Stop Being Yourself And Try To Fit In

Jan 15

Stop Being Yourself And Try To Fit In

So I’ve been hearing a repeating message lately, and when that happens, I start to wonder if it’s God talking. Either way, I’m paying attention. The message is this: whatever happened to Christian community? I’ve heard this question asked 3 times in the past 5 days from three different people. The first time was last week talking to someone from our church. She had visited another church in Nebraska (I think), and experienced such warmth from the congregation–she could tell that they truly loved one another and enjoyed being around each other. She immediately felt welcomed and among family. The second time was this past Sunday after church. A new couple visited our church for the first time, and they were questioning why people (Christians) out here in Colorado don’t like to hang out together. It seems that if anyone has free time, they whisk their family away to the mountains or something along those lines. Whatever happened to Christians getting together for a fun time? They were reminiscing about their church back from the midwest that was much more communal, where it was fun to be around each other. Ironically, their church back in Chicagoland was the same church I attended when I lived back there. That was pretty cool! The third time I heard this was today at a video deposition–the court reporter. I found out she was a Christian, but hasn’t been able to find a church in the area where she senses real community. They had great community at their church when they lived in Hawaii, but here it’s another story. She and her husband have found plenty of churches in Colorado that “preach the Word” or are “Spirit-led,” but none where they felt that the people just enjoyed each other. I’ve decided that it’s just the culture “out West.” I’ve lived in three different American cultures so far: midwest, deep south, and now the west. Each is different. In the deep south, everyone gets into your business. In the west, everyone leaves you alone. Neither equals community. I grew up as a child in the midwest, so I can’t really judge it objectively. After all, children/youth tend to be very communal. So out of...

Read More

Awake, Sleeper, And Rise Up From The Dead

Aug 21

Awake, Sleeper, And Rise Up From The Dead

And Christ will shine on you! What a promise from Ephesians 5:14! I don’t know if any denominations use this verse in their liturgies, but if not, they should! I’ve already got a tune written out on how it would be sung by the congregation every Sunday. And who knows, perhaps people would heed the words and listen to the sermon! 🙂 While the American church is largely in a comatose state, there is the magnificent exception. Those small pockets of people in our congregations who are alive and well! Ah, what a breath of fresh air! These are the people who prove that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit is a real gift to the church! It seems most churches, no matter how dead or decaying they may be, have one or two people like this. It’s probably the biggest reason why those churches have not yet closed their doors. These people are like God’s best-kept secret agents in His kingdom. Every church I’ve attended has had at least one of these people. I’ve often imagined…what would it look like to assemble all of these people together in worship, in evangelism, in discipleship, in fellowship…? Of course, the answer to that question is easy: it would look like the bride of Christ! Not just by name only, but in truth. Sometimes it is hard to be such a person in the midst of a comatose church. You easily become discouraged by what you see around you. Or more accurately, what you don’t see around you. You wonder, “Where is the passion for Jesus here? Why is no one else jumping in with both feet into Christ’s mission?” Discouragement turns to resentment. “Why do I give my life for Christ–for His church–for His mission, and those to whom I serve just eat it all up and want to consume more, yet they are unwilling to serve others themselves?” No, I’m not talking from personal experience, ha! The problem is, when we get into this kind of mindset, we have been derailed. Now we are feeling pride by comparing ourselves to others. Pride is not attractive. It is butt ugly. So we are no...

Read More

Hope For A Comatose Church

Aug 18

Hope For A Comatose Church

When a patient is in ICU, what family and friends want more than anything else is hope. With that in mind, there IS hope for the comatose church. But that hope isn’t in better models for doing church. Or improved leadership training. Or more money for hiring better-talented staff and starting up new programs/ministries. None of those things can revive what is almost dead. The only thing that can revive us isn’t a thing, but a Person. In Ezekiel 37, God shows the prophet Ezekiel a valley full of dry, dead bones and asks him if they can be made alive again. A person with no hope would say, “Nope.” An idiot, or a person who doesn’t fully understand the circumstances would say, “Sure, just give them some medicine!” But Ezekiel answers smartly, “God, only you know the answer to that question.” Truth is, outside of God doing anything, there is absolutely no hope for those bones. Can/will God do anything with those bones? Well, we can’t speak or make promises for God, but here’s what we CAN do: we can trust and obey God. The only hope for a comatose church is for its leaders to stop pretending things are better than they are, to stop denying the reality of the situation by trying this program or that program, or seeking answers from church leadership summits or growth seminars, but to also not give up hope and throw in the towel when they see the magnitude of the situation–but instead for these leaders to be willing to earnestly seek God, and then to trust God and obey Him. Because our only hope is for God to do something miraculous. And it’s very risky/scary to trust God for a miracle. We leaders want to be able to do something to fix the situation. It’s scary to place things into God’s hands and trust/hope in Him. But when your loved one is in ICU, you have no other options. Even the strongest skeptics are earnestly praying to God in that moment. God tells Ezekiel to do a bold thing: preach to the dry bones. Can you imagine following these orders? “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry...

Read More

Falling Skies: The Demise of a Comatose Church

Aug 16

Falling Skies: The Demise of a Comatose Church

Audra and I are watching the TV show “Falling Skies,” and it really hasn’t been too interesting to me until the most recent episode. SPOILER ALERT!!! If you don’t watch the show, it’s about an alien invasion on earth. The overlord aliens are trying to take control of our planet. They are doing this partly by harvesting children, and turning them into an alien slave race (nicknamed “Skitters” by humans) to destroy the rest of humanity. The overlords also utilize powerful mechanical robots to destroy our civilization. Basically, the situation is hopeless. But one small regiment of humans is fighting to save and rescue the children, and to take our planet back–dealing blows here and there to the aliens. From week to week, humans are fighting against the odds, and sacrificing greatly. It’s a bleak picture, with little hope at all. But the most recent episode tells about how this regiment finds a pocket of humans who have survived underground, undetected by the invading aliens. They have actually been able to adapt to underground living very well! They grow fresh produce, sleep in comfortable beds, and are even starting to form a new democracy, since the US government has been completely wiped out. To this regiment that has just arrived, it is paradise! Utopia! Unbelievable! Peace at last. Community. Kids are going to school. Adults are working to build this new way of life. It seems perfect. That is, until the regiment tries to encourage these people to not forget about all the devastation and destruction happening on the surface. Children are being removed from their families and transformed into a slave alien race. Cities are being wiped out. Suffering and devastation is everywhere. But this community has invested too much in itself to risk exposure to the aliens by joining in the fight. They want to remain under the radar and continue enjoying their new-found life. Meanwhile, out in the real world, the skies are falling. What a perfect analogy for today’s church. As the late Christian songwriter Keith Green wrote and sang, “The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can’t fight, cuz it’s asleep in the light.” I am feeling more and more...

Read More

Repentance and Faith vs. Creeds and Doctrines

Jul 03

In my last post, I looked at the danger of emphasizing works over faith/repentance. You could say this is the fallacy of emphasizing the changing of one’s hands or feet. In this post, I want to look at the danger of emphasizing creeds/doctrines over faith/repentance. You could say this is the fallacy of emphasizing the changing of one’s mouth, or even one’s intellect. Salvation goes deeper than that–it is the changing of one’s heart. Until I started attending a United Methodist church, creeds were largely irrelevant to me, as my “branch” of Christianity hardly ever made mention of them. Some of the more liturgical branches of Christianity, however, emphasize them quite a bit. In my neck of the woods, instead of creeds being emphasized, certain doctrines were more emphasized. I see little difference between the concepts of creeds and doctrines. I will focus mainly on doctrine in this post, but I think much of this post also applies to creeds. Since I grew up “evangelical,” and still am content to be labeled as such, out of all the doctrines of the Christian faith, there is one doctrine that is primary for me: the doctrine of the Gospel (or salvation). With few exceptions, I generally am ok with disagreements on other doctrines, as long as we can agree on the Gospel. Here’s a brief definition of the Gospel for the purposes of this post: Everyone is a sinner and as a result no one deserves heaven. No one has any hope, outside of God offering forgiveness of sins. Because God is holy and just, He cannot forgive sin unless the penalty for sin is first dealt with. If He deals with us according to our sins, we are destroyed, and forgiveness is irrelevant at that point. God sent His perfect Son Jesus to die as a sacrifice for our sins, so that the penalty of sin would be carried out on Him instead of the rest of humanity. Jesus defeated the curse of sin, and the proof is His rising from the dead. God offers forgiveness of sins and restoration of relationship with Him to those who repent of (change their mind about) their disobedience to God and put their...

Read More

Pastoral Self-Indulgence

Apr 03

Pastoral Self-Indulgence

I’ve heard it said that one of the gifts of marriage is that it makes you into a better person (iron sharpens iron, etc.). I think this is true of being a pastor as well. Part of the job of a pastor is to think of other people more than yourself, which is the call of every Christian, of course. I think it’s a little more “obligatory” when you’re a pastor, though. I think that’s a good thing–it is helping me become more of that kind of person (slowly, over time). A few days ago, as I was driving down the interstate, I had an interesting thought: What if that’s the real reason God has made me a pastor? Not so much for other people’s benefit, but for my own. That’s a little uncomfortable for me to think about, since I see my “job” as being there for other people. But what if there’s a bigger reason for me being a pastor? Well, is there really any reason to be a pastor that is more important than helping others draw near to Christ? At first, I would say no. But what if the bigger reason isn’t for other people, but for me? Does that sound selfish or self-indulgent? On one level, it does. But on another level, maybe not. The Apostle Paul seemed to indicate his own walk with the Lord was just as, or even more, important than helping other people in their walk with the Lord. What use is it, he asks, if he helps others qualify for the prize, but he himself becomes disqualified? What if the reason why God made me a pastor is more than just helping people in my congregation know God, more than helping to establish a strong vibrant church in our community, even more than seeing this community come to know Christ? What if, just like marriage, God has placed this calling on me in order to mold me into something/someone that He wants me to be for all eternity? Is there something specific God has for me in eternity that He is preparing me for while I am here on earth? I mean…What if no one in my church ever...

Read More