Presence, Power And Provisions  To Fulfill Our Primary Task in His Kingdom And That Is To Make More Followers For Jesus!

Failure To Do This Is Failure To Love God, Worship God and really, Failure To Know God.  Pursuing the heart of God means that after surrender, after worship, after studying The Word, we must be doing the things that will make disciples of others, which will bring them into this process of surrender, worship, study and doing!  This is the cycle of Kingdom Life.

You and I NEED His Presence.  You and I NEED His Power in order to be faithful to our Primary Task.  And You and I NEED what He alone can provide to be more than disciples of Jesus in name only, to be real Followers of Jesus by doing what HE wants done.

And the question for you in such a time as this, is Do You Have It?  To have it you must WANT it.  You and I must say:  I WANT Your Presence.  I NEED Your Power so that I can be found Faithful.  I MUST HAVE what You Provide for the Task You have given me.  Without it, you miss not only The Gift, but most importantly, the Giver…

 

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

 

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 2 of 2

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Welcome back!  For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post.  I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things.  Here are those 3 things:

That We Are

God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children.  God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him.  In The Word we discover that God knows us.  He knows where we are.  He knows what we feel.  When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting.  When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid.  When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.

When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair.  When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts.  Are you afraid that God will turn away from you?  Don’t be!  In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains.  This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.

That We Are Important

God values you and deems you important to Him.  Your family may tell you you’re worthless.  People you know may tell you that you’re worthless.  Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless.  Your world may tell you you’re worthless.  Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless.  But you will never hear God call you worthless.

In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say:  The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned.  But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you.  In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Those hands are nail scarred hands.  To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!

That We Are Important To His Purposes

In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan.  God has a place for you.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God sees you as His Masterpiece.  As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece.  A simple glance at The Word is not enough.  We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word.  He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.

But it takes time, and often, a lot of time.  God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece.  In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God.  You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do.  He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan.  And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.

In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  And you are important to Him.  How important is He to you?  Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.  The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.  The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)

Each of us is found somewhere in this story.

  1. Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word.  Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God.  Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life.  I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
  2. Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment.  They want to give the appearance that they love God.
  3. Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
  4. Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.

The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept.  His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.

 

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

Do You Have A Compass?

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Have you ever been lost?  I’m not talking about forgetting where you parked the car at the shopping center.  I’m talking about being by yourself, no one around and unable to find your way back kind of lost.  I was back in 1987.  I was living in Winston County not far from the Bankhead National Forest.  One day I decided to go deer hunting.  After not seeing anything I decided to do a little scouting and go back to my truck a different way.  I did not have a compass because I thought I didn’t need one.  After 6 hours I finally walked upon the house of a friend, some 12 miles from where I had parked.  I understand how easy it is for people to panic.  I had to fight it every step of the way.  It’s unnerving and panic can unravel us at the seams.  After that I made sure I had a compass in my hunting gear.

The fear of being lost is about being disconnected; cut off from home, friends, and community.  This fear is not limited to Forests, and for some, it goes much deeper.  Every day can be a battle.  We all need a way to keep our heart focused on the God who loves us perfectly.  How do we keep our focus?  I think this passage is Luke 7:36-50 (The Message) has the answer.

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.”

Think about this woman.  Her morals were a far cry from God’s standard.  Her reputation in the community was well-known.  Everyone looked down on her, especially the Religious Police.  And her own self-image?  The community didn’t have to heap shame on her, she already felt it.  She was told that her heart was unworthy of God and that God wouldn’t accept her heart.  She lived with this mind-set day after day after day.

But one day, she must have heard Jesus speaking about the real God of real love.  Perhaps she’s in the crowd listening.  She’s not too close to Jesus because people wouldn’t allow her around them.  She is on the edges.  But even on the fringe, she hears enough that something stirs in her heart that she believed died so long ago:  Hope!  And this hope that God plants in her heart refuses to go away.  God’s Prevenient Grace keeps going before her until that moment she finally surrenders her heart, such as it is, dirty as it is, unworthy as it is,—she surrenders it to God.

What she had heard would never happen, did happen!  God accepted her heart, cleansing her and releasing her from all her guilt and shame.  Can you imagine the relief she felt?  The weight of it all had been lifted from her.  So what can she do for the One who set her free?  Does she volunteer at the local homeless shelter?  Does she become a street preacher to other women who have been living like she has?  Does she try to read and memorize the Torah?  The answer to all of these questions is NO!  Let’s learn something important from this shameful woman; this woman who had been deemed unworthy and unlovable.  Let’s follow her steps:

She Is Determined To Seek Jesus First.

Maybe she looks at that place where she first heard His voice.  Up one street and down another.  She hasn’t found Him, but she doesn’t give up.  Maybe she goes to the local synagogue, but He’s not there.  Maybe she knows where some sick people live.  So she goes there but He’s not there.  So she starts asking people, “Do you know where Jesus is?”  Some in the community ignored her because that’s what smug self-righteous people do with “sinners”.  Those that do speak say “I haven’t seen Him.”  No one seems to have an answer for her.  She persists until finally someone says, “Oh, he’s having dinner at the home of Simon the Pharisee.”

And what about you?  Do you have the tenacity of this woman to seek the presence of Jesus?  Before the act of worship occurs, there must be The Desire For Jesus.  Some people come to church because they are determined to fulfill their duty.  Others come to worship seeking to hear a good sermon or good music.  But real worshippers, people whose heart is for worship, Come For No Other Reason Than To Seek Jesus.  Look at what she does next.

She Overcomes The Obstacles In Order To Worship.

What she overcomes isn’t written in these pages, but deeply embedded in her culture.  First, she has to find a way into the Pharisee’s house.  She’s not on the guest list.  Not only is she not invited, She Is Unwanted!  No self-respecting Pharisee would invite someone of her morals into their home.  But somehow she manages to get into the courtyard of the home, but Jesus is inside.

If she knocks on the front door she will be turned away.  Another obstacle!  But somehow she gets inside the house.  But Jesus is in the one place NO woman was ever allowed.  The dinner table!  Another obstacle.  But that doesn’t stop her.  She finally works her way to Jesus.  She’s behind him.  There He is!  She kneels at the feet of Jesus.  Now what?  She probably hasn’t thought it through this far, So She Does What Her Heart Tells Her To Do.  Her tears start to flow; tears of release and joy!  They drop on the feet of Jesus.  Now everyone sees her and what she is doing!  Her emotions are taboo!  Respectable people don’t show their emotions in worship!  And then she lets down her hair to wipe the feet of Jesus!  Oh, no!  Women who follow the rules don’t do that either.  But she does!

And what are your obstacles to true worship?  Is it Pride?  Guilt?  Fear?  To worship God we have to overcome our obstacles—whether those obstacles are self-imposed or pushed on us by our culture.  Worship is not about the style or songs or preacher.  It is about overcoming any obstacle just to be in the presence of the only One who can set you free.  Look at what she does next:

She Pours Her Whole Heart Into Her Worship.

She has an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume.  This isn’t Dior J’adore where you can spray just a little bit.  The jar is sealed and has to be broken.  It’s a one-time use jar.  Maybe it was being saved for her wedding day, but that dream has probably long died.  Maybe it was being saved for her burial; after all, no one would spend that kind of money on someone like her.  She takes all that she has, and offers it in worship.  She broke so many rules just to be to this moment, and she doesn’t hold anything back, so she breaks that jar.  And the aroma of her perfume, The Fragrance Of Her Worship Fills That Room.  And everyone around that table looks at her with contempt—everyone except Jesus.  He accepts her act of worship by looking into her eyes and into her heart.

Worship is not about the items we associate with worship:  Announcements, Prayers, Hymns, Anthems, Scripture, Sermon, and what many consider the best part of all, the Benediction.  It is about pouring out all that is in your heart as the only acceptable response to God’s unconditional love.  Worship Is Not About The Acts That You Do, But The Total Surrender Of Your Heart, Such As It Is, To God.

You Never Truly Worship God Until You Break Your Alabaster Jar And Empty All The Contents While You Are At The Feet Of Jesus.

Worship is the compass that helps us find our way back to God.  When we get disconnected from life, worship points us to the one who will rescue us from our fears and despair.  Worship is about realizing that we have been invited into His presence.  True worship reminds us of the Infinite Love, Unparalleled Grace, And Unending Mercy God Has For Us And That Keeps Us From Getting Lost All Over Again.

Worship, true worship strengthens us and helps us become more like Jesus.  And as much as we may mess up during any given week, it is our worship that keeps us From Messing Up Even More And Even Becoming Totally Disconnected From The Life We Long For And The Life We Were Made For.  Have you poured out your whole heart in worship today?  If you haven’t, it’s not too late.

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

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

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