The Toxic Sludge Of The U.S. Church

Reactions are not only ripping apart my Tribe, but it’s ripping apart this once great nation.

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(Pic from http://www.vintagenews.com of Romanian church swallowed by toxic sludge)

I am going to be careful not to mention groups based on ideologies or theologies. This is not about conservatives or liberals; progressives or orthodox. Dear Lord in heaven, there’s been enough of that–actually too much of that. Therefore, be it known unto all, whether earthly or in the spiritual realm, that I am not blaming, accusing, or naming any person or group as being the cause of the toxic sludge that is consuming the U.S. church, and in particular, the United Methodist Church. This being declared and verified (soon I will be a notary public so I’ll consider this my first unofficial notarization) of my own free will.

After carefully reading a recent post by Shane Bishop (click here to read “Know What You Are Going To Do”) a realization that had been on the edges of my mind came into clear focus. The problem in my Tribe, and in the U.S. church as a whole, is that we have become a culture that values REACTION over RESPONSE. Let’s see if I can describe the difference between what is toxic and what is healthy.

Response is the result of careful thought, reflection, and honest conversation about the facts at hand and what to do with those facts. Response is always controlled because it contains that essential element of time. Response is sometimes easy to calculate–but more often than not it requires a lot of time…I mean a lot of time. Response is about the true issue, not human personalities, and not about human beings or groups. Response reflects both courage and compassion; conviction and kindness.

Reaction is what happens without much if any prompting. We sometimes call it “gut-reaction” or “knee-jerk reactions”. Personally, it’s more like the second description, minus the word “knee”. Reactions seldom if ever require much thought or preparation. It reminds me of that day in chemistry lab storage area at the high school I attended. Someone found a container of sodium metal and showed a few of us what would happen when it was exposed to water. He extracted a small amount and threw it out the window when it was raining. (Click here for a YouTube about that chemical reaction, and no, that wasn’t us). When we got bored, which was frequently, and it was raining, we did that experiment again and again. Someone, I won’t say who, decided it would be fun to throw a big chunk of it and flush it down a commode. Somehow that bottle of sodium metal was removed from the lab never to be seen again, and thus, an end to our “experiments”. Let’s get serious again.

That chemical Reaction produced produced hazardous results. When we React to each other, the Reaction is even more hazardous. It is dangerous and damages–damages relationships, people, communities and systems–when Reaction becomes our response to the myriad of issues facing the U.S. Church. Sometimes in the realm of science reactions get out of control and the results are…..does anyone remember the place called Chernobyl? Reactions to what is going on in my Tribe are quickly becoming another Chernobyl. Soon the name of my Tribe will become synonymous with Chernobyl and it will be as empty and vacant as Chernobyl is today. And as I reflect. . . and think lovingly about my Tribe. . . I silently wonder if it’s not too late. . .I pray it’s not so. . .but. . .

Reactions are not only ripping apart my Tribe, but it’s ripping apart this once great nation. It’s on both sides of the aisle in Washington D.C., it’s even permeating Main Street, Small Town, America. Let’s see if I can put down my Response to all these Reactions in my Tribe and nation. I want to express my Response in way that you will feel the passion and intensity that is in me:

STOP IT! I SAY AGAIN, STOP IT! REACTION IS THE EASY RESPONSE AND IT IS THE WRONG RESPONSE! STOP TALKING AT EACH OTHER. AND PLEASE RESPECT EACH OTHER BY THINKING AND THINKING HARD SO THAT YOU DO NOT REACT!

Randy Burbank, KingdomPastor

I think that the use of Bold and All Caps is how one does that nowadays. Shane Bishop is on target with his thoughts; and his questions are worth pondering. . .for a long and serious time. Reactions accomplish nothing–but destructive explosions. Remember what happens during extended and uncontrolled reactions: CHERNOBYL!

And still . . . love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him. And stop reacting to everything. . . and anything. . .

Drout!

Are you looking at the title, scratching your head wondering, “Doesn’t this guy know how to spell?” Ile hav u no that huked on fonics wurked for me!

No, let’s get serious. “Drout” is how the dictionary says we are to pronounce “drought”. Here in West Alabama we are in a rainfall drought. It’s been at least 4 weeks since it has rained. The dust and the pollen have really agitated and aggravated these sinuses of mine. Late Tuesday afternoon I was outside looking around when I felt a slight sprinkle. Heck, that wasn’t enough for me to remember my baptism–and I’m a Methodist!

But this word drought moved me to thinking–not about the lack of rainfall–but a more critical drought crisis going on in my culture. I found this “other” definition of drought:

a prolonged or chronic shortage or lack of something expected or desired

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

My culture is in a prolonged AND chronic drought–and the evidence is everywhere. Here are some of the things I see that our culture is in severe lack of. Feel free to add to my list in the comments section.

  • Common Sense
  • Truthfulness
  • Kindness
  • Honesty
  • Jesus-Centered Ethics
  • Accepting Personal Responsibility
  • Determination
  • Inner-Peace
  • Joy
  • Contentment
  • Purpose
  • Hope
  • Forgiveness
  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • (Add your insight to the list in the comments section below)

I think perhaps the following image says something about our culture:

And here’s what irks me, aggravates me, exasperates me, irritates me, annoys me, drives me crazy, makes me want to grab a person by their shoulders and shake them: No one wants to do anything about this drought–other than whine, complain and blame; oh more thing, and live oblivious to the damage it is doing to themselves and their culture.

I’m beginning to understand that bumper sticker I see from time to time: The more I see of people, the better I love my horse! So how do I change it? How do YOU change it? Because if we are not seeking to eradicate this drought we are only contributing to it, AND reinforcing it.

The quick and easy answer is “Pray!” But I want you, our culture needs you and God desires FOR you to go deeper. Yes, pray, but What next? You cannot say, “Well, yes our culture is in a drought but I’m doing my part–I’m praying for rain! Come Holy Spirit and rain the grace of God all over this land!” If all you are doing to end this drought is praying–my friends, I say this with nothing but love in my heart for you: “You are only adding to the drought!” Don’t read what’s NOT written. I didn’t say prayer wasn’t important; It Is VERY Important. But. . .What’s Next?

Last night I read a book that is giving me insights in What’s Next. It will only take you one evening, one morning, one afternoon to read it. The book is How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Why The Truth Matters More Than You Think by Andy Andrews. To end this Moral/Spiritual Drought begins with me. . .and you. . .to pray and then to do What’s Next. You and I have a mission and a purpose–to bring Truth back into our culture in ways that helps others see The Truth! And The Truth has a name–Jesus!

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

Getting What We Ask For–But Didn’t Realize It Would Be THAT!

Image result for you asked for it

PSALM 106:6-15 (NLT)

Like our ancestors, we have sinned.
    We have done wrong! We have acted wickedly!
Our ancestors in Egypt
    were not impressed by the Lord’s miraculous deeds.
They soon forgot his many acts of kindness to them.
    Instead, they rebelled against him at the Red Sea.[a]
Even so, he saved them—
    to defend the honor of his name
    and to demonstrate his mighty power.
He commanded the Red Sea to dry up.
    He led Israel across the sea as if it were a desert.
10 So he rescued them from their enemies
    and redeemed them from their foes.
11 Then the water returned and covered their enemies;
    not one of them survived.
12 Then his people believed his promises.
    Then they sang his praise.

13 Yet how quickly they forgot what he had done!
    They wouldn’t wait for his counsel!
14 In the wilderness their desires ran wild,
    testing God’s patience in that dry wasteland.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
    but he sent a plague along with it.

It’s amazing to me how anyone can think that The Bible is an outdated book, lacking current relevance.  Solomon was right when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.  This passage is just one of many that backs up this jewel of wisdom.  In this one Psalm, we have the history of God’s ancient people, and God’s current people.

Here’s the flow:  God’s people, the Hebrews, called out to God for deliverance.  They were slaves, helpless at the hands of their oppressors.  God called Moses to lead this movement.  Pharoah refused; God spoke; Pharoah still refused; pattern repeats.  Until Pharoah finally agrees to let them go.  Then he changes his mind and sets out in pursuit of them.  THEY are at the Red Sea and no bridges or boats around.  They are scared they are about to die.  They whine at Moses, but God intervenes and gives a promise:  “You will get to the Promised Land, and you will never see these Egyptian soldiers again.”  God parts the water, they cross over.  The Egyptians follow and God closes the Sea and dead soldiers everywhere.

They head towards The Promise and God does 3 things:

  1. He provides for their physical needs
  2. He leads them all the way
  3. He assures them He is with them through the Pillar of Cloud during the day and a Pillar of Fire at night

These 3 things occur 24/7.  And how do they respond?  Here’s the Cliff Notes Version:

  1. They whine about fresh food from heaven that costs nothing and which they did nothing to produce it
  2. They can’t wait for Moses to return from consulting with God, so they make an idol they can see.
  3. They whine some more, a lot more
  4. They face some enemies threatening them but God promises Victory and it happens
  5. They get to the edge of the Promised Land, God still providing, leading, and assuring them of His Presence, and they give up without even trusting.
  6. They want a new leader and go back to Egypt–to slavery–but at least they would have garlic and onions–slavery for sure–but oh, those good old onions!

So what does God do?  God gives them what they asked for:  denying them entrance into The Promise.  They all die (except Joshua and Caleb)–in the wilderness.  They never tasted those wonderful onions in Egypt–the land of slavery and oppression.  But they got what they asked for–to turn away from The Promise.

Don’t be hard on those Hebrew children.  It’s happening in our culture today.  God offers us The Promise–The Promise of Life–Life that is full and meaningful–Life that happens through dying to self and self-interests.  Instead people choose to go back in the direction of slavery and oppression all to satisfy their selfish desires.

The Promise of God is that through giving we receive.  Through helping we are helped.  Through listening we are heard.  Through humility we are lifted up.  Through dying we begin to live, really live.  Instead, this Post-Christian culture has opted-in for selfishness, entitlement, fear, hate, blame, hate, and thousands of other destructive mindsets–all in the name of finding life.

The rejection of God’s Truth, as revealed in the Bible, has given people just what they’ve asked for–the politics of hate and fear, and settling for lifestyles that are nothing but onions in the land of oppression.  Don’t misunderstand me, I love a good onion and garlic seasoning.  But here’s what I’m learning:  When we human beings decide what is good and not good, right and wrong, people are led back to oppression and bondage.

Why is our nation in the mess its in?  Simple, the majority are wanting onions and garlic rather than The Promise of God–a life that is rich in meaning and profoundly filled with purpose.  I just remembered an old Burger King® advertising campaign from years ago:  “Have it your way.”  From thinking they are entitled to whatever they want to sexual identities to ethics to morality and even to the definition of “right and wrong”, when we have it “our way” the result is…..well just watch the news…..onions, leeks, garlic for everyone–but also bondage and oppression….

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

Spiritual Erosion

This morning a word came into my mind–yet another random thought–a condition with which I am afflicted.  I wonder, is some 12 Step program to help me with this?  It has served me well at times, so I guess I will allow this condition to continue.  Oh?  The word?  OK, it’s erosion.  One definition says:

the gradual destruction or diminution of something

In case you were wondering (I know I was) about that word diminution , here’s that definition:

a reduction in the size, extent, or importance of something.

The word “erosion” hit me this morning during the news.  Tropical Storm Gordon, flooding alerts, another teen shot in Birmingham, a mother arrested in Florida for the death of her 2-year-old child are just some of the stories that caused this word to invade my gray matter.  Most people think of erosion as something that happens to dirt and rocks.  But there is another type of erosion–spiritual erosion–that is far more dangerous and even more deadly.

I can’t remember exactly when I heard the term “Post-Christian Culture” but I am keenly aware that it exists.  My definition of “Post-Christian Culture” is as follows:

The loss or dismissing the values of  the Kingdom of God

Can you handle the truth?  Here it is:  The values and ethics of God’s Kingdom are no longer the dominant influence on our culture.  Over the years, as people who claimed allegiance to Jesus became passive, silent, or even worse–the consumers of what the church produces–it created an ethics and values vacuum.    Aristotle once hypothesized “horror vacui” which means Nature Abhors a Vacuum.  In other words, nature can’t stand for any space to be empty.  When lightning forms it creates a vacuum, so air rushes in to fill that vacuum, thus creating thunder.

It’s not just nature–but human beings also abhors a vacuum.  Way back in March 2009, Dr. Leon Seltzer wrote an article for Psychology Today titled “Human Nature Abhors A Vacuum”.  He wrote, “We humans crave stimulation, and on many different levels. To experience ourselves as fully alive, we all have various “arousal requirements”–“whether physical, mental, emotional, social, or spiritual.”  A little further into his article he makes this astute observation:

“…I’ve become acutely aware of how experiencing an inner vacuum can lead people to make poor life choices, especially in relationships.”

We are in a Post-Christian culture because the values of God’s Kingdom and Rule are noticeably absent in the American culture.  A vacuum of solid and proven values and ethics have left, creating the vacuum.  To fill that values/ethics vacuum, people are turning anywhere, everywhere to fill that void.  Entitlement, selfishness, disregard for consequences, blame, hate, distrust….and the list goes on to what has filled that values/ethics void created when people stopped being followers of Jesus and opted more for a fan or casual relationship.  “Jesus, I need just enough of you to avoid hell.  That’s all.”

So, how do we change the current values and ethics environment we find our culture in?  May I suggest we do what Jesus did and continues to do.  Infuse the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, once again.  Here’s a list of ways we can do this, and if you have others ways, please share them in the comments section:

  1. Tip servers at 20%, or more
  2. Call the clerk, associate, cashier by their name if they are wearing a name tag
  3. Stop being a consumer of what the church does–be a producer
  4. Give up you place in the checkout line to the person behind you
  5. Put your cellphone on vibrate mode when in a waiting room and wait to call the person back
  6. Smile, smile a lot, especially in the presence of grumpy people
  7. Refuse to judge someone by their external features.  In fact, be friendly to them and get to know them
  8. Help someone do something
  9. Get acquainted with your neighbors
  10. Volunteer with some outreach program
  11. Accept and be glad that you are not entitled to anything
  12. Work hard for something you want
  13. Accept responsibility and even the blame when do something wrong
  14. Admit you’re not always right, and certainly not perfect
  15. Offer to take someone to lunch on Sunday, right after the Worship Service
  16. In church, sit next to someone you don’t know, and strike up a conversation
  17. When someone lashes out at you–respond with kindness and grace, not more heated words.
  18. Care about God’s creation by being a good steward of this earth
  19. Find common ground with others–hey, at the very least, we are all sinners.  That’s a great place to begin
  20. Simplify your lifestyle–don’t go into deep debt for the latest “toy”
  21. Do one random act of kindness a day–if someone sees your act of kindness, it doesn’t count–so keep doing it until no one notices
  22. Better yet, do random acts of kindness even if no one notices
  23. Read the Bible and ask: “What does this say to me?  About me?”
  24. Pray–not with churchy “King James” words, but as if you were talking with your best friend, because HE wants to be your best friend
  25. Allow someone to merge into traffic
  26. Freely forgive even if–especially when–they don’t deserve it
  27. At the fast food drive thru, pay for the person’s purchase behind you (I got this one from a Christian radio station)
  28. Excuse yourself from conversations that are rude, ugly or lewd
  29. Slow down and do something relaxing
  30. Love God with all your heart, mind and life
  31. Love others the way Jesus loves you
  32. Make sure all the glory and credit goes to God for everything good

I could go on, but what specific things can you do to change the Values and Ethics of our culture?  Please post in the comments….

We Are More Than Our Feelings

emoji-chart-feelings-chart.jpg

This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

Top 10 Symptoms Of The Tenured Pew Sitter

I owe this blog to a challenge from Dawn at Inspiration with an Attitude.  It’s one of many blogs that I follow and if you’re not following her, you might want to.  I say this because if I offend someone with this blog, blame Dawn.  She responded to an earlier blog, Seeds Live Truthfully with the challenge to do a follow-up with the symptoms of The Tenured Pew Sitter.  Even at 61, the competitor in me still likes a good challenge.

I don’t know exactly how I formed this phrase, I think it was inspired from reading another blogger, See, there’s this thing called biology (you might want to check insanitybytes out, too. Some more good stuff!).  She coined a word “Churchians” and from that, I would like to think I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, I started using the phrase “Tenured Pew Sitters”.  So to answer the challenge from Dawn, here goes from Number 10 to Number 1:

10.  A Love For The Bible That Does Not Include The Application

For the Tenured Pew Sitters the goal is information.  The more information one has, the better person they become.  The problem is that the Bible is not given to us for information, rather transformation.

9.  Trapped In The Past

They see the height of the church being in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  If church leaders would just do what they did back then, the result would be church growth.  If we were living in the same “Christian” culture as back then it would work.  But we aren’t and it won’t.  There is a reason why this era is called the “Post Christian” culture.  The values of Jesus are no longer the primary values of society.  They insist that we must go back and do what we used to do, and be.  If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you’ve always been.

8.  Religion Replaces Relationship

Tenured Pew Sitters focus on the external rather than the internal.  It is all about “the show”.  The rich traditions and liturgy that once inspired a previous generation to know and love God more deeply, are now sacred cows to be protected at all costs; even at the cost of a local church dying.  It is the desire for form over substance.  John Wesley wrote near the end of his life that he never doubted that there would ever cease to be a people known as Methodists.  But his greatest fear was that they have the form of godliness but without the power of the Holy Spirit.

7.  They Are The Ultimate Image Of A Christian.

Therefore, everyone else must conform to their image.  If anyone is to be a part of “their” church, then they must agree with them.  They see themselves on the “path” and everyone else is either a trouble-maker or a “well bless their little hearts”.  You have to be a Southerner to know what “well bless their little hearts” means.

6.  Power Over Purpose

It’s not the “power” you are thinking about.  It’s not about the power of the local church, but about holding power OVER the local church.  They do this in a variety of ways:  being on the right committees; being vocally abusive even in a nice kind of way.  More important for them is the power of the Offering Plate.  They see it as the ballot box–of approving or disapproving of the mission of the church.  They care more about the weight of their power than the true purpose for the Body of Christ.

5.  Heightened Sense Of Self Importance

The Tenured Pew Sitter sees themselves as the source of all wisdom.  Some will actually say that the church cannot survive without them and their support.  This is another way of saying they have a serious ego problem, not that different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

4.  It’s All About What Happens In Here

There is no sense of mission, except to send money somewhere far, far away.  Supporting foreign mission projects becomes a way to ease the conscience of the Tenured Pew Sitter.  The bulk of the budget must be spent on what happens INSIDE the church building.

3.  A Deep Seated Desire To Judge

The Tenured Pew Sitter thinks of themselves as a “fruit” inspector.  What they really are is a bulldozer; quick to run anyone down they see as a threat to their power and/or their comfort.  They think that the Lord helps those who can help themselves; and only the worthy deserve any help.

2.  An Obvious Absence Of Deep Joy

The Tenured Pew Sitter has “that” expression, on their face and in their words.  “That” expression is what I call “The Painfully Pious” look.  Imagine this:  Chewing on a lemon rind on one side of your mouth and a green persimmon on the other.  Try it if you would like and look at yourself in the mirror.  I wouldn’t recommend it; just trust me on this one.

1.  The Local Church Exists For Them.

 They see the local church as a producer of goods and services for them, the consumer.  For the Tenured Pew Sitter, for “church” to be “church” then it must offer things that appeal to them first and foremost.

Well Dawn, I hope this gives you my insights.  Anyone else out there have other insights into The Tenured Pew Sitter?  Feel free to add them below in the comments section.

I Just Don’t Feel Like It Today or “It’s The Best I Can Do Right Now.”

For decades now, in my teaching and preaching I advocate that we should go to worship God even if we don’t feel like it.  “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Yep, that’s what this preacher said.  Well, to be honest, this morning I did not want to worship God in my private time of worship because, well, I just didn’t feel like it.  And to be even brutally honest, I don’t know that I feel like it right now.

I could blame this feeling right now on the fact I had just stacked 2 large stacks of firewood that had fallen over.  But the reasons go much deeper, and I am not going to bore you with all the details of what is going on inside me in this time.  If I did, I would sound like a whiner, and whiners are a pitiful and pathetic lot.  So I’m just not going there and be like “them”.  (I think I just heard some of you readers breathe a sigh of relief!)

To give you a view of my early morning disciplined habit, go back to a previous blog called Assumptions.  This morning I filled up my coffee cup (Praise God who inspired that native so long ago who roasted, grounded, and poured hot water through those beans!), put in my earbuds, looked at my Spotify app, and honestly, I just didn’t want to start it.  But then I remembered that crazy preacher who said, “It is in the times we don’t feel like worshiping that we need to worship the most.”  Oh, well; time to practice what I preach.  If I don’t, I am just another Churchian or Tenured Pew Sitter.  If I ever become one of them, I hope someone still loves me enough to give me a good ol’ Leroy Jethro Gibbs slap on the back of the head.

Now, did my mind and attitude change instantly?  Absolutely.  NOT!  But I pushed through it, keeping my focus on God.  Now, was this the best way to worship God?  Absolutely NOT!  Jesus said it’s about worshiping in Spirit and in Truth.  I was worshiping truthfully.  I just didn’t feel like it, but I did it anyway.  Somehow I think that God is pleased with my worship this morning, though it wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination, my best offering.  But, it reflects where I am, much like David reflected in Psalm 13:1-2 (NLT)

Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Had God forgotten David?  Had God been looking the other way, His face turned away from David?  Has God forgotten Randy?  Is God looking the other way, His face turned away from Randy?  The answer to all 4 questions is…..NO!  NO!  NO!  NO! no-no But it sure does feel like it, and David must have felt it to.  Otherwise, why did he write such a worship song?  And for you who may also be struggling with mine and David’s feelings, the answer for you is EMPHATICALLY, NO!  He hasn’t forgotten us and He hasn’t turned away from us.

Somehow this morning, a morning I am really struggling, that perhaps God is more pleased with this act of reluctant worship than any other act of worship I have offered since I began this spiritual discipline.  HE certainly deserves better, but I now believe that God is pleased with my “It’s the best I can do right now” worship.  What?  Oh, I just heard some Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters say, “You’re wrong, wrong, wrong!  Give me a Bible verse to back up your blasphemous claim.”  OK Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, remember that you asked for it.

In Luke 18:9-14 you will find the story Jesus told of a Pharisee and a Tax Collector who went to encounter God in the Temple.  The Pharisee was full of himself and his perceived goodness and made the point he wasn’t like that Tax Collector.  The Pharisee was NOT honest.  On the other hand, the Tax Collector was brutally honest.  He presented himself to God in worship as he really was–a sinner!  Gee whiz, he didn’t even worship in the right position.  His head was down when it should have been up.  And in response to these 2 acts of worship (one correct in form but not in substance; the other wrong in form but correct in substance), Jesus says this:  “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Verse 14)

And in this act painfully honest worship, this is what The Holy Spirit taught me and said to me:  “Sing it until you believe it!”  Here is the song that was coming through my earbuds in this epiphany:  10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman.  So, I am going to keep on singing it until I believe it!

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

 

Assumptions

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It is easy, so very easy, TOO easy, to read our assumptions into the Truths in the Bible.  I know, because I have been guilty of doing it.  The sign you see is one in front of a local church.  I know some of the people, and they love Jesus.  But something about this sign doesn’t seem right to me.  Now before you accuse me of “judging” them, or being a fundamental literalist, know that I am reading a really great book called 12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me).”  Here is what The Spirit is teaching me:  “Don’t Read Your Assumptions Into My Texts!”

The Shepherds did NOT follow the Star.  They followed the verbal directions of the Choir Director of Heaven’s Choir.  Here is the story found in Luke 2:8-16 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

Was that Star present?  Absolutely!  The “Wise Men” saw it and followed it.  Were they the only ones who could see that Star?  No, anyone who looked up at night could have seen that Star, but only those “Wise Men” knew what to do with it.  The Shepherds, on the other hand, received verbal directions on where to find the newborn Messiah:  In the stable at Bethlehem.  Being Shepherds, they would have known where that Stable was at; and if there were multiple stables in and around Bethlehem, they would have known their locations, too.  That’s what Shepherds do!

But this sign reveals something that, well, I want to talk about.  Again, I’m not criticizing or judging; just an observation.  Because the Wise Men followed the Star (that is in the Bible; Matthew 2:1-12) does not mean that the Shepherds (or anyone else, for that matter) followed the Star.  This person simply took their knowledge about that Star and applied it to the Shepherds.  There was a star and there were Shepherds!  Voila and Ta-Da!  The Shepherds MUST HAVE followed that Star.

It’s not just with the Incarnation Story that people take one part of the Bible and add it to another part.  The danger of “assuming” things about a passage creates damage; to people and to churches.  Our natural tendency (the one influenced by the Father of all lies) is to find ways to prove our point.  The Enemy is skillful and unfortunately, very successful, at helping us take the “text” out of its “context” simply to prove our point.

God has been taking me on an incredible journey of simplicity that is profoundly impacting both my faith and my life.  The Spirit has given me a, call it “Formula” or “Bible Reading Plan” that looks like this:

  1. First, I begin listening to some Worship music.  I use my earbuds so as not to disturb anyone, and to not be distracted in my personal worship time.  I also pour my cup of coffee and sit in front of the fireplace.  It helps me to stay focused on worshiping God.  Being ADHD, it’s easy for me to be distracted.  Finding this place helps me remind myself:  “Hey!  Dummy!  This moment is about God being honored for who HE IS, not what I need or need to be doing!”
  2. I read the Sacred Scriptures without any agenda or bias.  I ask the Holy Spirit to speak into my mind and heart.  I listen to the words I’m reading, pushing aside anything anyone has ever told me about the passage or what I think I know about the passage.  I approach it as if it is the very first time I’ve read it.  (By the way, I’m in my 3 consecutive reading of Ephesians, each time I start over, I treat it like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.  I found it takes me 6 to 7 days to read this letter.)
  3. I focus on the context of the passage.  When did God say or inspire those words?  What was happening in that culture, in that moment?  Sometimes there are other questions, but the last one I ask is important:  What does this say about God’s passion and desire to restore this fallen creation?  In other words, “How is God moving to make me (and others) into what HE originally intended BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned?”
  4. I ask this question:  “What is God saying to me?”  I write my answers down in a journal.
  5. Then I ask the second question:  “What does this say about me?”  This can get a little dicey and requires a lot more focus from me.  Sometimes it convicts me.  Other times it affirms me.  And there have been a few moments when I discover God’s view of me is different than my view of me–sometimes even better than I see myself.
  6. And now, I am moving into the third question.  This question is the one that  will determine if I will allow this Word to transform into who God says I am.  “What am I going to do about it?”

I am finding this approach helps to clear my head of any assumptions I may be bringing into the Story of God’s work of Restoration.  You see, when we ASSUME anything, it makes something out of “U and ME”.  Figure it out.  And if you ASSUME alone, it just makes you “it”.  What I’m saying is, “Folks!  Stop assuming YOU are the final authority on the Bible.  Stop assuming YOU are right.  Don’t read the Bible to prove your point.  Read the Bible to show where you are missing that mark of being all you are created to become, not so that you can point out where you think people are wrong.  Stop taking passages out of context!  Please!”  I remember something from my homiletics class.  Dr. Thompson said it many times:  “A text taken out of its context is only a pretext, and never the Truth.”

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

Oh, here’s a post script, and it comes from the stories around the birth of Jesus:  God speaks to different people in different ways–but if we follow His directions, be it by a star or by the Choir Director of Heaven’s Angel Choir, we get to the same place.  But you have to follow HIS directions.

 

Blah, Blah, Whiners Have You Anything Else?

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I am…started to say “surprised” but really I’m not because I saw it coming from a mile away.  I am…started to say “amazed” but that’s not the word because there’s nothing profound or significant in it.  I am…started to say “speechless” but there’s so much I could say.  I am…started to say “fed-up” because I certainly am, but as a follower of Jesus I need to be more than just “fed-up”.  I am…started to say “disgusted” and that certainly is an emotion that is present and prevalent in me right now.  So, what’s the word I’m looking for?

Well, this wordsmith who usually finds something deep and profound is left with just this simple phrase:  “I am sick and tired of it!”  I realize these words lack spiritual depth and certainly are not words of grace and mercy, but they do describe where I am.  I was feeling bad about it until I remembered Jesus, the week of His death, walking into the Court of the Gentiles and seeing that “spiritual flea market” of currency exchanges and sellers of animals for sacrifice.  OK, so maybe it’s not so bad that I’m feeling sick and tired of it.  I do think that Jesus was sick and tired of seeing those who were supposed to represent HIM on earth tied up to and wrapped up in so much that had absolutely nothing do to with the Heavenly Father.  Hang on a minute while I take these cords and fashion me a whip.

Much has been said about the recent acts by NFL players hitting the knee or staying in the locker room while the National Anthem is played.  And herein is my rub, those first 4 words–“Much has been said”!  What “has been said” are words, lots of words, about anger and disgust.  The only threat of action is to “stop watching them on TV”.  Well, gee golly, that ought to change our culture and nation!  But I didn’t see any change after Monday Night Football in our culture.  Maybe after Sunday when sooooooo many are not watching NFL football our culture will change.  Guess I’ll have to wait until Monday to see our culture change.  Yet…..somehow I don’t think that act will bring about any real change, culture shift, or a “everyone lives happily ever after” narrative.

Look, people!  That is their right and freedom.  Even my son, Sargent First Class Matthew Burbank (combat veteran of 5 tours in some of the worst flea-infested-arm-pits parts of the world) acknowledges he paid a price (though he calls it a small price, but I, Dad, know better than that) for them to disrespect THE Flag that draped the coffins of his friends and comrades in arms.  Before I continue my “sick and tired” thoughts, you need to think about this in a practical way.  If we ban this form of protest it will not be long until another form of protest and another and another, until finally we will have lost one of the linchpin principles of this nation:  Freedom of Speech.  Remove that linchpin and soon thereafter all the other linchpins will be pulled and we will be living under tyranny, again!

Wait, I just heard something thinking, “OK, Mr. Kingdom Pastor, what would you suggest?  Just go ahead and watch those games?”  If that’s how you want to express your freedom to protest by not watching those games, then by all means, go ahead.  But if you are wanting to hit those players in the pocketbook, then simply do NOT buy anything that has the Officially Licensed NFL logo.  That’s where the money is made.  By the way, that includes more than jerseys, t-shirts and caps.  There are other products that are labeled “The Official _____________________(fill in the blank with a product or service) of the NFL.”  But do you think that is really going to change our culture and our nation?  You do?  Look, contact me and I will arrange to sell you some great Gulf Coast property in New Mexico, or Montana if you prefer Montana.

What do I suggest?  I am so glad you asked me that.  Here’s my suggestion:  HIT YOUR KNEES!  Pray FOR, and not AGAINST those you see as the problem in our culture and 1nation.  And then pray some more–for YOURSELF!  Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, quit complaining and start doing something that will make a positive difference in another person.  Mahatma Gandhi may not have been a committed follower of Jesus Christ, but he certainly gave clarity to the teaching of Jesus and our responsibilities to God’s creation when he challenged people saying, “You must be the change you want to see in others.”  Do you remember that time when the disciples saw a problem, people were hungry and needed to be sent on their way?  What was Jesus’ initial response?  “YOU give them something to eat!”  So you who passionately profess to follow Jesus but consistently “pass the buck” and expect others to do something, “What say ye now, to Jesus?”

Hit YOUR knees in prayer.  Ask the God of infinite mercy and grace to forgive you of your whining when you should have been doing something to reveal the presence of Jesus in your own life.  Genuinely regret that you are a part of the “when all is said and done, more is said than done” crowd.  Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart and mind with the Presence, Power and Provisions of God Himself, the power that caused The Resurrection to happen for Jesus!  Hit YOUR knees and ask God to open your eyes, mind and heart to all those people you will see today who need to see Hope, who need to be made whole in Jesus Christ!

Then look for practical ways to do it.  Take them out to lunch, to Starbucks, to somewhere and listen to their story.  Offer to take someone who can’t drive shopping with you.  Find ways to live UN-selfishly.  Caleb Kaltenbach, in his book, Messy Grace, reminds us that as Christians we need to be known what we are FOR, and NOT for what we are AGAINST!  And what we should be for is people coming into the loving Relationship that God wants everyone to have with Him.

Churchians, Tenured Pew Sitters, and WATNFL (Whiners Against The NFL) card-holding-members, begin doing things FOR others that only Jesus would do.  Watching re-runs on Sunday afternoons, Monday nights and Thursday nights will NOT change our culture and nation.  But taking personal responsibility to show and share the love of Jesus, especially without words ever being said, WILL change our culture one life at a time.  And the first life that needs to change may well be your own.  I know this is true in my case.

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

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“When Unity At All Costs Is Too Costly”

 

The link below is from a fellow pastor, mentor, leader and friend.  While his thoughts are directed towards and fitting for my fellow United Methodist Pastors, the principles Paul lays out will fit a variety of situations.  Sometimes we forget that when Jesus walked this creation as one He created, He was one of the most divisive personalities ever seen.  And if any of my readers are United Methodist, please take this blog as being hopeful–hopeful as we follow Jesus.

Click on the picture to go to Paul’s blog…

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Chinwag, Is That So Bad? Yeah It Is!

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Since the ripe old age of 18, I have been serving local congregations.  I started out as filling in as their “preacher” and finally reached the stage of “ordination to Word, Sacrament and Administration.”  I am now 61 and one thing I have noticed that is consistent in every place I have served, are those who think that chinwag is a spiritual gift that should be exercised frequently and with great authority.  However, those who exercise this alleged “gift” with skill and expertise that mirrors the skill of a diamond cutter are those who feign an albeit false, image of humility.

Perhaps I should give you the definition of this word “chinwag”.  One definition of this word is to have a casual conversation.  But the word means more that just a casual chit-chat.  According to Dictionary.Com as a noun it means “an idle chat; gossiping” and as a verb it means “to chat idly; gossip”.  Right now I started thinking about a cultural phenomenon known as “fake news”.  Many a blog has been written about fake news as if it is something new.  Unfortunately it has been around a long time, even in the church.

The Enemy, OUR enemy as real Followers of Jesus, knows he cannot defeat his “enemy”.  He lost when his enemy became human, he lost in the wilderness temptations, he lost on that Cross, and his ultimate defeat came from that cemetery.  So he has turned his attention on those who have had their status as Image Bearers restored and their FOB (Forward Operating Bases), set up in what he thinks is his territory.  These Forward Operating Bases are also known as local churches.

To weaken the Forward Operating Bases, our enemy gets willing participants to focus their thoughts and energy inwardly.  The result is they lose sight of our real enemy and turn our sisters and brothers in arms into an imaginary enemy.  And the primary weapon used is chinwag–gossip.  Our enemy is deceiving many into believing that it’s best to believe the worst about people.  It is not always easy to build strong relationships because often it requires time and energy–time and energy that some are unwilling to expend.  So they end up spreading what they hear and assumptions about what they hear.

I know for fact that in one FOB some called the Vision Committee the DIvision Committee.  Those words, that term, created far more damage for the future of the FOB than they realize.  And that’s the thing, “far more than they realize”.  We need to take the time to consider the impact of our words.  And we need to consider using better words in ways that are far better at building up rather than tearing down.  Consider the words of Paul in Ephesians 4:29 and from the God’s Word Translation, it goes like this:

 Don’t say anything that would hurt another person. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again.  One of the biggest lies taught to kids goes like this:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”  Words do harm and hurt far more and the injury it causes takes far longer to heal than any broken bone.  Engaging is any conversation that is meant to belittle, harm or simply not founded on the truth opens the door for the enemy to do even more harmful work against The Kingdoms FOB.

It is far better to engage in conversations WITH people than to chinwag ABOUT people.  It turns one into a petty minded obstructionist and yet another tool and weapon for the enemy.  The enemy already has way too many weapons, so do not become another one for him.  Let your words be words that build others up.  After all, those last words of Jesus from the Cross, continues to build up people that people who chinwag try to destroy.  #YourWordsMatter!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  By the way, HE is never glorified nor honored in your chinwag.

 

 

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.