THE CHURCH is doing well… are you?

In posts like “Social Vs. Familial Groups” and “Thoughts on Church”, I detail some of the issues with modern western church. I also attempted to clarify my use of the word “church” in the post “Church Vs. Church”.

I want to be clear, there is a difference between western culture’s definition of church and “THE CHURCH”, mentioned in Mathew 16:18. THE CHURCH is alive and well. It does not need fixing, correcting or revamping. It was established by God and has been maintained by God. The very gates of hell cannot prevail against THE CHURCH. Western church, however, is a different story.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of all Americans attended church on a weekly basis. Gallup estimated the once-a-week church attendance of Americans at 39%. Remember, just a small handful of disciples managed to turn the known world upside down, in the book of Acts, so why can’t the 40% of Americans who attend church even make a dent? The answer to this question varies depending on the group you are affiliated with. Most go something like this: “Other Christian groups have not held to _______ and have given up on ________. I am thankful that I belong to a group that holds those things dear.” Despite that answer, the fact remains that the world is not being “turned upside down”.

I realize that this is hard to hear. You likely have great respect for your church and the people who attend it. You may be thinking of examples of how your church has positively impacted your community and feel that it is not all bad. I agree with you! Furthermore, you may be relieved to hear that I am not advocating that you forsake the church you are currently attending. The solution I am advocating for is a humble admission that we are not in fact turning our world upside down and a repentance for the fact that our western definition of church has missed the mark of THE CHURCH. Nothing moves the heart of God like repentance! I believe that when we take the step to repent, God will happily show us how to get back to THE CHURCH and start making an impact for the kingdom. If a handful of disciples were able to turn the world upside down, imagine what 40% of the population could do in America.

No Help Needed

In Mark chapter 6 there is an interesting account of Jesus being unable to do miracles because of people’s expectations. Jesus had returned to his home town and the people there could not wrap their head around the idea that the boy they had always known was the one doing amazing miracles. In a way I can’t fault these people. The things that Jesus was doing (turning water to wine, raising people from the dead, healing, etc.) were not part of anyone’s natural life experience. It would be perfectly normal for them to doubt that the boy they had always known was actually the one doing these unbelievable things. What boggles my mind is the fact that their lack of belief, in what Jesus could do, actually stopped him from doing!

I wonder how many of God’s promises we talk ourselves out of. For example, the Bible clearly talks about not being concerned about what we should eat or where we should live, but our natural life experiences tell us that if we don’t worry about those things, no one else will. We may even attempt to use other Bible verses to cancel out what Jesus is clearly saying. As a result, we spend much of our lives striving to make sure we have the things that God already promised that he would provide. Could it be that we do not see his miraculous provision because we have talked ourselves out of his help? Is it possible that our lack of belief leaves us with only “the healing of a few sick folk”, like the people in Jesus’ hometown?

I do not believe that this was a matter of not knowing, it was a matter of not having active belief. I have no doubt that the people in Jesus’ hometown were good Jewish people, who were very familiar with the prophecies about Jesus. They simply allowed their understanding of the natural world to overrule the supernatural world.

Which of God’s promises might you have talked yourself out of?

Who Is Serving Whom?

This topic tends to cause tensions to run high, so in order to avoid any improper conclusions I offer the following disclaimers:

  • It is good to have a job and support your family

  • Money is not bad. It is a very effective tool that God does not have a problem using

There, now we can address the question that the title asks. Early in our family’s adventure, I wrote a post titled, “Who Do You Think You Are?. In that post I addressed the beginning of our family’s process of divorcing from the false sense of security and direction that the spirit of Money (referred to in the Bible as mammon) provided. In the New Testament we are informed that a person can not serve God AND Mammon, that is why I believe it is critical for all believers to ask the question, “Who is serving whom?”.

If we factor in preparations and commute times, the average American spends 10 hours per day working and 8 hours sleeping. This means that we have 6 hours per day to eat dinner and spend time with family/friends. These facts are a challenge for Christians, because we are instructed to “seek first the kingdom of God…” and our schedules often do not provide time for that. As a result ,we tell ourselves that “seeking first the kingdom”, is part of our everyday life, including our job, commute and family time. I do not disagree with this, as long as it is true.

If you believe that God has placed you in your job to seek first the kingdom through interacting with others and being a light, I want to challenge you. Would you continue to go to your job if your employer told you that they would no longer pay you? You would be welcome to show up every day and perform your duties, but there was no longer going to be a pay check. I am guessing that most of us would suddenly feel God “calling us” to be light to another work place.

If you are confident that you have heard from God regarding what you are supposed to be doing 10+ hours per day, don’t you think that you should do that, regardless of the paycheck? After all, the second part of the “seek first the kingdom” verse says that God will take care of all of our needs. This is not just a theory for me. When I felt that God had asked me to take a job again, I had to live this as you can read in the post, “Finally A Job”.

I want to invite you to answer the question, “who is serving whom?” It is a vital question and one that is difficult to answer honestly. God does not have an issue with providing for all of his follower’s needs and it appears, from reading the Bible, that he is also interested in taking care of their wants. It is up to us to honestly ensure that we qualify for that kind of treatment by seeking first the kingdom and serving him, alone.

I See a Little Silhouetto of a Man

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On a recent road trip I was flipping through the radio and heard a few of the classic rock songs that ruled, and still rule, the radio. “Stairway…,” “Bohemian Rhapsody.” “Freebird.” FREEBIRD! I noticed that many of these songs are cut short for modern radio play. Most of these classic songs are well over 10 minutes in length. I can only assume that stations don’t want that kind of time between commercial breaks.

 
This got me thinking about the state of creativity. It seems that creativity has steadily been harnessed in favor of efficiency and monetary gain. These examples came to mind:

  • Song writers are challenged to make their songs more “accessible”. Accessible is code language for popular to radio audiences, or, in the case of Christian artists, church groups. The artist is pressured to compromise their art for greater exposure and ultimately financial gain.
  • Carpenters are tempted to sacrifice the art and quality of their craft in order to make and sell things faster and cheaper.
  • Authors are continually bombarded by marketers that are hyped up and eager to show them how to write a best selling book. They present some simple steps that will make a book more appealing to the masses, but the artist’s unique message gets lost in the process.
  • Pastors are pressured to grow large congregations, under the guise of “reaching their world”. Sadly this often results in the message of the Bible getting corrupted. Many churches are simply a reflection of the pastor’s entrepreneurial abilities, or lack there of.
  • Photographers who are passionate about capturing the raw, unfiltered beauty of the world around them, are pressured to use a host of computerized editing tools to alter the reality of what they capture. This can result in a more marketable product, but at what cost?

The list could go on and on. Somehow we have willingly allowed Industrial Age efficiency and profitability to rob us of some of the most timeless expressions. I don’t care who you are, or how old you are, when you hear some of the classic tunes your hand automatically reaches to turn it up and before long you are caught up in the moment. A moment brought to you by a person that was simply doing what they loved, despite pressure to do it a certain way, or in a certain time frame.

 
How about you? What is causing you to rob future generations of the opportunity to bask in the “moment” that your uniqueness can create. Stop listening to the voices that tell you how and when to do it and let your uniqueness create things that are timeless.

 

Don’t Be A Settler

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Earlier this year the television provider DirecTV had a series of commercials where a family explained their lack of TV channels by saying that they were settlers. They had settled for cable. Here is an example:

While this was meant to be a comical exaggeration, I was struck by the concept of settling. In blog posts such as “Skydiving” I have written about the dangers of settling for a lesser Christian experience. These dangers are preached about by most pastors, often to the thunderous applause of the congregants, but we have to ask ourselves if this is only lip service.

I have witnessed a strange phenomenon in Christianity. We say one thing in Church, but live something else entirely. As a result of what I have witnessed, I took a (tongue-in-cheek) stab at translating the Bible to the way American Christians actually live. I called it the Americanized Christian Version (ACV).

Here are a few Bible verses comparing the New Living Translation (NLT) to the (ACV):

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:33‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Seek to provide for yourself first, even if it means taking 8-10 hours of your day, doing things you hate and having no time, or energy for the kingdom of God. This way you will have everything that you need. If you feel bad about missing the kingdom stuff, just tell yourself that taking care of yourself IS kingdom stuff.”
Matthew 6:33 ACV

“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?”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:26‬ ‭NLT‬‬

“Look at the birds, God takes care of them because they are small and stupid. You are big and smart and he expects you to take care of yourself. You shouldn’t expect him to help you, unless you have done everything in your power to help yourself! He helps those who first help themselves”
Matthew‬ ‭6:26‬ ACV

Do you see what I mean? There appears to be a disconnect between what we claim to believe and how we live. We claim to believe that God is all powerful and we can trust him explicitly with every aspect of our life, yet we live like he is our dreamer friend that has great ideas but is too broke and powerless to accomplish them. As a result, we become settlers. We settle for a lack of power, we settle for a lack of results and we settle for a lack of impact.

Don’t believe me? Here is an exercise for you. Imagine that the church you attend was suddenly gone from the community. Would it be missed? What gap would be left? If you are looking for something more quantifiable, do this exercise. What percentage of the community attends your church? Example: If there are 1,000 people in your church and 10,000 in your community, you are reaching 10% of the available population. Would your employer be satisfied with you accomplishing 10% of your daily work load? I doubt it, yet we appear to be content with reaching a fraction of a percentage of the communities we say that we are called to.

As a former on staff pastor, I know this type of thinking can result in a cry for more people who are willing to take the message of Christ seriously and get engaged. The problem with that is we have set the average church attendee up for failure. We welcome them into our comfortable building and ensure that guest services greets them. Then we invite them to sit in one of the many spectator seats for a Christian concert, that is followed by a Christian lecture. That is not how disciples are made. We should not be surprised when more people attend the church potluck than attend prayer service or a community work day. We have what we have trained.

I have a huge amount of respect for Francis Chan. He was pastor of a mega church and started wrestling with the concepts I have detailed above. He realized that he had a lot of people, but few disciples. As a result, he turned in his resignation and began to pursue discipleship. That takes guts! Those are the actions of a person who is no longer willing to settle. Those are the actions of a giant that has allowed the facts to wake them up. Those type of people will turn the known world upside down. Are you a sleeping giant?

 

 

Finding Your Tribe

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I love to travel. The thought of boarding a plane and leaving for a new, exciting destination thrills my soul! A few years ago, Jenny and I had a lay-over at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It is the 3rd busiest airport in the world. As we looked at the thousands of passengers, we realized that it would require all of a person’s mental and physical faculties to ensure they catch a connecting flight on time. They would have to focus on their flight, their gate number and their particular destination, or risk missing the flight.

I believe that this also applies to our God given purpose. Once you identify your mission, you cannot become distracted by the thousands of other missions that are going on around you. Another person’s mission does not negate your mission and your mission does not negate their mission. For instance, some people are compelled to go to a particular foreign country, while others are compelled to stay in the same community that they grew up in. Some may have a passion for helping recovering addicts and others have a passion for orphaned children. The beauty is that we are all called to catch our own “flight” and we do not need to compare our flight with another person’s flight. As a matter of fact, if we do, we will most likely miss our connection in the process.

There is another great benefit to ensuring that you focus on fulfilling your particular calling. Once you successfully navigate the “airport” of available destinations and are on your way to your destination, you will realize that everyone around you is heading to the same destination as you. These people are from your tribe. You will find it encouraging to hear the stories of how they recognized their calling and you will be of mutual encouragement to one another.

I write this to encourage those who are just beginning to embrace their calling/purpose and are looking around to realize that you are not currently with your tribe. That does not necessarily mean the people you are currently with are wrong, just that they are going to a different destination. As a result, you may need to go out and find your “flight”. When you do, you will find your tribe around you as well.