“Be careful criticizing the bride that Jesus died for,” said my mentor in response to a student’s criticism of a particular large church. In the not new but currently trendy challenge of deconstructionism, my mentor’s wisdom is even more profound. The intended nebulousness of defining … Continue reading Abusing Jesus and His bride
My last article dealing with the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon” had interesting responses. There are some who loathed the article because of what the phrase specifically refers too. Others said they felt heard by a pastor for the first time. We should not discount pushback … Continue reading Living by faith and let’s go Brandon
“How does Jesus pointing people to God the Father line up with the emphasis on Jesus in preaching?” I asked during a conference. “It seems with our emphasis on Jesus in the Scriptures we are forgetting God the Father, who Jesus pointed to, submitted to, and sacrificed himself so we can have a relationship with. Later I watched an interview of a celebrity pastor give an awful answer to politics in relationship to preaching to a right of center pundit. He tossed aside the issue of economics but focused on morality illustrated by speaking to the right to life issue. The Bible has much to say concerning economics. It’s a moral issue.
We need an alignment
Our tires were months old, but no longer good. We needed an alignment. At that time in our marriage, we drove over 175,000 miles in three years. That means we needed 5 alignments a year. Oops. With the laser focus on the centrality of the Gospel or Christ we have done something similar with the church. We are in need of fresh tires because of over emphasis. At this point the “yeah…but…” is starting to rise. While the Gospel is the main thing, it’s not the only thing. While it is most important “I delivered to you as of first importance…” It is not the only thing that Paul, Jesus, and the Bible spoke on. So why do we need an alignment?
Foolishness is evil
Jesus said in Mark 7 that what comes out of a person is what defiles them. He gives a list. At the end of the list is foolishness. Why is this a big deal? Because right after that Jesus says “All the EVIL things…” Foolishness is evil, according to Jesus. Proverbs makes the point that to be wise is to be godly. Paul, in Ephesians 5 flips that. To be godly is to be wise, “making the best use of the time for the days are evil.” The preacher of Hebrews relegates the basics of the faith as milk, not solid food. The church is out of practice when it comes to “the mature who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
What are you saying?
Would an average Christian have an informed answer when asked what is the biblical view of government, economics, and what criteria for judging nations? Some reading this may say “The Bible teaches on politics?!” The Bible speaks deeply about these matters. Do a study on “unjust scales” for example. (Federal Reserve system won’t match up too well with this.) Do a study on God judging a nation based on Nahum 3. (The U.S. foreign policy wont match up well will this.) Do a study on coveting. (Push towards socialism won’t match up well.) And if you’re thinking “…well, that’s the obsolete testament, old covenant thing…” Remember God judges nations in Revelation, which voluminously quotes from the Prophets. We need to build discernment in all areas of life.
Is Jesus the main thing or the Father?
More importantly the need of an alignment is our view on God the Father. While much of the Bible points to and is about Jesus, I would suggest God the Father is the central figure. We ignore him too often. Paul alludes to this in Philippians when he says “… every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter one amplifies this point. Paul thanks the father for the work done in us, through us and for us in Jesus. But more than that is what Jesus said.
A few things that Jesus said in Matthew
… so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. … so that you you may be sons of your Father who is heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good… You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. …your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. All things have been handed over to me by my Father… For whoever does does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. My Father if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.
- While the preaching of the Gospel is primary, and Jesus the agent that makes that happen, as Gospel centered people we must point people to Father. Jesus did. Significant parts of the Bible are about our Father. In focusing on what Jesus is to us, let us not forget that our brother Jesus established our relationship with the Father, goes before the Father on our behalf, and that together we glorify the Father by doing Dad’s will.
- As foolishness is evil, and the current time evil, let us sharpen our discernment to distinguish good from evil. Let us be deep, reasoned, and thoughtful saints. Let us think, judge and redeem every area of life around us. This involves knowing the whole counsel of God, and applying it to life, family, relationships, economics, politics, ethics, philosophy, history, protection, law, childrearing, conflict, science, engineering, environment, criminal justice, monetary policy, entertainment, etc., etc., etc.
- Preach Jesus! While the church needs an alignment, we must not “swing the pendulum” the other direction. Without Jesus, we cannot know who is central, the Father. Without Jesus, we lack the power of the Holy Spirit to live biblically discerning lives. Without Jesus, we are of all most people to be pitied. In course correcting, let us never forget that the Gospel was delivered to us as of first importance. Preach Jesus, and don’t forget to build discernment. Preach Jesus, and don’t forget our Father in heaven. Let us be in proper alignment and not out of balance. Our culture needs this from us.
Many different things in our society seem to have a common thread: Entitlement. This is a far cry from mere rights or exercising one’s rights. It even moves beyond can vs should into the realm of demand. Entitlement is the superhero of selfishness. It ejects logic and common sense and only seeks it own, to the detriment of others. Entitlement begs this question: Have we become a society of overgrown preschoolers?
Entitlement in politics. Solution: Attack the problem not people.
In recent months I’ve seen people destroyed for merely defending a political figure… by the same people who believe bullying is bad and that people should be accepted for who they are. We see this happening on a larger scale in the news as well. The glaring hypocrisy is baffling as people cry out for our ability to get along, or the dismal culture of our politics. Here’s a solution, stop attacking people and start focusing on the issues. Move beyond platitudes of political viewpoints into the depth of actual issues. Freedom of speech doesn’t equate to slander, libel, etc. We also have the right to remain silent, to listen, and to understand before being understood. This happens when we focus on attacking the problem and not the person.
Entitlement in public service. Solution: Just say thanks.
In recent months I’ve seen public servants taken advantage of, and I’ve seen public servants act as tyrants. Public servants are part of our community. They’re our neighbors. Public servants are not our slaves or our employees. While they work for our benefit, there is a tone of humility and appreciation we should have towards them. We should view them as partners. Be appreciative while dealing with your frustrations. At the same time, public servants are not kings. Power tripping or demanding homage misses the glory of public service, which is to humbly serve your community. While it is ashamed some are taken for granted, sometimes not being noticed means a job well done. Gratefulness goes a long way.
Entitlement in the marketplace. Solution: Be civilized, we’re not barbarians.
Black Friday news demonstrates this point well. Too often we forget where we came from. A BIG thing we can learn from other cultures is the need to SLOW DOWN AND RELAX! We all get that your time is important, but will the person who never made a mistake please raise their hand? If we want to be listened to and served well, do not others in the room deserve that same treatment? Too often we see people flipping out, going overboard, and generally getting sue happy. The key to being civilized is truly treating others the way you want to be treated. This includes how you want to be treated when you make a mistake or are overwhelmed.
Entitlement in the culture. Solution: Remember its not about you.
It’s not about you. You are not the center of the universe. You have a right to speak, but you also have a right to listen. Your have a right to pursue happiness, you also have the right to work hard when things don’t go your way. You have a right to be served, but also a right to be patient. You have a right to be cared for, but also a right to sacrifice. You have a right to be thanked, but also the right to be grateful for the ability to bless others. While you should take care of yourself, others have the right that you do the same towards them. Living in a civilized community only works if you realize its not about you.
The bottom line:
Entitlement is one of the worst prisons to be in. It is a cancer so malignant that it breeds chaos, injustice, abuse, and hate. At the end of the day entitlement forms you into a lonely tyrant lacking any joy or peace. Perhaps it shouldn’t be culture we are frustrated with, but rather the person we see in the mirror each morning. Jesus gives a way out of this mess. While he rightfully was entitled to all, he gave that up. Love, humility, and servanthood will get more done then entitlement ever will. If Jesus demanded entitlement, we’d all be in Hell. Perhaps true freedom isn’t in demanding our rights, but instead giving up our rights is the service of others.
You are unique, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say people should be themselves, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say education should be equal, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say people should be well mannered, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
We say kids be free to play, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
They say people should show courage, unless you are a boy.
Then you are just trouble.
So be unique, be yourself! Get well educated and fight for equality not wealth! Be gracious, be free, and live life with courage like we.
Just don’t be a boy.
And in halls all around, silent screams abound of mixed messages in ears that are quite unsound.
For a boy is a boy.
Let us change the discussion from navel gazing at ‘the why’ of our problems and look to solutions. One sentence on the why of the “church” problems: Unbiblical thinking combined with lack of thought and theology leads to poor discernment and a mess. Now that the problem is out of the way, we can stop reading numerous church is blah blah blah articles. A wise professor drilled three concepts that will help us overcome: Think. Judge. Redeem.
Proverbs teaches us to be wise is to be godly. Ephesians 5&6 teaches us to be godly is to be wise. In Ephesians 4 as well as Romans 12 the Spirit points directly at the life of the mind. Christianity must work in the midst of suffering and chaos of our current world. And it does. Our fear stems from a lack of thought. Reason and faith are not opposed to one another. Our devotional life must ponder the deep questions of life as we study the Bible. Renewing our mind is a critical aspect to worship. Jesus did say we will not only worship in spirit but also in truth.
God is the source of all truth. In our current reality there is evil and suffering in the world. The question we then need to ask is how to we discern good form evil? Developing the mind is for the pragmatic result of discerning between good and evil, and between better and best. It is to, as Jesus stated, be wise as serpents but innocent as doves. This level of discernment is expected of us as Christians. (Read Hebrews 5:11-14)
Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. The world is not a mere reference to people, but all creation as well. As we discern truth from error we must answer the question of how to redeem it. As Paul states, redeeming the time for the days are evil. How can we take an object that is depraved, discern the truth of it, and then use such for God’s glory? We are not to live life as a great waiting room for heaven. We are to engage in life and assist in the process of making it new in anticipation of Jesus return. This takes courage.
Lights. Trees. Action.
Think. John talks about Jesus being the light of the world. Judge. Martin Luther, a pastor in Germany, is faced with the paganism of the people he is trying to reach. One pagan ritual was bringing in evergreen trees to celebrate the winter solstice. The people needed to move away from false religion and instead focus on Christ. Redeem. The solution was to add lights to the evergreen tree to represent Jesus as the light of the world. A tradition once tied to paganism is renewed to a symbol of an incredible truth.
Act, don’t react.
We react negatively when our mind and discernment lacks development. Worse, we act in fear. Developing the mind is a critical spiritual discipline. Discernment is essential if we are to not only speak the gospel but also live it. Redemption is a critical role we play as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. Developing the mind does not take away from faith. Truly, developing the mind bolsters the reasonableness and truthfulness of the gospel.
The bottom line:
Developing the life of the mind is a solution to help the church radiate the truth of the gospel, bless our culture, and act with gracious courage.
I’m asked often by friends and family advice on finding a new church family. This post is much longer than normal, and general advice on the issue, not specific to any one person. I say finding a church family because I despise the term church shopping. You’re a brother or sister in Christ, not a consumer. Church is family (Ephesians 1). I’m assuming you’re praying over every step. Pray. Pray. Pray! Ok, here we go:
Step 1: Leave justly!
If you’re relocating or if the church is sending you to another ministry, you’ve left justly. Sin is where things get messy. Matters of conscience even more so. It is ESSENTIAL to deal with matters. Leaving quietly to not create a mess robs you & the church of grace. If you are avoiding conflict or are being explosive, repent and work towards reconciliation! If you’re leaving on a good note, you should still connect with the church so people understand why and grow. Be a grace multiplier not a grace robber.
I am not saying it is wrong to ever leave a church family. I am implying that in North America we trend towards consumerism or conflict avoidance too often. Don’t be a tool of satan or live the sinful attitude of church consumerism. To be clear: Make sure you leave justly. Let’s try to avoid awkward when we’re in heaven moments.
Step 2: Take a good look in the mirror!
You are a saint because Jesus paid for your sins. Until you see Jesus face to face you’ll struggle with sin. Second, you are a unique part of the body of Christ. Your struggles and your gifting (often two sides of the same coin) are part of church growth. Before seeking a new family, take time to look in the mirror. How are you doing spiritually? What lessons have you learned from you earlier church ministry? Is there a new passion or calling God is giving you? Are you pursuing God or yourself?
Searching for a new church family will put you in a critical spirit. You will notice lots of things you do not like or worse you’ll overlook things because your consumerism tendencies kick in. (A big sign of that is compromising your theology for preferences.) Look in the mirror and make sure you’re very well aware of the log that is in your own eye. Church is family, meaning your job is to love and support the family. Church is not about you, but do not neglect how God wired you. God may be calling you to a particular church because it lacks what you have to offer, worts and all.
Step 3: Theology then method then people
Sound biblical teaching & theology is essential. If they’re not teaching the Bible, RUN! There is a difference between teaching from the Bible and teaching the Bible. If the church doesn’t hold to sound theology it will not be good in the long run. We act based on what we believe. Key question: How big of a deal is Jesus & the Bible to the church?
Next comes method. If method comes first, repent of ‘methodolatry.’ For example, if you’ll only look at churches with certain music or a certain program like AWANA, chances are good you’re committing to methodolatry. Don’t overlook something because it lacks a method or has a method you’re uncomfortable with. Don’t write off methods either. Use discernment, ask questions. Methodology matters. Sometimes a method that is important to you, but lacking to a church may be a result of no one to lead or support it.
People are essential. Are the people messy or are they white washed tombs? A church can be totally modern, cool, with great music, etc and be a dark, legalistic, dead church. Energy, coolness & size are often inaccurate church health indicators. (For an extreme example of why, just think of the under ground church.) You’re not the savior, but you are family. Can you say I’m here to love, support and serve these people? Solid theology and method is about supporting people in the mission of the Gospel. Healthy churches are quirky and messy regardless of size. Key question: Is the church a happy dysfunctional family?
Step 4: Examine the church
Here are three things to look out for after Step 3: Character over charisma, service over sensationalism, and people over programs. Our culture is driven by consumerism, which means you and I struggle with this too. You’ll need to attend the church for over a month to get some sense of this.
Character: Is the church more interested in who people are or what they do? This is the issue of being over doing. Look for a church that is concerned with who looks at you in the mirror each morning. Key thing to look for: Churches will make mistakes, do they own up to it?
Service: Is the church quick to love and support its church family first and then the community? It’s hard to serve the community if you’re not caring for one another. Both are essential to the mission of the Gospel. A church that isn’t outward focuses isn’t healthy. A church that focuses outwardly but neglects inward care is unstable.
People: Does the church focus on building people up or one what they can get out of people? Does the leadership seek your help in reaching the pastor’s vision, or do they help people pursue God’s calling? Is the church a business or is it family?
Step 5: Making the choice
This will be awkward because it is different. There is no perfect church because church is messy. It may not have what you want because God needs you there to make it happen. It may not be the size church you like or are comfortable with. There will be things you like and things you don’t. At this step the question is: Can you call these people family? If not, why not?
If you’ve been deeply hurt by your earlier church, a key question to work through: Can I heal here? You cannot avoid the healing process. Healing isn’t always about feeling good again, it can be a painful process. Be upfront with church leadership about the need to heal. They’ll give you sound counsel, and may even recommend a church that may be more helpful.
Finding a church family takes time. It’ll likely take 6 months to a year. Don’t rush the process. When you’re on Step 4 with a church, don’t work on creating a list of churches and then move to Step 5. If Step 4 checks out and Step 5 checks out, welcome home. For military families or others that move often, you’ll naturally pick up this process on a faster pace.
Don’t look for a church that has something for your children. Reverse the question. Look for a church where your children can be a part. Church isn’t about you and it’s not about your kids either. Activity doesn’t mean discipleship. A small church can be just as vibrant as a large one for discipling your children. Don’t fear large churches. Kids can be dynamically discipled in large churches too. We often hide our consumerism in the name of our children.
Discuss it as a family. Train your children to be mission minded. ‘Did you like’ is a bad question. What children need they often dislike. don’t ignore their input about dislikes, be cautious on how you respond to it. Children can be spiritual champions, we as adults often hold them back. Ask them if there are ways they can support and serve the church. Teach your children through this process that church isn’t about them. When you find your new family, remind your children that you’re there to love and support the people of the church.
What process do you use? What would you add to this?
“A Call to Resurgence: will Christianity have a funeral or a future?” can be summed up in a simple sentence: Jesus’ church needs to aggressively refocus her attention and energy on the mission of making disciples of Jesus. Pastor Mark nails down the issues the church is facing in the culture of the United States. Regardless of your view of Pastor Mark, this book is a critical read for church leaders. It is a wake up call.
Things have changed
Over the last few years I noticed that culture shifted greatly. The light went on when speaking at a boys camp. When the least intellectual Christian sports jock asks a deeply apologetical question with antagonism towards Christianity- a paradigm shift has come and gone. Mark declares accurately that Christendom is dead in America. Culture will no longer carry Christians’ water and will instead be antagonistic towards it. If this thought is new to you, chapters 1 & 2 will be very helpful in describing the fall of Christendom.
Call it for what it is
Pastor Mark pulls no punches. (He often mentions or alludes to stories where this tendency may have caused some turmoil.) The interplay of humor, truth, humility and a call to focus on Jesus is interesting. He makes his point clear. Throughout the book is a clear message to pastors: It’s time to show courage in our calling.
Loving is a must, character is core, but Jesus is central!
Demonstrating biblical love is critical. I appreciate the issue of community and helping people the book brings out. Also running throughout the book is the issue of character, particularly in men. It is foundational to ministry, but is only accomplished through Spirit-empowerment. (Yes, there really is a 3rd member of the trinity!) All of that is to make Jesus known. We must proclaim a risen savior, Jesus. None of our acts of love or our character maters if we’re not sharing the Gospel.
Tribes & the Holy Ghost
Pastor Mark is not calling for weakened theology, but he is calling for us to speak with each other. Given the rising antagonism that the church is now and will continue to face we simply don’t have time to attack one another. There are issues where we disagree and conversations that should be had, but they shouldn’t distract us from our primary mission. That said, Mark accurately states that the Holy Spirit is a major issue that tribes need to work through. This may sound strange to some, but we must not put out the Spirit’s fire.
The bottom line:
A paradigm shift has come and gone for our country and Jesus’ church needs to quickly sharpen her focus without watering down or editing her message. There is no longer a dominate Christian view like “evangelicalism” anymore, but instead various “tribes” that must get back on mission. I appreciate Pastor Mark’s work and his communication on a much-needed message.
Two shifts have occurred in our culture from walking away from morality and objective truth towards moral ambiguity and relativism. 1) We’ve lost our integrity. 2) We’ve insulated ourselves from accountability. In our culture’s quest to be more nuanced and evolved, we’ve created an irresponsible and uncivil environment.
Lack of integrity erodes trust
Fundamental to all scandals of late is violation of trust. People are angered by government surveillance because they’ve seen violation of trust by the IRS. We’ve seen through many institutions: churches, schools, colleges, government, families, etc. a downplay of integrity and an abuse of trust. Lack of trust builds antagonism and erodes civility as culture becomes polarized and reactionary. We are angered by such violations, but why?
Moral relativism erodes accountability
Relativism means we can’t tell someone they are wrong. This further propels us to avoid conflict. Conflict has grand potential of telling someone they’re wrong. Then, once trust is violated, we become angry. Not at what was morally wrong, but at the trust violated. Is integrity more important than trust, perhaps. What we’re seeing now that a lack of morality also equates to a lack of trust. How did this erosion gain so much momentum?
We destroyed accountability with irresponsibility
We the people. We the problem. We don’t trust government because we don’t trust one another. By not being able to declare rights in wrongs; from that avoiding conflict, and from that removing consequences as much a possible, we undermined responsibility. In the name of compassion (which is a good thing) we sacrificed responsibility. Part of this erosion is not understanding how our government and society works. This is not the fault of public education. We the people. We the problem. We created the mess that we’re in.
Yes, we’re depraved
Some in ministry circles push to downplay total depravity, often citing it’s overuse. Some outright deny the doctrine. Until we admit and see the problem, we cannot work towards a solution. While the ultimate solution is the Gospel, there is also a need for civility. God ordained government for a reason. One aspect that is profound about our government is an underlaying understanding of depravity.
The past wasn’t so bad
We view history often as inauthentic because of glaring errors or sins. We sense disillusionment. There are two problems with this. First, we’re no better and our sense of disillusionment is just another form of the judgmentalism we deride and often do. Second, in times past one’s accomplishments were viewed more highly than their faults. We see this at today’s funerals. The integrity, humility and civility of times past allowed one’s accomplishments to outshine their faults. This is a lost art today. In reading from the men of old they did not view themselves as flawless. They were keenly aware of their faults. But, unlike today, they had a framework to deal with that.
The bottom line:
A man of honor is a man of integrity. We need to get back to this basic. In thinking we are more enlightened than times past we’re so much worse than times past as well. We need to get back to declaring right and wrong, to upholding human responsibility. We need to get back to man’s word being everything. We need to get back to three pillars George Washington talked about: education, morality and religion.