The Great Contrast

(Another insight from my journey through the Book of Acts)

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.

Acts 3:1-2 (LT)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this part of chapter 3, or the number of messages I have preached based on this passage. Probably not enough. But as I was reading this, out of nowhere, it hit me. Well, actually it came from somewhere–actually some ONE. What hit me? Glad you asked. It’s the Contrast! A gate that was named “Beautiful” and a beggar who has never been able to walk.

If ever there was a “great contrast”, then this is it. First, there were those going to worship God. They were careful to observe all the rules so that they would not be disqualified. In short, these were good moral people. Then, there is that man born unable to walk. In their culture they would have considered him cursed by God. After all, good people would never be born unable to walk. Bad things never happen to good people. Good, moral people going to church. A man outside who was viewed as cursed and unfit to be inside. Truth Time: He was NOT allowed inside. His birth defect disqualified him from admission. Contrast.

Here’s another contrast. People we going in expecting to receive a blessing from God. They were looking for the God of Abundance. After all, they are good, moral people. And that man? Begging to barely survive. Outside the Temple–so close to the abundance of God–but he wasn’t allowed in. So close…but so far away.

Person after person walks by. Maybe a few toss a mite or 2 in his beggar’s basket. Each person not looking at him–or looking at him as cursed by God. That is…until Peter and John come upon this “Great Contrast”. They looked at him…they could have tossed a few coins his way. But what would that do for him on the next day? And the next? And the next? He would still need to beg.

What that man born unable to walk needed…was TO WALK! Peter and John didn’t preach to him about being saved. They didn’t give him a discourse on the Roman’s Road-map To Heaven. They spoke hope into despair. Power into weakness. They spoke into his greatest human need–to WALK!

And you know what? HE WALKED! OK, they had to jerk him up and show him he would walk–but he walked. Then he started leaping–that’s dancing for those uninformed. Those on the inside couldn’t see that as a possibility for him–but Peter and John did…because Jesus saw it. So what’s the take-home lesson from this “Great Contrast”?

The church needs to stand with and by the outcasts–those deemed unfit, unworthy, cursed of God. We find those first disciples of Jesus going towards the disenfranchised, not away from them. What should mark us as disciples of Jesus is not what we do on Sunday…going with our best outfits, looking like good, moral people.

Our measurement of being a disciple of Jesus is how we speak to thee broken and hurting people all around the rest of the week. We need to speak hope and power into those hearts and lives, and let them know how God meets their deepest needs.

Oh, and that part about Sunday…inside the sanctuary should be a reflection of the community around it. Pristine chapels do not speak of God’s power, but our arrogance and self righteousness. The church is called to stand along that “Great Contrast”–not like those worshipers going into that Temple–but exactly like Peter and John. Reach out to anyone and everyone who feels the despair and hopeless of that man born unable to walk. Do those people feel welcome in your church building, or do they feel excluded, like that make born unable to walk?

The ugliest in the world, in YOUR community, should find the beauty and power of God’s grace and mercy–inside your sanctuaries and by you on the streets and roads, any day…every day…

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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Cultural Bias: Does God Expect Us To Be A Christian Nation?

Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?  Before I am tarred and feathered for my reflections on this topic, know that I am a Dad and a Father-In-Law to active duty combat veterans.  I support them and the fellow soldiers in all their duties for our nation and around the world.  I admired theirs and so many like them, who pledge to defend and support the Constitution from enemies both foreign and domestic.  Furthermore, I believe this U.S. to be the second most important document ever penned by human hands.  The most important document ever penned by human hands is the Bible.

This edition is directed towards the United States church and how the culture of nationalism bias has infiltrated, even polluted the Mission of the Church.  By insisting that we, the good old U.S. of A. MUST be a Christian nation misses the mark of who God is calling us Followers of Jesus to be in this fallen creation.  Does righteousness exalt a nation?  Absolutely!  Does abandoning the truths of God destroy a nation?  You bet!  But in an attempt to be righteous and avoid being evil, many Christian Americans have mistaken our calling as being that of creating a “Christian” United States of America.

Many of those who hold this view, point out that God formed the nation of Israel in the Old Testament to be a Godly Nation.  This quote from Exodus 19:6 is often their rationale:

And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

But remember, that the Bible wasn’t written in English.  The Old Testament language was Hebrew and that word Nation is gowy and it means “a massing of people, a foreign nation”.  God set up Israel as a “foreign” nation, one that is counter-cultural to this fallen creation.  But notice 1 phrase and 1 key word; one is about ownership and the other is about purpose.  The phrase is “My Kingdom”.  This speaks about ownership and in order to be a citizen of a “kingdom” one must submit to the Rule of The King.  This is not a democracy, though often some vainly imagine this is what God wants.

The key word is “Priests”.  This is the purpose of God’s people.  It is to serve Him and the people He loves.  And who are the people He loves?  Everyone!  And He wants His Kingdom of Priests planted right in the middle of the Kingdom of the Enemy who is ruining His Creation.  I believe it is wrong to interpret this passage as a call for nationalism.  But it has in so many corners of the U.S.

And one of the, perhaps unintended results is that well-meaning Christians are looking to the political process for our country’s redemption.  Much of our chaos has been produced through this political process.  God is not looking for a defined geographical space to be “His” nation.  God is looking around this globe for “pockets of priests” who will serve Him first, then serve the people He is reaching out to reclaim and restore.

I want you to look at this passage from the New Testament and see it in perhaps a different way.  It is 1 Peter 2:9.

For you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

And though some may jump on that word “nation” as their proof, here is the Greek word for “nation”.  It is ethnos and according to Thayer’s Greek lexicon is means a multitude (whether of men or of beasts) associated or living together; a company, troop, swarm.”  And, get this, in Strong’s lexicon it means ” a tribe; specially, a foreign one.”  And do not overlook that key phrase from Peter:  Royal Priests.  Royal means we serve under a King, THE King.  

Our Mission, as chosen, called and Royal Priests is to live together like a swarm invading the territory of the Enemy, the territory that Satan stole from God.  It’s not geography or politics folks.  It is The Kingdom of God whom we have been chosen and called to serve.  Not a political identity.  So Church, let’s be the swarm!

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Cultural Bias And “The Church” Conclusion

 

 

 

(Here is the rest of the conversation going on in my head about cultural bias and the church…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not to be confused with “new believers”, may not be able to comprehend these thoughts. Please read the first part before reading this one:  Cultural Bias And “The Church”)

Mr. Churchian:  First you’re talking about Greek and now Latin?  All of that is irrelevant.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Besides, we speak English, American English.  I agree with Mr. Churchian, Greek/Latin–that doesn’t mean a thing!

Me:  (Fighting hard to keep my gift of sarcasm in check)  Yes, we speak American English (I’m wondering why Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter insists on the KJV) but yet there are different meanings to words now than when these wonderful letters and books were written.  I know that we cannot all be Greek and Hebrew Scholars and this is why there are so many resources that can help us to understand in a deeper way the intent of the writers by looking at the original meanings of those words.

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I know what I know!

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  And I know all I need to know!

Me:  (Now I’m smiling again!)  And that, my dear brother and sister in Christ, is the problem.  What you know is what you have been taught by well-meaning people who have been enveloped in that fog of misinformation called “Church Cultural Bias”.  We have accepted, BLINDLY accepted what we have been told about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  And at the root of this, I’m calling it what it is, this DECEPTION are these 2 diametrical words:  the original word Ekklēsia and that substitute word Circulous.

Circulous is a “circle”.  A circle is a closed system.  What ever is outside that circle must be allowed in to be a part of the circle.  The circle then supports itself.  Whatever is allowed to be a part of the circle must have 2 key attributes:

  1.   First, it must conform.  If they do not conform, then the circle is no longer symmetrical.  And God knows we can’t have circles unless they are symmetrical.  And Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter I know how important symmetry is to you. (She’s smiling now, but wait for it!)
  2.   Second, it must contribute something to the existing structure.  They must be able to reflect the current image.  God knows we cannot have people in jeans with tattoos and piercings a part of the circle that is full of suits, ties and women wearing conservative fashionable dresses.  They must be able to add to the existing and prevailing views, otherwise we would not be uniform.  And Mr. Churchian, I know how important contributing to uniformity is to you.  (Now he’s smiling, but wait for it!)

And all of this must happen within the confines of a specific geographic location, otherwise known as The Church Building.  Am I correct in this, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter?

Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (In unison) ABSOLUTELY!  Thanks for finally coming over to our side!

Me:  ‘Hold `em thar’ horses!’  What I just described is the Body of Christ as Circulous, a “circle”.  The circle exists to serve those already in the circle.  Anything that doesn’t support the circle is deemed both unnecessary and unimportant.  The focus is entirely on human activities; what WE do.  It creates that sense of entitlement, and I know how both of you feel about “the entitlement generation”.  The circle produces consumers.  As long as the pastor, staff and leadership puts out “consumables” for you, everything is great.  When they no longer put out consumables, it’s time to replace them.  This, my Sister and Brother, is the Body of Christ as a circle.  I see you nodding your heads in agreement.  But remember that Circulous is a substitute word for the original word.

The Body of Christ as the Ekklēsia focuses on the One who does the calling.  By focusing on the One who does the calling, the focus is on the life that God offers us and the foundation of that life that God offers us is about dying daily to self in order to live in unselfish ways in order to care about and for others.  Putting it another way, here are 3 things the Ekklēsia is not:

  1.   It does not look like a geometrical circle.  It looks more like coloring outside the lines.  I know how much both of you detest coloring outside the lines.  But when Jesus was in our human form He was the Master Artist of coloring outside the lines.  Jesus continues coloring outside the lines by storming the strongholds of human values and culture.
  2.   It is not being uniform.  Our Creator loves unique diversity.  Look at the animal kingdom.  You have an armadillo and you have the giraffe.  Look even at horses, varieties of sizes, shapes, colors, and purposes.  God loves diversity so He created us uniquely and loves it when we use our uniqueness to honor Him.  Think about the beauty of a rainbow.  The colors are not the same.  When the light hits those raindrops at the right angle, then the beauty shines.
  3.   It does not focus inwardly.  The One who calls us is always looking outwardly.  Thus, to respond to that call, the Body of Christ also looks outwardly.  The Ekklēsia cannot be confined to a postal or 911 address.  All that happens inside the geographical location is designed to drive us out of that location to where real people are enslaved by sin, bringing light to the dirtiest and darkest places on earth.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well, that’s not what I was taught!

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I earned my way to be here and everyone else should earn their way, JUST LIKE I DID!

Me:  Well, it wasn’t what I was taught either.  And I admit, I haven’t earned my way into the circle.  But I have been called out by God’s grace.  Called back to my Creator, my Father.  I have been called out to follow Jesus wherever He wants me to go in order to do whatever He wants me to do.  Now, if you two will excuse me, Jesus has left the building, so I must also leave the building….

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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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(Maybe Elvis had it right)

Give Up Mediocrity!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

Revelation 3:14-22 

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church.  God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says:

15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re stale.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

18 Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich.  Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.  Up on your feet, then! About face!  Run after God!

20-21 Look at me.  I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!

22 Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

As we continue looking at what we need to give up for Lent and beyond, today’s challenge is Give Up Mediocrity!  Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.

What’s the definition of mediocrity?  I’m so glad you asked.  It’s The Quality Or State Of Being Only Ordinary Or Moderate Quality; Neither Good Nor Bad; Barely Adequate; The Consequence Of Being Average And Not Outstanding.

Maybe the synonyms for this word will bring the meaning into focus:  undistinguished, commonplace, everyday; run-of-the-mill.  It comes from the Latin that means “half-way up the mountain”.  It was used to describe a mountain climber who made it half way up a mountain, but then came back down.  Mediocrity Is Just Being Average, Or As Jesus Put It In His Message To Laodicea, “Lukewarm”.

We can decide that we are going to move beyond mediocrity and do something new.  But pastor and writer Carey Nieuwhof said this in his series “Doing Time”:  “The reality is this:  That you still bring ‘you’ into anything new that you do.”

Several years ago, the Gallop poll asked this question:  How Engaged Are You At Work?  Engaged means they feel a sense of connection with their work and they are committed to doing the best they can.  71% responded they were Disengaged.  Of the other 21%, 12% were on Facebook and 17% were playing Candy Crush.   No, I made that part up.  The truth is only 21% were engaged in their work; meaning they are connected to their work and have the desire to do the best job possible.   Answer this question:  How Engaged Are You?  At work?  With Community?  With Family?  In God’s Kingdom?

I wonder if we have theologized our way into mediocrity.  I agree that the Spirit does the work and often works in spite of ourselves.  But, have we relied so much on that theology that we don’t even try to do our own work and mission with a sense of being engaged because we have a theology that says, “Hey, God works even if we suck”?

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is an object will remain motionless or uniform in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  People are a lot like that—motionless or going through the motions until acted upon by some external force.  So, if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Mediocrity Is Destroyed When Your Heart Is Fully Engaged With Life.  There are not enough cosmetics to cover over this curse of mediocrity.  No plastic surgeon is skillful enough to remove the scars created by the life of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is what provides the fuel for selfishness and that selfishness promotes that vile and wicked spirit of consumerism!  Consumerism is a leach.  Leeches attach themselves to other lives and sucks the life right out of them.  There are 3 key symptoms of Mediocrity:

One Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Procrastination

Life can lose its sense of urgency.  When you do, your priorities change from putting first things first, to putting yourself first.  It becomes easier and easier to push God’s agenda aside.  Procrastination is the failure to remain attentive to what God is doing and what God is wanting to be done.   It is setting aside God’s desire for glory for our personal convenience. This is one reason why Mediocrity is a curse and fails to glorify God.

Another Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Lethargy

When I talk of lethargy, I mean a serious condition in which you literally don’t get anywhere in life.  The lethargic person is that person who Greg Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”—claiming to be Christian but living as if God doesn’t exist.  I found this interesting about that word lethargy.  It comes from the Greek word meaning “forgetfulness”.  It’s forgetting what is most important in life.  Lethargy is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it.  So you become just average.  Mediocrity is a curse because it doesn’t change what’s wrong in your heart, and you fail to glorify God.

The Third Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Timidity

Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of your life.  Timidity finds all kinds of excuses, great sounding excuses why you cannot excel in life.  Timidity promotes that false humility which excludes you from what God wants to do with your life for your community.  Accepting average for and from yourself closes the door to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.  Because Mediocrity promotes that false humility, it fails to glorify God.

Think of being mediocre and being lukewarm as one in the same—because they are.  This was the problem at Laodicea.  Doing just enough to feel good about themselves while sinking down like they were in quicksand; and that will literally crush our lives.  An ordinary life never experiences the extraordinary Grace of God.  So how can we break free of being just average?  Well, may I suggest you begin doing what Jesus told the church at Laodicea to do?  3 critical decisions you need to make for God to break you free from Mediocrity:

Step 1:  Commit Your Life To Holiness

Vs. 18a—Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Holiness is found by living each day within The Virtues Of God.  And Paul gives us a practical but challenging way to live in these Virtues in Philippians 4:8—Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  When you fill your mind with these things, your words and actions become Holy and YOU become Holy.  We live by the things we think about. Step 2:

Step 2:  Decide To Live Righteously

Vs. 18b—Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  God wants to make us righteous and He does by giving us the righteousness of Christ.  Then God wants us to live righteously—to live in the right way.  Paul describes this in Colossians 3:12-13—So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  Treat people the way Jesus treats them.  Help people the way Jesus helps them.  Let every decision be what is right—not what is easy or convenient. Step 3:

Step 3:  Become Engaged With God’s Mission

Vs. 18c—And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.   God’s Mission is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20—God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.  God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing.  We’re Christ’s representatives.  God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.  We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  Average and ordinary simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to the Mission of God.  If you are not bringing people to Jesus, you’re failing in the Mission.  It takes extraordinary people—and you will become extraordinary when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and allow The Spirit to equip and empower you for God’s Mission.

Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.  And you make God nauseated.  Don’t be lukewarm!  Be cold or hot, but don’t make God nauseated.

The Apostolic Age? Really?

 

 

 

OK, I’m not doing this to start a theological debate, doctrinal fight, nor a “Roman Catholic” versus “Protestant” argument.  It really is just a question:  “Where did the concept of the ‘Apostolic Age’ come from?”  I’ve had the mandatory seminary classes on church history, and I know the traditional thought about this alleged Apostolic Age.  But when and where did this concept of an alleged The Apostolic Age originate?  And I know that the consensus is it ended with the death of John.

Many teach and many more believe that it was limited to those Original 12, well, excluding Judas.  But according to Matthew 10:2-4, Judas is listed as one of the 12, you guessed it, “Apostles”.  but were there just those 12, including Judas?  Well, maybe including Paul there were 13 “Apostles”.  Perhaps we could add Barnabas to make an even 14.  Maybe we could add Silas for 15.  Some might have a good argument to include Timothy as an “Apostle”, making the number an even 16 “Apostles”.

Could it be this “Apostolic Age” is the result of the interpretation of History?  I know, I know, most want history to be just the facts.  Yet most of written history includes the result of human interpretation.  And herein lies my contention:  Is the concept of this alleged “Apostolic Age” the result of human interpretation?  Now please understand, I’m not asking you to agree with my hypothesis, theory and conclusion.  I am asking that you simply think for yourself, and then draw your own conclusion.  I have a “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” gut feeling some of the comments may disagree with me, or some might stop following this blog.  I’m OK with this, as long as you are thinking and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Me?  I’m a KISS kind of man–Keep It Simple Stupid!  With this as my backdrop, let me frame these words as best I can.

  • My Hypothesis:   Our God is a “Sending God”.  It is His nature and His deepest desire to send out His heart and message to redeem and restore fallen humanity; the ones who alone bear His image.
  • My Theory:  He sends others that He has redeemed and restored to Himself for the purpose of redeeming and restoring others.  Don’t try to sell me on the benefits of a Ford if you are only driving Chevrolets.  If you want to reach deep into me, tell me what (or whom) is deep inside you.
  • My Conclusion:  Because God is still reaching out to His Fallen Image Bearers through those whom HE sends, this thing called The Apostolic Age as defined by historians, hasn’t really ended.  Furthermore, I assert this concept of an “apostolic age” to be anathema and has robbed the Body of Christ of it’s most basic identity–that of being a sent people.  The result of no longer living with that sense of being “sent”, most, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, are living with a sense of being settled.  And that, my blogging friends, is one of the worst tragedies; for a people who were redeemed and restored in order to be sent, to accept being settled.

What started this train of thought (some may say this train never left the station, or has derailed by the end of these thoughts) was my work on this week’s sermon.  This work included the passage from Matthew 10 when Jesus “sends out” those 12 “apostles”.  I looked up that Greek word we have translated “Apostle” (*NOTE the typical use of the Capital “A” as in THE Apostles and THE Apostolic Age, which “capital” letter is not found in the Greek texts) is apostolos.  An apostolos is a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō— which means “to order one to go to a place appointed.”

So, why isn’t an apostle (lowercase “a”) simply someone sent as a messenger to go to an appointed place with The Message?  If my hypothesis is true, that God is the Sending God, doesn’t this mean He is still sending today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next month?  Now this left-handed, right-brained preacher is about to put it into overdrive.  What if we forgot about this “historical” image of an alleged long gone “Apostolic Age” and began living our lives right now as apostles (note the lowercase “a”)?  Live as people who are sent to a certain place with a certain message?  Can you imagine the transformation that could happen?

I now see myself as an apostle–but not with the delusions of grandeur.  I see myself as one who is being sent with a Message to specific places and people.  And you do not have to be a pastor, preacher, evangelist or missionary to be “sent” somewhere.  God is looking for people to send to specific places.  Those places are where there are human hearts and lives, made in God’s image, that need to be redeemed and restored to the Father’s Glory.  God is looking to send someone across your street.  God is looking to send someone across the aisle, across the hall, across town, across county lines, and who knows, maybe across the state or across the world.

What are the places that God is looking to send people to?  The places where people need to be redeemed and restored.  God’s best work is always done through ordinary people.  Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV),

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Sent people are never settled people.  They are ready and willing to go into every human situation with the Message of The Good News, this Kingdom News that redemption and restoration are now available to anyone and everyone.  First these 12 were disciples before they were apostles (lowercase “a”, please).  They learned from Jesus and then they went.  How I pray for more people to live first as disciples, then go as apostles–people sent on a Mission from God!  If you live with that sense of being sent, then the Apostolic Age isn’t over.  How sad it must be to think God has stopped sending ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Nothing is more miraculous nor extraordinary than when another heart has been redeemed and restored by The Maker, our God who sends!

I may not have convinced a single person that this alleged “Apostolic Age” thing is a human concept.  But if there is just one of you who are now thinking, “Could God be sending me somewhere?”, then it has been worth it!  It is both overwhleming and liberating to know that we can be “sent”.  And it is a prison all it’s own, to be simply settled where you are.  Still think that the Apostolic Age is over???

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Live In A Different Story!

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“But my servant Caleb—this is a different story. He has a different spirit; he follows me passionately.” (Numbers 14:24 The Message)

I absolutely love the Story of Caleb.  Read Numbers 13 and 14 and how can anyone NOT love Caleb?  I love this man so much I just finished a sermon series about him.  There are so many things about this guy and I could preach a year or more just on him, if The Spirit would allow me.  I am blown away by how The Message translates God’s opinion of Caleb.  (You do know that God has an opinion about you, don’t you?)  “But my servant Caleb—this is a different story.”

How was his story different?  God sent 12 spies, leaders actually, into the Promised Land with very specific orders.  But it was never in their directive to determine if they could succeed at occupying and conquering the land.  But 10 of these alleged leaders exceeded their directives and made a decision that wasn’t theirs to make.  “We can’t do it!  We’re whipped!  Lets get a new lead pastor and go back to Egypt where we can eat all the onions and garlic we want!”  OK?  So, you want bad breath instead of God’s Promise?  Ain’t it amazing what good church folks will give up for bad breath!

It would now seem, if they are going to be a good old American democracy, that God’s Promise would never happen, at least by the story of the Halitosis Ten.  But there is another Story being told and written.  Caleb, along with Joshua, has a Different Story to write and tell.  Allow me, if you will, to share just a little bit about That Different Story.  It’s a Story of living in The Promise, not The Halitosis.  There is much to be said, but I will share 4 of the Key Qualities of Caleb.

1.  He Had A Different Mindset

Caleb isn’t being naive.  He saw the well fortified cities.  He saw that the land produced NFL Linemen sized people.  He saw every obstacle in front of them.  But Caleb saw more.  He saw God’s Presence through The Promise.   He saw the challenges in front of him through the faithfulness of God.  He had the mindset of looking at The Problem Solver, not the problem; of looking at the Giant Slayer, not the giant.  Caleb was really radicalhe trusted God.  I am amazed (probably more like disgusted) at those who say they are a Christian while insisting that as a church we have to play it safe.  Where’s the faith in that?  And where did Jesus ever say that following Him was safe?  See your situations as an individual and a church the same way Caleb saw what was in front of HimGod’s got this!

2.  He Had A Different Purpose

Caleb knew that his purpose was to be a reflection of GodHis heart and His purposes.  Caleb was willing to give up his Story to become a part of a much bigger Story, the Story of God’s purposes.  Ever since Adam and Eve messed it all up and ever since we perpetuate The Fall with our sinfulness, God has been at work and His work is very clear.  He wants to Redeem The Sinner, bring Recovery For The Broken, and to Restore His Image Bearers.  All of us have a Life Purpose, good, bad or indifferent, you have a Life Purpose.  Your Life Purpose will be based and built upon the information you believe is true.  Caleb believed God’s Promise is greater than any obstacle, so he chose as the Purpose of his life, to work where God is workingRedeeming, Recovering and Restoring.

3.  He Had A Different Courage

Caleb’s courage came from his Trust in God.  Caleb saw God as Trustworthy.  He didn’t stutter, blink or hesitate.  “Come on, gang!  God is Trustworthy!  You say you Trust in God?  Well, let’s put some action in that trust!”  Caleb’s roots grew deep in God.  Caleb understood that “roots” are not what holds us down to the ground, but enables to grow up and out.  This courage came out of something Caleb did not fully understand, but somehow knewthat God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was inside him.  He knew that wherever he went, God was with himand that was enough.

4.  He Had A Different Plan

His plan was to stay close enough to God so that he could see how God would work it out.  He didn’t trust himself to figure it outhow it would happen.  He knew that God had a plan and all he needed to do was to be available for the ways that God wanted to use him.  Translated to 2017, the work of God is a Spiritual Work that requires Spiritual Tools (known as the Gifts of the Spirit), A Spiritual Heart (which is the heart of a servant), and A Spiritual Attitude (known as HE is the vine and we are the branchesbranches designed to bear much fruit).

Goodness gracious!  Where have all the Calebs gone today?  You can find the next Caleb by looking the mirror.  He’s longing to get outbecause there is a Caleb in you but you need to make the choice between The Promise and The Halitosis.  Which do you really want?

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

Spreading A Bad Rumor!

21-25 With that they were on their way. They scouted out the land from the Wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob toward Lebo Hamath. Their route went through the Negev Desert to the town of Hebron. Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, descendants of the giant Anak, lived there. Hebron had been built seven years before Zoan in Egypt. When they arrived at the Eshcol Valley they cut off a branch with a single cluster of grapes—it took two men to carry it—slung on a pole. They also picked some pomegranates and figs. They named the place Eshcol Valley (Grape-Cluster-Valley) because of the huge cluster of grapes they had cut down there. After forty days of scouting out the land, they returned home.

26-29 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip:  “We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.”

33 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”  But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”

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.”

Numbers 13:21-14:4 (The Message)

If you have followed my train of thought in this blog, then hopefully you understand that this is primarily for the U.S. and Western church.  I know there are some who think my train derailed a while back, but I’m still here and moving forward.  At issue is addressing the mindset of the mainline church which has become a “church centric”  message, meaning it is all about the location of local congregations rather than “Kingdom Centric”, meaning it is about the message of the Kingdom of God.  Living out a church centric message, and thus a church centric gospel, is way too small.  God invites us into the epic story of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, the narrative that is much bigger than any and all of us.

When a congregation finally wakes up and realizes that their declining membership, attendance and influence is the direct result of living out of a way too small narrative, inevitably there will be those Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians who will fight against such a move to the much bigger narrative of God’s Kingdom.  One of the ways they fight against the move to the Kingdom Story, and thus fight against the Good News Jesus brought, is to spread bad rumors through false stories and very flawed assumptions.  And it’s a tactic that goes way back, all the way back to God delivering the Hebrews, HIS people, from slavery.

Remember with me the setting for this passage from Numbers.  God sent 10 plagues against the Pharaoh and Egypt before the Pharaoh agreed to let them go.  Then the Pharaoh did a very human thing:  he changed his mind.  The Hebrews were trapped–the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them.  God parted the Red Sea and they successfully crossed over.  Pharaoh’s army tried and drowned.  God’s guidance was always present in the daytime with a column of clouds and at nighttime with a column of fire.  Fresh food fell from heaven every morning (except before the Sabbath when they could collect 2 days worth).  When they grew tired of heaven’s food God provided them with quails.  Water came from rocks when they needed it.  They had a few battles along the way and God always provided them with victory.  Oh, and don’t forget, the column of clouds during the day and the column of fire during the night never left them.

Now they are at the edge of the land which God has promised them they would occupy.  He didn’t tell them how they would occupy it; just His personal assurance they would.  God directs Moses to send one leader from each tribe (notice the use of “leader”) who were to become 007’s, meaning spies, with a very clear set of directions:

  1. Assess the people: Are they strong or weak? Are there few or many?
  2. Observe the land: Is it pleasant or harsh?
  3. Describe the towns where they live: Are they open camps or fortified with walls?
  4. And the soil: Is it fertile or barren? Are there forests? And try to bring back a sample of the produce that grows there—this is the season for the first ripe grapes.

End of the mission.  That’s all!  And make sure you see what is not included in the mission directives.  Have you seen it yet, what’s not there?  Have you?  Well, in case you haven’t seen what’s not there I will share it with you.  God never said, “Then I want you to decide if you can occupy this land.  I want you to decide if this task is possible or not.”  Ten of these alleged leaders decided it WAS their job to determine if it was possible or not.  Without even consulting God, these 10 pitiful and pathetic leaders made a determination that was NOT their’s to make, a determination that was based on their personal assumptions not facts:  “We’re whipped!  Before we even start, we’re finished.  We just need to go back to Egypt.”

But it was Caleb, from the Tribe of Judah, the same Tribe Jesus was born into, and Hoshua (renamed ‘Joshua’ by Moses) from the Tribe of Ephraim, who recognized that these fake and phony 007’s had exceeded their mission directives and made assumptions which they were unqualified to make.  And more than recognize the treasonous act of The 10, they spoke out against them.  Outnumbered 5 to 1, these 2 stood by their Divine Mission Directives.  And what was the result?  Did these 10 confess they were wrong?  Did they repent, change their direction, and stand with Caleb and Joshua?  Nope, nope and nope!

Here is what they did.  They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel.”  I want to  take this moment to speak just to local tribal (meaning church) leaders, whether you are clergy or a layperson.  When you find yourself in a place that has a church centric message and lifestyle, and you hear God calling you to change the culture and climate to the Kingdom Centric Gospel, there will be opposition.  They will follow the same path as these 10 phony and pathetic 007’s in Numbers 13 and 14.

So how does one handle “The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s”?  To answer this question would result in an entire blog 5840ca9163571-imageseries lasting for several editions.  The best way to handle The 10 is NOT to argue with them and here is why.  There are 2 reasons why people engage in rumors and assumptions:  ignorance and simply being dumb.  There is a difference between these two.  Ignorance is simply the lack of information and is easily overcome with the truth.  Being dumb is choosing to ignore the truth.  If you argue with someone who has chosen to be dumb (like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s) they will beat you down to a pulp every time with their experience of being dumb.  Hear me out from my experiences:  When I have chosen to engage in battle with those who do not want the truth, I lose every battle.

I am currently dealing with some who do not have truthful information so I share with them with grace and love, the truth.  And for those who do not want to be ignorant, they receive the truth well.  But for those aligned with The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, I choose to pray for them and avoid arguing with them, for the above mentioned reason.  I would encourage you leaders to do the same.  But remember, there was Caleb and Joshua in this story.  I make sure that like Moses, I surround myself with those who have the same spirit and attitude as Caleb and Joshua, and so should you if and when you find yourself attacked by The Fake & Phony 10.  What was the attitude and spirit of Caleb and Joshua?  Glad you asked!  Here is it:

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Rumors that spread the quickest and cover the largest territory are meant to harm, hurt and crush.  And if you are one engaged in the rumors like The 10 Fake & Phony 007’s, take a moment to stop and reflect on your words and the way you engage in conversations.  Rumors are entanglements created by the only one who does not want to see God and His people succeed.  Go ahead with the spread of bad rumors if you wish.  I would simply encourage you to read this from Proverbs:

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

10-29hurt

Should The Church Be Neat?

(Again, remember that my perspective is from observing the western church at large, listening to other pastors, and from reading about other’s experiences and life lessons.  These musings are not about any single congregation.  Any resemblance to an actual church, currently in existence or now dead, is strictly a coincidence arranged by the Holy Spirit.)  Well, I must give credit where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings were inspired by a fellow blogger Brandon Andress and his musings Benefit Of A Doubt.  So, if you do not like my musings or are offended by them, just blame Brandon.

Most folks like things to be neat…well except hoarders.  So let me try this again.  Most folks like, want and insist that things be neat in the church on many levels.  Those who like, want and insist on neat in church do so because they genuinely and sincerely believe that it is absolutely necessary that we be neat in order to honor God.  They also believe, and again sincerely so, that neat is what we must have in order to keep God and the things of God sacred.  As a side note, right now I am wondering, “What does this say about sincerity?  Does being sincere mean that we are right?  And does it give us a free pass if we are wrong?”  “Well God, I sincerely believed I was right, regardless of what You said.”  Oh well, I digress to what might become another blog.

What we were talking about?  Oh yeah, people sincerely wanting “neat” in church.  Well, I must ask, “Exactly what does ‘neat’ look like for most church folks?”  One thing is that we must all believe the same things about the Bible, the world view, and God.  Established congregations typically see the Sunday School hour as the time to achieve such a sincere goal.  Each adult Sunday School Class is using the same curriculum for the most part.  This curriculum is selected because it comes closest to their beliefs, thus ‘neat’.  I have heard of congregations that felt their leadership needed to dress down a renegade teacher and class that was not using their approved curriculum.  One time I attended a revival service in one of my community’s church, in an ecumenical spirit.  I noticed a large sign board up front that listed 20 something things that everyone must believe in order to be a member of that congregation.  Neat!

Another thing about neat is that programs must be neat.  Translated, they must be tame.  We cannot have or do anything that does not clearly resemble what was done in 1950, 1960 and early 1970.  After early 1970, that was when things started falling apart.  Each room has a certain function and one can never use it for something else.  Space was assigned eons ago and though there is another class that is growing and run out of space, they cannot have the largest “Young Adults” classroom (which by the way the youngest is 76 years old) which, by means of attrition, now consists of less than a dozen members.  Their motto and mantra is “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”  And if you cannot embrace this view, well, simply be quiet or go somewhere else, which is usually what they do.  Sadly, they leave not for another church, but give up and walk away from God’s plans.

And when it comes to people, oh yes, they must be neat.  By neat I do not mean just in how they dress…though for many in church this is very important.  I am talking about giving the appearance of having it all together for the most part.  We cannot have people who appear to have real problems.  It used to be that the divorced and alcoholics were the taboos that we never addressed in church other than to condemn.  Now it’s things like drug addictions, domestic violence, sex and sexual orientation.  We cannot allow someone obviously dressed like a hooker sit in here, even though she is struggling and tired of her profession.  We cannot have someone who looks and smells like they have been drinking all night inside the sacred sanctuary, even though he realizes that his life is meaningless and he is looking for a new purpose.  And we certainly cannot have anyone who is from the LBGT community in here, even when they are wondering if God could actually love them they way they are now, or even if they just come to see how the congregation would react to them, even hoping they react against them so they can show just how hypocritical the church is.  When people come into the sanctuary they should appear to have it all together because it is not neat when people come to the sacred building bringing in all their brokenness.  Nope, just can’t have it.  It must be neat and tidy.

But then, there’s this guy by the name of Jesus.  You know, the one they want to honor by keeping everything neat.  The church is called to be the Body of Christ, meaning, to be the presence of Jesus in our time, just as He was the Presence of God when He walked this earth in our human form.  This was what church looked like when Jesus was here as a human being.  Think about those who came to Jesus back then.  Allow me to give you a few images straight from the Bible:

23-25 From there he went all over Galilee. He used synagogues for meeting places and taught people the truth of God. God’s kingdom was his theme—that beginning right now they were under God’s government, a good government! He also healed people of their diseases and of the bad effects of their bad lives. Word got around the entire Roman province of Syria. People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all. More and more people came, the momentum gathering. Besides those from Galilee, crowds came from the “Ten Towns” across the lake, others up from Jerusalem and Judea, still others from across the Jordan.  (Matthew 4:23-25 The Message)

29-31 He touched their eyes and said, “Become what you believe.” It happened. They saw. Then Jesus became very stern. “Don’t let a soul know how this happened.” But they were hardly out the door before they started blabbing it to everyone they met.  32-33 Right after that, as the blind men were leaving, a man who had been struck speechless by an evil spirit was brought to Jesus. As soon as Jesus threw the evil tormenting spirit out, the man talked away just as if he’d been talking all his life. The people were up on their feet applauding: “There’s never been anything like this in Israel!” (Matthew 9:29-33 The Message)

After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof (Wow!  Can you imagine the mess on the floor from the roof debris?) and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.” (Mark 2:1-5 The Message)

53-56 They beached the boat at Gennesaret and tied up at the landing. As soon as they got out of the boat, word got around fast. People ran this way and that, bringing their sick on stretchers to where they heard he was. Wherever he went, village or town or country crossroads, they brought their sick to the marketplace and begged him to let them touch the edge of his coat—that’s all. And whoever touched him became well. (Mark 6:53-56 The Message)

16-17 That evening a lot of demon-afflicted people were brought to him. He relieved the inwardly tormented. He cured the bodily ill. He fulfilled Isaiah’s well-known sermon: He took our illnesses, He carried our diseases.  (Mark 8:16-17 The Message; by the way, this was on the heels of Jesus healing a leper who came up to Him, healing the servant of an officer in the Roman Army who said he wasn’t good enough for Jesus to come into his home but had enough faith that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word right then and there, and healing Peter’s mother-in-law.)

Look carefully at these passages and get that mental image of what these scenes looked like.  Close your eyes and get this image and do not open them until this scene is etched into your mind.  OK, now that your eyes are open, think about your church on Sunday morning.  Close your eyes again and get this mental picture clear and focused.  Now that your eyes are open (and the Holy Spirit certainly hopes they are now open), does the Sunday morning reality of your sanctuary look anything like the sanctuary of Jesus when He was walking our earth in our human form?

If it does, then I want to say this:  “Hallelujah!  Praise God!  I thank God for you every day!”  And if it doesn’t, I have nothing to say but I do have a question and I hope this question haunts you in a good kind of way (meaning you will not rest until you find the answer and change the current reality):  “Why doesn’t it look like that?”

Remember, Love God with all your heart, Love others the way HE loves you, and make sure ALL the Glory goes to HIM!

Curb Shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 The Worst One Of All

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

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

forgotten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Do you really need a commentary on this verse?

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

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

#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.