Tag Archives: Faith

Rescuing The Dying American Church

We are what we love. If that’s true, the church is off track. We’ve stopped highlighting repentance, humility, holiness, self-sacrifice, and eternal judgment and have replaced these core values with wealth, influence, leadership training, fun, marketing, and lust.

The Bible says a double-minded person is unstable, and should not expect to receive anything from the Lord (see James 1:7). So since we’ve confused attendance and political connections with spiritual authority, and we’ve exchanged pleasing God with pleasing people, we’ve entered into a death spiral as a church. Prayer rooms are empty unless the music and leadership are just right, and consecration to God is treated as obsolete or boring.

The admonitions that “believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position, and the rich should be humble because, after all, they will pass away like a wild flower” are ignored because we’ve become a backslidden worldly church.

But there is always hope. James 4:8 writes, “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

But our current church leadership is so deceived they don’t perceive that they are the sinners, nor do they believe they need to purify their hearts. Why? Because their churches are full, their bank accounts are bulging, and they are surrounded by people who think their leaders are godly.

I’ve seen this first hand. Humble, kindhearted men of God love service, prayer, and the Scriptures. But that all changes when the cameras come on. It’s as if they become drunken with the spirits of this world for power, money, and prestige. Then they spiral into a stupor of superficial appearances of godliness, but the true spiritual power is gone. No longer is depending on the power of the Gospel the basis of their existence, but the influence they have on others takes its place.

David wrote about it in Psalm 51:17,

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Ezra 9:6 says it perfectly.

 I prayed,

“O my God, I am utterly ashamed; I blush to lift up my face to you. For our sins are piled higher than our heads, and our guilt has reached to the heavens.

Isaiah 57:15 says,

The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.

As I am writing this blog, I am reminded of a young man who was living in squalor. His family had provided a house where he lived with his young son, who was increasingly delayed in his development because of the environment of immorality and drug abuse in his home. Every bedroom was filled with trash, dirty mattresses, discarded condoms, and used needles.

The man needed help and was willing to repent and return to Christ, but he didn’t know where to begin. A crew from our church helped clean his house, and then funded the young man and his son to move out of state to a dependable family member where they could get a fresh start. The church also worked with him to get his teeth fixed, get free from his former addictions, and to start his education. Now time has passed. The young man is now gainfully employed, married, has a beautiful new son. His other son is now in above normal ranges cognitively and behaviorally. No more developmental delay.

Every one of us who has been bound by the power of depravity and selfishness and then set free by Christ knows exactly why we deeply despise sin and earnestly love the Lord and his people.

Psalm 97:10 says,

You who love the Lord, hate evil!
He protects the lives of his godly people
and rescues them from the power of the wicked.

Our hope is for our leaders to go unannounced to the mountaintop with no publicity, no cameras, and no publicly announced agenda, to press through for a private and powerful meeting with God. Most of them will need to unwind from the adrenaline that has been driving them. They will also need to leave their cell phones, energy drinks, caffeine, “medications,” and assistants at home, and stay until they push past boredom and then, like Isaiah, cry out in desperation,

It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

This can only happen by divine revelation, divine encounter, and divine devastation.

But here is the problem. Should they have an encounter like this, they will be tempted to return from the mountaintop and market this experience.

Maybe it’s time we start a new kind of secrets in the body of Christ. Maybe our leaders need to encounter the Lord, be quiet about it, and let the Lord reveal in public what has happened to them in private. That would be a refreshing change of pace, and might rescue our dying American Church.

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Whatever Happened to Old Fashioned Repentance?

“Repentance is an about face from sin and dead works to the living God.” That’s what theologians say. They also say, “It’s an entire change of mind resulting in a total change in life.” I think they are right, but I would also add:

  • Repentance is the most positive word in the English vocabulary. 
  • Repentance is the most hopeful idea in all of humanity. 
  • Repentance causes some of the most positive feelings anyone can experience.

So why is our culture forgetting the power of repentance and instead embracing punishment, shame, and public embarrassment as the popular responses to wrongdoing—as if those have ever produced anything good?

As we have learned recently from our politicians, enemies will highlight a person’s weaknesses and ignore his or her strengths or the good that also marks their character. And as we have also seen in the media, a person learning from mistakes, changing, and growing are given little expectation or value. The media calls it flip-flopping or being deceitful. But I know people change for the better every day. I watch it constantly. I’m a pastor, and as a Christian, I know the value, power, and hope of repentance.

This is why Paul, when preaching in Athens, as recorded in Acts 17:30b, told the people that God “. . . commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”. 

Why? Because God wants the best for us, so he, like any good parent, wants us to get rid of the things that hurt us. So as we meet him and get to know him, his goodness motivates us to turn away from the things that are dark and destructive . . . sinful. . . in our lives.

Repentance is a wonderful gift, so when we have opportunity to repent, we need to take advantage of that opportunity. Notice that after Peter saw a group of Gentiles be baptized in the Holy Spirit, he reported, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life” (Acts 11:18, emphasis mine). When Paul was exhorting young Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:25, he said, “Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth” (emphasis mine). God gives us opportunity for repentance. We choose to respond or not.

This is why we should all embrace repentance with grateful hearts, and why we as a society are making a mistake by not validating repentance.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he modeled God’s gift of repentance for all of us. After he committed destructive and devastating sins, he reveals the hope we all can receive from God if we will embrace repentance. Read this passage slowly and thoughtfully, then consider going back and praying through it:

Have mercy on me, O God,
because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt.
Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Oh, give me back my joy again;
you have broken me—
now let me rejoice.
Don’t keep looking at my sins.
Remove the stain of my guilt.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me . . .

17 The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.
You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

Sin is not only the negative, inappropriate, or destructive thoughts, words, and behaviors that violate our lives and those around us, and sometimes society as a whole, but it is also a violation against God and his perfect, wonderful, uplifting plan for our lives. No one wants the best for us like God does, so when we know him, we can repent, and live better lives.

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How To Build A Stronger Core In Turbulent Times

Today we’re watching the Caribbean, Texas, Florida, and Mexico try to recover from hurricanes and earthquakes. Portions of the western United States are engulfed in forest fires. North Korea threatens new war while we continue fighting our longest war in the Middle East. Every evening on the news we see law and order challenged, protesters marching in the streets, vandals burning businesses, and the media using its freedoms to manipulate the public.

As our society advances various social experiments, not knowing yet whether they will advance or harm humanity, we’re experiencing a record number of young people committing suicide, and more people than ever taking drugs to be happy. With careers, families, communities, and nations experiencing increased turmoil, each of us must take it upon ourselves to build a core set of beliefs that will guide us through these troubled waters. It’s the way to stay stable and sane when our lives and world are shaking. Otherwise, we’ll spiral into confused victimization like so many around us.

I think that is why the Bible exhorts us to continually grow stronger. The Bible says in Hebrews 6:1-3,

So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.

We all see the world through the lens of our belief systems and our values. This text in Hebrews says we need to know something solid and dependable that will enable us to respond to the challenges of life with strength instead of weakness. As a pastor, the challenge I face is that our culture has opened the door to subjectivity, allowing wrong to be right, and right to be wrong. The result is despair and confusion.

In order to live a successful life, we must develop a foundation, or a core based on wisdom and strength, that will instruct and guide us through the tumult of an uncertain world. We can become pillars that support others needing strength, or we can meld with the crowd of the entitled who depend on others to take care of them. I am saddened when I talk with those who are needy, but it is often their belief systems that leave them exposed to nonsense that is destructive to them, their relationships, and creates for them a more difficult future. We read in Luke 6:39-49,

Then Jesus gave the following illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch? Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.

“A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.

So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?  I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it.  It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.  But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house right on the ground, without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.”

Here Jesus is saying that the ideas and philosophies we embrace and act upon determine our lives. Ideas are important. Adolf Hitler and Billy Graham embraced contrasting ideas. Adolf Hitler ignited a war that marched millions to their deaths, and Billy Graham sparked a spiritual renewal that inspired millions into life. Both impacted the world, but in very different ways. Ideas matter.

So how do we build a strong internal core? We identify sources of wisdom that have proven strength and stability over time. And we listen to people who have earned the right to be heard through their consistency, their ability to overcome life’s challenges, and their strong and stable lives. In my life it means I read and study the Bible to get ideas that strengthen my core, and I listen to those who have successfully done what I would like to do.

All of us are impacted by the challenges of our shifting world. If we want to succeed in life, we must build a stronger core.

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Is Lent For Us?

This morning a friend sent a text asking if we should participate in Lent. At that moment, I realized that we had so understated so many Christian holidays in our church that it would be good to write a blog to refresh our knowledge of this Christian tradition.

This year the first day of Lent happens to be today, March 1, 2017, Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is a day for us to remind ourselves of our mortality, sinfulness, and ultimate demise without Christ ( . . . from ashes to ashes, dust to dust. . . ). Lent, then, is a season when Christians have historically focused on simple living: limiting excesses, paying more attention to prayer and the Scriptures, participating more in church, and fasting in one way or another. Lent lasts about one tenth of the year. It is a tithe of our time set aside to focus on God’s priorities in our lives instead of worldly pleasures and living. It’s a season of devotion to God that roughly spans the forty days before Easter, excluding Sundays, because Sundays are a weekly mini-Easter celebration. The final day of Lent this year will be April 15th, the day before our resurrection day celebration, which of course is Easter.

Many Christians see the Lent season as a time to give up some type of food or guilty pleasure, or to begin doing something to strengthen their walk with Christ, which is always a good thing. During this season I often think of the story of the rich man who came to see Jesus. When he asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18: 18-23).

Three things stand out to me in this response: 1.Give something up, 2. Give it to someone who needs it, and 3. Follow Christ.

Gayle and I have decided to give up most of our television watching. It’s true our TV is currently broken–but that is what got us thinking about what we gain when we’re not watching it.

It gives us more time with our family and friends.

In Christ’s response, he wanted the rich man to give up his things for the benefit of others. When our TV broke, we spent more time at our table having meals together. We also discovered we had more time to read, write, go on walks, jog, and talk. And, much to my delight, we even started going to bed earlier which made us feel better in the morning.

Some of you might want to consider other forms of electronic media. Gaming, texting, Facebooking, surfing, etc. All of these consume mass amounts of time. Slow down. Read. Visit. Think. Rest. Regroup.

It keeps the news about current events from dominating my home-life.

With the 24-hour news programs, everything is micro-analyzed and scrutinized. I watched the President’s speech last night (on my son Jonathan’s TV in his bedroom), and this morning when I read the news on my news ap, many of the analyses were slanted very differently than the speech I watched last night. Everything is political right now, and I need time away from endless hype.

That’s what Gayle and I are doing for Lent. Now what about you? If you or your family would like to use the Lent season as an opportunity to go without something in order to be able to give to others, you might discover some unexpected blessings in your life. Some of you might choose to devote the Sunday mornings of Lent to attending church, or some of you might start attending Wednesday evening Bible studies for Lent. A staff member just came in my office and announced he and his friends are giving up eating out at restaurants for Lent.

It’s your decision, and Lent gives all of us a great opportunity to let go of what is not needed, and embrace more of Christ in our lives.

I love serving Him with you.

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