Which Are You?

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Earlier this week I had this thought in the above picture.  Call it inspiration, perspiration, desperation, or exasperation–I simply could not shake this thought.  So I made me a jpg and posted in on my FB page hoping it would go away.  And I still cannot shake this thought.  So here this left-handed, right-brained Kingdom Pastor goes again with these unusual musings.  By the way, I am glad to have unusual thoughts such as these.  I admit I am not normal and so very glad.  I tried to be normal once and it became the worst 3 minutes of my life.  If you want to really insult me and gut-punch me, call me normal!  But alas, I digress again; forgiveness please.

Recently someone said something to me that I have heard many times.  “Preacher,” (amazing, I have a title, but not a name; thankfully God knows my name), “if we could just be like the very first churches then we wouldn’t be having all these problems at church.”  Some think I have absolutely no self-control, but when I hear these words, I have an amazing amount of self-control.  I fight with every resource inside me to resist tilting my head to the left with that expression that says, “Don’t you read your Bible?”  I have to resist the urge to go back to my firefighter days and pull out my smart phone, bring up my flashlight app and shine it in their eyes to see if they have some kind of head trauma, the kind of head trauma that comes from falling out of the stupid tree and hitting the branches on the way down.

Whenever and wherever I am driving or riding, I love to look at church signs.  No, not the messages they put on them only, but to see what name was selected for that church.  One of my favorites is “The Original Church of God #2”.  Another was “An Independent, Fundamental, Bible Believing, Charismatic Baptist Church” (did they miss anything important?).  How about “The Church of God Sanctified, Incorporated”?  And I’ve seen in nearly every community there is a church named “Corinth”.  Do you really want your church named after a group that had divided loyalties, a member involved in an incestuous relationship, who had members show up early for the Agape feast so they could eat all the best foods and get drunk, and who had members who thought they were spiritually better simply because they had one particular spiritual gift (I could go on but I won’t)?

But church problems go back even further, all the back to Jerusalem where the church originated.   We read in Acts 6:1-4 (The Message)

1-4 During this time, as the disciples were increasing in numbers by leaps and bounds, hard feelings developed among the Greek-speaking believers—“Hellenists”—toward the Hebrew-speaking believers because their widows were being discriminated against in the daily food lines.  So the Twelve called a meeting of the disciples.  They said, “It wouldn’t be right for us to abandon our responsibilities for preaching and teaching the Word of God to help with the care of the poor.  So, friends, choose seven men from among you whom everyone trusts, men full of the Holy Spirit and good sense, and we’ll assign them this task.  Meanwhile, we’ll stick to our assigned tasks of prayer and speaking God’s Word.”

Oh?  So, the early church had its problems?  What many fail to recognize, and what I failed to recognize for too long in my life, is that problems not only exist, but they speak volumes about where we are spiritually in our relationship with God, or even if such a relationship exists at all.  Ever since Adam said and did nothing when the serpent was tempting Eve, problems have existed in the realm of human relationships; be they community, neighborhood, friends, family and even church.  And here is something I have learned:  having problems is not, in and of themselves, a bad thing though we often treat them that way.  It is in how we respond to problems that is either the great thing or a bad thing.

How we respond to the problems that happen in life will be one of these 3 responses.  If you are just an average person you will talk about problems the way you talk about the weather, college football and politics.  Problems are simply a subject matter to talk about while occupying time.  If you are a petty person (meaning small-minded) then it behooves you to find a person who you feel like must have caused the problem.  Then you attack and belittle that person as if that alone will make the problem go away.  Usually their only achievement is just getting that person to go away; the problem is still there but with that person gone it’s easy to assume that the problem will cease to be a problem.  Where’s my flashlight?  They must have serious head trauma!

Or, we could follow the example of these early leaders.  They didn’t blame the Greek Jews for being a bunch of cry babies.  They didn’t blame the Hebrew Jews for being selfish bigots.  They sought the path of greatness.  They became great people because they focused on the solution instead of being locked in on the problem.  Every problem in the realm of relationships has a solution that both honors God and helps build up others.  Pointing your crooked finger at a person to blame or talking to others Ad Nauseum never works.  To your average people who only talk about the problems, you are fueling the petty, small-minded people and you simply need to stop it!  Be a great person instead!

Greatness does exist in you and in every other person.  You can go ahead and be wrong by disagreeing with me.  You may even have some good arguments why greatness does not exist in certain people, or maybe even you.  Again, feel free to be wrong.  Here is why I say greatness exists in you and in every other person:  We Are Made In And Bear Within The Image Of God.  Granted, it may be crusted over by years of sin and gazillions of bad choices, but it is still there.  It may have been crushed beneath the blows of petty people.

But greatness is there simply waiting to be released through redemption.  Redemption is more than being forgiven of our sins.  It is about restoring The Image of God in you and me, being set back right to where God intends for us to be all along.  Forget what others say about you.  Ignore your own thoughts about yourself.  Listen to what Papa said as He added the crowning touch to His creation.  At the end of every day of creation up to that point, Papa looked at it and said, “Oh, my, this is good.”  But on that last day He said, “Let’s make humanity, and make them in Our image.”  So they did, and when they were finished, Papa stepped back and said something different from the other 5 days.  He said, “My, oh, my!  Now this, this is very good.”

Jesus suffered unimaginable pain and humiliation.  Jesus went to the Cross and died.  He was carried to a borrowed tomb because He wasn’t going to be there very long. (You average people and Pointed-Crooked-Finger people pay attention.)  Jesus did all this so that your sins and past would be wiped away in order that HIS Image can be restored in you, and even in me.

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

My name is Randy…and I’m a recovering “Average”…

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

Everything you need to know in ten minutes

Here’s another “Wild” blog that inspires and challenges me. How would you, how DO YOU, share the story of Jesus with others? With legalism and its rules? If you have chosen the rules and rituals to tell the story of Jesus, haven’t you ever wondered why we in the good old U.S.A. are living in this Post-Christian Culture and why mainline, established tribes (i.e. denominations) are in decline? Come on folks, get your act together! Let’s change our core, our heart, from centuries of traditions back to what it should be: The Love Of God Perfectly Expressed In Jesus! And remember, love God with all your heart, love others the way HE loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

In My Father's House

beach_birdsWhat if you only had ten minutes to show a group of people on a remote island everything they needed to know in order to grow into a vibrant Christian community, and you could only give them four Bible verses (they have no Bibles)? What would you share with them?  To keep it simple, we’ll assume these islanders have heard about Jesus and a few popular Bible stories.

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Are You A But? Don’t Be A But!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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.

#3 The Loss Of Passion

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(This is Number 8 in a series.  I encourage you to read in order, Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War#8: Wrong priorities7: Cookie Cutter Attitude#6. Self Reliance#5 Fear Of Change and #4 Form Rather Than Substance.  The ninth one should come tomorrow!)

OK, OK, OK; so I did not follow my original plan of writing of writing in consecutive days.  Give me the 40 lashes minus one with the wet noodle.  I do have a good excuse (don’t we all?).  Actually I have a reason; in addition to my usual activities as pastor, I was helping in a new tutoring program started by our school system called STIC–Students Tutoring In Churches.  Sometimes one just needs to do the work of the Kingdom of God rather than write about it.  After an hour and a half with second graders I reaffirmed my support and thankfulness for teachers, and that I am not one of them.  Yesterday I had to change hats from pastor to being our Tribe’s Conference Disaster Response Coordinator.  No, there were no disasters, but a lot of paperwork that needed my attention; a full week’s worth in one day.  And yes, sometimes the work of the Kingdom of God requires attention to the details.  Now that I’ve justified my failure (sound familiar to anyone?), let’s get to the task at hand.

In churches I hear and see a lot of questions about understanding John’s last book “The Revelation”.  Please notice that there is no “s” in that word Revelation.  Their fascination and their questions center around chapters 4 through 22.  I’ve seen teachers and “prophecy experts” design elaborate flow charts carefully detailing every event in chapters 4 through 22.  Many even have designed a timeline for when these events will happen.  (Wow!  Didn’t Jesus say no one would know the time or the hour but the Father?)  It can get complicated and confusing.  Your bonus feature in today’s blog (at no extra charge to you) is that I am giving you the full meaning of chapters 4 through 22 and all that you need to know in 2 words.  Here it is:

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Now that we’ve got all that out-of-the-way, let’s move forward in understanding what else is killing the church in the U.S.A.  The most important lessons in Revelation (without the “s”) are found in chapters 2 and 3.  It is one of the churches mentioned in chapter 2 that has landed this as firmly planted at Reason #3.  It is the problem at the church in Ephesus.  Look at Revelation 2:1-5 from The Message:

Write this to Ephesus, to the Angel of the church.  The One with Seven Stars in his right-fist grip, striding through the golden seven-lights’ circle, speaks:

2-3 “I see what you’ve done, your hard, hard work, your refusal to quit.  I know you can’t stomach evil, that you weed out apostolic pretenders.  I know your persistence, your courage in my cause, that you never wear out.”

4-5 “But you walked away from your first love—why?  What’s going on with you, anyway?  Do you have any idea how far you’ve fallen?  A Lucifer fall!  Turn back!  Recover your dear early love.  No time to waste, for I’m well on my way to removing your light from the golden circle.

Little wonder most folks who are fascinated with The Revelation (again, no “s”) overlook chapters 2 and 3; unless it is to criticize some other Tribe and then it becomes useful ammunition.  I had an Epiphany Moment writing this edition that began with this question:  “Why did He start with Ephesus?”  He could have started anywhere, but why Ephesus?  I mean, there were some churches who were worse off than Ephesus.  And here is my light-bulb moment and why Ephesus is mentioned first:  It Is Easy To Lose The Passion And The Loss Of That Fire And Passion And Fire Opens The Door For Even Worse Things.  In fact, it leads not to opening doors, but closing the doors of local congregations.

I know that a lot of those flow charts and timeline teachers would say that Ephesus lost love, not passion.  But what is love without that passion and excitement of being loved by The Father and loving Him back through loving others?  The issue for many is that they see love as an emotion.  Love is more and deeper than an emotion.  It is the drive, energy and excitement that propels us into the very thing Jesus came to bring:  The Kingdom of God.  Jesus never said “The church is at hand.”  But He did frequently speak about The Kingdom of God and it being at hand.

I am the advocate for mandating that every church have cameras in their sanctuaries/worship centers.  And those cameras should be panning the congregation and those images projected on screens.  I mean, if you could just see what pastors, choirs and music leaders see many Sundays in congregations that are declining.  And then there is the passion, rather lack of passion for the Kingdom of God that manifests itself for the rest of the week.  There is passion out there, but it is not focused on The Kingdom of God.

Every person has a passion, a fire burning deep down inside themselves.  You see it in sports, especially college sports (I see a lot of it because I live in the heart of the SEC).  And the past few months we have seen a lot of passion and continue to see even more passion in the realm of politics.  Perhaps I should define passion in the context of which I am writing.  Here goes:

Passion is the force and desire that forms our attitudes, shapes our words, and guides our actions.

Everyone is passionate about something.  Even the person who says they are miserable has a passion.  Their passion, that burning desire, The Force and The Desire that is forming their attitudes, shaping their actions and creating their actions is misery.  To recognize and name YOUR passion answer these 3 questions:

  1. What do you think about most of the time?  Pay attention to your thoughts because your thoughts extend into and impact everything else in your life, and in your day.
  2. What do you talk about the most?  Words are the mp3 of your mind and heart.  Words are powerful because they repeat what is in the mind and heart.
  3. What are you doing most of the time?  What you consistently do in moments and situations reveals your true self.  Your actions and reactions are telling you something about your passions.  Occasionally you can do something good, but look at the consistent action and reaction.  Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then.

Think about that time in human history when Jesus was human like us.  When I look at some of the art that has Jesus as its subject, I can easily see why some see Jesus as dispassionate about life.  I really did not have a taste for so-called “Christian” art until I discovered Stephen Sawyer.  You can find his story-his Passion- and his work at Art4God.  I see a bright smile on Jesus’ face when He invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus.  I see this burning love in His eyes as that “sinful” woman washes His feet with her tears.  I hear a joyful laugh as He watches Peter and the others trying to pull all those fish in their nets into their boat.  I feel the heat from His anger as He drives the money changers from the Temple.  I sense the depth of His compassion as He hangs on that cross.  And there is an indescribable emotion as He tells death to step aside and walks out of that tomb.

The loss of passion that I am talking about that is literally draining the life from declining congregations is that lost passion for what God is doing.  Some say it is the lost passion for the things of God.  I disagree because have seen many people passionate about the things of God, but not about the work of God.  The passion is around the budget, committees, pastors, programs, hierarchy, and institutions–but NOT God and what HE is doing in HIS world.  The result of losing that passion for God and what He is doing creates many things but I would like to sum up that result in one word:

mediocrity

The loss of Passion for God and what He is doing results in the passion for mediocrity.  To be and do “just enough” seems to suffice in those congregations that have plateaued or have already begun to decline.  If your congregation is experiencing mediocrity, meaning decline in attendance, membership and impact on your community, the message, the FIRST message of God in Revelation (without the “s”) to the church is COME BACK!  Come back to that first passion you had when you knew God loved you, that the blood of Jesus forgave your sins, and that God now lived in you through the Holy Spirit.  Remember!

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Right now picture in your mind the actor Samuel Jackson and try to image his voice saying “What’s your passion?”  Will the rest of your life be average or memorable?  Remember that first love!

#6. Self Reliance

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(This is the fifth in a 10 part series.  Number 5 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War;  #8: Wrong priorities; and finally read 7: Cookie Cutter Attitude before reading this one)

Self Reliance, now that doesn’t sound all that bad, does it?  Isn’t it a good thing to be Self-Reliant?  Look at the definition:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  You’re not a burden on anyone or a drain on any system.  Shouldn’t that be a good thing?  Yes, in one real sense, Self Reliance is a good thing.  In farming Self Reliance means that you figure out how to be profitable year in and year out.  For a corporation it can mean sustainability.  All of these can be good things in the right situation and environment.

But like all good things, they can be abused.  I am not suggesting that anyone needs to become dependent on the government as the only means to have the basics of food, shelter and clothing.  But I’m not writing about economic self-reliance.  The context is looking at the Top 10 things that are killing the church.  Self-Reliance has definitely deserved its spot at #6.  Hang with me just a little bit longer.  Let’s look at Proverbs 3:5-12 and from The Message it goes like this:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own.

Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.  Don’t assume that you know it all.      Run to God! Run from evil!

Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!
Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best.
Your barns will burst, your wine vats will brim over.

But don’t, dear friend, resent God’s discipline; don’t sulk under his loving correction.  

It’s the child he loves that God corrects; a father’s delight is behind all this.

The NIV puts it this way:  Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  After nearly 2,000 years of history, suddenly there are those in the church who think they have this thing called “church” and “Christianity” all figured out and no longer need those ancient and outdated things of the past.  Here is how I see Self Reliance being played out to the harm and even death of the local church.  I will start at the top with the most damning and damaging and work my way down the list.

First, there is a lack of Biblical Authority.   The tried and proven true values of the Bible are being traded in for a new set of values that, well, just makes more sense for today’s times than those of the Bible.  There’s this group that promotes this within the church.  They call themselves “Progressives”.  They insist that their views are more in line with God’s standards.  In fact, they proclaim, that thanks to Jesus, things once considered wrong and sinful, well those definitions of sin are just outdated biases and prejudices of a long gone generation.  People are free to pick and choose which parts of the Bible best fits them and the parts that don’t fit–just ignore them as cultural bias and a lack of understanding of the real world.  Without true Biblical Authority in us and over us, we end up choosing our own way and they simply leads to chaos.  Wasn’t that the real temptation in the Garden of Eden put before Adam and Eve?  I realize that some people misread the Bible because they bring their personal biases into it.  But that does not negate that the Bible still has authority over us in matters of personal holiness, individual integrity and how we are to live as God’s people in this fallen world.

Second, there is a lack of understanding the nature and work of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to bring us the power we need become more like Jesus and to be the hands and feet of Jesus in our current world.  I still believe we need spiritual power.  I still believe we need spiritual gifts.  And I still believe we need that fruit which only the Holy Spirit can produce.  But so many today, too many today want to lean on their abilities, human knowledge and human training.  Fewer and fewer people live with that sense that God is actually living in them THROUGH the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit, we are like those disciples who tried to cast out that demon but failed.  To their credit they did ask Jesus why they failed.  And Jesus replied to them that they needed more prayer and fast.  In other words, put themselves in those positions where we become more keenly aware of the Holy Spirit and rely on Him with His power and abilities over our powers and abilities.

And third, there is the desire by some in the church to be in control of what happens in or through the church.  They have either been self-appointed authorities or they inherited that position because their family has always been in control.  Self Reliance says that WE determine the who, what, where, when and the how of the Mission of the Church.  The Mission of the church is defined by those places where God is already at work.  But too many want to be in control of the Mission, not messy people, places and organizations.  Self Reliance says we are smart enough to figure out on our own what should or should not be done.  Focus in inward and we have already seen what happens when churches turn inward.  The focus is on survival of the church rather than the transformation of the world through the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Self Reliance means that WE get to be in charge and that is exactly why many churches continue to experience decline.

Look again at that definition of Self Reliance:  “reliance on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others.”  Throw the Bible out.  We are wise.  Keep the Holy Spirit outside because we are smart enough and strong enough to take care of ourselves.  And we are quite capable doing this “church” thing, we so God, just take care of others things  We’ve got this!

No, we don’t; it’s got us.  Got us in a mess.  Got us confused.  Got us bewildered.  Got us lying–lying that we are much happier and stronger through Self Reliance.  Until we learn to let go and trust God to guide us through this thing called life, until we quite thinking we are strong enough to handle it–we will never seen the transformation of the world, and the Kingdom of God will not be seen, at least in the areas around the western local churches.

self-reliance Faith in ourselves just leads to more disappointment and more emptiness for us.  Until we align our lives to the authority of Scriptures, until we are filled with the power and gifts of the Spirit, and until we stop trying to be in charge and control–we will never make a lasting impact on the world.

God is calling us to become involved in something much bigger than any of us, even all of us, could ever imagine.  But as long as we leaning on self, we will continue to miss it every day and all day long.  Growth happens when God is given complete and total control of our hearts, minds and lives.  Jesus never promoted self-reliance.  To the control, He INSISTED on Surrender and Self-Denial.  We can’t grow the church; heck we can’t even sustain it.  But God can and God will.  Give up that you can make everything better.  Let Him make everything better by first making you new.

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

7: Cookie Cutter Attitude

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(This is the fourth in a 10 part series.  Number 6 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship;  #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War; and finally read #8: Wrong priorities before reading this one)

First of all, this has nothing to do with this edition of Kingdom Pastor but I stand amazed and in awe of the bloggers I follow who post something every day, sometimes 2 or 3 things a day.  I applaud your strength and resolve and am the richer for it.  Me?  I usually do a couple a week, so needless to say, this is challenging to me.  Fortunately, I have many great examples around me in Blog Sphere who let me know I can do this for 10 consecutive days.  Maybe it will even inspire me to finish my book.  Oh well, enough rambling, on to today’s topic of what is killing the church.  Coming in at Number 7 on my list is The Cookie Cutter Attitude.

Normally, I wait a few paragraphs before I introduce the passage that the Spirit has led me to; but today, let’s get right to it.  Romans 12:1-3 (The Message)

1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

Now before some purist takes me to task for using this passage out of context, let me explain.  I know Paul wrote this to challenge the church at Rome not to be like the world around it, or as The Message puts it–“your culture”.  Not only does “the world” have a culture, but so does the local church.  A fellow blogger, InsanityBytes,  absolutely inspires and challenges me through her blog See, There’s This Thing Called Biology and she taught me a new word:  churchian.  To me “churchian” is a perfect word to describe the culture of a local church that is declining in influence, and thus declining in membership and attendance.

Somehow, some local churches seem to think that in order to be effective, then everyone needs to see, think, dress and act alike.  Cookie Cutters!  Where does a local church get the idea that God wants us to look just alike, think just alike, speak just alike, and act just alike?  Wait, I know the answer to my own question:  it’s the Enemy!  The Enemy knows he is no match for the body of Christ when each member is faithfully using their uniqueness in the Kingdom and for the glory of God.  No way he can stand up against us.  So to help himself (because he certainly does not care about helping us) and his cause, he has convinced some local churches that UNITY can only occur through UNIFORMITY.  This is why it has earned a solid spot at #7 on our list of Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.

Think about the early churches, particularly the church at Corinth.  Every time I hear someone say, “We need to get back to being like the earliest churches!”, I want to gently cup my hands around their face, look them square in the eyes and shout, “Are you kidding me?  Have you ever read 1 Corinthians?”  Right out of the chute, Paul chastises them for their divisions; some saying they were followers of Apollos or Peter or Paul, as if that made them better than the rest.  It was like saying, “You’re not a real church member unless you are like us!”  Cookie Cutters!  (Oh, and don’t get me on how they were acting during Holy Communion.  Come on, you want the church today to be like that?  Really?)

And that’s not all, some were promoting the ridiculous idea that God wanted everyone to have the same spiritual gift.  If you did not have that particular spiritual gift, well you just weren’t being a part of the true church.  Cookie Cutters!  But Paul writes in I Corinthians 12:4-6 (The Message)

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit.  God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all.  Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits.

Then Paul gives a small partial litany of those spirit gifts, gifts designed by God for us in order to bring out the UNIQUENESS that HE put in us, not to make us the product of Cookie Cutters.  Then Paul does one of the things Paul does well–he makes an analogy with the human body.  Same chapter 12, listen to verse 12-13  from The Message:

12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body.  Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.  It’s exactly the same with Christ.  By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.  (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.)  Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink.  The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful.  We need something larger, more comprehensive. (emphasis mine)

Paul goes on to ask them to imagine the human body if it was just one thing, say for example, an eye.  If we think it would look ridiculous if the human body was just an eye (like a scene out of those 1950 Sci-Fi B movies), how dare anyone think that the church looks best when we see, think, dress and act alike.  I have heard those in the churchian culture comment about someone who just gave their life to Jesus and was all excited say, “Oh, give them a couple of months, and we will make them just like us.”  Every time a churchian says that, the Enemy gives out a belly laugh because he knows he has his instruments in place to keep that church from becoming another one of those churches that he absolutely fears.  Cutter Cutters!

One reason that the “Not Yet In Church” crowd (others call them the Nones and Dones; I prefer the term “Not Yet In Church”) give for not becoming a part of a local church is that they do not want to lose their individuality.  They see the church as the place of conformity, not the place for transformation.  I have personally seen and heard of church after church after church after church after church believe that UNIFORMITY is the key to UNITY.  Uniformity will never cause unity because our God is not a Cookie Cutter.  He seeks for ways to express a piece HIS UNIQUENESS within the only part of creation that was deemed by Him to bear His Image.

Those “Not Yet In Church” will never come to a church it they see that a church’s mission is to conform them into the “correct” image.  Cookie Cutter!  Local congregations that stifle individuality and have difficulty accepting others as they are–others who see, think, dress and act differently–then that congregation will continue to fail at impacting their community and thus continue their decline in membership and attendance.  Without their own radical transformation, those local churches will die.  Cookie Cutters Kill Churches.  I dare you to say that 12 times real fast.  Better yet, if you are one of those who think Cookie Cutters create unity, then say it slowly, over and over until you know that it is the truth.

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The way to reverse this inevitable conclusion is really rather simple.  Go back to Romans 12:2 and again from The Message:

Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Allow God to define you and most of all, allow God to define others.  After all, HE knows you and them better than you know yourself, and much better than you know them.  Cookie Cutters!  Leave them in the kitchen and NEVER bring them to church.

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#8: Wrong priorities

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(This is the third in a 10 part series.  Number 7 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first, then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship  and #9 Ignoring That We Are In A War before reading this one)

A careful examination of the focus and operations of many struggling churches reveal that one of the significant causes of their declining membership, attendance and impact on community is that they simply have endorsed and embraced the wrong priorities.  And what breaks my heart the most is that those churches sincerely think they have the right priorities.  Churches with the wrong priorities are not deliberately attempting to kill their church.  The sad fact is they believe, believe with all their heart, that by their strict adherence to these wrong priorities, somehow there will be a turnaround in membership, attendance, and impact on their community.  They are looking for leaders who will have the skill sets to gladly and proudly march them backwards to the 1950’s, when membership, attendance and community impact were at the highest.

There is only ONE priority that any church really needs to change the current downward spiral.  Do you know what it is?  I think I just heard someone say, “Put God first!”  In congregations that have plateaued or declining if asked they would say that they are putting God first but continue to decline.  I’ll have more to say on this later, but for now, suffice it to say that the #1 Priority for the church should be The Kingdom of God.  Some of you just said, “But isn’t that what I said when I said the one priority the church needs is to put God first?”  Maybe I’m just being my Annoying Self when I put this out there for your consideration.  Who knows, maybe I’m turning into a heretic in my old age.  But what did Jesus have to said about what should be our ONE priority?  Let’s look at Matthew 6:24-34 from the New Living Translation:

24 “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

25 That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear.  Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds.  They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them.  And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 And why worry about your clothing?  Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

34 So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

The cause of the decline of the Western Church, again this is how I interpret what I see, is that first word, rather the lack of seeing that first word–seek!  According to Strong’s Concordance, the Greek word used was zēteō.  It has several usages and the one that caught my eye is this one:  “to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after”.  In these latter years I have this deep sense from God that we are missing so much, too much, by overlooking that phrase, “The Kingdom of God”.  A Kingdom requires a King but here in the good old U.S.A., we fought a war so that we would be free from a King.  And so, we have this problem of declining membership, attendance and influence and the reason I see is that we tend to operate the local church more like a democracy and less like the Kingdom.

I realize that some of my fellow pastors can act like a ruthless dictator, but the fact remains that God has called us into HIS Kingdom, not our democracies.  What does all this have to do with the wrong priorities?  Glad you asked, and I will gladly give you an answer.  Churches that are losing in membership, attendance and influence are 99% of the time churches that have forgotten the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And the purpose of this Kingdom is defined by Jesus when He declared in John 10:10

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

If we follow the example of Jesus, giving life happens when we come to know their deepest needs and then offering what we have to meet those needs.  If they are hungry, give them food.  If they are homeless, give them shelter.  If they have trouble reading or can’t read, we teach them how to read.  If they are lonely, we build relationships with them.  Everything about the Kingdom is externally focused on others, those outside the Kingdom, those outside the church.  And herein lies the problem.

The wrong priorities seen in declining churches is that its members see themselves as the consumers of what the church offers.  I dare say that you, the reader, have heard someone say, “Well I quit that church because they just weren’t meeting my needs.”  The pastor, the programs, the staff, the music, the ANYTHING–it’s all about them consuming what is produced in the church buildings.  They do not seem themselves as the “providers” of mission, but the consumer of services.

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Every program, every ministry, every mission, every activity is to be focused on them, the members.  When the pastor and/or staff fails to serve them, it is time to get rid of them and find someone who will.  Consumption, consumption, consumption!  All this consumption has led to the decline in membership, worship attendance, and most of all, community impact.  Programs are not to serve the members.  Staff does not have the responsibility of serving the members.  And the Mission does not exist to meet the needs of the members.  When the focus is inward, it is leading to the eventual death of a local congregation.

But there is good news:  When the focus is outward, when the local congregation readies itself to meet and welcome those who are not in church YET, the decline is reversed.  We are called to serve the Mission of the Kingdom of God, not be served by the Mission.  We are called to become the providers of Mission and not the consumers of ministries.  To become once again people who impact communities with the power of the Kingdom of God we have to change the focus–from self to others.  When our focus is outward and outside the walls of the local congregation and on those who are among the least, the last and the lost, the local church will grow in membership, attendance and best of all, grow great in impacting their community with the Gospel.  Of this I am confident, absolutely confident, because our King said so:

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

#9 Ignoring That We Are In A War

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(This is the second in a 10 part series.  Number 8 will be released tomorrow.  If you are just starting to read this series, you will need to start with Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church! first and then #10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship before reading this one)

I remember when our Tribe released its new “Official Hymnal” back in 1989.  It had been 25 years since the previous “Official Hymnal” had been release after 4 years of work.  My Tribe is not known for being among the fastest to embrace anything new.  And now, 27 years later, the process has started for another new “Official Hymnal” for our Tribe.  One thing I remember about the process that produced our current “Official Hymnal” is a controversy around one single hymn:  “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

There was a group of people who became very vocal in their opposition to this ancient classic being included in this new “Official Hymnal”.  Their opposition was not based on the tune or range of musical notes, meaning, “It’s a hard hymn for ordinary people to sing.”  No!  Their opposition to the hymn was that it was too militaristic; that the image of being soldiers, moving forward, and fighting a “war”, well that just offended them.  They said that the church is NOT an army and should not be singing about being one.  As a footnote, they lost that battle and it was included in our current “Official Hymnal”.  My best guess estimate is that they don’t sing it when it is listed in their bulletin.

They were and others continue to be offended at the idea that the Body of Christ, the church, their local church are to be an army engaged in a war.  I am offended that they are offended!  And the failure to recognize this “war” is literally killing the western church because the Enemy is winning more battles because soldiers are M.I.A. from their posts.  Allow me a moment to explain why I believe this made my list at #9.

When I discovered the New Living Translation, I experienced a profound appreciation for both its simplicity in understanding, and its depth in translating the ancient texts.  One of the earliest differences I discovered was how it rendered the  Old Testament phrase Yĕhovah  tsaba’.  Other translations coined it as “the Lord of Hosts” or “the Lord Almighty“.  The New Living Translation put it like this:  The Lord of Heaven’s Army.  Then I noticed that Eugene Peterson and his translators put it like this:  The God of the Angel Armies.  So I just had to check Strong’s work and, lo and behold, that word tsaba’ actually means “an army”. (As a footnote for any purists that might accidentally be reading my blog who insist that the KJV is the only translation that accurately renders the original Hebrew and Greek texts, you need to find another argument.)

The origins of this war goes back prior to the Creation work of God.  The prophet Isaiah  in chapter 14 verse 12 introduces us to one named Lucifer.  Some call him the Devil and others call him Satan or the Evil One.  I prefer the term “the Enemy” and I do so because I recognize the war that is going on around us.  Lucifer was once a high ranking officer in the Lord of Heaven’s Army but he lost that position when he tried to claim the position of God, himself.  He lost that battle and when God created this universe and put His image on Adam and Eve, the Enemy turned his efforts against the image bearers.  Ever since the Enemy won that battle, the war has been on.  The Enemy knows he cannot defeat God (already tried and lost), so he turns his attention on us.

Now Paul writes in Ephesians 6:11-13 (NLT)

11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm.

That word “fighting” or “wrestle” is an interest Greek word, palē.  It literally means “wrestling; a contest between two in which each endeavours to throw the other, and which is decided when the victor is able to hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck.”  Hold his opponent down with his hand upon his neck?  That sound pretty serious to me.  And I am just wondering, when was the last time I had thrown the Enemy down and had my hand around his neck?  When was the last time YOU have thrown the Enemy down and had YOUR hand around his neck?

Now I add this point to my 10 Top List knowing that there are some local Tribes (otherwise known as local churches) and a few renegades who left the reservation, that are fighting a war, but against the wrong ones.  They are fighting against Target, Lowes, the F.C.C. and F.T.C.  Heck, they even fight within their own local Tribe, attacking those who do not agree with them.  In short, many are fighting the wrong enemy.  And the Enemy is laughing so hard that he peed in his pants (as opposed to peeing in his pants out of fear of us, the church).

Why are there so many in the church, particularly in the realm of what we call the “Western” church (no, this isn’t about those wild west movies) believing that we are not in a war and oppose that very idea?  My personal observation is that too many are following what I call the “Faux Jesus”, which was born in the imagination of the Enemy.  Here are some of the key characteristics of Faux Jesus:

1.  He is more meek than anything else

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Think about the pictures drawn by the Masters from the Renaissance.  He is mild looking, thin, almost emaciated looking.  Does this picture look like the Son of the God described in Exodus 15:3 (NLT)?

The Lord is a warrior; Yahweh is his name!

People want the meek Jesus because then they believe He does not want to rule over us.  The meek Faux Jesus doesn’t make any demands from us.

2.  He is always gentle

The gentle Faux Jesus is preferred because it makes it easier for them to focus on the gentleness and overlook the rest.  Jesus was the object of some mean people’s anger.  A gentle Faux Jesus means we are to be gentle and kind and that is all.  I mean, Faux Jesus can be gentle, but real Jesus?  Yes he showed gentleness in dealing with sinners, but He also made a whip and used it to drive out the money changers in the Temple.  And when the crowds around him built up, He was always saying hard and harsh things that caused many to quit follower Him around.  Faux Jesus is always gentle but the real Jesus is a force to be reckoned with.

3.  He just wants us to love each other like He loves us.

Now, the Real Jesus does want us to do that.  But followers of the Faux Jesus take it to the extreme.  They want us to love and let live.  Moral integrity and spiritual holiness of heart, mind and action are old fashion and out of date.  Faux Jesus followers say that we just love others, that’s all.  Loving others being defined as simply approving of their lifestyle and life choices.

I could go on listing other attributes of Faux Jesus, let’s just say that Faux Jesus doesn’t want us to realize we are in a battle and the hearts, minds, future and eternity of others are at stake.  When we fight the wrong enemy, when we refuse to fight, the real Enemy wins and maintains his control over a realm he stole from God in the Garden of Eden.

The church that is not throwing the enemy down to the ground and wrapping their hands around his neck are only being instruments for the Enemy to work his mayhem within this world, and in the lives of those around us.  Living as if there was not war going on is shameful and disgusting.  The church in the Western world will continue in its decline until we start acting like we are at war, because the war is going on whether you are engaged in it or not.

Don’t follow Faux Jesus!  Enlist with the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of Heaven’s Army.  Army means we fight, fight all the way to the end!  Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!number-9

#10: Choosing Religion Over Relationship

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(This is the first of 10 blogs about The Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church.  Number 9 will publish tomorrow)

As I read about the Church, I am seeing two opposing experiences.  In places other than the United States the Church is growing and flourishing, but here in the good old U.S.A. it appears to have fallen on hard times.  While there are pockets of places where the church is growing by making new disciples and those disciples serving their communities with the Good News, the overall condition of the mainline churches, even those classified as “evangelical”, is that it is about to approach life support status.  I do not say this to be cruel or mean; but to be honest because I love the church.

There are a myriad of reasons why this is happening but for this series of blogs, I am focusing on what I perceive as the Top 10 Reasons.  This is my conclusion and opinion and am not expecting anyone to agree with me.  But I am hopeful that it will cause each reader to reflect and see if there is something that needs tweaking in their life.  We will do a countdown of sorts and today we are looking at #10:  Choosing Religion Over Relationship.  My mind and heart goes back to a passage found in Matthew 15:1-2 and let me share it from 2 different translations:

Some Pharisees and teachers of religious law now arrived from Jerusalem to see Jesus. They asked him,  “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition? For they ignore our tradition of ceremonial hand washing before they eat.” (NLT)

After that, Pharisees and religion scholars came to Jesus all the way from Jerusalem, criticizing, “Why do your disciples play fast and loose with the rules?” (The Message)

For the Pharisees it was all about the age-old traditional rules.  For these folks to be a part of God’s people it was all about keeping the Rules.  These Rules had been around long enough for most people to be aware of them.  In other words, it was all about the external appearances and nothing about the mind and heart.  Rules were not just “important”, they were the ONLY thing considered “important” by the Pharisees.

Think about it.  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were picking grain on the sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2).  The Pharisees complained to His disciples that Jesus was eating with tax collectors and other various sinners (Mark 2:16).  The Pharisees complained to Jesus that His disciples were making too much noise praising Him (Luke 19:36).  Do you see a common pattern and a common word describing the Pharisees attitude?  Complaining!

Over the past 42 years, I have been the object of someone complaining.  At one appointment, someone complained that at the end of my prayers, I pronounced the word “ah-men” rather than “A-men”.  At another appointment someone complained that I was the reason why someone was leading an aerobic’s class, thus I was allowing those “non-members” to use the church facilities.  At another appointment someone complained that my motorcycle helmet (known in slang as a “shorty”, which is the type motorcycle police officers wear) looked like the Nazi helmets from World War 2 and that I needed to quit wearing it.  Once I heard the complaint that I was wearing my clergy robe.  Another time I heard the complaint that I was NOT wearing my clergy robe.

Religion loves to complain.  And in the United States the church is losing credibility because we put more emphasis on the “religion”, meaning the rules and traditions, than the relationship God offers.  Here are the dangers I see in religion.

1. Right Opinions matter more than righteousness

Religion is built around a set of doctrines which are mandatory if one wants to be a part of that religion.  One time I attended a church in the community and at the front was a list of “things” one had to believe in order to be a Christian and a member of that church.  I think there were 21 items on that list, and it was a list where one had to embrace all of them.  There is no room for other ideas, opinions or even disagreement.  Religion fears anything that resembles even vaguely something new.  Essential to religion is the strict adherence to a set of beliefs, most of the time without understanding why one believes it or if it is even essential.  Religion demands submission to right opinions, beliefs and doctrine.  Religion is best identified by its desire for the status quo.

 

2.  It identifies you as to what you are not

You are not Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Scientologist, therefore you must be Christian.  It’s like going through a buffet line of ideas and selecting the one that makes sure you aren’t “one of those others”.  Relationship is about what you could become.  Religion is about who you are not.

 

 3.  Rules matter more than people

Conformity in appearance and beliefs is essential in religion.  Conformity is developed through the rules, both written “laws” and unwritten traditions.  It stifles the creativity and uniqueness that God puts in every person.  Since rules matter the most, people who do not conform to the rules are pushed aside.  This creates a judgmental attitude like that of the Pharisees and we all know how Jesus felt about the Pharisees.

 

4.  It’s the safest place to hide from God

Now I want you the reader to know that I did not come up with this line.  It was first penned by Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan friar ordained to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church in 1970.  Father Rohr is correct.  It is the safest place to hide from God because religion gives us the veneer of respectability.  Respectability is a powerful way to ease one’s conscience and keep the awareness of one’s guilt of sin from getting too close to the mind and heart.  If religion is guiding you, may I suggest you read and reflect on Matthew 25:42-46.  If this doesn’t scare the religion right out of you, then you are firmly entrenched in religion.

 

5.  It makes one impotent for the true work of the Kingdom of God

God is all about building relationship and through this relationship with Him, He takes us on a journey to be our true self, the one He created and the one He knows we can become with His presence, guidance, and power; and to help us overcome the dominion of sin in our life.  Religion takes us captive and robs us of the Divine Spark and power that will bring the Kingdom back onto this His Creation.  Religion makes us powerless by making us its captive.  Maintaining the status quo strips us of the power needed to be involved in the things God is doing.

 

6.  It makes the Enemy laugh at us, though he knows deep down that he fears us

The Enemy, YOUR Enemy, knows exactly what you can become through the relationship God offers, and it makes him pee in his pants when he sees you becoming that person God created.  To take away his fear of you, he convinces you that religion is what it’s all about.  He knows he can control a religious person, so he deceives us into some second best; and that is religion.  Nothing makes the Enemy laugh more than when he sees people following and protecting religion.  And nothing makes him more afraid than seeing someone who is committed to the relationship with Jesus.

Religion is a genuine imitation pearl.  New it looks great, but over time, the beauty is gone and so is the joy.  Religion is all about the appearance and nothing about the heart and power of this relationship with God  There are a significant number of churches in our culture that are more interested in protecting their territory than they are about knowing where God is working, joining in where God is moving,  and building relationships with the people He is trying to reach.  Religion strips one of their promised glory; and you do have a promised glory in this Relationship.

If the church in the U.S. is going to reverse our current downward trends, it begins when we throw away religion and run to the One who is offering us a Relationship.  Religion doesn’t need the cross, but we do.  Religion doesn’t need the resurrection, but we do.  When we surrender at the foot of the Cross and allow the power of the resurrection to work in us right here and right now, well, the Enemy is going to have to change his underwear because I know what he just did in them.  #9 comes tomorrow.

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

Top 10 Things That Are Killing The Church!

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This morning I had another one of my moments of random thoughts.  It is a condition I am afflicted with regularly and I am learning to use it in ways that would be both inspiring and challenging.  This morning’s random thought came out of a conversation I had in 2016 with someone at church.  Our conversation emerged from that Sunday’s message that was about the question of human sexuality.  If you are a member of or are following the news in our Tribe, it is a hot topic button.  My point was that God calls us to love and care about others and that homosexuality is not the worst sin, and we needed to stop treating it that way.  We need to bear witness to the truth of Jesus through our lives and give the Spirit the opportunity to change whatever needs to be changed in our life.

This member told me a little later how much she appreciated my conversation on this delicate subject and asked me what I thought was the “worst” sin.  This random thought continues to flow through my gray matter.  I want to say up front and to be consistent with last Sunday’s sermon, that all sin is equally hideous and ugly.  At the foot of the Cross we are all equals, from the person in church to the criminal in a maximum security prison.  All sin demands a terrible price which Jesus gladly paid on the Cross out of His favor, kindness and mercy.  But…

But there are, call them “things” or “attitudes” or “beliefs” that are absolutely killing the western church.  As I reflected on what is killing our efforts to bring the Kingdom of God on earth, what is killing our desire that His will be done here as it is in heaven, I have come up with what I’m calling a “Top 10 List”.  This list is not, by any stretch of even my imagination, the only things that are killing the church’s effectiveness today.  I would say this Top 10 list is among the deadliest for any congregation.

So, for the next 10 days I will be addressing each of them.  Today all you are going to get from this blog is The List.  I would invite you to comment on other things you see that are killing the church today.  Now, this is not meant to condemn the church or any particular congregation.  It is not meant to tear down anyone or any church.  Think about this series like you would a visit to your doctor when you know something is wrong.  Would you want your doctor to simply say that you are OK, or would you rather she or he be truthful about what might be physically wrong with you?  To let you see where my heart is in all this, let me share my motivation and my heart with you.  It comes from Ephesians 4:15 and in God’s Word Translation is goes like this:

Instead, as we lovingly speak the truth, we will grow up completely in our relationship to Christ, who is the head.

I write and speak out of love for Jesus first, and also for you.  So here is my Top 10 List of things we need to stop doing.

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10.  Choosing religion over relationship

9.  Ignoring that we are in a war

8.  Wrong priorities

7.  Cookie Cutter attitude

6.  Self Reliance

5.  Fear of change

4.  Form rather than substance

3.  Loss of passion

2.  False humility

 1.  The worst one of all

I am not expecting everyone to agree with my conclusions.  Reality is, I expect some to be offended at me.  I strongly suspect that when Jesus walked this earth He deliberately said some things just to offend some in the crowd.  Well, here goes to 10 straight days of blogging.  Usually I do one per week here, and one on my other blog.  I ask for your prayers as I step into what I believe, are thoughts put in my heart and mind by the Holy Spirit.  And remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you, and make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Pray as you will…

Pastor Randy

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