Don’t Go Alone

Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain and the list goes on and on. Two people that helped shape me went out the same way that they did. There was a point in time when I could have joined this list. Not intentionally, but because of reckless abandon. A good friend of mine held someone he loved in the aftermath of this.

How do we get here? We live in a time where we’re more connected than we’ve ever, but people are more lonely than ever. It doesn’t take much scrolling to see graphics and/or defiant statements about cutting people off and shouldering life alone. It doesn’t a lot to find talk of anxiety or loneliness either. How do we get here even though we have the world at our fingertips? We can literally contact just about anyone we want to at any given time, yet we’re so alone.

Today marks the fourth year since the day I woke up in jail, and I’ve been thinking about that all day. I am not sure how I got there that night. I was surrounded by people that care about me. That night, I was completely blind to all of it. Nothing mattered to me but getting through the struggle at the time and doing it alone. It was a stupid and unnecessary decision that could’ve landed my name on that list.

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“Yeaaaah, I’m in jail…” That were the first words that came out of my mouth when I finally remembered my work number. It was my boss that answered the phone. “Yeah.. yeah, you are” he said matter of flatly. They knew already. One of my co-workers found me as soon as I showed up in the system, he explained to me. He rattled off names of people that were worried sick about me. As I listened to him talk about all the concern about my well being, my mind was reeling.

How did I not know that there were so many people around me that had my back? How did I not know that those people love me? Why didn’t I reach out to one of my old friends? Why didn’t I reach out to my best friend? With every name he shared, I had to ask myself why. My friends posted my bail as soon as they found out what happened. They were outside waiting for me to be processed and released. They took so long to let me out, people were doing shifts around the jail so I’d have a way home when I finally got out. THAT is love.

Beautiful friendships were born out of that bad weekend. I told my story to anyone that would hear it. I had to. Not telling my story is what landed me there in the first place. It was hard. It’s still hard. As an introvert by nature, it’s not easy for me to bare my heart when something is really hurting me. Like any other person, I don’t want to risk being further hurt by opening up to someone that turns out to be not trustworthy either. There’s a plethora of relatable reasons any of us have to shoulder our burdens alone, but it’s not meant to be that way.

We need one another. We’re communal beings. We can’t handle all of life’s problems alone. We’re not designed to even be capable of handling it all. We all need somebody to lean on. My refusal to accept that could’ve cost someone their life. It could’ve cost me mine.

I’m hitting extremes, and I realize that. Everyone that’s alone doesn’t commit suicide or put people in mortal danger like I did. But, this loneliness that’s so prevalent in our culture doesn’t have to be. Some of anxiety we feel about one another could possibly be coming from the inability to relate and resolve conflict with one another through authentic relationships too.

This tool that we have, the internet. It’s great. I can check up on people I haven’t seen since 6th grade and we can talk to each other. I can see how my family is doing and check up on them even though we’re in different parts of the country and living completely different lives. I can even hold on tightly to relationships that were born online and help them blossom into more. And that has happened. One of the most important friendships I have is with someone from Rhode Island. That’s pretty far from anywhere I’ve ever lived and we’re still more than just a name and a picture to one another.

There’s a lot to be said to this, but for now, we need each other. We have to do the hard work of building trust and the harder work of baring our souls if we want love to be more than some fickle and fleeting feeling we get once in a while. That is suicide prevention. That is intervention. That is therapy. That, for some of us, is all we need.

Getting Uncomfortable In Our Misery: The Art of Moving On

If you peruse this blog site for any amount of time, you will probably find a number of articles pertaining to the subject of moving on. And that’s probably because, personally, I have had a lot of stuff over the course of my life that I have had to try and move on from.

Even now, I’m still trying to move on from various things.

But I know I’m not the only one.

In fact, if I had to guess, you’re probably reading this article right now because you’re thinking to yourself, “I’ve got this thing going on in my life, and I am struggling to move past it, and I just don’t know what to do.”

Let me first say to you that it is perfectly OK to admit you’re struggling with something. Admitting you’re struggling is literally the first step toward healing. However, it is the moment that you deny that you are struggling with something that the real problems set in.

Pretty sure Dr. Phil said this (maybe not though), but denial helps exactly ZERO people 100% of the time. That’s a fact!

MISERY LOVES COMPANY

The reality is, moving on from something, especially something that has wounded you deeply, takes a LOT of work. Unfortunately, most folks would rather enjoy the company of their sorrow than to put in the hard work to move through the pain and come out on the other side of the mess.

Not only are they content with wrapping themselves up at night to snuggle into their misery, but they want to bring others into their misery as well. Ya know? Have a big misery snuggle fest together!

Ever heard the phrase, “Misery loves company”?

If not, let me give you a quick history lesson: this is a proverb that dates back hundreds of years. Similar phrases were written by Sophocles, however the earliest recorded English use was around 1349.

The basic idea is that miserable people find comfort in making others miserable.

We’re all guilty of it at one time or another…and if you deny that, well…go back up a few paragraphs and have a heart to heart with Dr. Phil.

Deep down you know exactly what I’m talking about. Often we find that we feel comforted by the thought that other people are miserable too. We go out of our way to bring others into our misery so we don’t feel alone in our misery.

It’s not a healthy practice, but it is widely practiced by everyone at one time or another.

A TIME FOR EVERYTHING – EVEN BEING MISERABLE

The Bible tells us that there is a time for everything, perhaps even being miserable:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 MSG – 1 “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: 2 a right time for birth and another for death, a right time to plant and another to reap, 3 a right time to kill and another to heal, a right time to destroy and another to construct, 4 a right time to cry and another to laugh, a right time to lament and another to cheer, 5 a right time to make love and another to abstain, a right time to embrace and another to part, 6 a right time to search and another to count your losses, a right time to hold on and another to let go, 7 a right time to rip out and another to mend, a right time to shut up and another to speak up, 8 a right time to love and another to hate, a right time to wage war and another to make peace.”

According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to cry, lament, search, and hold on to something. But there is also a time to laugh, cheer, count your losses, and let go of something.

We’re really good at the first part…not so good at the second part.

One thing to realize before we move further into this discussion is that the time for folks to move on will be different from one person to the next, but there still needs a moment to move on.

We want people to move on from something on our time table. Rarely do we recognize that our time table of healing and moving on may look different from someone else.

But at the same time of recognizing this, we also have to recognize that there are some people who are refusing to move on. And this is unhealthy. As a result of refusing to move forward, they are becoming bitter, angry, and difficult to be around.

There is a sort of finesse to the whole moving forward thing…an art of moving on if you will. It isn’t easy and it will require a serious mindset change. But if we can start moving our mindset in the right direction, then we can start moving our entire being toward finally getting past the misery that’s been haunting us for however many days, months, or years it’s been there.

It’s time to start getting uncomfortable in our misery and find a way to move forward.

THE ART OF MOVING ON

There are a few things that must take place inside of an individual in order for them to effectively perfect the art of moving on. At some point the individual must…

  1. Stop enjoying the company of misery and start seeking release from it.
  2. Stop letting current events trigger and dredge up emotions and reactions from past events.
  3. Stop talking of past events as though they are still happening.
  4. Stop looking for the negative in everything and start finding the positive in everything.
  5. Stop waiting for the other shoe to drop and start finding a new pair of shoes.
  6. Stop dragging others into your misery and start asking others to help you out of it.
  7. Stop dwelling on what was and start living with what is and dreaming about what could be.

I’m sure there are more than 7 things that a person needs to do in order to effectively master the art of moving on. But this is a good starting place.

We are all going to experience miserable moments in life. It’s just the facts of life. But our miserable moments don’t have to become the definition of our life. Experience that moment. As I’ve pointed out, even the Bible recognizes that these moments are going to come.

But at some point you MUST pick yourself up and realize that this moment is but a moment and will pass and that there are moments that are coming and that you are currently in that are not miserable that need your undivided and non-miserable attention.

Let the healing begin!

A Beautiful Mess

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. Psalm 127:3-5 ESV

It may come as no surprise to anyone, but I hate a mess. In fact, I have great anxiety when I walk into the middle of clutter, dirt, and chaos.

Interestingly, prior to being married, there was once an event that took place when my mother-in-law to be, her sister-in-law, and my wife-to-be walked into the apartment that my now-wife and I would be sharing after we got married and they took one look around and were shocked.

They were shocked because they saw that there were no piles of dirty dishes piling up in the kitchen sink.

They saw the carpets and floors clean.

They found my bed made and all my dirty clothes in a dirty hamper.

They even found my closet with my clothes in a specific order and my shoes neatly ordered along the floor.

Don’t get me wrong, they won’t going around looking in my apartment for a mess. They were simply scoping out the space to get an idea of how we would move my wife in once we were married.

They made the comment about how surprised they were to find a bachelor living in such a clean environment.

Fast forward nearly 14 years (on May 14th of this year…yes…I remember!), and you will find my house full of toys, dirt, piling up dirty dishes, clothes everywhere, and just masses and masses of stuff.

No, my wife and I have not become hoarders. We just went from being a family of 2 to a hoard of 6.

Where once were 2 adults, there now stands 2 adults, 4 children, 2 dogs, a cat, and a rabbit. All occupying the same 1,650 square feet of space.

Bumping into one another.

Stepping on one another.

Crowding one another.

Aggravating one another.

Crying with one another.

Laughing with one another.

Screaming at one another.

Playing with one another.

Eating with one another.

Watching movies together.

You name it…there are now 6 people and a bunch of animals doing life together.

Did I mention that I hate a mess?

You can only imagine how this must pain me to see when I come home from a long day at the office, and an hour long commute home through some of the nations worst traffic.

And for a while there (a long while to be exact), I got aggravated. Miserably aggravated and angry. I took it out on my wife and kids, wrongfully I might add.

They were (and are) doing the best they can, and I wasn’t doing all that I could.

But the reality is this, this…mess….this is my life. This mess is a testament to what has become a beautiful blessing. This mess represents my wife and my children (and my animals) and this mess is slowly becoming less of a burden…and more of a reminder that God has dumped on my heaps of things to be thankful for.

Thankful for a wife who loves me and supports me, and works hard to manage a part time job and homeschooling our children (and trying to manage the household somewhere in between).

Thankful for four beautiful kids, each with their own unique personalities and interests. Not a single one of them like the other. Growing, maturing, learning, changing…not only blessings, but they are a responsibility that God has given me to help raise into equally wonderful adults.

Thankful for a roof over my head, food in my belly, clothes on my back, and transportation to and from my house and wherever I may need to go.

Looking back, and now also looking forward, I must do better at enjoying the moment and seeing this mess for what it really is….

….the aftermath of a beautiful and blessed life.

Murder Mill Musings #003

Today felt lively. The local church showed up in great numbers and there were prominent voices in the abolitionist movement present. Joseph Spurgeon, R.C. Sproul Jr. and Rusty Thomas were among the more widely known voices pleading for the lives of the unborn among us. Solidarity is important and I think it’s something worth discussing. It was invigorating to see so many stirred up to do this hard work. But, this post isn’t about that. This post is about dishonest people that claim to champion “choice”.

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There are many charges to the church that carry legitimate weight. Yes, more of us should be in this fight. Yes, more of should be doing more than sharing memes. Yes, some of us should be backing up our claims with our pockets. Yes, some of us should repent of sins that could lead to the very thing we’re at war against right now. Yes, and amen. I agree with you skeptics. Yes, some of us need to be more consistent and we need to be willing to make sacrifices if it is true in our heart of hearts that we want to see this end for good. That’s as far as it goes. From there, we remain at odds because those that challenge us with those claims are often hypocrites and liars.

Let’s cut through the crap and be honest, eh? You don’t really care that more children aren’t being adopted. How do I know that? Firstly, if everyone that brought that charge to the church had first themselves sought after rescueing a child that could get lost in the system, this would not be a problem. Secondly, there are many children being rescued and adopted through efforts made to avert abortions. Thirdly, it’s a lot cheaper to kill a child than it is to save one, but I can’t hear any of the opposition making noise about that. And fourthly, just because I or someone else doesn’t want to take the responsibility for your sexual sin doesn’t give you the right to kill someone. What kind of insane logic is that?

If you look at the debates happening here and there on the internet, these are the kinds of objections you see. They ask why we don’t go inside (it’s illegal), and offer to adopt the unwanted children about to be killed (we do), or offer to pay for the medical expenses for the children we’re fighting to save (we do). It’s excuse after excuse after excuse. We have people that have resources like food, water, shelter, transportation, employment and money. We offer all of the things they claim we don’t bring to the table and more.

Do you know what happens when you can prove that the church is doing all that she can do to save those babies and these assertions are illegitimate? They show their cards. They pretend the conversation never happened and revert back to how they really feel: they just want to kill without consequence and not be bothered with us. Of course, I can’t make specific charges to every single person that supports abortion. Some will consider these words. Some may change their minds about their objections to us. Sadly, the common outcome is if you let them talk long enough, you’ll see that they don’t care about the reality of the situation. They just want to do what they want to do and that’s to kill the baby.

They don’t have biological reasons. Babies are concieved with their own seperate DNA. These people that claim faith don’t have religious reasons. God said He knows His children by name in the womb (Isaiah 49:1). Their arguments aren’t logical. They’re fallacious and emotional. All they have are excuses.

We will NOT be silent. We will NOT accept excuses. We will NOT let the bodies of the pre-born neighbor be trampled over. We are NOT onlookers. We are soldiers at spiritual war. It’s time we take up the armor of God and continue to encourage our brothers and sisters to do likewise.

The 3 R’s of Moving On

Sometimes I have to process things really slowly, especially when those things involve people I was close to. For instance, I have been working through processing a couple of events that took place in the last couple of months that seemed rather unnecessary and petty, but came from the least likely sources.

RECENT EVENTS

For example, I recently got raked over the coals publicly by a pastor friend that felt I had gotten too soft on social media because I dared to post more things that were not political in nature or culturally engaging than I might have normally done in the past. Things that were more light hearted, less controversial, and dare I say…personal in nature.

I was accused of taking a “social justice warrior” stance, promoting “false teachers” (e.g. Francis Chan), and leading members of his congregation astray and causing others in his church to feel discouragement toward me. I was accused of violating some sacred trust I was given to speak into the lives of his church members that, apparently, he alone granted me…on social media. I was also accused of drifting toward heretical belief systems.

He even went so far as to tag my pastor at the time in his comments to offer up public correction and rebuke of me because I was “his disciple”, or to correct him if he felt he was in the wrong. Unfortunately, no such public response came to my defense…by anyone really.

I eventually deleted the comments and removed the pastor friend from my life as it was clear that the relationship was not a healthy one.

And what was the post that spurned such a response? I had been so bold as to make the suggestion that God was more concerned with our inner appearance (our hearts) than He was about our exterior appearance (what we wear).

I was taken aback by it, if I am honest.

None of those things spoken of me and over me were true. They hurt because the accusations came from someone I had assumed knew me and supported me.

Thankfully, I know my heart…and I know the God I serve…and I didn’t allow those things to define me. I let them roll off. Didn’t mean the hurt didn’t still remain…but I knew the words to be untrue. It also helped to have a wife who looked at me and reaffirmed the fact that those things were not true and not to believe them.

I experienced another similar event even more recently by another person I trusted…except in that case an entire article was written about me claiming and declaring things about me that were entirely untrue. It segued into more general points, but it was pretty clear that even the general stuff, having been preempted by the more direct, was about me.

This article was supposedly written in response to an article I had written. In my article I took great care not to single anyone out, and keep it as a general high-level observation of things I had witnessed in my own time in ministry…not of any one person.

Side note…

Even as I write this article, while I’m giving specific examples, I’m trying to do my best not to uncover specific people and expose them personally. It is quite difficult to address such things that were stated about you publicly without revealing a little. But, hopefully the majority will not go on the hunt to find out who these individuals were because that is not my intent.

Back to the example…

The article written about me was not done that way at all. It was clearly written about me. The only thing left out was my name, but anyone who had read my article, or knew this relationship, could easily connect the two. It was written in a somewhat mocking manner, sarcastically, and even belittled me and the content I had written. I had a few folks reach out privately and ask about it and then express great disappointment in what they had seen after I provided more context to the situation.

That one probably hurt even more than the other one. But again, I had to remind myself that those things spoken about me were not true.

MOVING ON

My point in all of this is simply this…mean and horrible things will be said about you (and even to you) by people you love and trust. It may be that you have evolved in your understanding and application of things (and I’m not talking about moving in to heresy) which will rub people you were close to the wrong way. Those things may strike chords in them that you never expect would result in the things they say to or about you. It may be, like in the case of my second example, that you write something as a general observation that gets taken as a personal attack, and receives an unnecessary public admonishment. It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN.

The real unfortunate thing is, those people have allowed themselves to be used by the enemy to hurt and maim you. They may not realize it. They may think they are doing “God’s work”, but in reality they are throwing spears and arrows on behalf of the enemy.

There are a few ways to combat this though. I call this the 3 R’s of Moving On:

  • Remove those people from your life. They have become toxic relationships that are doing more harm than good. You don’t need to subject yourself to their spears and arrows. As hard as it may be…just walk away.
  • Remind yourself of who you are in the eyes of God by looking to His Word and reading what He has to say about you. For example, HERE’s an article listing 19 verses displaying what God thinks about you. And that’s just a starting place. There’s so much more to be found!
  • Replace those relationships with ones that are truly on your side and meaningful. Find someone or someones that truly love you unconditionally and who will speak truth to you (when you need it) in love. They aren’t going to publicly embarrass you when they suddenly don’t agree with you. I’m not talking about finding “yes” people, just people who truly understand relationship and will walk it out with you in the good and the bad.

A quick caveat: I am not assuming guilt or innocence concerning myself or others when these things occur. These individuals may very well be pointing out things you need to consider. So, certainly consider what is being said carefully before tossing it all out with the bathwater. But, at the same time, you don’t have to receive things that are being said maliciously, callously, or carelessly. If they truly valued you and their relationship with you, they wouldn’t make a public spectacle of things.

IT’S NOT EASY BUT IT MAY BE NECESSARY

I realize that these steps may be easier said than done. It isn’t easy to look at long time relationships and make the decision to walk away from it when it appears to be moving toward a toxic and unhealthy place. But sometimes it is absolutely necessary in order for you to heal, to grow, and to move forward.

I would encourage you, that if you are reading this and can relate to what I’m saying, to seek out the wise counsel of a pastor, friend, or family member that you can trust will speak truth in love to you. That will help you discern what God may be saying in these matters. And that will take seriously the pain you are experiencing.

A Word of Caution to the Spiritual Fathers of this World

Being called a Spiritual Son or hearing someone call themselves my Spiritual Father (or mother) was something I wasn’t used to growing up in the Southern Baptist Church. Which is odd, because there is certainly this type of relationship displayed throughout the Bible.

After all, one of the most prolific of this sort of relationship in the Bible was between Paul and Timothy. We know this was a special relationship because Paul called attention to it in 1 Timothy 1:2 when he said, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith”.

This is just in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Paul refers to Timothy in a similar manner in other areas of scripture (1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 2:1, and 1 Corinthians 4:17).

Interestingly, Timothy was not the only Spiritual Son that Paul referred to. He also spoke of Onesiumus (Philemon 1:10) and even Titus (Titus 1:4).

My point, though, is simply that the concept of being a Spiritual family to others who are not in fact blood related, is a very biblical concept.

Paul the father and timothy the son

I have been called a Spiritual Son before by various people. Especially in the charismatic church circles I ran with over the last several years.

But as I examined the relationship between Paul and his Spiritual Son and the relationship I have had with my Spiritual Father’s, I couldn’t help but notice there was something amiss. There was something missing.

Before I speak of what was missing, let’s first take a moment and look at the ways Paul referred to Timothy:

  • “Timothy, my child…” (1 Tim. 1:18)
  • “Timothy, my beloved child…” (2 Tim. 1:2)
  • “My child…” (2 Tim. 2:1)
  • “Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord…” (1 Cor. 4:17)

As you read those phrases, I’m certain some words stand out to you. Words like child, beloved, and faithful. They evoke feelings of a fondness of Timothy by Paul. They imply a familial level of relationship that you don’t have with just anyone. They give us a peak behind Paul’s chest and directly into his heart as it relates to Timothy.

I read these phrases, and my heart leaps at the thought that one person could mean so much to another to be called a son. It was obvious that Paul thought highly of Timothy, and it showed in not only his words, but also his actions.

  • Paul took Timothy under his wing and mentored him.
  • Paul stayed connected with Timothy in both letter and in person.
  • Paul corrected Timothy when necessary.
  • Paul trusted Timothy with the ministry.
  • Paul’s love for Timothy wasn’t restricted by geographic location.
  • Paul mentored Timothy long after he was already serving in ministry.

I’m sure a lot more could be said, but you get the general idea here. Paul and Timothy truly exemplified the meaning of Spiritual Family.

WHAT WAS MISSING

I mentioned earlier that I have been called a Spiritual Son in the past.

Truth-be-told, there were a lot of great moments in those relationships. I cannot deny that at all. Times when I truly felt loved, mentored, and embraced as a Spiritual Son. But at some point, in every single instance, something changed or was missing from the beginning that perhaps I just didn’t catch in the midst of it.

In some cases it was one thing or two things, in other cases a whole lot was missing.

But something that was missing, that they all had in common, was this:

Their relationship to me was restricted by geographic location.

I’m not just talking about where I lived, but also restricted by where we attended church gatherings.

When I read about Paul and Timothy, as I pointed out above, this was simply not the case. Paul was never in the same place very long. But even as he was on the move, heading to another location to preach the gospel and establish the Church in a new country or city…he ALWAYS stayed connected to Timothy. Be it in person or through hand written letters.

In a day and age where there was no internet or telephone, Paul kept their relationship alive and growing no matter where he was on the earth. Even from behind the bars of a prison!

Imagine how Timothy must’ve felt? That Paul would even think of him behind bars? Timothy knew that he truly meant something to Paul. There was no mistaking it. No matter where he was on the earth, Timothy knew.

And yet, in the age we live in where connecting with someone is literally a text or phone call away, it seems the ones who have called me a Spiritual Son have had a hard time keeping their connection to me.

I haven’t walked away from the faith.

I haven’t walked away from ministry.

But it is painfully clear, or at the very least appears to be, that our connection didn’t mean as much as was initially portrayed. Perhaps it is because I no longer serve a purpose for them. Or perhaps its because they no longer feel we have anything in common. Perhaps they still see me as a Spiritual Son, but just have a funny way of showing it.

I still love them all. Everyone of them.

But no one knows for sure why the connection seemed to end, except them.

A WORD OF CAUTION

I do not believe anyone enters into a relationship expecting to hurt the other person, or to see a relationship crumble. But I think greater care must be taken when establishing such relationships that merit terms like Spiritual Father and Spiritual Son.

This is what I do know, and what I have learned in these experiences:

Be careful of who you call a Spiritual Son. Not because they may be evil or something, but because who you call a Son will ultimately become a person who will commit to you a loyalty that no other person will give. And should you take that step, you are opening the door for a relationship that is deep, fierce, and meaningful to the Son. Don’t violate it when it becomes a burden to you.

If you take that step to call someone a Spiritual Son, understand that you were the one who opened the door for a relationship that you must now pursue as a father pursues a son. If you feel the relationship may be changing, be man enough and godly enough to communicate that. Understand that how you choose to handle it going forward could potentially have a serious impact on their ability to trust future men who may call them a Spiritual Son.

Instead, as the Bible instructs us, go the extra mile as you would for your own flesh and blood son. Don’t just walk away from it because you simply “assume” it doesn’t matter to them. After all, would you walk away from your biological son?

In other words, the very act of calling someone a Spiritual Son is something that ought to be treated with great care. This isn’t just another member of the Body that you may or may not have to keep a connection with.

You have opened a door and invited a person into a place that others are not privileged to be part of.

Steward it well.

Divinity

Question: Why do you believe the bible?

Answer: Because it’s a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye witnesses during the lifetime of other eye witnesses that reported supernatural events in fulfillment of specific prophecies. Finally, they claim that these messages are divine rather than human in nature.

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“Thus says the Lord”, and variations of the statement depending on what translation you’re studying with, appears all over the Old Testament. God’s prophets didn’t speak in their own names. They claimed to speak for God. God validated the authenticity of their claims with public signs.

This would not stop anyone from claiming to speak on behalf of God at any given time, but God has given us standards to look to. One of those is the aforementioned signs. The other is consistency with the truth. There are some verses that distinguish true prophets from those taking the Lord’s name in vain that we can look to (Deuteronomy 13:1-3 / 18:15-22).

This is the point that ties everything together. There is nothing of antiquity or otherwise that boasts the credentials of scripture. It was written over the span of roughly 1,500 years. The authors were the very rich on down to the very poor. These men spoke different languages. They lived in different places. Most of them never met one another. They even spoke into different topics that ultimately ties to one overarching narrative of redemption.

If you don’t know who Jesus is, there is no way to give a consistent answer to this (John 5:46). Red letter Christians aren’t gonna like this, but over and over Jesus claims not only to be the coming Messiah, but He’s also one with the God of Abraham (John 1:1). He’s the one that gave the words to the prophets of old to speak (John 8:48-59).

Unlike any of the other prophets, Jesus never uttered the words “Thus says the Lord” or any variation. He said “You have heard it said, but I say...”. He spoke on His own authority, which was unheard of and considered blasphemous. This is how we know for sure that all scripture is God breathed and profitable for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16-17). ALL of it comes from Jesus, not just words that were written in red ink starting in 1899.

If you still can’t get on board with Jesus, you’ve got to wrestle with this. Eternity is a long time to be wrong. All that time from start to finish. All those prophecies that just so happened to be fulfilled in one man that claimed to be God. All those public miracles acknowledged even by opposition to the church. That one empty tomb that no one can give account for outside of a resurrection. A church that spread like wildfire in the face agonizing persecution. What does all this say to you? Seek Jesus. None of this will make sense outside of Him.

Further Study
Why You Can Believe the Bible (Video)
The Gospel of John (Webpage)
Criteria of a True Prophet (Webpage)

 

Prophecy

Recap: God has something to say about knowledge. The bible is a reliable collection of historical documents. It was written by eyewitnesses in the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. Continuing that thought, these witnesses reported supernatural events in fulfilment of specific prophecies.

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I emphasize specific, because that’s just what this is. These are not some vague Nostradamus type of predictions that can be applied to any given world event. These are specific prophecies bound by time, geography and biology. Each of these prophecies were made hundreds — and in some cases, over a thousand — years before the birth of Christ. Here’s a list along with the estimated times these predictions were written:

  • Genesis 3:15 / 12:3 (1445 B.C.)
  • Exodus 12:1-28 (1440-1400 B.C.)
  • Leviticus 1:4-5 (1440-1400 B.C.)
  • Numbers 24:17 (1440-1400 B.C.)
  • Deuteronomy 32:43 (1440-1400 B.C.)
  • Joshua 5:13-17 (1405-1385 B.C.)
  • Judges (Forshadowed in the judges) (1043 B.C.)
  • Ruth 4:12-17 (1030-1010 B.C.)
  • 1 Samuel 2:10 (931-722 B.C.)
  • 2 Samuel 7:12-16 (931-722 B.C.)
  • 1 Kings (Forshadowed in the kings) (561-538 B.C)
  • 2 Kings 4:42 (561-538 B.C.)
  • 1 Chronicles 5:2 (450-430 B.C.)
  • 2 Chronicles 9:22 (450-430 B.C.)
  • Ezra 4 (Forshadowed in Zerubbabel) (457-444 B.C.)
  • Nehemiah (Forshadowed in Nehemiah himself) (424-400 B.C.)
  • Esther (Forshadowed in Mordecai) (450-331 B.C.)
  • Job (Forshadowed in the sufferings and following blessings of Job)
  • Psalms 16:8-10 / 22:6-8 / 110:4 (1410-450 B.C.)
  • Proverbs 8:22-23 (971-686 B.C.)
  • Song of Solomon (Forshadowed in marriage) (971-965 B.C.)
  • Isaiah 7:14 / 9:6 / 11:1-2 / 35:5-6 (700-681 B.C.)
  • Jeremiah 23:6 (686-570 B.C.)
  • Ezekial 34:23-24 (590-570 B.C.)
  • Daniel 7:13-14 (536-530 B.C.)
  • Hosea (Forshadowed in Hosea’s faithfulness to his adulterous wife) (750-710 B.C.)
  • Joel 2:32 (835-796 B.C.)
  • Amos 8:9 (750 B.C.)
  • Jonah 1:17 (Foreshadowing) (775 B.C.)
  • Micah 5:2 (735-710 B.C.)
  • Habbakuk 3:3 (615-605 B.C.)
  • Haggai 2:6-9 (520 B.C.)
  • Zechariah 6:12-13 / 9:9 / 11:12-13 / 12:10 (480-470 B.C.)
  • Malachi 3:1 (433-422 B.C.)

My aim was to list just ONE from each Old Testament book. I couldn’t resist sharing more than one in some cases because of things they say that are commonly known about Jesus, even to unbelievers. If you don’t believe Jesus, you have to wrestle with this: it was told what kind of birth He would have, into what lineage He would be born, what kind of life He would live, how He would die, how people would react to his death, in what manner He would be buried AND what He would do after His death. There are at least 400 prophecies/foreshadows directly concerning Jesus that were written hundreds of years before His incarnation and He fulfilled them all.

If you don’t believe Jesus, you have to wrap your head around a naturalistic explanation for all of that — let alone the other things we know concerning scripture. Believe Moses! You have no reason not to. Jesus said that what Moses has written is true. If you do not believe Moses, you can’t believe Jesus. That’s who Moses was speaking of when he wrote (I use him as a representative of the entire Old Testament. You get the point, right?)

Further Study
400 Prophecies of Christ (Book)
Prophecies Jesus Fulfills (Video)
Jesus in Every Book (Webpage)

*Note: The date of Job is unknown, but it’s considered to be the oldest book of the bible.

The Martyrs

In case you missed it, the third entry of this series on apologetics was about eye witnesses to Jesus’ ministry. Consider this entry part two of entry #3. This is also going to be about eye witnesses, but from a different vantage point. You see, those that claim that the disciples just “made up” the stories or were “just trying to control people” are ignorant about the religious climate of the day. Let’s dig in!

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Let’s start with the men that were the closest to Jesus during his ministry. After His arrest, Peter famously denies knowing Him three times. A less discussed point on this matter is Peter denied knowing Him to a servant girl (Luke 22:54-62). He was afraid to tell a little girl what his position was (And if you’re going to tell stories like this, wouldn’t you leave the personally embarassing bits out???). Peter was afraid of what the authorities might do to him if they found out he was following Jesus.

Just a short time later, Jesus was executed. Of the 12 apostles, the only one present at the cross was John (John 19:26). The rest of them deserted Him and fled for their lives (Mark 14:50). Fast forward a few years later, and their attitudes had changed dramatically. All of them except John (not for lack of trying) were martyred.

  • Peter – Crucified upside down
  • Thomas – Thrust through with a spear
  • Matthew – Thrust through with a sword
  • Batholomew – Beheaded
  • Simon – Crucified
  • Philip – Crucified
  • Andrew – Crucified
  • James (The Lesser) – Stoned
  • Judas (Not Iscariot) – Arrow Firing Squad
  • James (The Greater) – Thrust through with a sword
  • Judas (Iscariot) – Suicide
  • Matthais (Judas’ Replacement) – Crucified

The only apostle of the twelve to die a natural death was John, but not for lack of trying. He was boiled alive in oil and exhiled to die alone on an island. Even then, he was still serving Jesus. Something pretty spectacular must have happened for a group of men to go from running scared to proclaiming Christ unto death. That was the penalty for Christianity. Death.

In the previous entry, I introduced two names that are bound together in scripture. Luke, the author of two New Testament books was a physician and historian. He’s bound to Theophilus, a nobleman. This honorable man thought so much of Luke’s credentials, that he hired him to investigate the life of Christ and the explosive growth of the church. He wanted to know if the rumors about Christ were true. If they lived through being found out, these men had prestige to lose.

There’s a second couple bound by scripture that are important to make this point. Those men were Stephen, the first known Christian martyr, and Saul of Tarsus, a religious leader of the day. Saul sanctioned the stoning and death of Stephen. This is especially relevant because Stephen defied the Sanhedrin and Pharisees publicly and to their faces even though they had the authority to execute him, which they eventually did when they could tolerate his preaching no more (Acts 7:54-60).

In the following chapters of Acts, Saul gives up his nobility to serve Christ. Why would this man step down from a pedastal of high repute and subsequently lose his social stature? Why would he then go on to do the same things he had Stephen killed for? Why would he continue on this way after being beaten (Acts 22:24), stoned (Acts 14:19), shipwrecked (Acts 27:27 – Acts 28:5), imprisoned (Acts 16:16-40) and put on house arrest (Acts 28:17-31)?

This man went on to contribute a sizeable portion of the New Testament preaching the same Christ he was slaughtering Christians over virtually overnight. So, what happened? Why did this man, a pharisee, well respected by his peers and feared by commoners, defect to the group of people he hunted down and imprisoned personally (Acts 8:1-3)?

This man spared man nor woman, but suddenly decided it appropriate to subject himself to the terrorism he himself inflicted on Christians. Why? Like all the other witnesses of the day, he met the resurrected Christ personally (Acts 9). It changed his life’s direction forever, until the day he too was finally beheaded for his faith.

Christians faced this hostility for another 300 years before Constantine put an end to it. That’s three centuries of crufixions, being fed to lions, being stoned and being lit up like tiki torches by the romans and STILL persisting. The accusation that the early church was making a power play is laughable at best and greviously insulting to the blood spilled at worst.

I’m going to stop here and point you to Acts 2. Peter here is preaching to the very people that had Jesus killed.

Further Study
How to Destroy Christianity With One Simple Step (Video)

Eye Witness Testimony

Recap: In the previous entries on apologetics, I’ve shared the emphasis God puts on knowledge and the unique composition of the the bible. In this entry, I’ll share the next reason I believe what the bible says and why I think you should too. The bible was not written in a vaccuum. No one just made up stories and convinced people to believe them. The bible was actually written by eye witnesses during the lifetime of other eye witnesses.

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The most common book of the bible people refer to a person that’s interested in the claims made of Jesus is The Gospel of John. Why? Because John’s purpose of writing was so that we might believe. He says it outright (John 20:31). It’s the most popular testimony concerning Christ, but that one isn’t my personal go to. What I like to refer people to is The Gospel of Luke followed by The Acts of the Apostles. Why? Because unlike the other gospels, Luke actually was NOT an eye witness.

That may seem strange. Why pick the guy that wasn’t there? It’s antithetical to what I claimed this post is going to be about, right? Well, no. Just the opposite. Luke wasn’t there, but he had access to a lot of people that were. He was a companion of Paul and a brother of Titus (the latter claim is disputed by some). In addition to these uniqute relationships, Luke was both a physician and historian. He wasn’t going to take anyone’s word for anything. He went on an investigation.

Let’s get some context for the political climate of the day. There were some serious consequences for proclaming Christ as Lord in His day. People were being crucified, stoned, fed to lions, flogged, boiled in oil, set ablaze and suffering other horrendous punishments (It’s a testimony in and of itself that there were people that witnessed the power of Christ that went from shouting “crucify Him” to being willing to be so brutally murdered, but that’s another post by itself). Yet, Luke had been hired by a dignitary of the day to present the original “Case for Christ”. Both Luke and Theophilus, whom the former refers to the latter as “excellent” (ESV), had something to lose. Not only their reputations, but their lives as well.

In the results of Luke’s investigation, he opens with stating that he wrote an “orderly account”. As a historian, accuracy, structure and chronology are important to his presentation. This is what he’s alluding to. As you read along, you’ll see things about Jesus’ close relatives. Luke had to have interviewed them for his report. Mary was likely one his primary sources. Luke also had a relationship with other eye witnesses and referenced his knowledge of the other accounts given by them (possibly a reference to Matthew & Mark’s gospels that were likely already circulating).

After Luke’s account of the life, death and ressurection of Christ, He continues in The Book of Acts. In that second work, also written for Theophilus, Luke records the post ressurection encounters with Jesus and the explosive growth of the early church. He’s not only documenting the difficulties and persecutions the early Christians are facing, he’s assuring someone of affluence that he can be sure that what he has heard is true. It was worth the risk of losing everything up until life to follow Jesus. Differing from The Gospel of Luke, the author was present for events documented here.

Learning all this, I ask myself a few questions. Why aren’t there any documents of antiquity disputing what Luke and the other authors of the New Testament proclaim? Where are the publicly disputed objections? How could the apostles go from running scared after Jesus was arrested and brutally murdered to proclaiming His name just days after His execution? How does one go from hiding and meeting in secret to boldly preaching and being crucified upside down? Why would the authors of the bible publicly address the churches they were building with so much risk at stake? Paul lays it out in 1 Corinthians 15:17.

I’ll finish this with some verses alluding to eye witness testimony of Christ.

  • Hebrews 12:1-2
  • Acts 5:32
  • Luke 24:28
  • 1 Peter 5:1
  • 1 John 1:1
  • 2 Peter 1:16
  • 2 Timothy 1:8
  • Acts 13:31
  • Acts 2:32
  • John 15:27
  • 1 Corinthians 6:11
  • Luke 22:71

This is just scratching the surface. I suggest reading Luke’s gospel as well as the book of Acts. Jesus’ ministry was public. There were literally thousands of eye witnesses to things He said and did before and after His execution. The miracles done in His name post resurrection were public. This did not happen in a vaccuum!

Further Study
The Case for Christ (Lecture / Movie / Book)
Any New Testament Book (Really!)

 

 

The Reliability of Scripture

In part one of this series of entries about why I trust the authority of scripture, I explained how important wisdom is. God doesn’t want us to be uninformed about the legitimacy of His claims, who He is or the implications all that has for our lives. This time, my goal is to show you why I trust that what we have is what God intended us to have.

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The Bible is reliable. It has not changed. It has not been tampered with. We could just go to Matthew 24:35 and stop there, but we can go beyond that and check out the claim. To cut to the chase, we can go to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Their discovery put to rest all of the unfounded conspiracies about what was originally documented in comparison to what we have in our bibles today. This brief video sums up what you need to know.

There’s a lot to be said about translation techniques and why there are different “versions” of the bible. At the end of this article, I’ll link some more indepth information about that for you budding scholars to dig into at your own leisure. There are answers to your questions. Remember: knowledge is important to God! He wants you to know that you can trust His word. For now, we’re going to touch base on another issue concerning reliability: archaeology.

There have been thousands of digs concerning claims that have been made in the bible. Not just a couple thousand (as impressive as that is in and of itself), but over 25,000! These excavations have confirmed the existence of biblical figures and places thought to have been lost to time or to have never existed in the first place. Talk about your extensive corroboration! For the sake of brevity, I’ll list just a few figures and places we’ve found relics of.

  • David
  • Hezekiah
  • Jehu
  • Omri
  • Ahab
  • Herod the Great
  • Herod Antipas
  • Pilate
  • Caiaphas
  • Nazareth
  • Bethsaida
  • Isaiah
  • Tomb of the Patriarchs

There’s an extensive list of things confirmed and corroborated through these digs that I will also reference to at the end of this article. For now, I just want you to understand that yes, these figures and places in the bible are indeed historical and not allegorical. There are even speculations about the site of the famous sister cities, Sodom and Gomorrah. They come complete with evidence of going up in a blaze of heat exceeding 2000 degrees.

The arguments that (insert biblical figure here) never existed, especially Jesus, are unfounded, ignorant and downright willful stupidity. We have way too much evidence to the contrary for such a lazy and unsubstantiated claim. Right in the face of all these artifacts that have been found, examined and dated, there are still people foolish enough to simply say it was made up. This brings us back to one of the points of the first article. It’s not about what’s going on in the head, it’s the heart. I digress.

The last point of this entry is a vital one. There is unity within the diversity within scripture. The holy book was written by 40 men of different stature (from priests, to prophets to kings) in three different languages (Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic) over the course of roughly 1,500 years that tell one cohesive story from beginning to end. There’s nothing else of antiquity or otherwise that can not only begin to make the lofty claims the bible does, but scratch the surface of such a grandiose and unique composition.

TL;DR: The bible is a reliable collection of historical documents. We have verified many people, places and events through archaeology. There have been digs in the thousands that have not disproved but proved the claims of God. The text has not been tampered with or changed. The text we see today is the same text Jews were reading thousands of years ago. It was the same text Jesus read during his earthly tenure. This sacred text of many books written by many men separated by space, time and language tell ONE story that all begins and ends with Christ.

This is a graphical representation of the Bible’s cross-references. The bar graph along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible, with number of verses represented by length. Books alternate in color. Each of the Bible’s 63,779 cross references is represented by an arc. The color of the arc reflects the distance between the two chapters. This puts to shame the grotesquely ignorant claim that the bible was just “made up”.

I guess all the people that just “made everything up” somehow duped thousands upon thousands of eye witnesses and did some time traveling to get corroboration from people separated by time, class, occupation and geography.

 

Further Study
Biblical Archaeology (Website)
10 Archaeology Discoveries (Video)
40 Archaeology Discoveries (Video)
Jesus and The Dead Sea Scrolls (Lecture)
How Can We Be Sure We Got the Right Books? (Short Video)
The Inspiration, Canonization and Transmission of Scripture (Lecture)

 

 

Apologetics Intro – Bearers of Truth

Notice: All of the answers you’re looking for are in the bible. I, a pastor, or any well educated theologian can tell you all about what we believe, why we believe it, and what we know about history that corroborates with it, but you have to know Jesus and place your faith in Him as the mediator of your sins to be saved (see Romans 10:9-10). The question isn’t if you know or don’t know. The question is if you will serve Him or the god of your own devices.

The pharisees, that is, the church elders of Jesus’ time, knew the scriptures so well that they could recite them verbatim. Even so, they did not recognize that those sacred texts were talking about Him (see John 5:39-47). Frankly put, their knowledge did not save them. What you know will NOT give you good standing with God. This is about your heart.

This is my meager attempt to provide a very basic and introductory level of Christian apologetics. Many men more brilliant, educated, articulate, and respected have undertaken this venture before me. I’ll be directing you to their books, lectures, and debates to get a more indepth look into the answers I’m going to attempt to explain. Some of this material is available for free and I’ll provide those links whenever I can. Some of it will cost something, but I’ll stick to referring to relatively cheap or free resources as they come to mind.

Providing a good apologetic, a defense of the faith, is something some Christians struggle with. Some may not know why they believe what they believe. Some may know why they believe what they do, but aren’t able to clearly articulate it. This can be frustrating for the skeptic that is genuinely curious. This is important to God as well (See 1 Peter 3:15). Knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and properly expressing your faith isn’t just a useful conversation starter. It’s a command from God.

What you know may not redeem your soul, but knowledge is still important. When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus addresses this (see Matthew 22:34-40). God wants you to love Him with your mind. A Christian that’s failing to do this is in sin. You may have been lead to believe that you have to turn your brain off to believe, but it’s demonstrably false. The bible is a very intellectually rigorous text that contains some of the thoughts, feelings, and motives of God. We are limited in our capacity to fully understand God (see Deuteronomy 29:29), but He has given us the capacity to understand what we need to know about Him in order to be saved and properly honor Him.

If you are serious about gaining knowledge, even wisdom, you should pray for it before reading scripture (see James 1:5). If you humble yourself and truly seek to know Him, God will give you all the wisdom you need (see Jeremiah 29:13). If it’s still not abundantly clear that using your head is an act of worship, there are plenty of other verses that reveal that it is so (see Job 12:12 / Psalm 37:30 / Proverbs 3:7 / Proverbs 4:6-7 / Proverbs 13:1 / Ecclesiastes 2:26 / 1 Corinthians 1:25 / Colossians 2:2-3 / James 3:17 / 1 Corinthians 1:30 / Proverbs 29:11 / Proverbs 14:1 / Proverbs 15:12 / Proverbs 19:20). These verses are all snapshots of what God has to say about wisdom. To gain a more robust understanding, I’d suggest reading all of the chapters of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament and James in the New Testament.

The verse I want to emphasize the most is Proverbs 1:7. It’s the verse I look at as the knowledge lynchpin. If Christ be true, any supposed wisdom that does not flow out of Him is a lie. If Christ’s claims be true, there are implications for justice, sexuality, marriage, divorce, politics, fashion and every other facet of life. He claims to be King of Kings and Lord of All. Those are lofty claims we are not to take lightly. We are even warned that we should consider what we may have to give up should we decide to follow Him (Luke 14:25-33 / Matthew 8:18-22 / John 6:59-65 / Luke 9:57-62).

This is just the first of many posts concerning this, but I’m going to end at this for now. There are many verses to read and consider that I’ve shared with you so far. Though I am eager to share more information, I want these posts to be easily digestible. I’ll also have to do my best to not spoonfeed too much information to people that are not genuinely interested in engaging the Christian belief system and how we arrive at the conclusions we’ve made concerning God and Christ.

Further Study
Voddie Baucham – Why I Believe the Bible (YouTube)

 

6 Signs of an Authoritarian Church Leader

Being the leader in a church is hard work. Church folks can be some of the most frustrating and difficult folks to work with. But, despite their flaws (and our own) and the amount of stress and frustration we may face as church leaders, beating the sheep should never be an option. God doesn’t take kindly to it, and we put ourselves in great danger when we ignore this fact and abuse the sheep for personal gain. Unfortunately, it happens more often than we may realize as beating the sheep isn’t just a physical act. In this episode we introduce another host of the Angry Christian Podcast (Robert Platt) and explore how easy it is to fall into the angry trap as a church leader. [Ezekiel 34:1-11]

au-thor-i-tar-i-an
/əˌTHôrəˈterēən/

  • adjective: favoring or enforcing strict obedience to authority, especially that of the government at the expense of personal freedom
  • showing a lack of concern for the wishes or opinions of others; domineering; dictatorial.
  • noun: an authoritarian person

Nothing is more unattractive to me than a church who has leaders and a pastor who behave in an authoritarian fashion. I loathe that more than hypocrisy, or gossip, or many other things.

It’s abusive. It’s dangerous. It’s spiritually ugly. And unfortunately its something I have observed as a big problem for many. Even I, myself, have fallen in to this trap a time or two over the years, and I hated myself for it.

WHAT JESUS HAD TO SAY ABOUT AUTHORITARIANISM

To some this may come as no surprise, but Jesus actually had something to say about authoritarianism and church leaders. Not only did he have something to say about it, he had a command concerning it.

In Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV) we read:

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It SHALL NOT BE SO among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

What Jesus is describing is authoritarianism. They knew what this looked like through experience. They were under the occupation and rule of the Roman Empire, after all. In typical Jesus fashion, he took this as a teachable moment, and to issue a command to the disciples (the early Church leaders) about how they ought to conduct themselves with regards to leading the Church.

Jesus is no dummy. He knew the dangers of leadership. He knew the draw to lord over people your position. But in the Kingdom of God, leadership is a VERY different animal. Jesus said that anyone who desires to be a leader in the Church must be a servant. Anyone who desires to be first must be a slave. That they should not exist to be served, but to serve, and yes…to even go so far as to give their life.

But too often in churches, this is not what leadership looks like.

OBSERVING AUTHORITARIANISM

Over the last 16 years I have served as a church leader in many churches, denominations, and cities across two states. The predominant areas I served in leadership was as a worship leader and as a youth pastor. But I’ve also served, for a time, as a campus pastor and an associate pastor.

I have loved and tried to be as loyal as possible to every single pastor I served with. Unfortunately, as I look back over the years, I can only spot a small handful of men who I served with that didn’t exhibit some form of authoritarianism. Some of them were more extreme than others.

Sadly, and regretfully, as I examine my own ministry I see areas where I too behaved like an authoritarian at times. It pains me to admit that. As I already mentioned, I hate this type of behavior more than anything, and the fact that I too have done it frustrates me to no end.

An authoritarian, much like myself in those instances, not only believes they are owed or deserve the unchallenged obedience of those they consider to be “under them” but they expect it!

As I examine my own motives for why I exhibited this behavior at times, I can absolutely say I did so with this expectation. After all, I AM THE LEADER, I AM THE WISE ONE who was placed in this position over others. Who are they to question the professional? The expert? I have a degree in ministry by golly!

How wrong and evil I was in those times. Yes…evil.

And how wrong and evil it is when any pastor or church leader does the same.

SIGNS OF AN AUTHORITARIAN

Authoritarians are fairly easy to spot.

  1. An authoritarian demands things be their way or the highway, and if you challenge them on a decision it means that you are a rebel, incapable of being corrected, divisive, and perhaps ought to reconsider your employment with them.
  2. An authoritarian rarely if ever extends grace to others. They will put on a facade and act as if they do, but behind the scenes they are cold and indifferent.
  3. An authoritarian also shows very little compassion. They will act compassionate for a time when it suits them and their purposes, but the moment they determine that you should have moved on from whatever may be ailing you compassion goes out the window.
  4. An authoritarian is always right. They may solicit feedback, but they will never consider it. This is merely an attempt to make others feel “included” while still maintaining their complete control over the situation.
  5. An authoritarian cannot delegate responsibility. When they do delegate, they aren’t really releasing the responsibility as they will keep their hands in the middle of it at all times, micromanaging the entire thing.
  6. An authoritarian is untouchable. They will use terms such as “God’s anointed” to remind the people who placed them in their position, and will frequently cite the story of David and Saul as an example of why you shouldn’t challenge their authority at any point. They will publicly state that they are open to being challenged or corrected, but when that moment of correction or challenge occurs there are usually repercussions for the one who issued the challenge or correction.

FINAL OBSERVATIONS

There is a fine line between exercising spiritual authority in your church and becoming an authoritarian. Obviously there is a need for someone to take point and to lead the charge. Obviously there needs to be someone where final decisions land on their desk.

Or is there?

Does it really need to be just one person?

Or, should it be a plurality of leadership that do not act as authoritarians, but rather as overseers and shepherds of a body of people, who work together to lead and teach and correct through service, compassion, and by example in their own lives? Should it be a plurality of leaders who are also held accountable by others in their local body and even those outside their local body so that authoritarianism can remain in check?

I used to think there was nothing wrong with a one man show.

I used to jump on the “God’s anointed” bandwagon and champion unchallenged devotion and loyalty to one man.

But I’m not so sure I was right by doing so. I may have actually done some harm in the process to myself and to others.

This much I do know though:

Authoritarianism is unhealthy, it is evil, and it is sinful for any pastor or church leader to engage in. A leader worth their salt will do everything they can to find accountability and hold themselves to the command Jesus gave in Matthew 20 to not let authoritarianism be among the leaders of the church.


UPDATE: ADDITIONAL NOTE FOR CONSIDERATION

I did not put this at the top, but I did run across a study (HERE) that pointed out something disturbing within the Church. Here is the quote from the article:

“Narcissistic Personality Disorder has found its way into the institutional church. The actual levels and places where it manifests itself have been surprizing. Within the clergy of the PCC, there appears to be much higher levels of the most destructive expressions of narcissism than in the general population; while this was anticipated, the actual levels were greater than expected. In its covert form narcissism appears to arrive later in the practice of ministry, which was not anticipated. NPD appears to decline steadily through time in ministry; however, its continued presence is noted in some individuals well into retirement. Pastors with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are to be found in all areas of the country at rates 400%–500% higher than are found in the general population (1%-6%). Narcissists can be found in every age and experience range, and in both sexes.”

This is significant! And perhaps a little disturbing.

I realize that this article comes from the Church of England, but my observation of the American Church tells me that this isn’t just a Church of England issue.

Either way, the point of updating this article with the study above was simply to point out that this isn’t a made up issue, and it’s not just something I’m seeing.

We need to find a way to combat this in ourselves.

Obese Church VS Keto Church

THROWING UP THE WALLS

Since I’ve begun my foray into examining and critiquing modern Church practices and settings in hopes to find what the Church really should look like, I have found that from the moment I began I have been met with a whole bunch of seemingly unnecessary defensiveness from other believers. The walls get thrown up almost immediately.

Interestingly, these walls, more often than not, are thrown up by those who belong to what we would consider large or mega-church churches.

This isn’t to say I haven’t seen any of the same responses from folks who belong to smaller church gatherings, I have. But it just seems to come largely from those in the larger church gatherings.

The statements usually look something like:

“Well how do you expect us to pay our pastors and maintain all of our ministries if we were to do away with a lot of what you are talking about?”

“You seem to have an issue with large churches.”

“If I didn’t know better, I would say you’re just jealous that these churches are growing while yours is not. So your critiques are clearly jealousy driven.”

“Well, what is your church doing to reach your community? Ours has thousands at all of our events. Can you say the same?”

“You’re just being impractical. The things you’re suggesting just won’t work in America.”

“Consumerism isn’t bad. After all, Paul said we ought to become all things to all people so that we might reach some.”

There is a great deal more that could be said…but that’s just a small sampling of the things I’ve been told.

THE GREAT MISCONCEPTION

There is a great misconception I want to address regarding Consumer Christianity. And that misconception is that when folks, like myself, critique Consumer Christianity that we are taking beef with the size of a church.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Church of Jerusalem grew over 3,000 people in a single day (read Acts 2). Size isn’t the issue. So clearly having a large church isn’t the issue.

The reality is, Consumer Christianity is a sickness that infects the largest and smallest of church bodies.

Think of it this way…

If I was to critique the flu and whether or not people ought to get the flu shot and people suddenly start screaming “What…do you just not care about children?”, as if children were the only human bodies impacted by the flu or flu shot, they would be missing the actual point.

Every human, no matter their size, is potentially impacted by the flu virus and the if they get the flu shot…the shot as well.

So my critique is specific to the impacts of the flu and the flu shot which is not bound to the size of a human body.

Likewise, Consumer Christianity is not bound to a specific church size or setting. It is something that can impact large Churches, small churches, mega-churches, home churches, and so on.

So the defense to what some assume I am thinking about the size of their church is entirely unfounded and not based on the facts being presented.

ONE CAVEAT

Now…there is one caveat I will make and that is this: Some Church models (not sizes) tend to reveal the Consumer Christianity epidemic much more readily than others.

For instance, if your Church model largely focuses on the Sunday Morning gathering, and your gathering largely focuses on a worship leader leading music and a pastor preaching a sermon while the rest of the body comes and “gets” served without the expectation of serving themselves…and there really aren’t any other opportunities throughout the week where people are able to put into practice their spiritual gifts together, and to truly serve one another and their community…then it becomes extremely obvious that Consumerism is what feeds that body.

Again, I’m not against large church gatherings, but too many churches have made the Sunday morning gathering the sole focus of all that they do. They may have various things happening throughout the week, but generally those things tend to be smaller versions of what they do on Sundays, which is, promoting and allowing a small handful of the body to practice their gifts while the rest merely sit and watch.

There may be a type of growing happening…numerically…but spiritually they are all but dead.

OBESE CHURCH

For example:

If you feed your body a whole bunch of junk food, carb heavy foods, deep fried buffets, and sweets galore–in addition you spend most of your time in front of the TV or behind a computer with very little if any activity in your life…you may indeed be growing in a way and enjoying yourself…but you’re not growing into a healthy body…you’re growing into an obese body.

Where as, if you were to feed your body a well balanced healthy diet, become active, spending less time on Netflix binges and computer games…you will find that your body is growing, albeit a smaller, leaner, healthier body.

When you compare the obese body to the healthy body specifically by appearance it could be argued that the obese body is certainly growing while the healthy body seems to be shrinking.

But, in reality, the obese body is killing itself by loading up on unhealthy foods and practices making it fat and overweight while the healthy body is becoming a slim, trim, fighting force to be reckoned with.

Likewise, we have a bunch of churches who are getting obese on shallow programs, rock concerts with light shows, facility expansions, mass emotional manipulation, junk food messages with little spiritual nutrition, with only a small handful of people actively serving while the rest sit around like couch potatoes watching the “active ones” do their thing and getting served their buffet meals on a silver plater.

Few churches are truly chasing after a healthy Church lifestyle because it usually means cutting out the stuff everyone craves (entertainment and getting served), which usually results in a leaner congregation which doesn’t fit the typical narrative of a successful church.

KETO CHURCH

I’m currently pursuing a healthier lifestyle personally. I recently began the Keto diet which has forced me to cut out a LOT of the things I love…bread, sugary foods, and yes…even most fruits. As such I have had to replace it with heartier things like full fat foods, cheeses, meats, low carb vegetables and fruits, etc.

It is really hard, I will admit, but I’ve been on it a single week and have already lost 10 pounds!

If the American Church expects to truly have a healthy impact not only with its members, but also in its community, then it is going to take a Keto level approach.

What does this mean?

It means getting rid of the unhealthy fluffy stuff.

It means cutting back on the unhealthy things that everyone is attracted to and start focusing on the things that are actually healthy for the church body.

It means replacing the pitiful spiritual diet most are being fed with a spiritually rich healthy diet complete with meat and all the trimmings.

It means being willing to reject the entertainment based church model in favor of a more simple New Testament style church model.

It isn’t going to be easy.

You will likely lose lots of members.

But the people you will likely lose will be the ones who are simply there to sap the energy from the Church body to feed themselves on your work while doing nothing themselves.

Your numbers will shrink.

The body will begin to look smaller.

But don’t lose heart. Just like the human body that is on a healthy diet, you may experience some loss at the forefront, but what you gain will be far healthier spiritually and longer lasting than any of the fluff you had been feeding yourself up to this point.

Facts > Feelings I

Sometimes, I scroll through my timeline and wonder if a lot of people have any original thoughts of their own. The NPC meme sums them up in a tragicallty comical way. They have preset phrases they use to engage most issues and do not respond – AT ALL – to new information. The absolute WORST are the people that cry victim when they come TO ME and engage ME on MY PAGE and then assert that I’m “forcing my beliefs on them” because they don’t understand how to operate outside of presets put in place by not even half thought out and completely brain dead memes. It’s just SAD.

To borrow from Ben Shapiro, “facts don’t care about feelings”.

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Honestly, I’d just encourage anyone that’s interested in truth to not engage the following people:

  • Anyone that uses any variation of “in my opinion”.
  • Anyone that doesn’t respond to new information.
  • Anyone that resorts to ad hominem.
  • Anyone that neglects facts in favor of emotions.
  • Anyone that can’t respectfully & tactfully state their case.
  • Anyone that refuses to represent your position accurately.

Honestly, engaging the pro-murder camp is the absolute WORST about this. They use arguments that have been put to rest over a decade ago as if they’re saying something profound. Guess what, guys? “My body, my choice” was refuted A LONG TIME AGO. Stop gorging on the memes and actually listen to someone engage this on a scholastic scale. Learn how to properly address someone’s stance instead of making a caricature out of what you THINK they believe.

You almost have to draw up a flow chart to help people understand what logical conclusions are. This might be one of those things where people naturally create an escape to evade cognitive dissonance (as that is a very uncomfortable experience). One particular engagement I had just today I gave up on because things were taken way out of the intended context when there were obvious context clues present. That person was not interested in engaging ideas – only talking about “feelings”. That is so frustrating and fruitless. It’s without a cause to continue on with a conversation when it reaches that point, so I bowed out.

Don’t argue with fools, y’all. Some of these people want to argue just so they can talk about their emotions. Check your temperment. Let them have the last word. Just bow out. There’s no shame in that. Or, you could ignore them completely. I’ve had some obnoxious people do me the favor of unfriending me because I refused to engage their nonsense. No matter what they did to provoke a response, I would say nothing. Eventually, they left and my posts, which do provoke and irritate, got a lot more civil.

Be wise in who you engage and don’t engage, Christian. Don’t be afraid to trim the fat. To borrow from someone else I respect, being on YOUR page is privilege = not a right. Personally, I’m learning to accept more and more that the Word of God is indeed a dividing sword. People that I have bonded with for a decade or more have decided to move on and that’s okay. God is providing all the community I need. Even if He didn’t do that for me, His Word would STILL be true.

Feelings are important, ya’ll. I’m not denying that. The bottom line is truth doesn’t change because of feelings. It doesn’t matter if your feelings are hurt because you’re wrong. Get over it. Feelings come and go. Ordered properly, feelings change when truth is revealed. The truth will always be the truth no matter how much our feelings change.

Worship Is More Than a Song

CLEARING THE STAGE AND THE AIR

Jimmy Needham put out a cover of the song “Clear the Stage” back in 2012, but I was only introduced to it a year or 2 ago by my former pastor.

It is a song that challenges the notion that worship may, in fact, be more than a song or music. He challenges what are actually idols in our lives, and frankly, it’s a serious gut punch for anyone who truly hears the words…especially those like me who have served for years as the “worship leader”.

Want to talk about a song that hits you right in the kisser?

This song will do that! Check out a sample of the lyrics:

VERSE 1: Clear the stage and set the sound and lights ablaze

If that’s the measure you must take to crush the idols

Jerk the pews and all the decorations too

Until the congregations few then have revival

Tell your friends that this is where the party ends

Until you’re broken for y our sins you can’t be social

Then seek the Lord and wait for what He has in store

And know that great is your reward so just be hopeful

CHORUS: ‘Cause you can sing all you want to

Yes, you can sing all you want to

You can sing all you want to and still get it wrong

Oh worship is more than a song

Tell me something…when someone asks you about “worship”, where does your mind go first? If you are anything like me, it usually goes to music.

Biblically speaking, there’s certainly an aspect of worship that is musical.

But is this really where “worship” ends?

Simply put…no…this is not where worship ends…or even begins.

I’ll be honest, it’s not entirely our fault. I know many of us have read the Bible, and we mean no harm in our thinking, but we are missing a large portion of the picture as it relates to worship.

Unfortunately, if we are truly honest with ourselves, the Church at large has done a great deal to perpetuate the assumption that worship is simply music. After all, when we talk about our Sunday gatherings we usually refer to the singing/music part as “worship” and then everything else is just part of the regular grind of Sunday gatherings…ya know…prayer, teaching, preaching, tithes/offerings, etc.

Shoot…we’ve created a whole genre of music called “Praise and Worship” music, which continues to perpetuate this thinking. Unintentionally. I realize that.

Hear me when I say this, no one intended harm by isolating worship to music. I don’t think anyone was out there thinking of ways to confuse the subject of worship for the masses.

I also love the Church…after all, she is the Bride of Christ. And if I love Christ, I must also love His Bride…because I am part of that Bride.

But we need to be clear here…and clear the air a little, just because no harm was intended, doesn’t mean that no harm was done.

THE POWER OF MUSIC

I, like many of you, realize the potency of music. When we hear a certain song our minds go to certain places. Perhaps you hear a song that you danced to with your wife (or husband) back when you had your first date. Perhaps you hear a song that was playing the night your first girlfriend or boyfriend broke up with you. Perhaps you hear a song that was the favorite song of someone you deeply loved who has since passed away.

All sorts of emotions and memories get triggered through music.

I am also of the mind that due to the repetition of music, and the very nature of what it does as a stimulus to our brains, that music is also a form of teaching that can take place. How many of us can hear the music to a song we love, and easily recall the lyrics almost without hesitation? I know I can! I used to challenge myself when I was younger to try and spit out the lyrics of a line of a song before the singer got it out just to see if I remembered it correctly. I was often right.

I say all of this to simply acknowledge the power of music. It is indeed powerful. And God created it. There is music in heaven. Of that I am sure. God is a creative, and He takes great joy in creativity expressed by His creation.

So my issue here isn’t with worship music in and of itself.

My issue is that many of us seem to think that worship is only music and very little else. And this is dangerous thinking because we lose sight of so much more to the Christian life and worship because we are seeing but a pin hole view of worship.

WHAT IS WORSHIP?

In the book of Romans, chapter 12 to be exact, Paul gives us a brief and summarized example of what worship is. Here is what he said in verse 1:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

My take away from this is verse is simply this:

Our LIVES and how we live them is an act of worship.

This means…

  • If we are singing praises to God with our lips and our hearts…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we are feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked with our hands…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we are deep in prayer and communing with God in our Spirit…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we are traveling to distant lands to bring the good news of the gospel to those who have never heard it…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we are speaking words of edification to one another in the Church body…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we are giving of our time and finances to help others who are hurting or in need…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we resist the temptation to look at porn and instead turn our heart and mind toward God…then we are worshiping Him.
  • If we resist responding to ill treatment with vengeance…then we are worshiping Him.

In short, everything we say and do that glorifies God is an act of worship.

Consider something that Jesus said back in Matthew 25 concerning the moment we stand before the throne of judgement:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’

37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 

40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f you did it to me.

Did you see that?

Verse 40 especially?

Whatever we say and do to others…we do it to God.

Not only should this strike some fear in us about how we speak to and treat one another…but it should reveal to and affirm for us what I was saying about Paul’s words in Romans 12 about our lives being a living sacrifice and how we live being our spiritual act of worship.

So yes…I think it is safe to conclude that worship is more than a song. We can sing all the songs in the world that honor God, but still not honor Him with our lives…and in the end not actually worship Him at all.

Yes, worship Him in song, but worship Him even more so with your life.

Identifying a True Christian

On January 20th, 2013, my life changed drastically in an instant. In the span of maybe an hour, I went from looking for trouble at the bar to being distraught at the realization that I was at the mercy of a God I didn’t know. All that is a story for another day. For now, I’ll just share that today is my spiritual birthday. For people that actually know me, that might sound like a strange proclamation.

I was the spiritual guy of the bunch before then, right? I went to church, didn’t do drugs, tried to do the right thing and etc, right? Some people were there in 2007 when I got a tattoo of Jesus on my left arm. They’d tell you I’ve been a Christian as long as they’ve known me. Back then, I’d have agreed with them. I was just as wrong about me as they were back then.

It may have seemed like I got some of those things from this passage right. Maybe I did. I tried to be mindful of others and generous with the things I had. Lots of bonds were formed from the embrace of total strangers with no direction and no where to go. I’d like to think that many of the exchanges made back then were altruistic in nature. I surely wasn’t getting much, if anything, in return for sacrifices I was making. Yet, those decisions were made for me. I wasn’t really serving God or others, but the identity I was building up for myself.

“Contribute to the needs of the saints”. If you would’ve asked me, I wouldn’t have had a clue what that meant. Yeah, I went to church semi-regularly, but I had no idea what pressing in to deep fellowship really meant. I was involved in trivial surface level stuff with most. There were precious few I made any type of effort to maintain a relationship with outside of a Sunday gathering.

I was given the name “Brotha B”. I believed in God, went to church and loved complete strangers well. That summed up the person I was becoming, and I embraced it. Yet, I was not a Christian. I had no concept of the triune God of the scriptures. I had no idea that there was a price to pay that I couldn’t. I thought highly of the way I carried myself. I wasn’t a thief or murderer. God would forgive me for the petty sins I committed. There was no way I wasn’t getting into His house when all was said and done.

I’m blessed enough to be able to tell you that no, the person you knew back then was not a Christian. My good deeds were not good enough. As a matter of fact, God calls our inherent so-called “righteousness” filthy rags before Him. How could they not be? My intentions were never completely pure. I didn’t thank Him for the blessings I had or communicate with Him at all. I had no prayer life and didn’t read the bible.

How did I know what was written was true? Who was Jesus really? What’s God’s role in our lives? I didn’t have any answers. I didn’t even know what was written in the bible to begin with. I was comfortably blinded by my own ignorance. I was content to suppress the truth of my own sin and think of my better traits as well enough to tip the scales in my favor.

No. This is foolish talk. This is not how a Christian behaves. “The Marks of a True Christian” called my bluff and self deceit and I didn’t know. None of us can legitimately call ourselves Christian unless God calls us first. I was ignorant of even that back then. My life bore no “Fruit of the Spirit“. There was none to harvest. I would not hesitate to confess that there is a God, but I didn’t really serve Him. I was a fool. A fool God decided to rise from dead on this day six years ago.

Examine yourselves, friends. If you think your merit is enough to enter the kingdom, you are not a Christian. If you are not in fellowship and have no desire to be in fellowship, you are not a Christian. If the revelation of God’s holiness doesn’t move you to prayer, you are not a Christian. If you are not moved to worship by God’s long suffering patience and mercy, you are not a Christian. If you are not bothered by sin, any sin no matter how big or small, you are not a Christian. I say these things that are hard to hear because they are to be given a heavy consideration. Judgement and justice are not such a trivial thing that we should take lightly, as I once did (and honestly, I am in much repentence often for continued failings or bearing the marks of a Christian).

Seek Him and find Him. An embellished image of what we would like Him to be like will not be our Judge in the end. It will be Him as He has revealed Himself in the scriptures. If you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, you will be saved. Dear friends, don’t be the fool I was. Don’t pay lip service. Confess it with your mouth and mean it in your heart.

Stewards of Spirit & Time

No Dave Grohl, but I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a procrastinator. I waste a lot of time on mindless entertainment. I work hard at my job and building my relationship with my life, but I can be flat out lazy with other aspects of my life. I waste A LOT of time. Honestly, I act like I don’t know that there is a ticker on my life. I live as if I know the day and the hour and I can tread water until I feel like seizing the moment. It’s ungrateful, shameful and sinful. That’s why I’m sharing this with you.

Apple just rolled out a feature that tells you how much time you spend on your phone. The data has been pretty sobering, personally. It says I spend a whole of time listening to music and working. I also spend a fair amount of time on social media laughing at silly memes too. In of itself, there’s nothing wrong with those things. God gives us those things to make it easier to keep in touch with loved ones, conduct business, build bridges that otherwise would not have been possible, and on it goes. It’s a blessing that I’m able to do those things.

So, what’s the problem? Well, you could deduce from the meme that my prayer life is a little lacking to say the least. What it’s also not telling you is that I spend more time listening and reading things about the Word rather than reading the Word for myself. This can be interpreted in so many ways. It’s so wonderful to have the teaching of so many wise people readily available at any given time. This also is a blessing.

My conviction is this: there is no substitute for personal time with the Word. All these tools are wonderful supplements, but to borrow something else from Piper, we must see and savor Christ for ourselves. The Word of God is living water and prayer is sacred commune. Honestly, what is so important that we don’t have time for that? I say we because I feel safe assuming I’m not the only one that’s going through this knowing or unknowingly.

How do we get to know who Christ is and what pleases and glorifies Him? We read, we pray, we meditate and we commune with God whether we are alone or in the fellowship of brothers and sisters. Let’s not fall into the complacency I find myself in so wearily often. There’s always something more to learn about God and ourselves. There’s always a spot in our hearts that needs healing and softening from our Creator. There’s always a deep need to commune with God, because it’s what we were made for.

In closing, we don’t know the day or the hour. The time to pray is now. The time to serve is now. The time to cherish what and who we have is now. The time to do that thing that’s been on our hearts is now. Now is the time for repentence and reconciliation. Now is the time for us to seek our God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Now is the time we cry out, because the time is coming. How we steward this gift matters.

Don’t let social media get … the best of you.

The Tiny House Movement: A Big Lesson for the American Church

THE MOVEMENT

Around 1997, a man by the name of Jay Shafer began a now growing and increasingly popular movement known as The Tiny House Movement. The purpose or vision of most who are moving toward the Tiny House movement is really quite simple: simplifying life.

Don’t be fooled by these tiny houses though!

These tiny homes pack a lot of punch in to a fraction of the space most American’s have for their homes. What tiny house enthusiasts have done is effectively de-clutter their lives and their living spaces, and made room for ONLY the essentials, namely: a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to go to the bathroom, a place to get cleaned up, and a place to stay out of the elements of the weather.

I have read numerous articles about families of more than four people (two adults and two children) living in spaces totaling about 350 square feet, and how they were able to accommodate all of this life’s essentials in that tiny space!

They accomplished this by doing the following:

  1. Removing the clutter
  2. Getting rid of the excess AND
  3. Maximizing the space

I have seen countless documentaries on YouTube (here, here, and here to name a few!) where people made this change in their life, simplified it down to the bare necessities, and are thriving in a much healthier and happier way in their life.

And I think the American Church can learn a thing or two from the Tiny House Movement.

THE AMERICAN CHURCH DILEMMA

If most are honest with themselves in the Church, then none of us are truly caught by surprise at the thought that the American Church has a problem with materialism and consumerism.

We absolutely do!

It’s an American culture thing that has unfortunately invaded the American Church. We have turned houses of worship and prayer into the next get rich scheme, your best life now, come and get served consumer driven corporate Church growth movement.

The materialism is evident from the moment you walk into a Church facility. It is evident on the lips of people when you ask them what they are looking for in a Church. It is evident in the fact that we have Churches closing by the hundreds every month because they can’t afford to keep up with the consumer demands put on them (or that they put on themselves).

We have cluttered the simple message of the gospel and of Church life with sermon series around how to improve your life and marriage, complete with ministries for literally every age group. We’ve built enormous set pieces with lights, glamour, sound systems, fashion shows, music albums, books, video production, fancy gadgets, streaming services, and on and on it goes.

We have created for ourselves marketing teams to research the best way to get the word out about our church so we can fill the pews.

We have created organizations that go out and do research on our behalf so we know what the best trends are in worship music, church growth, preaching, and whatever else we deem necessary to make a church “successful”.

And we’ve done all of this in order to keep feeding the materialistic consumer driven masses who may or may not darken the doors of our Church facilities week in and week out.

We have a problem.

We are addicts.

We are addicted to stuff, busyness, and ourselves. 

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

If you took the time to go to YouTube and see any of those videos of people living in Tiny Homes, or to read articles about the Tiny House Movement, you probably became quickly aware of how others probably thought (or think) or perceived Tiny House people. Especially the ones with larger families.

These people are crazy!

Maybe you thought that (or think that) too. Perhaps you even started to think of all the reasons why this wouldn’t work in your context.

A similar reaction occurs when some Christians begin to challenge the Big Box church idea that has become the norm in most cities across America with the idea that perhaps we have cluttered things up and could stand to do a little purging and perhaps simplifying.

The Biblical reality is, the early Church didn’t clutter their existence with all the consumer trappings we know and love today. Instead, they devoted themselves to four IMPORTANT things (Acts 2:42):

  1. The apostles teaching (the Word)
  2. Fellowship (doing life together – having all things in common)
  3. Breaking of bread (communion and literally eating together)
  4. Prayer (well…prayer)

When I have spoken of simplifying Church, and getting back to the core of being the Church we find in the Bible, I am often met with people who want to take this to an extreme as…I don’t know…some sort of defense mechanism in a challenge to how we do things.

They will say things like, “So, I guess we should give up air condition” or “Perhaps we should sell all of our cars and go back to horses again”.

Folks, that’s extreme…the air condition I cannot live without, but horses wouldn’t be so bad.

Seriously though, this is an attempt at intentionally overlooking or trivializing the simplicity that was the early Church in order to ignore the glaring issues we have created for ourselves.

What, then, is the answer?

To answer this question we need to go back to the Tiny House enthusiasts and emulate what they did:

  1. REMOVE THE CLUTTER: Take inventory of what we are doing as a local church, compare it to the Bible, and then remove the clutter.
  2. GET RID OF THE EXCESS: Find areas that we are catering to consumerist mentalities of the Church culture and get rid of the unnecessary excess.
  3. MAXIMIZE THE SPACE: Maximize on the four things the early Church devoted themselves to (apostles teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer). Make these four areas our focus, and let God work in the ways He did in and through the early Church.

Don’t get me wrong, this will not be an overnight fix. It will take some blood, sweat, and tears to accomplish. But the end product is something that I believe will honor God, free the Church from the consumer traps, and make the Church more effective at being the Church in their communities.


RECOMMENDED READING

Some reading I’ve done lately that has really helped challenge me in this area of simplification, that I think the entire Church would benefit from, has come from the following two books:

  1. Letters to the Church by Francis Chan
  2. Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

I’m not getting any kickback for promoting these books. They have just really impacted me at such a deep level that I can’t help but point people to these books with the hopes that they too will experience the impact that I did.

These books don’t point to human wisdom, church trends, or personal opinion…but to the Bible itself to inspire the Church in becoming the Church God has always dreamed of.

I highly recommend you pick these books up and give them a read. Not sure you want to spend the money on them? I know I found them at my local library, so may be worth checking out there too.

An Audience With the King

A ROYAL INVITATION

Imagine, the Queen of England sends word to you that she would like for you to pay her a visit. She would like for you to come to England, sit down in her living room (or whatever that looks like in a palace), just you and her, and she wants to talk to you about you, your life, your concerns, your victories, the people you know and what they may be going through, and so on.

Imagine how awkward it would be if you showed up to speak with her like we do when we show up in prayer and talk to our King…Jesus.

Perhaps you just keep rattling off her name, “Oh Elizabeth, oh Elizabeth, oh Elizabeth…” and never actually said anything but her name (I mean…it’s a nice name…but really?).

Or maybe you precursor every single sentence or phrase you say to her with her name or title. “Queen Elizabeth, the trip here was, Oh Queen Elizabeth, very long and very, Oh Queen, tiring and long.”

Or perhaps you only list off a bunch of requests and then sit staring at her blankly. “Oh Queen, please help me with this, and that, and the other thing.” *stares blankly*

Or what if you just walked in, sat down, and said nothing. You just stared at her, or closed your eyes and muttered under your breath a bunch of unintelligible words, or simply said “I appreciate you inviting me here, I have an unspoken request.” And that was that.

It would feel extremely awkward wouldn’t it?

We would probably go home embarrassed for how we acted in front of her. We would feel like we totally wasted her time, and blew our opportunity to have an audience with the Queen of England. No doubt we would have a desire to have a re-do and not look quite as absurd the next time.

But this is precisely how we look and behave when we pray to our King.

The God of the universe, sent His Son to die in OUR place, so that we might have a relationship with Him and be called the sons and daughters of God.

Church, WE have received a royal invitation to the throne room of God, the Creator of ALL things, to sit and talk with Him. He wants our undivided attention. He wants to connect with us.

Seriously, how many of you talk to your parents like we do God in prayer?

The reality is, prayer is one of the most important disciplines of the Christian walk, yet one of the most overlooked, frequently ignored, or highly misunderstood disciplines of the faith.

We seem to only turn to prayer as a “last resort” when we are face to face with some crisis instead of as a conduit by which we connect with the Almighty Living God daily.

Why is that?

Perhaps it’s because we treat our prayers as simply words released into the air instead of a chance for mere mortals like ourselves to have an audience with the eternal King of the Universe?

HOW, THEN, SHOULD WE PRAY

I could certainly provide lots of personal opinions on what prayer is and what it looks like, but instead, let us consider what the Bible has to say on the matter of prayer:

Jeremiah 33:3 – Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Colossians 4:2 – Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

1 Timothy 2:8 – I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…

Matthew 18:19-20 – Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

Hebrews 4:16 – Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

James 4:3 – You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

And perhaps the most well known prayer (can you say it from memory?):

Matthew 6:9-13 – Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

From just these few examples, I believe there is much richness that can be gleaned about how we ought to pray.

To make it easy, here are 7 aspects of prayer that we can learn from these passages (there is more, so take some time to see what you can pull from these passages on your own!):

  1. God Wants to Speak to Us (Jeremiah 33:3) – It is in this time He will reveal things to us about ourselves, about Him, about His will, and many other things. How cool is that? God…the God of the universe actually wants to talk to us!
  2. Prayer Is Constant and Done with Thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2) – Our King has given us much…not the least of which is eternal life. We have a LOT to be thankful for. And we need to express that thanks to Him as often as we possibly can.
  3. Prayer Isn’t Just Something We Do at our Church Gatherings (1 Timothy 2:8) – It should be something we do anywhere, and everywhere. After all, how can we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) if we relegate prayer to only a specific place?
  4. We Should Pray With Others (Matthew 18:19-20) – Prayer isn’t just a time when God wants to speak to us as individuals, but often times He has something to say to the Church body. OK…He always has something to say to the Church body. So, when the Church body gathers, we should make prayer an important part of that gathering. We are told that when 2 or more of us are gathered in His name, that a supernatural expression of His presence will occur. Who doesn’t want that?
  5. Prayer is the Literal Door to the Throne Room of God (Hebrews 4:16) – And at the throne of God we can find mercy and grace for all the trials we face in this life. God cares about us. It’s not that He isn’t aware of our struggles, but He wants us to come to Him like a son (or daughter) to his (or her) Father. Bringing these concerns to Him.
  6. Caution Must Be Taken When approaching His Throne in Prayer (James 4:3) – If we approach His throne in selfish desire, James tells us that we approach Him incorrectly, and that we shouldn’t be surprised that God doesn’t give to us what we ask when we do this. The entire Gospel, the entire life of Jesus, was about putting others before you. The same goes for our prayer life. It’s not that God isn’t concerned about us. But if all we talk about is ourselves, then we clearly demonstrate our only concern is for ourselves. Jesus commanded us to love one another as He loved us, and He constantly prayed for the ones around Him. We ought to as well.
  7. How Jesus Prays (Matthew 6:9-13) – Of course this is probably the richest gold mine for prayer to be found, because it comes straight from the mouth of Jesus. But this prayer gives us an example of how we should approach the throne of God and what we should approach Him about. 1) We should enter his presence in prayer first with thanksgiving and praise. 2) Then we can begin to pray for His will to be made manifest in our lives and around us as it is in heaven (you will know how to pray this as it relates to your individual circumstances). 3) Speak to Him about and seek Him for our sustenance, both in physical form but also in spiritual form. 4) Ask Him for strength to be a forgiving and merciful person. 5) Finally, ask Him to help guide us through trials and tribulations and help deliver us from them.

There is a great deal to be learned about prayer in just those verses, but those hardly scratch the surface of prayer as the Bible lays it out.

But let me encourage you to not let these verses be your one stop shop for prayer. Instead, let them inspire you to dig deeper in to the riches of God’s word for what He has given to us. Never stop learning, and never stop praying.

If the Church would begin to master the discipline of prayer, we will find this to be one of the greatest tools to help us successfully walk this Christian life.

Let me leave you with this prayer that Jesus prayed literally for you:

John 17:20-23 – I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word (That’s you and me!), that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

The Table – What is Fellowship?

It was announced back at the end of October that the church I had been serving on staff at would close it’s doors on December 30, 2018. And so it did.

This, of course, left my family wondering what we were going to do in this next season of life. Would we find another church? Would we wander a little and try several churches out? Would we travel and visit people we haven’t seen in forever and attend their churches?

We just didn’t really know.

THE CATALYST

Friday night, I went to a friends house for a gathering of believers that we have been gathering with off and on since our college years. This group of friends has become more of a family. They have been a part of so much of our lives, and are a constant support. They truly represent the beauty of the Church, and for that I am thankful.

My friend, Richard, I have known and served in ministry along side of, since 2002. A 17 year brotherhood. And that night we spoke of the struggles I have been through these last 7.5 years and especially the last 2.

He encouraged me and prayed with me. We spoke of what my family was going to do next. And how we didn’t know what we were going to do. And he encouraged me to take some time to detox with my family, and seek God’s direction.

After leaving there that night, I had a long ride home, which is usually where I do most of my thinking and praying. And God put it on my heart to establish my family as the Church. (Not that it will stop with them, but rather start with them.)

THE GATHERING

So today, my family decided to take a step and conduct a Church gathering in our home with our family alone. There were 6 of us gathered around the table.

Our gathering included:

  1. A meal (fellowship)
  2. Prayer
  3. Scripture reading
  4. Discussion and teaching AND…
  5. And some more prayer, specifically for healing over my wife and youngest child who have been struggling through a nasty cold for a couple of weeks.

The morning started out with me heading to the grocery store to gather the ingredients to make some home made sausage, egg, and cheese biscuits.

As I drove, I began to ponder and actually get excited about this gathering. I haven’t felt excited about “Church” in a long time. Mostly just frustrated and hurt.

But today was different. I was looking forward to this day.

I wandered the aisles at the grocery store, considering what my family would enjoy most for a late breakfast/early lunch. Gathered them into my basket, made for the checkout, and then headed home.

I intentionally drove by several church facilities on my home. I prayed for them as I drove by.

Once I got home, the family got to work serving one another through cleaning up the kitchen together and preparing the table. I prepared the meal.

THE TABLE

My oldest son set the table, and when the food was ready we all sat down, blessed the meal, and then we took part in a meal together.

After we ate, I pulled out the Bible, and we began a discussion on what the early Church looked like. I began with the ascension of Jesus, talked through the upper room and Pentecost, continued into Peters first street sermon, and finished with the early church forming and gathering in Acts 2:42, which says:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

I broke down what the early church devoted themselves to:

  1. Teachings of the apostles
  2. Fellowship
  3. Breaking of Bread (a meal, and communion)
  4. And prayer

One of the questions I asked to my family was, what is fellowship?

My kids almost in unison said, “It is when you welcome guests at the church during worship, and shaking hands…”

My heart sank…

THE DEFINITION OF FELLOWSHIP

I have been in the formal ministry setting for over 16 years, and my children have been in the church their entire lives, and their concept of fellowship was that time between worship and the message where we shake hands and say hello to one another.

I am ashamed to admit that I have failed my children to some degree.

But, it got me thinking…how much of the Church truly understands what fellowship is as it relates to the church? How many people honestly believe it is that time between song and word where we shake hands and say hello?

As I examine the Church Body across America, I would dare say a great many do not understand it. Perhaps I haven’t truly understood it either. Perhaps the way we have “designed church” has perpetuated this mindset. Perhaps not.

Whatever it was, I wanted to make sure my family began to truly understand what biblical fellowship looked like.

So, I took out the Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary, and looked up the word “Fellowship” and here is the definition that I found:

Companionship; society; consort; mutual association of persons on equal and friendly terms; familiar intercourse. (Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness. Ephesians 5) Men are made for society and mutual fellowship.

Association; confederacy; combination.

Partnership; joint interest; as fellowship in pain.

Company; a state of being together.

Communion; intimate familiarity. 1 John 1.

Thank you, Noah Webster!

As we read the definition, I watched my kids light bulbs coming on. As we discussed what fellowship was, and gave examples from our own life, they began to nod in understanding.

This, friends…is fellowship. What Noah Webster described is what the Church OUGHT to be doing. Look at the passages he posted (Eph. 5 and 1 John 1) and see what the Bible says is fellowship. Look at Acts 2:42-47 and see what the early Church was doing “in fellowship” and ask yourself, does the modern Church look anything like this? Is this something we can see again?

I think the answer is sadly, no, this is not what the modern Church exemplifies, but yes, we can see this again.

THE CONCLUSION

The reality is, fellowship is the Church doing LIFE together.

Too many churches exist where people can come and hide and not connect. There is not accountability, or follow up, or follow through. You just walk in, sit through an hour of music and a good speech, and then go home unchanged.

But the early Church walked out life together. And it happened every day of the week, not just during a one hour feel good meeting on a Sunday morning.

I know the excuses that will follow:

  1. I’m too busy.
  2. I work all the time.
  3. The kids have too much going on.
  4. I don’t need more on my plate than I already have.

But these are excuses that view the Church gathering as a burden, rather than a blessing. But the gathering of the Church…when it is doing life together…when we truly FELLOWSHIP with one another…changes from a burden to a blessing. It becomes something we long to be around and engage in.

And this is exactly what God had in mind for His Bride.

So while I still feel somewhat ashamed that I have not done a good job of teaching my children the true meaning of biblical fellowship, I am honored and excited that I have an opportunity to correct that.

And while I correct it in my own home, I encourage you to do the same in your home…and in your local church gathering.

The Bible has a lot to say about it, and gives us a good number of pictures for what fellowship looks like…lets seek to emulate the early Church and God’s plan for the Church rather than emulate what the culture around us thinks the Church ought to look like.

No, Your Pastor Shouldn’t Be Expected to Lead Your Friend to Jesus and The Church Gathering is Not For The Unbeliever

Have you ever seen those commercials or read the inserts on some prescriptions that seem to describe side-effects that far exceed the issue it is supposedly treating?

You know, crazy things like, “This drug treating a mild cough could cause internal bleeding, the breakdown of the intestinal walls, or cause cancer.” And you’re like “Look, I just want to stop coughing!”

That’s how I feel about the “Seeker Sensitive” Church movement.

THE SEEKER SENSITIVE MOVEMENT

It has been (and continues to be) purported as providing the cure for church growth woes and reaching the lost, but instead it has produced some of the worst and possibly some of the longest lasting side-effects the Church has seen in a very long time as it relates to the purpose and function of the Church. After all, this movement has been in play since the 1970’s (going on 40+ years now).

If you’re unfamiliar with the “Seeker Sensitive” Church model, here is a basic definition I found at www.gotquestions.org:

…the seeker sensitive church tries to reach out to the unsaved person by making the church experience as comfortable, inviting, and non-threatening to him as possible. The hope is that the person will believe in the gospel. The idea behind the concept is to get as many unsaved people through the door as possible, and the church leadership are willing to use nearly any means to accomplish that goal.

https://www.gotquestions.org/seeker-sensitive-church.html

While I believe the intentions of the Seeker Sensitive Church Movement were admirable, they fell way short of creating an atmosphere that could produce a Church body that was truly healthy, growing, and impactful in its community in the way that God intended the Church to be.

The gathering of the Church body was NEVER intended to be an evangelistic tool at its core. You won’t find that purpose in the Bible. You won’t find early church accounts documenting this goal. It’s simply not biblical.

This isn’t to say that unbelievers may not find their way to our gatherings. Or that unbelievers may not become believers through attending the gathering. If they do show up, the Bible gives us some insight on how to handle that.

They should be welcomed.

They should be hospitably treated.

But, you won’t find anywhere in the Bible that tells us to compromise or hide who we are as believers. In fact, it says quite the opposite.

Take 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 for example:

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+14%3A24-25&version=ESV

Likewise, your pastor or the leaders of your church should not be held responsible for leading your friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else connected to you to the Lord.

That’s actually YOUR responsibility. You’ll see why shortly.

THE SIDE EFFECTS OF A BAD CHURCH MODEL

As a result, the Seeker Sensitive Church Movement has produced some pretty terrible and unfortunate side effects, including, but certainly not limited to:

  1. Milk only infantile believers
  2. Shallow believers
  3. Consumer driven Churches
  4. Consumer driven believers
  5. Believers who can’t articulate the gospel
  6. Believers who can’t defend the faith
  7. Believers who don’t know the truth
  8. Believers who don’t understand how to live out the commands of the Bible
  9. Believers who don’t understand who Jesus is
  10. Believers who don’t understand who (or what) the Church is

If you, or anyone you know in the Seeker Sensitive Church Model, is experiencing any of these side effects, stop what you are doing and seek a better Church model. Preferably one in the Bible.

THE CURE

What, then, is the Church gathering actually for if not to act as an evangelistic tool to reach the lost? And what is the role of the pastor and other church leaders?

I am so glad you asked! No really, this is a great question!

The Bible, once again, tells us exactly what the Church gathering is for and what purpose the pastor and church leaders serve.

1 Corinthians 14:26-33 says (concerning the church gathering):

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+14%3A26-33&version=ESV

See, also, Acts 2:42

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts+2%3A42&version=ESV

You see, the gathering of the Church exists for the building up, equipping, and encouragement of the Church body. It is intended to be a gathering where the BELIEVER fellowships with other BELIEVERS, spends time in learning the tenants of the faith and how to live out the faith, and to pray with other BELIEVERS.

If an unbeliever happens to come to Christ through this, BONUS!

And how does this all happen? According to Ephesians 4:11-16, through your pastor and other church leaders as intended by God:

11 And he (being God) gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (also read “pastors”) and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ephesians+4%3A11-16&version=ESV

Through these people that God has put in place FOR the Church, we are able to attain unity of faith, knowledge of Jesus, maturity, and a steadfastness in our faith so that we are not taken away by the deceit of others.

In fact, according to Ephesians 4, when we operate this way (the way God intended) then we are functioning properly, and it is through this that the Church body grows and builds itself up in love.

Notice that this is not accomplished through fog machines, flashy lights, big and loud praise teams with a comprehensive album release schedule, buff pastors with fashion sense, cool children’s ministries (complete with snack time), the greatest greeting team EVER, fancy buildings, water bottles with your Church logo on it, or whatever else your church is using to attract unbelievers to your gatherings.

The gathering of the Church body was ALWAYS intended to be a place of equipment and encouragement for BELIEVERS to go and do the work of the ministry in their homes, jobs, families, neighborhoods, and other areas of their life.

It is past time to drop this potent and lethal drug called the “Seeker Sensitive Church Movement” with all its ugly side effects, and get back to a more holistic and biblical approach to being the Church.

It is time to get the Western/American Church off the spiritual “nipple” and move on to the meatier things they were designed for.

Don’t you think?

Faithfully Fostering: The BEGINNING

Being “salt and light” (Matthew 5: 13-16) in a dark world is not easy. There are so many issues that need light brought to them. It’s hard to listen to the still small voice to find what path to be that light on.

PLANTING OF THE SEED

I couldn’t tell you when foster care fell on my heart but I could probably guess when the seed was planted. There was a group of girls that took a trip to Pennsylvania when I was a teenager. One of our missions was we were helping some nuns in a foster care house. I talked to one of the boys there (I think he was 8 or 9) that was removed from his mom. He opened up to me and was confused on some aspects of why he was there. I tried to explain to him the best I could at that age what was going on. I fell in love with that place. I asked one of the nuns what I would have to major in to work there and she told me “Emotionally Impaired” because it was a house for wards of the court. Hence, I went to school for that. (The funny thing is I never did work there.)

Also, around that same time frame, I got a message to “gather my lost sheep”. Yup, it confused me. I didn’t know what the heck THAT meant. I just assumed that it tied into teaching. I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I remember playing school in our basement with my sisters and I taught them what I know. (That’s why they are super smart).

NOW, it is all coming together. God’s timing is not our timing that is for sure.  NOW, I realize, all my schooling and years of teaching were just preparation to be a foster parents.

BUT WHY?

It is no secret that my husband and I are Pro-Life. I had a friend ask me what we were doing to support females that decide not to have an abortion and not just preach to them. At that time, we were trying to gather our paperwork and meet fire code in SC which I told her. She said “At least you are trying to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.” That made me stop and think. How many times as Christians do we just preach and there is no action behind it?  Jesus surely didn’t do that. He loved the unlovable and healed those that may or may not have deserved it. He prayed for his enemies and forgave those who did not deserve it all while he hanged, broken and tortured, on a cross.

Sure, we could have donated money to an organization that houses foster or abandon kids but kids need love, wisdom and support to develop into decent human beings. Now don’t get me wrong, people that work in those types of housing situations are good people but I’m sure they are spread quite thin. I tip my hat to them!

Anyway, my point is there are some issues that you cannot just throw money at it. You actually have to take action.

I’M GETTING TO MY POINT I SWEAR!!

According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there is really no official directory of church congregations.  It is hard to actually count churches because thousands of churches open each year. They estimate that there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the US. They pulled their data from the Religious Congregation Membership Study from 2010 census. (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/fastfacts/fast_facts.html)

An article written by Mary Fairchild has that there are 247 million (about 78%) of the US adults identify themselves as Christians. (http://christianity.about.com/od/denominations/p/christiantoday.htm) I did not see when this article was written.

According to the Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Your and Families and Children’s Bureau November 2013, Issue 20 “The AFCARS Report”, on September 30, there were 397,122 children in foster care. Only 108,379 of those children are with relatives. (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport20.pdf)

This is my point and if my math is correct. If less than 1% of those self-identified Christians took in one kid, we wouldn’t have a foster care issue in the United States.

Thoughts. 

I realize it is easier said than done. Trust me; it’s crossed my mind and my husbands about our safety and our future kid’s safety. I’ve taught at least one foster care kid that chilled me to the bone. HOWEVER, think about this. How many kids have lost their parents from death, drugs, or stupid behavior but have the potential to be good kids with enough love?

Anyway, I am going to attempt to blog about our journey as much as I can and the law will allow about the process of becoming a foster parent. After seeing those stats, it’s pretty obvious there are plenty of lost sheep to gather. I hope that this will encourage some people, with good hearts to look into fostering a child.

I’m just going to leave these here: James 1:27, Deuteronomy 14:29, Ezekiel 22 (read the whole chapter but really I’m referring to 6-7)

  • Liz DuRant

BIG NEWS!

First, and foremost…HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

It’s officially 2019. Can you believe it? Where did the time go?

Anyway…Brad here…and I just wanted to let you know that there are some big changes coming to the eagerforTRUTH site!

We are expanding and bringing in new voices!

This is great because, who wants to always read what I have to say, right? There are so many amazing people out there who have a heart for the Church, and who have a heart to see the Church become the Bride Christ wants to come back for.

One of those voices is Brian Baldwin, coming out of Indianapolis, Indiana!

We met a while back through mutual friends on social media, and a friendship began to bud there. Over time we saw that we had a similar heart, similar passions, and a desire to spur the Church on to be all She can be. He is a true brother and friend, and I’m excited to have him on board to be one of the writers for eagerforTRUTH.

Brian also has a Facebook page he manages called, Be The Change. Please be sure to head over there and subscribe and see what awesome things he’s already done in the way of creating Christian media and content, and also to keep up with the things we are doing here.

Here’s to an exciting new year, new vision, new…well…everything!

Ruby Sunday – A Baptist Boys First Experience With the Demonic

I currently serve in a charismatic Church that is fully open to the concept of the supernatural. But I haven’t always been in such environments.

In fact, I spent the first almost 30 years of my 36 years of life on this planet in the Southern Baptist Church that is far less open or receptive to the idea of supernatural happenings and spiritual gifts.

I grew up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s kid, a Southern Baptist grandkid, and a Southern Baptist nephew. I then spent the first 8 years out of a Baptist university serving on staff as a worship leader and/or youth pastor at Southern Baptist churches across two states.

To say I was immersed in Southern Baptist church life is mildly putting. I was a product of that. I was Southern Baptist through and through.

My only problem…right after I graduated college, I married a charismatic girl who had spent the bulk of her church upbringing in the Assemblies of God.

OK…she’s my wife…so she’s not really a problem. But we certainly butted heads more than once over various views of the supernatural and spiritual gifts. She would argue in favor, and I would provide the typical cessationist arguments for why she was wrong.

Great way to start a marriage, huh?

Well, about a year in to the marriage, and about 4 or 5 months in to my first full time Youth Ministry job in a Southern Baptist Church out in the sticks of South Carolina in a small town called Bamberg, was when I began my journey into the supernatural.

Unbeknownst to me, my wife had been praying that God would bring to me a supernatural experience to open my eyes to the realities of things I had long rejecting.

And boy, did God answer that question.

It was a typical Sunday. I had just finished up with the Sunday School class I was teaching. People were in transition from Sunday school to Church, and I was in the sanctuary behind the piano preparing a special song I had written at the request of the worship leader (who, also happened to be the mayor of the town…I told you it was a small place).

As I was tickling the ivories and singing, a woman came in that had never darkened the doors of our church before. She came in and sat down right on the front pew, right in front of where I was at.

While I was playing and singing I looked out of the corner of my eye and watched her. She was acting a little strange. Swaying back and forth. And honestly, I thought she looked like she was going to do something crazy. But hey, it’s church. I wanted to think the best of visitors so I immediately wrote that idea out of my brain…

Until I came off stage.

She walked up to me briskly and introduced herself as Ruby. And then the awkward started. She immediately began to flirt with me and hit on me. I was taken aback. Did this woman not realize we were in the middle of a Church building? Did she even care?

As the moment got more awkward my wife suddenly came in and walked up and I quickly introduced her to Ruby as my wife. To which the woman replied, “Oh, this handsome thing is yours? You’re very lucky.”

That was my queue to leave.

I made a quick trip to the bathroom and came back in to the sanctuary as church was getting close to starting.

While I was gone, my wife told me Ruby began to tell her very strange things. She told my wife that she could see things and that she knew things about people that they thought they had kept secret from everyone else.

She said, “For example, I can look at people and I can instantly tell who is truly a Christian and who is not”, and then she proceeded to demonstrate that skill to my wife as people were walking in the room. She would say things like “That person isn’t a believer. That person is.”

Not gonna lie…some of the people she pointed out as non-believers I had kind of suspected for a while based on past interactions with them myself.

Anyway, church was starting and so I made my way to the stage to do my song.

My wife sat down on the front row of the center section of pews. Ruby took a seat next to my wife.

The worship began.

Ruby began to act a little strange, but nothing that stood out…yet.

After the music I sat down between Ruby and my wife and my pastor got up to introduce his sermon for the day with a prayer. While he prayed I could hear Ruby whispering to herself. Or, was she speaking with someone I could not see? Either way, it creeped me out. She was saying that she was hadn’t done anything to some woman she left unnamed, and that if it came up again she was going to kill her.

She began to sway and rock.

She picked up a bible and started to rub it in her hands.

After my pastor prayed he began to read the scripture for the day which if I recall correctly, was the passage of Jesus telling the Pharisees that their father was Satan and that Satan was a liar.

At that very moment Ruby stood up and began to scream at my pastor.

She said, “YOU ARE THE LIAR! I WILL SACRIFICE YOU RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF THIS CHURCH AND NO ONE CAN STOP ME!”

My pastor was stunned. The only words he got out were, “Deacons, I need some help.”

Apparently the deacons were stunned too because they didn’t make a move.

I said a quick prayer and said, “God, whatever this is, give me a sign so I know.” I then opened the bible and it immediately fell on the story of the demoniac. I said, “God, I was afraid that was the answer.”

Since the deacons were refusing to move, and the youth on the front row were in tears at this point, I stood up and got in her face and said, “Ma’am, I’m going to need you to sit down and be quiet.”

Ruby looked me in the eyes and asked, “You too holy man?”

I responded, “I guess so.”

Something happened at that moment that is hard describe, but I can see it like it happened 5 minutes ago. When I said, “I guess so” her eyes became entirely engulfed in black and it was as if I was staring in to a deep empty well. And then she let out a blood curdling scream and took off running around the room.

She was hopping pews.

She was running.

She was screaming.

At one point Ruby stopped and began to cry out, “Lord Jesus help me! I can’t take this anymore!”

A little old lady in our church reached her hand out and said, “Sweet heart, let me help you.” Ruby took a couple of steps, hand outstretched, and then let out another blood curdling scream and took off running down the middle of the isle and right out the back door.

Some deacons who finally realized that something serious was going on took off after her and chased her down the middle of the street right through the middle of town while another person called the cops.

Ruby was arrested, and taken to the hospital in town.

I called the next day to find out what had happened to her. I was told that she was given sedation medication and that nothing was working and that she was going crazy. So crazy that they had to put her in a padded room so she wouldn’t hurt herself and call for the mental institution in Columbia to come get her.

We had a nurse in our church who kept saying the woman was suffering from schizophrenia. I knew this wasn’t right. I was sitting next to her. I heard everything that came out of her mouth. I looked into her eyes. I prayed for God to give me a sign and He opened the Bible to the demoniac story.

This…this wasn’t mental illness. This was demonic possession.

I immediately began to scour the internet for information on possession and found countless articles outlining the differences between schizophrenia and possession. Interestingly, one of those differences was that schizophrenia responds to sedation while possession will not.

I was at a loss for what to do. I asked my pastor if we could go over and do an exorcism. He politely refused and said she’s just having mental issues and that the doctors will take care of her.

It was that day that I realized I had experienced something I had never seen before and I experienced an awakening in me. I was changed and never looked back.

That day became known as Ruby Sunday, and I’m sure has lived in infamy in the minds of many of the youth group who were sitting with me that day and had a front row seat to the supernatural and demonic.

You see, I write all of this not only to chronicle and document the experience of that day back in 2006 (12 years ago), but also to provide evidence to my cessationist friends who insist that things of this nature just don’t happen anymore.

Had I known what was going on, and had I been equipped by my church to address such a situation, Ruby may have been able to be set free. And a part of me wonders if she ever experienced a release from that demonic stronghold. I hope so. I really hope so.

And another part of me regrets that I didn’t do more.

I recognized what was going on, but I felt helpless.

Churches, we need to take this sort of thing more serious. American Churches have become apathetic to the supernatural and the demonic and seem to think this sort of thing only happens in third world countries.

It doesn’t friends. It’s right here. It’s in our churches, our homes, our cities, our schools, our jobs…it’s all around us. We’ve just done a really good job of convincing ourselves that everything can be fixed with a pill or psychological counseling.

Not everything.

Some things require more.

Something supernatural.

A Pastoral Epidemic of Biblical Proportions (Part 2)

If you’re seeing this article, and haven’t had a chance to read Part 1, I HIGHLY encourage you to start there as I lay this whole thing out in a fairly structured way. And much of what will be said in Part 2 gets its foundation from Part 1.

If you’ve already read Part 1, GREAT! Welcome back, and I hope you are ready for this next part, because there’s a LOT to cover.

In Part 1, I covered 2 major foundational areas that I feel have placed many men and women who have been called out for a ministry purpose on the path to destruction. The calling has become whittled down to 4 areas of ministry (pastor, student pastor, music pastor, and missionary), while the training falls in line behind what the Church has whittled down the calling to.

This means that we have men and women who are being trained up to function in a calling that they may not actually be equipped for or called to, but because our scope of ministry has become so small we don’t allow for the possibility that there may be more than these 4 to consider.

Which brings me into my next point…

THE MENTORING

When the calling is misunderstood or misinterpreted, the training then is aligned with a misunderstood or misinterpreted calling. In many cases, after some formal training, called ones will then (if not already) go through some sort of mentorship with an older more experienced minister, so they can learn from them what they believe they need to know about being in the field in this new calling.

Unfortunately, because the foundation of the calling and the training have already been focused on a very limited scope of ministry that may or may not align with where God is truly leading these young called out ones, the mentoring then continues to push these individuals toward something that God never intended them to be in.

Let me be clear, I absolutely value mentoring, and believe this is foundational for any believer in the faith and not just ministers. We all need mature believers who can speak into our lives, help guide us into a better understanding and application of our faith and be there to hold us accountable.

In other words, I believe this is necessary for us all.

So, when I say “mentoring” is an issue, I’m meaning that the mentoring is already off on the wrong foot because the foundations leading to this point were already off.

Think of it from a builder’s perspective…if the foundation is off, the rest of the building is going to be off. And if the building isn’t off (to the naked eye), then other issues will arise such as cracks in the foundation, a shifting foundation, and so on.

Therefore, I listed the calling and the training first because these are foundational in the life of a person who is being called. These are, in a way, the beginning moments of their journey into their calling.

Get this wrong, and the rest collapses around them.

To correct this, the mentor must do a better job of assessing the mentored and helping them discern what God is really calling them into in their life. It may very well be that the called out one has had a poor foundation laid, but that doesn’t mean the mentor has to build on that foundation. In fact, a good mentor will examine the foundation and help the one being mentored build a new foundation if they find the foundation is flawed.

Something to keep in mind is this…this may not mean completely rebuilding the foundation. It may just mean that the whole foundation is messed up, and that they will just need to do some foundational repairs before they can continue the building process.

But this is where a good mentor becomes so important. They get to help spot these issues and help correct them before they become even bigger issues down the road.

The mentor becomes a safety measure…a stop gap for error, if you will.

Now, there is another side to this coin.

There are many young called ones who go from calling, to training, and straight into the field without a mentor by their side. Perhaps this is because they have had a hard time finding one to mentor them, or perhaps they don’t know what a mentor is, or perhaps they feel it isn’t necessary to have a mentor.

Either way, there is a side of the coin where the mentor is totally absent from the picture.

At this point, I’m now talking to the ones being called…

YOU NEED TO GET A MENTOR!

ASAP!

WASTE NO TIME!

DO NOT PASS GO!

DO NOT COLLECT $200!

FIND A MENTOR AND FIND ONE NOW!

As my pastor and mentor once put it to me, even a pastor needs a pastor.

Translation…everyone needs someone who will be able to speak into their life and provide mentoring. No one is exempt from this. Yes…even you (yes, you!) young seminary grad…you are not exempt from this even if you now have several new letters at the end of your name and a degree hanging on the wall.

OK, it looks like this is going to have to be a possible 3 to 4-part article.

I’m trying not to overwhelm people all at once with what I’m bringing. So, lets take a pause, reflect on what’s already been stated in Part 1 and Part 2, and then prayerfully consider if you’re prepared to read Part 3.

Because in Part 3 I’m going to start breaking down the current western, modern, American Church Model, and the unspoken (and often unfair) expectations handed down from church members that is contributing heavily to pushing called ones into a destructive nature.

Stay tuned!

A Pastoral Epidemic of Biblical Proportions (Part 1)

In recent weeks, months, and even years there has been a growing concern for the mental and emotional health of pastors (especially younger pastors) as we have seen far too many of them take their own lives leaving behind ministries, families, and friends behind to wonder why.

Many of these pastors were the senior pastors of large and, at least in the eyes of the world, successful churches. For all one could see on the surface, they were in the prime of their ministry and doing well at it. Why, then, have we seen so many pastors go from the pinnacle of favor to one of the darkest places a human soul can go?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself because a) I’m currently a worship and youth pastor in my church and b) because I’m in the process of being sent out by my local Church and taking my family into the realm of Church planting where I know that this danger becomes even more real and pronounced than perhaps I would ever dream possible now, and finally c) because as a pastor my heart breaks for these men and their families and churches.

There must be an answer.

Maybe it’s more than one answer. Perhaps it’s a combination of several things working together causing these pastors to get caught up in the emotional maelstrom of depression and feel the only way out is to exit stage right on this side of heaven.

Is it also possible that they are in this state of mind because they are so far off course from where God had intended them to be, and that they got there in part because of the misguiding’s of well-meaning pastors and fellow believers?

As I said, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about this and I think I have some insights to share from personal experience and perhaps some dots to connect that will help us all in ensuring the future of many of these young pastors is preserved to fight another day.

What follows isn’t necessarily in any order of importance (one being more important than another), but simply observations from time spent in the field, and the convictions I’m personally feeling regarding the ministry and Church life as a whole.

Also, because of the length that this article will likely become, I’m breaking this up into at least 2 parts, starting with…

The Calling

While there is no order of importance, I do think a lot of the trouble begins at the moment of the calling.

You see, I was raised a preacher’s kid (PK for short), and my grandfather and uncles were pastors as well. So, to say that I was in the thick of ministry life is putting it mildly. I was engulfed in it. And I’m STILL engulfed in it at the age of 36.

I recall very vividly that while growing up I was constantly barraged by church people saying things like “When you grow up, I bet you’re going to be a pastor just like your dad” (replace dad with grandfather or uncle as well).

My auto-response was, “No way! I’ll never serve in the ministry. I’ve seen what it has done to them.”

Funny thing is, I’m now serving in the ministry as a worship/youth pastor and about to move into Church planting within the next couple of years.

But the reality is this, when I received my calling into ministry back in 2001 I remember feeling like my options of ministry were very limited. In other words, I felt I was limited to being either a youth pastor, a music pastor, a senior pastor, or a missionary – with nothing in between or outside of those parameters.

And I’m not the only one who has felt this way. In many discussions with fellow pastor friends of mine, they too have felt the same pressure to conform to this limited scope of ministry. And based on that I can assure most men who feel the call into the ministry feel these are their only options. They then begin to approach this call with this unbiblical presupposition in mind.

Side note: I can also assure you that most Church people think this way as well. One only needs to listen to them when they are asked what their understanding of ministry looks like and a great deal becomes revealed.

The sad reality is, our view of the “Calling” is extremely limited in scope, and unfortunately not entirely biblical.

Yes, the role of the pastor and the missionary is clearly demonstrated in the Bible. But a quick reading of 1 Corinthians shows that the Body of Christ (the Church) has many members, and FAR more gifts than preaching and being a missionary. Why, then, do we limit the call of the ministry to so few giftings?

I feel that this unfortunate view of ministry, and thus limiting the calling of many into the ministry, has done more damage than good. It has forced men and women into a predetermined box that says “If you’re being called, this is all you have to choose from” even if their spiritual giftings look nothing like what’s being given to them as their options.

So, from the very get go, there are men and women running headlong into a “calling” that they may or may not actually be called into or equipped for.

Is it any wonder, then, that they become frustrated, depressed, and disconnected? At some level they probably feel lied to, and at another level feeling like they must’ve misunderstood the calling.

With that in mind, this is what I propose…we MUST stop limiting the calling to 4 areas of ministry, and we MUST do a better job of exploring with these men and women their spiritual gifts, their God-given passions, and what the Bible says about these things.

Then and only then can we help set them up to succeed.

Which leads me to my next area of concern…

The Training

The next stop on the would-be minsters train ride into ministry is receiving some sort of formal training.

For me it was changing my college degree focus from music education to youth ministry. The university I attended was a Christian university, so this was a degree program that was available to me without changing my school.

Other’s aren’t so fortunate, and many of them end up making a massive decision to pull out of their current school to pursue a “ministry degree” at another school. And it doesn’t stop there, because many denominations have the expectation and requirement that they also go to seminary to be further trained into their limited 4 areas of ministry.

Looking back, at some levels, I’m thankful for the training I received. And I value a large portion of what I received. So, please don’t take what I’m saying as some sort of anti-intellectual rant.

I especially valued what I learned for studying the Bible. I learned so much about Bible history, the original languages of the Bible, and the context and culture of the Bible, and from there I was able to begin reading the bible with a different set of eyes than perhaps I was able to before taking those classes.

For that I am very grateful.

At another level, I regret having spent 4 years and tens of thousands of dollars per year on a degree such as youth ministry. While it prepared me to study the Bible better, it did nothing to prepare me for actual ministry. Imagine how much more frustrating it would’ve been for me (and how much more in debt I would be) had I pursued a seminary degree.

If I could go back and do it all over again, I would’ve minored in youth ministry and had a major focus on something like business, or technology, or some other skill set to give me some “tent making skills” like that of Paul in the New Testament who used his tent making skills to provide for himself a living while he fulfilled his calling.

Sadly, not a single person in my life remotely suggested this. Not my father. Not my grandfather. Not my uncles. Not my professors. Not my pastors. No one.

And why do you suppose that is?

I think a lot of the reason is because, once again, this goes back to our misunderstanding of ministry and church life and how we have limited the scope of ministry to a handful of “biblical professions” and thus limiting how one would approach their formal training.

No one stopped me because no one thought what I was doing could’ve possibly been the wrong approach for me. They weren’t evil or nefarious. They just all assumed that my calling was to full time pastoral ministry of some sort, and so I needed to get formal training with that in mind.

I do not believe that I’m the only person who has been “called” who found themselves in a similar situation.

And because of this, I think the area of training for those being “called” is severely lacking. Not so much in content, but in discernment. We lack in our ability to help the newly “called” in discerning how-to best approach training because we lack vision and understanding of what ministry looks like.

Like I said, this all comes back to the call.

I have no issue with the idea of training men and women for ministry…I think it is extremely beneficial in ways…but pastors, professors, and fellow believers…we MUST stop boxing “the called” in and let us do more to help the called to dream and see things through God’s eyes rather than our limited view of ministry. Build around that…not around what we’ve whittled ministry down to.

I think we can begin to address this issue by rethinking what training looks like. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that training should be less formal, and less about the classroom, and more about mentoring out in the field.

Which leads me to my next point which I will cover in Part 2, The Mentoring.

Part 2 will be coming to you very shortly as I address The Mentoring, The Model, and The Unspoken Expectations that are setting up young aspiring ministers to fail, and perhaps even setting them up to experience some of the deepest, darkest, soul wrenching pain a human can endure.

Check back to get the rest of the picture I’m trying to paint here.

20 Signs of a Consumer Driven Church Culture

I just recently read an article titled 20 Signs of a Toxic Church Culturewhere the author Dr. Joseph Mattera recounts several signs that he has observed over time that indicate that the church you are part of may have a toxic culture.

The article appeared on Ministry Today Magazine‘s website, and to be fair, the author did note that the signs he listed could be applied to either a for profit or a non-profit organization alike.

The article caught my attention because, I’m a pastor, and I’m in the process of planting a Church and so I was curious to see what Church leaders were saying about Church culture.

But here lies my issue, and the point where my mind began to ponder what I was reading and how it applied to the Church, and that is this: is it possible that the toxicity that Dr. Mattera is citing in his article is there because the Church culture in general has become a consumer driven culture that treats its local church body more like a business rather than the very Body of Christ?

My answer is quite simply, yes.

The very concept of attracting people to Church (which is a phrase you will hear often from church planters, pastors, church leadership, etc.) has become a breeding ground for the toxic church culture that looks more like your local shopping mall (don’t like what you see in this store? try another store) than a spiritual entity that embodies the heart and mind of the Creator of the universe (we are all intertwined as one body that represents Christ to this world).

The biggest issue, from my vantage point, is that not only have we adopted the concept of attracting people to Church as a legitimate model for conducting Church life and church planting, but that some of the highest levels of Church leadership, leadership training, and church planting resources don’t even recognize this concept as a problem.

Again, to be fair to Dr. Mattera, and to his article, I’m not suggesting that some of his points are not valid or applicable to the Church body. I certainly believe there may be some overlap. However, from my perspective the bulk of his list is derived, not from a Biblical perspective, but from the presupposition that the opposite of what he lists is a sign of a healthy church. For some points, this may very well be the case. For others, can we really say these would be marks of a healthy church or just reflecting what a good business should look like?

What follows isn’t so much a response to Dr. Mattera’s 20 Signs of a Toxic Church Culture, though in some ways it may reflect a response to some of the points raised by Dr. Mattera, as much as it is a list of what I believe to be 20 signs of a consumer driven church culture which has inevitably produced the toxic church culture that Dr. Mattera is addressing.

So, without further ado, here are what I believe to be 20 Signs of a Consumer Driven Church Culture.

1. Your church spends more time trying to develop a marketing plan than they do searching the scriptures for what God says will be the drawing force to the Church.

I know of some churches who very literally have marketing departments with staff who all they do is focus on creating materials, branding, and developing the churches “image”. Which I find to be most interesting, since the only image we ought to be concerning ourselves with is reflecting the image of Christ.

2. There are more people in your church who are there specifically because of your pastors charisma and personality than they are to experience God deeper. 

At some level, we are drawn to the leadership of the church we belong to as we find things in common with them. But when that becomes either the primary reason they join a church or the primary reason they refuse to leave a church, then they have made an idol out of their pastor.

3. Your church has designed its entire existence and outsider experience from the outside inward with a heavy focus on outward appearance. 

Most churches in America have developed their facilities, “ministries”, etc. around the concept of what best attracts people to the church. In other words, they develop this outward appearance with the sole purpose of drawing people to that church. This, too, is interesting because the Bible is clear that when the early Church devoted themselves to prayer, breaking of bread, fellowship, and the apostles teaching that God alone grew their numbers.

I can assure you, in those early days, and for several hundred years following, they didn’t have grand facilities, and greeters, and coffee bars, and lounges in the lobby, and so on.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting we cannot appreciate or use modern technology. I’m not Amish now. I’m just saying these things aren’t what ought to be drawing people in. As has been stated by far greater minds than mine, what you draw people in with is what you will have to keep them with. If people are being drawn to Christ and not you, then the pressure is off of you. If you draw people in to yourself, then the pressure falls to you to constantly one up yourself. And frankly, this is an unbiblical approach.

4. What your church talks about from the pulpit and in a small group setting are more determined by how it will impact the bottom dollar than whether or not you are being biblically faithful. 

There is a sad reality that many pastors steer clear of certain topics, or refuse to address certain things within the church body because it may drive “tithers” out of the body. And, since they have invested so much in a facility and in their own salaries (again, not against these things), then they are constantly fearful that they will be in a financial tight spot if they were to lose anyone.

This is living with a spirit of fear, and not how Christ commanded us to live…which is boldly and obediently.

5. Your church views your pastor and fellow ministers as hirelings and frequently refers to them as staff and not as shepherds. 

I grew up Southern Baptist, and unfortunately this denomination like many, have a skewed view of pastors. They view them as mere hirelings who are there to do as they wish. And in many cases, if the pastor isn’t meeting their often unspoken standards and expectations, then they toss him aside or run him out and find a new guy.

This is sad because this isn’t remotely what the Bible says about pastors or how churches ought to treat pastors. But when you’re church is run more like a business than an actual church, should we expect anything less?

6. Your church conjures up ways to manufacture a “spiritual experience” rather than being faithful and devoted to what God has called us to be faithful and devoted to (Acts 2:42-47) and let God do what God does best.

Too many churches believe that, if God doesn’t show up, then they had better show up for Him. What I mean by that is, if for some reason the “power and presence of God” doesn’t seem to be felt, then we feel the need to manufacture His power and presence for Him.

Some churches have taken this to an extreme by putting gold dust and feathers in the AC ducts. While others are far more subtle like having a “spontaneous baptism” and then hiding certain people throughout the crowd who will respond at a certain time to create a herd mentality.

Yes, each of those examples are real and documented in various churches all across this nation. And this is a sad testament to the Church.

7. The number of people present in the auditorium seats holds the highest value than anything else, and justify it by saying that “numbers represent souls”.

People matter. I get that. So that’s not what I’m suggesting. But there are churches and pastors who place the value of the number in attendance above all things. Shoot, there are denominations who determine the effectiveness and success of a church solely based on how many are coming on a Sunday morning.

Have we really become so shallow? People are more than numbers. And God’s ability to use a church far exceeds the number of butts in the sanctuary on a given Sunday.

8. Over 80% of your church members haven’t lifted a finger in service to other church members since they darkened the door of your church. And if they have served at one time or another, and are asked to serve in other areas again, their response is “I’ve done my time.”

I’ve literally had people tell me that they aren’t going to help me in an area of ministry that I’m serving in because, get this, “They’ve put in their time” OR because they figured someone else would pick up the slack.

I realize a lot of this is because we have boiled service in the Church down to what can be done to accommodate a Sunday worship service. So it’s not entirely their fault. Not everyone is comfortable or gifted at teaching kids, and not everyone is comfortable or gifted in music, etc. So I get that. But at the same time, it is far easier to consume than it is to serve. And people are less likely to attend a Church that may have an expectation on them to serve.

9. People leave your Church gatherings talking more about your stage props, the music that was played, and your pastors outfit.

We see this play out every week at multiple churches across America. Doing things with excellence is a good thing. However, when we set out to wow people with our stage props, with our vocal or instrumental range, or with our sense of fashion and style…then we aren’t using these things to draw attention to God…but instead we are drawing attention to ourselves.

I know, it feels nice to be complimented. But our gatherings as the Church body aren’t there to draw out compliments, but to point to someone specific…Jesus Christ. To equip people. And to minister to one another.

People should come out of the gatherings with the praises of Jesus on their lips.

10. The topic of service to one another actually scares people away from your Church body rather than bringing people in. 

I actually had one lady tell me in the last year that she and her husband left our church because we asked too much of them. That we as a church were just too “needy”, and that we just had too much expectation on people to “serve” in the Church. I totally wish I was joking, but this was exactly what she said to me.

It’s an even bigger travesty because this isn’t the first time I’ve heard such things said by people who leave a church.

It’s heart breaking because this is exactly what we are commanded and called to do. To serve one another in love (1 Pet. 4:10, Gal. 5:13).

11. People would find a quick exit out of your church if your pastor decided that the church was no longer going to have age segregated ministries. 

There’s an unhealthy attraction to the idea of having the church body broken down into age segregated groups. Children’s ministry…youth ministry…college ministry…singles ministry…young adults ministry…adult ministry….senior adult ministry…..and so on. If these don’t exist in your church, in the minds of many, then you aren’t doing ministry right.

This is unhealthy because Paul makes it clear that the intertwining of the generations in the life of the Church actually benefits the body. By segregating everyone out, we don’t have the ability to benefit the most from one another. Yes, children can bring value to our gatherings. Yes, senior adults can bring value to our gatherings. Yes, everyone in between can bring value to our gatherings. So let’s stop splitting everyone up and start being a whole once more.

12. You have more “ministries” (read: programs) than you can count with both your hands and feet put together. 

Ephesians 4 says that apostles, prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists exist for one purpose…to equip the Church body to do the work of the Church. When we stop equipping the body to the work of the Church and we instead offer a ministry for that (hey…we got a ministry for that!) then we are depriving the Body of the much needed exercise of their giftings that make a Church body healthy.

It would be like going to the gym but only ever working out the fingers on your right hand. The rest of your body would remain neglected. Sure, you’d have strong fingers, but they don’t really do much if the rest of your body is emaciated.

In turn, by creating all of these ministries we almost inevitably run into a “volunteer shortage” and we become so busy that we effectively crowd God out.

13. You can count on one hand the number of people in your church who actually exercise their spiritual gifts as part of that local church body. The rest just watch.

There’s a false notion that ministry can only be accomplished by someone bearing the title “pastor”. So, what we are left with is a church filled with a bunch of viewers, who sit back and watch the professionals do their thing.

In reality, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12 that there are MANY members and MANY gifts, and that we all function as one body. He even clarifies that not everyone is a pastor or a prophet or a teacher, but that we all have a purpose in the Body.

14. Your pastor and leadership disregard the value of the Old Testament and suggest that we “unhitch” ourselves from it if we are going to “attract people to the church.”

It’s no surprise to anyone by me saying his name, but Pastor Andy Stanley, son of famous pastor Charles Stanley, recently made the remark that the church needed to “unhitch” itself from the Old Testament.

But Andy Stanley is hardly the only pastor out there who thinks this way. In fact, I’ve come into contact with a large number of Christians and pastors alike who hold the same view.

Really? Without the Old Testament we can’t fully understand or appreciate the New Testament. Plus, he’s assuming that there’s nothing applicable to the modern church in the Old Testament which is a total farce and not something that the New Testament agrees with. In fact, we are told in the New Testament that ALL scripture is God breathed and useful. Interestingly, at this time, the Old Testament would’ve been what they were referring to since that was the Bible of their day.

15. Your church has made the worship gatherings the mission rather than making the worship gatherings a moment for equipping FOR the mission. (I give my pastor, Dr. Kevin Baird, credit for this one as it came directly from him)

Everything the modern Church does revolves around the weekly worship gathering. Not only that, but we have structured the worship gathering around the unbeliever rather than around the believer.

This is a very unbiblical perspective and derives itself from the seeker sensitive movement of the 80’s and 90’s. Because so many churches experienced massive growth through this model of Church, others began to adopt it as truth rather than examining it against the scripture and what it has to say about who the Church is and why it exists.

Fortunately, pastors around the country (including my own) are beginning to address this. My pastor is currently teaching our church about what it means to be the church. You can check out the sermon series, House Hunter, HERE.

16. Your pastor preaches more from his own book than he does from THE Book (aka the Bible).

Back in college I watched Robert Schuller, founding pastor of The Crystal Cathedral, actually preach from his book. Not quote from it. But preach from it. As though what he had written was gospel truth.

Unfortunately, he isn’t the only one who has done this in churches across America. As a writer myself, I know the temptation to want to hear our own voice. But the Bible is the standard of truth, not our books. And the Bible ought to be our foundation for teaching and preaching, and not our opinions on what the Bible has to say.

17. The majority of your people believe that the only call to ministry is to become a pastor, music minister, or student pastor. 

This point falls in line with point 13 above. And it’s true. I recall back in college when I was called into the ministry I felt I had 3 to 4 options: senior pastor, youth/student pastor, music pastor, or missionary. I chose youth/student pastor.

Now, I do know for a fact that I’m being called into becoming a church planter and a senior pastor. But, I am not arrogant enough (now) to think that my role as a pastor is the only form of ministry or only calling out there.

The pastor is very important, no doubt, but he is not a ministry island unto himself. He joins with countless others who have special giftings and spiritual giftings and unique callings that only they can fulfill through the power of the Holy Spirit. We have to stop perpetuating the idea that only certain people can use their spiritual gifts in the Church.

18. Your church spends the bulk of its ministry years fundraising for its building program(s).

Facilities can certainly fulfill a need and purpose. However, too many churches get so focused on building programs that they end up spending the bulk of their ministry years trying to coax people out of their money to help fund their program.

I often wonder, how much better a steward we would be if we rethought the purpose of buildings and our structure as a church in general to make the most of the tithes and offerings to truly fund ministry and not just fund buildings.

19. The sermons sound more like a 12 step self-help program. 

We all need help. But sermons have become self-help speeches, motivational speeches, and everything but what preaching was intended to be. Some churches have even become known for their pastors sermons looking like this. Mention the name Joel Osteen and immediately people will say “12 steps to your best life now!”

In reality, we can’t help ourselves. At least not without the aid and power of the Holy Spirit. We need to focus less on making sure people walk away from our gatherings feeling good about themselves, and instead feeling more equipped to tap into the power of the Holy Spirit to face themselves head on throughout the week.

20. People actually say they like your church because there they don’t feel any conviction.

Many pastors intentionally design their worship gatherings to create the least amount of pressure, pain, or conviction as possible because they view this as a deterrent to people coming back. And it is. But that’s not because we have done something wrong…but because people don’t want to face reality or conviction.

The Word, we are told, cuts like a two-edged sword. Straight to the heart. If we are avoiding this out of fear of offending people, then we are in fact avoiding the full power of the Word and not doing our jobs as pastors. This needs to change.

OK…this is a long article. I am going to have to stop because I could continue.

In fact, I could probably create a FAR larger list than what you see here. There is, unfortunately, just that much out there to address. But I think you get the point. The American Church has become so consumer driven that we actually view these things as positive things, and in many cases we actually justify our behavior and convince ourselves that the issue isn’t how we are conducting ourselves but rather with people just being jealous of our churches.

The toxic church culture Dr. Mattera is addressing is an environment of our own making because we have lost sight of what it means to be the Church.

My hope in writing this article, as long as it has become, is to challenge the American Church to rethink what is really the toxic nature of the Church culture in America and hopefully we can all begin to address this and move toward a healthier Church.

Why I Turned My Back on Public Education and 15 Benefits of Homeschooling

I was schooled in the public school system. I didn’t experience any real sense of “private education” until college when I went to a Christian university (Charleston Southern University). So, to say that my perspective on homeschooling was a bit skewed is an understatement.

In fact, my views of homeschooling were so skewed that this was, for the first couple of years of my marriage, a major point of contention between my wife and I.

Now, to be fair, my public school education was not your typical experience. I grew up in a VERY conservative, largely Christian section of my state, and the majority of my teachers (especially in high school) were very connected to their local church. This meant that, despite what other schools were doing, our teachers and students actually prayed together (and not just at football games), bibles were present on teachers desks, teachers talked about their faith, they actually invited pastors in to be partners in their mentor programs, and a year or 2 after I graduated high school I caught wind that our football coach was busing kids to church, watching them get saved, and then baptizing them. So again….NOT your typical public school environment. So my perspective on public school was a bit skewed as well.

But, it was still public school, it still demanded money from the tax payer to fund, it was still entirely controlled by a government who sought (and continues to seek) to dismantle the family unity and undermine the Christian faith that was so prevalent in the history of this nation, and it still breeds an environment of disconnect between parents and their child(ren)’s education.

As I began to have children of my own, my perspective on homeschool changed….a LOT! As I became responsible for overseeing the education of my children, and as I’ve watched the public school system continue its downward spiral in to total depravity, and as I sought the scriptures and read writings of other theologians who gave a biblical perspective for education….I suddenly wanted more for my kids.

Suddenly…my wife and I were on the same page regarding our kids education.

I could no longer justify sending my kids to a public school system as a free child care system so my wife and I could go out and earn as much money as we could so we could have the lifestyle we wanted.

I could no longer justify sending my kids into the very literal hands of the enemy who sought to undermine everything I was teaching them at home.

I could no longer live under the delusion that my children were being “sent as missionaries” into their public schools to be a light to their friends at the age of 5.

I could no longer argue that if we didn’t send them to public school that they would end up socially awkward.

I could no longer defend the public school system as an appropriate institution.

I could no longer ignore the fact that bullying is a massive issue in public schools and my children are perfect targets because they are completely different from almost every child in the public school system…and because their daddy was bullied in 6th grade over 20 years prior, and lets face it…my boys are a lot like me.

I had no more excuses.

None.

All of my excuses were burned to the ground, scooped up, thrown into the wind, and blown to the other side of the world.

And this is why I turned my back on public schools. Not because there aren’t good teachers in public schools (there are some). But because public schools were not designed with my child’s best in mind. Only I can determine what is best for my child. And as a Christian, the Bible ultimately helps me define what is best for my child.

So…when I’m talking to parents who are public school apologists, and who are highly critical of us homeschool parents…who get majorly defensive if anyone suggests that homeschool is a very viable and doable option and that public schools are churning out dysfunctional children….I can honestly say I get you.

I get your views.

I get your perspective.

I WAS YOU!

But, through the timing of God, and through the providence of God…my eyes have been opened to a very different understanding of education, especially as it relates to my faith. And I’m praying, and hoping, that you too will experience the eye opening moment I had that totally changed my mind on education.

That said….if you’re wondering what benefits there are to homeschool (and some of these benefits would exist if we totally abandoned the public school system altogether), I decided to compile a list for you of 15 benefits that I could personally think of off the top of my head.

So here we go….

15 Benefits of Homeschooling

  1. No more school traffic – Now, if the entire nation were to switch to homeschooling, there would be less traffic at rush hour for those getting to work. See, homeschooling benefits people outside of your home too!
  2. Less traffic on the roads in general – See, if everyone were homeschooling their kids, this means that not only is there no school traffic, but traffic in general is lowered for everyone as one of the parents will likely be at home schooling the kids while the other is going to work to provide for the home.
  3. Lower property taxes (not that property taxes should exist at all….but ya know) – Have you ever looked at your property tax bill every year to see the breakdown of what it goes to? The majority of it goes to public schools. If everyone homeschooled their kids, your property taxes will immediately see a reduction.
  4. Less money spent on gas – No school traffic + less general traffic on the roads + staying home to educate your children = less gas consumption. Which means you’re spending less on gas each week. Which also means our environment benefits as well from the decreased cars on the road and pollution!
  5. No homework – Well, to be honest….all homeschool work is technically homework…but now they get to do their school work and then actually have time to be a kid and play and be creative instead of sticking their head in books when they get home from school to try and finish their work before dinner, and then to bed.
  6. Your child learns the way they learn best – Meaning? Your child gets the opportunity to learn how they were designed to learn…be they auditory, visual, hands on, etc. Schools try to compensate for various learning styles, however, public schools cannot possibly create educational content that will work best for every child in the class. As the teacher…and as the parent…you know how your kid learns…so you get to decide how their studies proceed.
  7. You can actually discipline the students – That’s right parents! Public schools struggle with how to properly discipline students in an age where parents basically refuse to do anything, but if a teacher tries they will sue their pants off. But…you’re the teacher…and the student…well, they are actually your child. So, discipline is determined entirely by you!
  8. There are ample opportunities for your kids to get socialized – Think about it, your kid isn’t going to be deprived of social interaction if you have even an ounce of gumption to leave the home on occasion…ya know…like rec league sports, martial arts classes, dance classes, church functions, church services, kids classes at church, neighbor kids, water parks, public playgrounds and parks, to name a few. Trust me…they won’t be deprived of social interaction…like…at all.
  9. Every single moment of the day becomes a moment of learning – My children (ages 2-10) are learning things like how to plant and grow vegetables, how to cook, how to sew, among many MANY other things. That’s right, there’s no magic age that a child must hit before you start teaching them of life’s necessities, and frankly, too many kids can’t even do these things when they get to college. But you have an opportunity, every single day, to teach them life skills that they aren’t getting because they locked in a school room all day learning about the things the state thinks they need to know to be successful.
  10. You control what they learn – This may be intimidating to some, because you’re not sure what they need to know. Thankfully, every state usually lists their homeshool requirements for what the child needs to know by high school graduation (here are the regulations for South Carolina, my state). That said, if you want to talk about creation vs evolution…you can do that. If you want to teach the Bible…you can do that. If you want to teach them about the Christian heritage of our nation….you can do that! If you want to teach them that there are only 2 biological sexes in the world…YOU CAN DO THAT! There are also lots of great resources available online to help you design a curriculum for your kid. For example, check out Easy Peasy All-In-One Homeschool (which is what we use), which has a day-by-day curriculum outlined for kids from pre-school through high school. Plus, they offer individual curriculum’s on various subjects such as art, Bible, computers, music, science, and more! Oh…did I mention this site is entirely FREE to use??? And yes…I’m totally promoting them because it’s one of the best resources we have seen available for homeschooling.
  11. Field trips can actually be meaningful – Not only can field trips be fun…but they can be meaningful and impactful. Often times, it feels like public school field trips have very little meaning to them, and are largely for entertainment. But homeschool field trips do not have to be this way at all. For example, we want our kids to learn about medieval life. We are taking them to a renaissance faire in North Carolina this year. Not only is that going to be fun, but the faire actually offers discounts for homeschool kids on special days designed just for them! They aren’t the only ones that provide special days and discounts for homeschool kids.
  12. You are not restricted to a specific time period of day to have school – It’s true! You are not required to have school from 8AM to 2PM every day, Monday through Friday. You pick the schedule. It just has to be, at least in the state of SC, 180 days a year for 4.5 hours each day. This means, you could work a full time job and still homeschool your kids, because school could be around your schedule.
  13. There are support groups for homeschool parents – Part of the requirements for homeschooling is that you must belong to a homeschool association. They are CHEAP to join, and most of them offer amazing perks and benefits such as offering special classes (i.e. if you’re not good with biology, they might have biology classes your kid can attend to help supplement his learning in biology), classes and support groups for parents, and other great resources to help you be successful at homeschooling your child(ren).
  14. Your child(ren) will get focused learning – Often times, in public schools, when a child is struggling in their class, they have very little at their disposal to rectify the situation. There might be some tutoring available, or teachers might be willing to work with the student outside of class, etc. But as a homeschool parent, you can personally assess your child and determine if tomorrow they need to go back through the same material again. For example, my youngest daughter we found was struggling with learning her letters last year. So this year, we reintroduced this subject by with different curriculum, and now she’s becoming stellar in her letters. Wouldn’t have happened this way in public school. I promise.
  15. You are making a HUGE investment in your child(ren)’s future – I’m not saying public school parents don’t care about their kids future, but very few are truly and deeply investing in their education. They send them to school and hope the teacher is a good teacher and that there aren’t any bullies in the classroom or school. Then when they come home they might ask how their day went, and ask how much homework they have, and some might even help with the homework. But that’s the extent of it. As a homeschool parent you are determining every aspect of their education. So you are investing at a greater level as you are investing time, money, and resources in to every level of their education.

I realize that homeschooling your child(ren) is a major task. There is nothing easy about homeschooling. But I can promise you this, the pro’s FAR outweigh the con’s. And if you truly want the best for your child(ren)’s future, I would highly recommend considering this option of education. If done correctly, it can be one of the absolute best decisions you will ever make in your child(ren)’s life.

By the way, I just wanted to say, my wife (who is largely responsible for the homeschool activities in our home) is AMAZING and our children are blessed to have her as their teacher. They are also blessed to have me as their principal!! See…in homeschool…you get to even determine who the principal will be…benefit #16!

We Need More “Community” At Our Church – So I’m Leaving

“We need more community at our Church.”

“We need more youth events at our church.”

“We need more contemporary music at our church.”

“We need more children’s stuff at our church.”

“We need more outreach at our church.”

“We need more…..”

“We need…”

“We need…”

We need….”

These are common phrases I have heard from a number of folks who ended up leaving a church they were connected with.

At one time, in my younger and more naive years, I might’ve agreed with them.

I would’ve agreed that too many churches seem to lack “community”.

I would’ve agreed that too many churches seem to only have senior adult ministries and no children’s ministries.

I would’ve agreed that if only the music was more contemporary more young families would come.

I would’ve agreed that if only we did more outreach.

And that’s because I misunderstood community. And I misunderstood community because I misunderstood what it meant to be a Christian and was, what has been commonly coined, a “Consumer Christian”.

Since then here’s what I’ve come to realize…the harsh reality…

What I see out of most people who say they want more “community” is that those people don’t actually want more community.

Saying they want more community is in fact a false narrative to cover up their real intention (whether they recognize it in themselves or not)…which is that they are consumer Christians who consume and never give, and they’ve consumed all their church has to offer and are hungry to consume more.

Sadly, when the Church is no longer focusing on little ol’ them, and unable to appease their consumer appetite…they move on to the next church (usually the newest one in town…since they’ve exhausted all the others) that seems to fit the bill.

And when that church no longer appeases their consumer appetite, they will move to another church again.

And again.

And again.

It’s a vicious cycle.

See, here’s the cold hard truth….IF they REALLY wanted more community, they would’ve stayed put and helped to foster community in the church they were already connected to. They would’ve served. They would’ve modeled community. They would’ve done everything they could to be…well…a community where they were at.

Changing churches didn’t help them get more community. Changing churches helped them feed their consumerist appetite.

If they really wanted to see a better youth or children’s program, they would’ve connected and done everything they could to help them succeed.

If they really wanted to see more young families in the church, they would’ve made connections with younger families outside of the church and invited them in.

If they really wanted these things…they would not have left the church they were already at.

Building community…REAL community…in a local church takes this special word…”work”. People don’t like that word, and assume that community should just automatically happen. So, instead of being servants we become consumers looking for the insta-community we can latch on to and leech off of until they are sucked dry and we move on to the next insta-community.

All the while not realizing that these insta-communities they are walking into took work to get to where they are and will take work to continue being a community. Which is why they end up leaving that community as well…because they don’t want to put in the necessary work to make a community a community.

The writer of Proverbs hit the nail on the head with this poignant scripture:

Proverbs 13:4 – The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

Or when he said:

Proverbs 12:11 – Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

My challenge is this…if you REALLY want to see community at your church…stay at your church and be the community. If you keep chasing after insta-communities where you can leech without putting in the work to build a community you will never be satisfied and you will never find a community.

And while you’re focusing on yourself, you are leaving frustrated and hurt church communities in your wake.

#ConsumerChristianityMustDie

Re-Branding the American Church

Brand = the sum of every interaction with your organization

This is what my boss told us today in our weekly team meeting. He was speaking, of course, about how we brand ourselves as a business, and how branding goes deeper than simply a logo and some colors. That our brand (as a company) is literally comprised of every interaction a client has with our organization.

Naturally, this got me thinking about church things. I know…you’re probably shocked and surprised, huh?

For the Church, the brand is similar to what my boss was saying about a business…it is the sum of every interaction a person has with the Church. The difference being that our interactions with others should ultimately be informed and defined by Jesus himself.

In other words, we as believers should put on Christ every day, and what people see shouldn’t be Brad Bates but rather they should see Jesus Christ.

And what should our brand look like?

Our love for one another is our brand.

Our love for others outside of our body is our brand.

Jesus is our brand.

Being more Christ-like is our brand.

The power of the Holy Spirit is our brand.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is our brand.

The Gospel is our brand.

Prayer is our brand.

The Worship of God is our brand.

Healing the lame and sick is our brand.

Loving and obeying God’s word is our brand.

Our desire to #MakeHisNameGreat is our brand.

Guess what ISN’T our brand?

Our church logo, our musical style, our facility, our cool youth program, our men’s program, our women’s program, our internet presence, VBS, what instruments we use in worship, how we dress to go to church, the cool worship video’s we create for the songs our worship team writes, our pastors preaching style, and on…and on….and on.

The American church, unfortunately, is in the position it is in today because we have been chasing after the wrong brand. We were simply slapping lipstick on a pig and thinking this would be all that is necessary to bring people to the Church. What we should be doing is quit focusing on bringing people to the Church and start bringing people to Jesus. We need to be teaching them to obey God’s commandments. Our brand has been our own personal empire, and not expanding the Kingdom of God.

It is time for the American Church to experience a re-branding. And I don’t mean the kind you pay an expensive marketing firm to help you come up with.

Forgive us Lord for making your bride (the Church) about us and not about You! Help us re-brand ourselves, not according to the latest marketing schemes, but according to Your Word that we would put off the old man and put on the new man…who is made new through Jesus Your Son!

Happy Fathers Day to the Adulterous Fathers – We Still Love You

I admit, it’s a weird and unsettling title for an article. But I cannot sugar coat the meat of the message. So why sugar coat the title as well?

I say happy Father’s Day to you fathers who have and who are adulterous, not for what you have done or are doing, but because of who you are (a father) and what you represented to your children, ex wives (or current wives), in-laws, friends, and onlookers at one time.

I won’t lie. I struggle to even say this to you because of the unbelievable amount of pain you have caused your ex spouses (or current spouses), children, family and friends.

I don’t deny or pretend to ignore what you have done. Believe me when I say it is still very fresh in their minds as the day your darkness was exposed by the light.

But I know who you were.

And those things are and were as much real to your children and former spouses as the choice you made to walk away from it all.

At one time, you were a faithful husband, loving father, an example to others for what it meant to be a husband and father.

At one time, you prayed with and kissed your children’s heads at night, tucked them in, and then slipped into bed to hold your wife until you both fell asleep.

At one time, you were a hero to your kids. They looked at you and said things like “I can’t wait to be a dad like you.”

At one time, you had a doting wife who would brag to her friends and family about how amazing you were with the kids. She would say things like, “If only every child had a father like my husband.”

At one time, you were the spiritual leader of your home. You led your wife and children to the house of God every Sunday and led them every day by your example and character.

At one time, your children turned to you for wisdom, encouragement, help, or a simple call to tell you about their day.

At one time, you were doing it right.

I don’t know what happened or caused you to think that you were no good for this family or they were no good for you anymore, but they miss you. They miss you a lot.

They miss who you were.

Perhaps one day you will heed the voice of God and return to your family. Repenting of what you have done. Seeking redemption and restoration. It is there.

Perhaps one day you will drop your pride and stop pretending you’re happier without them. You’re miserable. They are too.

They miss who you were.

Don’t let another Father’s Day go by without doing what a father should do.

Lead by example.

The ball is in your court.

You might just be surprised at how you’ll be received if you come to them in the right spirit.

Don’t forget…God called Israel an adulterous people for chasing after other gods, and like them you have been adulterous by chasing after another woman.

But just as God forgave Israel and took them back, even after 70 years of living in captivity under the weight of the sin that put them there, you have a family who will do the same if you would only recapture who you once were and return.

Humble yourself before the eyes of God and the ones who love you.

That’s my one desire this Father’s Day.

Can Music be Christian?

I’ve seen this question posed an unbelievable amount of times in recent months by good, kind, and well meaning believers, who are asking the question in most cases because something about a piece of music they heard has genuinely caused them to take issue.

The things they take issue with, however, tend to be grouped together under one term “Music” when in reality that isn’t necessarily true.

Typically, they are grouping the following four things together under the generalized umbrella term “music”:

  1. The musical score/genre (the sound)
  2. The instrumentation/effects (the instruments/effects used to make the sound)
  3. Lyrical content
  4. Subculture reflected by those who produce music under the umbrella of certain musical genres. 

The issue here is that by combining these things you are grouping a couple of things that have no inherent evil nature to speak of with a couple of other things that can, at it’s root, absolutely have inherent evil nature.

In other words, it is important that we draw a distinction between what is music and what is not.

Hip-hop, Death Metal, Country, Rock’n’Roll, Jazz, Blues, Classical, Opera, Folk, Americana, Rap…the list could go on…these things are all “musical genres”…or “musical styles”…or even better…”musical sounds”. They, in and of themselves…are simply sound.

Nothing more.

Nothing mysterious.

Nothing ominous.

Nothing evil.

Just…sound.

But this is the first, and primary piece that everyone wants to call “evil”. The issue is…as we just mentioned…they are describing a “sound” as evil. These sounds are made by the second piece often brought into the discussion of “evil music” called instruments…which are often coupled by instrumental effects.

The sound, and the instrument or effect that produce the sound, can no more be evil than an inanimate object such as a rock. However, the instrument and the sound, just like the rock, can absolutely be used for evil purposes. Just ask Able how his brother Cain chose to use a rock.

Which brings us to the other two pieces of their argument…lyrical content and the subculture reflected by those who produce music under the umbrella of certain musical genres.

Unlike a sound, and unlike an instrument or instrumental effect, lyrics and subcultures can absolutely be evil. Lyrics convey the message. The musical sound and the instruments are merely vehicles being employed by the message.

Again, back to the rock analogy…a rock by itself is not evil. It can, however, be used for evil purposes. Like…say…murder. But the rock didn’t commit murder. And the rock itself is not evil. It was merely the vehicle that someone chose to act with.

Now that we’ve more or less broken down what makes music…well…music…let’s get back to the original question: Can music be Christian?

The short answer is…no.

To suggest that something is “Christian” “is, in a way, to suggest that it has the ability to be saved. That it is human. That it is created in the image of God. That it is an image bearer of God. To call a musical style “Christian” (no matter the musical style) is to imply all of these things. Which, let’s be honest, is utter nonsense.

Can music be used by Christians to worship God and convey a Christian message? Absolutely! But that simply makes that a “Christian genre” of music…rather than making the actual music itself Christian. Again, the music is the vehicle for the lyrics to be delivered on. The music itself is not Christian in any way, shape, or form. So again, impossible to do with something that is neither animate, alive, or human.

When we look at the BIG picture…what we are really seeing here is a deep confusion between what is actually music (sound/instrumentation), and what the music is being used for (lyrical content/subculture). And, really, if they were honest…it boils down to a certain sound not being of their preference, and they have elevated preference to the level of scripture and now using that as the standard of “good and evil”.

Let’s simplify it though…

If the music is being used for good and lofty purposes (to bring the message of Christ to the world…or to worship him, or to put my daughter to sleep, or tell my wife how much I love her), then it is music being used for good and lofty purposes.

If it is music being used for evil and unholy purposes (to fill peoples heads with evil imagery via lyrical content, or curse God, or any number of other evil purposes), then it is is being used for evil and unholy purposes.

Get it?

Got it?

Good 🙂

A New Music and Ministry Page!

Hey Everyone! I just wanted to bring your attention to a couple of new pages on my website.

As some of you may know, I’m a singer/songwriter, worship leader, and pastor. And I’m in the process of trying to establish an itinerant worship/speaking ministry based out of Charleston, SC (the area I’m from).

Part of that process required that I develop a couple of new pages for my website. The new pages are as follows

  • Ministry (the page where you can learn about what ministry I can provide)
  • Music (the page where you can hear some samples of me singing/playing songs I’ve covered and written personally)

If you are someone looking for a worship leader, singer, or speaker for your next church event (no matter what it may be), please check out these pages, and consider reaching out to me to book me!

Thank you so much for the consideration and I look forward to hearing from you!

To the People Who Mean Well In Your Season of Pain

There seems to be this…I don’t know…unwritten rule in the Church that any sign of unhappiness suddenly means that you either lack faith or even trust in God, OR you are somehow ungrateful for the lot God has given you at the moment. And many times, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, though, often times the people who are suffering are unable to get so much as an explanation out for why they are hurting so bad at the moment before they are either quickly (and from a good heart and spirit from most) cut off with what I have dubbed as (and I mean this in the most kind way as possible) Christianeze comfort statements, or they get accused of the things I listed above. 

And, I’ll be honest, this causes many a person to become shut off and perhaps even feeling like they are closed off from the church body when they feel like they can’t be honest with their feelings and emotions in a place that should be one of the safest places in the world. And…frankly…it causes them to want to avoid church because suddenly you dread hearing those words again.

On top of that, these Christianeze comfort statements of “God will get you through” or “Don’t let the enemy steal your joy”, while not at all untrue statements, are not all that helpful to those who are right smack dab in the middle of a moment of crisis.

I hope that doesn’t sound too unchristian of me to say, but I’m just being honest for a moment, and trying to speak from the perspective of someone who recently worked through his own crisis in life and had to hear these statements on almost a daily basis from very kind, loving, and well-meaning people that I care deeply about and appreciate beyond words.

Again, it isn’t that these statements are untrue. In fact, I firmly believe these things and trust God will get me through. I can firmly attest that He has already gotten me through quite a bit. To be exact, He recently got me through four 9 months of unemployment with mounds of debt, a house payment, and 6 mouths to feed…and not a month went by that we were not been able to pay a bill or feed our family. And God used generous and kind and loving people in my church and circle of friends and family to accomplish this.

And for that I am DEEPLY grateful.

And I know the enemy wants to steal my joy. He wants to attack me on every front possible to try and discourage, destroy, and even kill me. I know the scriptures. I believe them to be true. I’ve seen it in action first hand. It’s going on right now.

Trust me…I can see it.

But knowing these things, and being reminded of these things, doesn’t negate the feelings I was experiencing. It didn’t change my situation. It didn’t make the hurt, the pain, or the frustration any less real.

I want to propose something…something that ALL of us believers need to consider and be reminded of (because the Lord knows that I have been guilty of saying the same things…perhaps even callously…to friends and family in their season of pain)…and that is this…there is a season for EVERYTHING. In fact, there is an entire chapter of the Bible dedicated to giving us a pretty lengthy list of many of those things. Here’s that beautiful list…found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven:

  1. A time to be born
  2. And a time to die
  3. A time to plant
  4. And a time to pluck what is planted
  5. A time to kill
  6. And a time to heal
  7. A time to break down
  8. And a time to build up
  9. A time to weep
  10. And a time to laugh
  11. A time to mourn
  12. And a time to dance
  13. A time to cast away stones
  14. And a time to gather stones
  15. A time to embrace
  16. And a time to refrain from embracing
  17. A time to gain
  18. And a time to lose
  19. A time to keep
  20. And a time to throw away
  21. A time to tear
  22. And a time to sew
  23. A time to keep silence
  24. And a time to speak
  25. A time to love
  26. And a time to hate
  27. A time of war
  28. And a time of peace

Yes Church, there it is…in black and white…yes….there is a time to laugh (and I, like most, really enjoy a good laugh)…but there is also a time to weep. And you better believe there is a time to rejoice and celebrate and dance….but there is also a time to mourn.

Perhaps, just maybe, before we (with good intention, and kindness of heart) launch into our Christianeze comfort statements, we pause for a moment and consider that perhaps our brother or our sister is really needing a time to weep and/or a time to mourn. Perhaps that time is longer than YOU think is necessary.

But guess what?

It’s not your pain that you are having to endure. It’s theirs. And it is going to be different for them than it will be for you.

Perhaps, again, just maybe…we should consider the following verse as well:

Romans 12:15-16, Rejoice with those who rejoice, and WEEP with those who WEEP. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own OPINION.

And let me just say, from recent experience, that we really REALLY appreciate everyone who tried to comfort us. It meant a lot. Really, it did. We know you care. We know you meant well.

But, if we’re honest, what we really needed back then was someone to cry with us.

Someone to mourn with us.

Someone who could say they understood our pain, and that we (like some) haven’t lost our way, and we haven’t lost our faith or joy (NOTE: joy and happiness are not one and the same, but we’ll save that for another time)…we were just having a rough time, and we really needed your grace and understanding in that moment.

We are going to be OK.

And we are much better now than we were then.

I promise.

And though things are slowly getting better, please know that this is from our heart to yours…

P.S. To anyone that I have personally deal callously with in your time of pain, I’m really sorry. I have now stood in your shoes and it wasn’t pleasant. I could’ve done better, but I didn’t. But I can do better going forward. You can write a check and cash that!

Yours: The Story Behind the Song – Peace Out of Pain

Have you ever been chugging along in life, thinking, “Man, nothing could stop me now!” and almost at that very moment you have the rug pulled out from under neath you and your world begins to crumble?

Yeah, that happened to me back on October 31st, 2017.

I had been with my company for over 8 years, had developed a great rapport with both clients and co-workers alike, and I was already in discussions with my manager about the great opportunities that 2018 held for me.

And suddenly…I was let go.

Now, at this time I’ve got 4 kids, 3 animals, a wife, 2 car payments, and a house we just purchased in March of 2017. This job, while not my entire income, was by far the largest part of the income I had, plus it was the job my family used to get health insurance, etc.

What an interesting day to be fired on too.

October 31st!

The day of the dead.

All Hallows Eve.

On that day I DEFINITELY felt like I had been killed. I remember leaving the parking lot of my now former job literally crying so hard that I thought I would drive off the road. I drove to my pastors house, sat on his couch, cried some more, and got some encouragement and prayer. Then I went home to my wife and kids and laid and cried in my bed the rest of the day.

The next day was Wednesday…praise rehearsal day.

You see…I’m the worship leader at my church…and we had to prepare for Sunday. Did I feel like worshiping that day? Absolutely not! But I went to the church like 4 hours early to be alone for a while, prepare for rehearsal, and ultimately to pray some.

After a couple of hours I sat down behind the piano to tinker. Which is something I often do when I’m upset…I turn to music.

But this time was different. As I played around on the keys and plunked out some chords, I felt the following words well up inside of me and a melody began to come out of my mouth:

In the dark when hope seems lost

I look to You and see the cross

The fear subsides and hope returns

I look to You I look to You

When my heart can take no more

When my faith is insecure

I lift my eyes up to Your hill 

You are my refuge still

I am safe in You no matter where I am

I will walk in truth declaring who I am

I am Yours! I am Yours! I am Yours! I am Yours!

I cried and sang and worshiped until I felt a sense of joy and peace rush over me so suddenly that the events of the day before seemed to all but be a distant memory.

You see, what the enemy meant for my destruction became beauty from ashes.

I later decided to do this song for my church as a corporate worship song. I gave my testimony, and I’ve never seen so many people feel ministered to by a song I had written (as I’ve done many times before). But something was different with this one.

A lady in my church came up to me and connected me to her niece who was a producer in Nashville. In December I went to Nashville with my oldest daughter and we recorded this song.

The night before recording I added these words:

When my mind is filled with doubt

And I feel there’s no way out

I look to You and hope returns

I look to You I look to You

The next day we recorded, and my daughter even got a chance to sing on the song with me as well (on the bridge, “I am safe in You…”).

And now, 3 months later, I’m still unemployed, but I couldn’t be happier as I have watched my God take care of me and my family in miraculous ways.

No bills have been missed.

No meals have been missed.

And the crazy thing…my wife and I were able to tithe to the church a far greater amount than any previous month in our entire marriage (13 years!).

My hope is this…this song ministered to me in my darkest hour…and I just want it to minister to others in their darkest hour. I want to invite you to take a listen, and perhaps pass it on to someone you know who may need to hear these words.

That was testimony…now….here’s my song:

2018: A Manifesto in Defiance of Generational Norms

Guest Author: Cherie Bates

I should probably begin by introducing myself.

Hello, my name is Cherie, and I have a confession to make: I am not making a New Year’s resolution this year. Instead, I am writing out a manifesto.

A manifesto is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as:

A written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of it’s issuer.

See, I have had issue in the past following through, even with the best of intentions, with the resolutions of past years and instead of repeating the same patterns, I am changing things up on myself.

I am deeply discouraged by the attitudes and actions of those in my generation and those that follow it. As one born in this generation, I have no interest in discussing who or what is to blame as I feel that will only lead us in circles and into that pattern of pushing aside our ability to change ourselves in favor of an easy way out. I am simply stating that I am concerned with who we are and where we are going.

All of this to say, I am defying the norms of my generation in the following ten (10) areas:

  1. I am not a covenant breaker. The promises I have made to my husband, family, friends, and church are meant to be lasting regardless of my feelings. My God is a covenant keeper, and I choose to honor Him by doing the same.
  2. I will chase after the ways of God at the expense of my own, so that greater things can be accomplished in my short life than I am capable of accomplishing on my own. He has plans for me. Destiny for me. I will not be short-changed, distracted, or limited in my pursuit of Him.
  3. I will submit to the leadership of my husband, regardless of whether I feel like he is right or wrong. I do not need permission or approval from the feminist crowd. I have never fit their mold anyway.
  4. I am a mother whose chief goal is to win the hearts of my children to the Lord. I set aside my desire for good behavior and anything else that might get in the way. I pray they serve Him all the days of their lives.
  5. I will be brave. Brave enough to tell the truth and let Him control the outcome, brave enough to blaze the trails when there are none, and brave enough to do all of the hard things He asks me to do. I will be brave and I will trust that they are for my good.
  6. I will not be fickle. I am steady, reliable, and trustworthy. My God’s nature is unchangeable, faithful, and true. I am His daughter, adopted into His family, and made in His image, so I will reflect Him in this way as well.
  7. I will have real, meaningful friendships regardless of how I have been hurt in the past. I choose to work on my flaws that hinder me from investing in close relationships. I understand that relationships are not built in the happy laughter of game nights or ball games, but are built in tragedy, failure, and honesty. Being vulnerable is imperative but also my greatest struggle.
  8. I will pray, hope, and believe for the impossible things because He is ABLE to handle them.
  9. I will work hard regardless of whether it “goes anywhere” or not. My motive is to serve Him and make His name great. He gets to control whatever else happens to me.
  10. I will love and lead and not count the cost because I am here to bind up wounds and set others free. May I never be distracted from the suffering of others.

I do not write this as a judgment of anyone in my generation, just as a personal “line in the sand.”