Don’t Beat the Sheep

Episode 003 – Don’t Beat the Sheep – https://eagerfortruth.com/2019/10/08/episode-003-dont-beat-the-sheep/

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.”

Jeremiah 23:1-4 ESV

God takes quite serious the role of pastors and church leaders because they are the ones who are overseeing HIS sheep, not their own. He owns the sheep, pastors and church leaders simply help manage them. So it should come as no surprise when pastors and church leaders abuse the sheep that God is probably not going to be too happy about that.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but I was, on more than one occasion, a sheep beater. Keep in mind that beating the sheep doesn’t always have to be a form of physical abuse, but can also be verbal and spiritual abuse.

My particular rod of choice was my tongue. I was (and still am) quick witted and could conjure up snarky unkind responses at the drop of a hat. All a church member had to do was corner me, or hit me up before the church service was beginning to complain about something, and the rod (that was my tongue) would get whipped out and promptly applied to the head of the unsuspecting sheep.

It wasn’t always words with me though.

I remember one night during praise team rehearsal leading up to the Christmas season as we were going through the Christmas music. I totally lost my cool. It all happened over a song we were playing. The drummer and bassist swore we had never played it before and I was quickly getting frustrated with them and the fact that we were totally botching the song.

I got so mad that I finally yelled, “Fine! Then we just won’t do it” and then I promptly balled up the sheet of music and threw it at the drummer and walked out of the practice space (which at the time was the drummers garage).

I eventually came back in and apologized for my outburst and we moved on with rehearsal, but to this day I have never forgotten that moment. It was in that moment that I took my position of authority and responsibility of overseeing a group of good folks, and used it as a moment to beat the sheep.

Sadly, this wasn’t the only moment I had like this over the years of ministry. Fortunately for you, I’m not going to detail each of those out in this article. That could take years…

In looking back over those moments, however, I have a lot of regret. I regret that I lacked the self-control needed to respond in a frustrating moment with a calm and wise demeanor. I regret that I allowed my anger to get the best of me and make me a fool. I regret that a group of people, who were well meaning and loyal people, became the target of my wrath.

I didn’t heed Paul’s warning in Acts 20:28, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Paul would later go into greater detail about how a shepherd ought to behave in his letters to Timothy and Titus.

For example in Titus 1:5-9 he says the following should be characteristics of an elder (pastor/shepherd/leader):

  1. Above reproach
  2. Husband of one wife
  3. Children are believers
  4. Not arrogant
  5. Not quick tempered (angry)
  6. Not a drunkard
  7. Not violent
  8. Not greedy
  9. Hospitable
  10. Lover of good
  11. Self-controlled
  12. Upright
  13. Holy
  14. Disciplined
  15. Hold firm to truth

You see, in the moments that I was spending beating the sheep, I was lacking a lot of these characteristics. Specifically I was acting violently, I was angry (quick tempered), I was not being hospitable, I was not self-controlled, I was not disciplined, and I was not behaving humbly.

I wish I had listened to the words of Paul in Acts 20:28…because what he was really saying was “take care with how you treat the church (the sheep), because God paid for them with a high price…his own blood. So don’t think he won’t be very angry if you end up mistreating those he has purchased at great cost. “

It would be a lot like you buying $100,000 car, and lending it to someone. You would probably say something like this to them, “Look, you can drive this car, but you better take care not to scratch it, wreck it, or harm it in any way. I paid a LOT for this car. It had better come back to me exactly as I gave it to you, or you better believe I will be suing your butt.”

I know the person borrowing the car would be EXTREMELY careful, because there is no way they want to be held responsible for damage done to a $100,000 car.

Likewise, God has said “I bought the church at a great price. You as the shepherd, the overseer, had better take good care of them and return them to me just as I had given them to you or better, otherwise there will be literal hell to pay.”

This isn’t the first warning God issued to shepherds. God actually issued His warning through Jeremiah to the ones who were overseeing Israel (see passage at the beginning of this article).

The reality is, when we beat the sheep we risk a lot. Not only the obvious wrath of God, but also the impact it has on the sheep.

As mentioned before, God said through Jeremiah that the shepherds were mishandling the sheep and it resulted in:

  1. The sheep becoming scattered
  2. The sheep becoming fearful
  3. The sheep becoming dismayed
  4. The sheep becoming neglected
  5. The sheep stop being fruitful
  6. The sheep stop multiplying
  7. The sheep get lost

God issued another similar warning to the shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34:1-11 that gives an even bigger picture of what happens to the sheep when the shepherds do not properly care for them, and what God’s response will be.

I’ll summarize:

What happens to the sheep:

  1. The sheep starve
  2. The sheep get slaughtered
  3. The weak sheep do not get strengthened
  4. The sick and injured sheep do not get healed
  5. The lost sheep stay lost
  6. The sheep become prey to those who seek do harm
  7. The sheep wander
  8. The sheep are ruled with force and harshness

What happens to the shepherds:

  1. They are stripped of their responsibility and influence
  2. God becomes their enemy
  3. God will hold them accountable for the treatment of His sheep

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be God’s enemy. Just read the old testament and see what happens to the enemies of God. Not…good. Not only do you become an enemy of God when you mistreat the sheep, but God will literally hold you accountable for your treatment of them.

Now, I think that God is a deeply patient God, and understands that we are not perfect. We are going to make mistakes. My throwing a waded up piece of paper at my drummer is probably not the worst thing that could happen, and I’m sure that God isn’t waiting for me to get to heaven and then say “Sorry pal, you’re not coming in here. Remember that time you threw paper at your drummer?”

So while we should breathe a slight sigh of relief that God is a patient and understanding God, it doesn’t mean that we need to be careless with our role as shepherds and lose sight of the fact that we are taking care of God’s possession…not our own.

All of that said, let me encourage you to return the fields with new eyes for the sheep. I know I’m personally taking it to heart as I enter in to the next stage of my own ministry.

I hope you will too.


On Tuesday October 8th, The Angry Christian Podcast will be releasing a new episode by the same title as this article, “Don’t Beat the Sheep” where we will be discussing this topic with the very same drummer mentioned above who is now a host of this podcast.

Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you get your podcasts to catch this episode and more!

Also, be sure to follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

Is Being Angry a Sin?

Recently, I started a podcast with several friends called The Angry Christian Podcast, which explores the topic of anger as it relates to being a Christian. We talk through various topics and questions and scriptures trying to explore and understand better the concept of anger in the life of Christians.

Our first episode explored the topic of being displaced as we talked through the story of one of our hosts, Brian Baldwin, and his being displaced years ago by Hurricane Katrina. [listen HERE]

Our second episode explored the topic of what the place of anger really is. [listen HERE]

In an effort to promote our content and spark discussion on social media, I posted on Reddit. Posting on Reddit is one of those things you do with great caution because, even if you are posting to Christian subreddits, you stand the chance of opening up a massive can you may or may not want to open.

Past posts have resulted in quite a variety of responses. In this particular case, the discussion has been relatively tame and pleasant, however, a recurring question was posed and that is “Is being angry a sin?”

This got me thinking…is being angry really a sin?

After all, at its core anger is merely an emotion that we feel. Many times we confuse other emotions as being anger, but generally we know when we’re angry. It’s also an emotion that God Himself felt. We see countless examples throughout the Old Testament of God’s anger [e.g. 2 Kings 17:18 and Isaiah 48:9]. If we are indeed created in the image of God as we are told in Genesis 1, then I think the conclusion that we an rightly come to is that anger was part of that which was built into us.

Which brings us back to the question…is feeling angry a sin?

Through much discussion and study, the conclusion I have come to is that feeling angry is not a sin. Harboring anger, and acting inappropriately out of anger, however, absolutely is a sin.

I think the best approach is to let the Bible speak for itself as the Bible is rife with warnings about harboring anger and acting out of anger:

  • Proverbs 30:33 ~ “For pressing milk produces curds, pressing the nose produces blood, and pressing anger produces strife.”
  • James 1:19-20 ~ “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. For the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
  • Psalm 37:8 ~ “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
  • Proverbs 14:29 ~ “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”
  • Ecclesiastes 7:9 ~ “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools.”
  • Ephesians 4:31 ~ “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”
  • Proverbs 15:18 ~ “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.”
  • Proverbs 16:32 ~ “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.”

The verses above are just a sampling of what the Bible has to say about and warn about when it comes to our anger.

Paul, in Ephesians 4:26-27, says that it’s okay to be angry but to not let it cause us to sin and not to let the sun go down on our anger (i.e. don’t harbor anger). This is a hard task, no doubt, which is why I tend to lean toward the idea of erring on the side of avoiding anger as much as possible than trying to give allowance for our anger and potentially open doors for it to become destructive. Trust me, I’ve lived that life, and I don’t want to go back.

Tune in to Episode 2 of our podcast to hear our thoughts on this topic. And please be sure to like, subscribe, follow, share, and review if you like the content that we are bringing to you every 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month!


LISTEN HERE:

Episode 002 – The Place of Anger

What is the place of anger? Is there ever a moment when anger (especially by Christians) is ever acceptable? Divorce? Abortion? Terrorist attacks? Car accidents? Self anger? We talk about these questions and more on Episode 002 of The Angry Christian, “The Place of Anger”. [Ecclesiastes 3]

Intro: “Angry Dance” by Simon Panrucker
Outro: “Yours” by Brad Bates
All other production: The Angry Christian Team

Support the Show! https://ko-fi.com/angrychristianpodcast

Episode 001 – Displaced

Have you ever been displaced? Perhaps physically by a natural disaster? Or spiritually and/or emotionally by your circumstances? In this episode of the Angry Christian Podcast we explore the topic of being displaced through stories (Brian shares his story of being displaced by Hurricane Katrina), scripture, and our own brand of fun. We also briefly touch on Pastor Jarrid Wilson and the churches response to suicide and mental illness.

Intro Music: “Angry Dance” by Simon Panrucker
Outro Music: “Yours” by Brad Bates

Support the Show! https://ko-fi.com/angrychristianpodcast

Mini Episode 003 – Jason Hampton – Jesus and Anger

Sermon snippet from Pastor Jason Hampton, pastor of Refuge Church in Indianapolis, Indiana concerning Jesus and anger. A powerful thought around grief and anger.
Intro: “Angry Dance” by Simon Panrucker
Outro: “Yours” by Brad Bates

Support the Show! https://ko-fi.com/angrychristianpodcast

Mini Episode 002 – Michael Ledford – Interview

Interview with Angry Christian Podcast co-host, Michael Ledford!
Intro Music: “Angry Dance” by Simon Panrucker
Outro Music: “Yours” by Brad Bates

Support the Show! https://ko-fi.com/angrychristianpodcast

Mini Episode 001 – Brian Baldwin – Interview

Interview with Angry Christian Podcast co-host, Brian Baldwin!
Intro Music: “Angry Dance” by Simon Panrucker
Outro Music: “Yours” by Brad Bates

Support the Show! https://ko-fi.com/angrychristianpodcast

Be Quiet and Drive

It’s the Lord’s Day, y’all. You know what that means. It’s one of the days believers gather to hear exegetical preaching and teaching to edify and sanctify our souls. That’s a lot of Christian talk for being refreshed by the Word of God. Today, one of our elder candidates preached about the light bulbs going off in the minds of the disciples after the empty tomb was discovered.

photo-1543324406-0e40e0b7e44b

They had the scriptures and the true Teacher in their midst, yet they did not fully understand the written words or the things He said to them directly. They couldn’t see what was right in front of Him. Not only them, but those that actively opposed Him also had trouble understanding His words and the true meaning of the scriptures. These men that spent their entire lives immersed in the things of God had not a clue who this God is they worshiped and had not an inkling of a clue of what was meant by the words given to them.

In the book of John, we see that it is God that gives understanding (one of the places anyway). Those that don’t belong to Him don’t understand Him. They can’t hear what He’s saying, they don’t recognize His voice, and they can’t see what’s right in front of them. And oh, what a change in those men took place when they could really see for the first time. From frightened fishermen to martyrs for the King, seeing was believing for those men. Isn’t that still true today?

Men still can’t be bothered to listen to what He has said. If you can talk to some of them about the things He said and the things He did, they don’t listen. It’s like they can’t listen. They can’t hear Him and in turn, they can’t see what He’s done. If they can’t see what He’s done, they surely won’t ever believe Him unless God grants him understanding.

By the grace of God, I have been given ears to hear. I’m able to hear His voice and truly see Him (I speak in a human way), but my understanding is so limited still. I spend my days active and passively listening to things concerning Him (sermons/worship music/podcasts/etc). I would dare to say I may even immerse myself in as much material as those men of the past once did.

Give this a quick listen.

Listening to this message being preached, I realized something about myself: I fear silence. I spend a lot of time enclosed in a wall of sound for the glory of God, but how much do I actually sit down, be quiet, and read the word. How often do I meditate on it and take it slowly, allowing the spirit space to correct, rebuke and teach me? The short of it is I don’t. I don’t because I’m afraid.

Why am I so afraid of silence? Am I afraid to truly see the sin in my heart yet to be uncovered? Am I afraid to confront the sin that already has been outed? Am I ashamed of sin and not truly understanding the gospel? Am I afraid that I won’t hear His voice if I do sit down and listen? Why does the sound of silence frighten me so? I .. I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of those things. Maybe it’s something more I’m just not able to see.

What I do know is I want more understanding of what the scriptures say. I want a deeper understanding of how we should live in light of them. I want a more intimate relationship with Christ.

Note: I say “want” and not “need” purposefully. I don’t need those things because salvation is of the Lord. I don’t have to earn it and there’s nothing I can do to earn it. I don’t have to maintain it and I couldn’t possibly live up to the standard of doing that, either. Grace, ya’ll. Grace…

Angry Christian Chapter 1: The Beast Unleashed

sixth grade

It was his sixth grade year and the boy was not only in a new school, but he was in a new city and a new state as well. Every aspect of the life he once knew had been uprooted and planted firmly in the middle of the state of North Carolina in a small town called Wake Forest.

Mere months before the boy had been enjoying his childhood in the mountains of West Virginia. Snow was a thing. Having four seasons was a thing. All of his friends were there. The school he had only one more year left in was there. His church was there. The things and people and places he loved were all in West Virginia, not in North Carolina.

But now his parents decided it was time to make a change in it all. So they held a yard sale, packed what was left, and moved the family to Wake Forest, North Carolina.

His father had just started attending Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary there in Wake Forest after having already spent 10 years in the ministry as a youth pastor and a senior pastor across Virginia, Tennessee and West Virginia.

His mother had just become a secretary to the president of that seminary after having spent the years prior supporting her husband in ministry and raising three children.

It was all so new.

It was all so scary.

But the boy didn’t let that bother him. He was outgoing, after all, and knew he could make a lot of friends. Though, he did miss his friends back in West Virginia…a lot.

As he walked through the doors of the new middle school he was to attend, it became quickly apparent that he kind of stuck out like a sore thumb. He wasn’t a rich kid. Never had been. He didn’t dress in name brand clothes or wear name brand shoes. Not that every kid at this school was Zach Morris or anything.

Shoot…his mom cut his hair and he wore huge plastic Urkel glasses. To make matters worse, he had just started learning the trumpet the year before and was walking through the doors of a new school in a new city and a new state immediately branded as a band nerd.

No one sniffs out the weak and scared quite as quickly as a bully does, and the boy soon became an unwitting target.

His trumpet was stolen and put in someone else’s locker.

His book bag had been ripped out of his arms and his books thrown down the hall.

Threats of getting beat up were made constantly.

The boy was truly terrified and had no idea where to go or what to do. Up until this point he was kind of excited about being in a new place, though understandably nervous, but this…this was becoming too much for him to handle.

Maybe it was just the kids in North Carolina. Maybe they were just meaner than the kids in West Virginia. Maybe not. Probably not. Who knows.

The boy sure didn’t know.

The boy sure didn’t care.

That boy…was me.

I had always been an outgoing kid. I never had issues making friends. My earliest memories consisted of my years in Oak Hill, WV and Bluefield, WV that encompassed kindergarten through fifth grade where I had made friends that, even to this day, I still talk to. Many of them were even in my wedding!

That was until Wake Forest Middle School.

This new situation had me terrified.

I had never faced anything quite like this before. Bullies? People threatening to beat me up, take my trumpet, and take my school books?

What does one do in this situation? I’ll tell you what I did!! I did what any smart terrified kid would do…I started faking I was sick so I didn’t have to go to school. Of course, that only lasted so long.

Eventually the school counselor was brought in, or rather I was brought into their office. I was promised that I would be watched over and taken care of. Nothing quite like being the new kid in town and having the teachers promise to watch over you. Could I get any more nerdy?

I spent the rest of my sixth grade year scared and constantly looking over my shoulder.

It was a miserable existence.

Sometime during and after my sixth grade year from hell, I finally made a friend in the neighborhood. He was one year behind me in school, which meant he would be moving up to my school at the start of my seventh grade year which, in my mind, was a good thing because this kid wasn’t afraid of anything, and I felt like I needed that in my life.

I needed someone I felt I could connect with in the hallways that wasn’t a teacher. I needed someone I felt like was on my side, who understood the struggles of an awkward middle school kid, and who would have my back and I could have their back.

little baghdad

For the sake of keeping real names out of the story we will just call this kid Billy. And Billy very literally became one of my best friends. Back in 1994 we started a relationship that would last all the way up to when I got married as he was actually in my wedding. In the early 90’s we spent those middle school years stuck to one another at the hip. We were a dynamic duo. No one at Wake Forest Middle School messed with us. And if they did, well, Billy would mess them up. At least that’s what I would tell myself would happen (whether or not it actually did happen).

Billy had a short fuse at the time, if I’m going to be fully transparent. And I’m sure if he was talking to you today, he would have to agree. He got into fights both at school and back home in our neighborhood which was seminary housing for students with families. I remember one fight that broke out at the bus stop before we even boarded the bus to go to school. I am pretty sure that neither Billy or the kid he fought actually made it to school that day.

Our neighborhood was interestingly nicknamed “Little Baghdad” by some of the kids there. Pretty messed up, huh? A bunch of kids of aspiring pastors, and our little neck of the woods was affectionately referred to as “Little Baghdad”. If I recall, that was a nickname it got long before my family and I had actually moved in. Not entirely sure how it got that nickname either. I suppose pastors kids are everything people think we are after all! (Totally joking my fellow pastors kids! PK’s unite!)

The neighborhood was a large town-home complex with several cul-de-sacs jutting off to the left as you made your way from the entrance at the bottom of the hill to the top of the hill where Billy and I lived.

A hill which, by the way, was excellent for riding large big wheels, roller blades, skateboards, or bicycles down. You could get some serious speed headed down the hill until you were abruptly stopped by the curb at the bottom.

We would spend hours doing this. And then, once you were at the bottom, you could often convince an adult driving back up the hill to give you a tow back up so you didn’t have to walk back up the long hill which, of course, meant more time spent speeding right back down again.

Billy lived at one end of the town-home building and I lived at the other end. We used walkie-talkies to communicate, and had even devised a plan to run a string from one town-home to the other through the adjoining attics and attach them to cans in our rooms so we didn’t have to always buy batteries or keep the walkie-talkies on if we wanted to talk. Unfortunately, we never followed through with this plan.

In a way we were a lot like those kids from that Netflix show, Stranger Things! Minus the demogorgon. And the upside down alternate dimension. And kids with super powers and stuff.

Okay fine, maybe we were nothing like those kids, but this much we did know: this was our block. We knew it and we owned it.

The younger kids feared Billy and I, though it wasn’t because we were going around beating kids up, we just walked tall and proud. The older kids knew not to try and corner us together because that was simply not going to end well for them. We even tried to start a bicycle gang. You know the kind that stuck baseball cards on the wheels with clothespins so it sounded like you had some sort of engine hooked up to your one speed pedal bike. The more cards you had on there, the louder it sounded. The louder it sounded, well, obviously the cooler you were. And we were cool. (Not!)

Our town-homes bumped up against a huge forest which we found ourselves wandering almost daily. We would spend hours back there building forts, riding our bikes off of sweet jumps, playing in the creek, panning for fools gold (though we could’ve sworn it was real gold), swinging from vines, digging pit traps, going exploring for what we were told was the mystical butterfly garden, and yes we even got lost back there one time and my dad was REALLY unhappy with me about that one. Billy’s dad was pretty ticked off too.

Truth be told, the neighborhood really wasn’t that bad.

No one got killed…or robbed.

There were no drugs.

Weapons were not drawn on people (unless you count hockey sticks and wooden swords made from scraps of wood from the dumpster).

But some of the kids in the neighborhood were rough. Including Billy. So was I.

As an aside let me just say that Billy is no longer like this. He has since grown up, gotten married, and had children. After all, this was 1993 through 1996. He has mellowed quite a bit since then, as have I. But at the time, he had a fierce temper.

a pact with myself

I don’t know if I necessarily took my anger cues from Billy (though I’m sure our relationship probably had some impact as all relationships do), but I do know that as a result of my sixth grade year I had made a pact with myself that I wasn’t going to get bullied anymore. If I felt cornered or under attack, by golly, people were going to get bit.

As an adult I have since learned that some times we can make these inner vows and not realize what we’re really saying, just how potent they really are, and just how much of an impact it can have on our lives.

Like the pigeon in American Tail once said to Fievel, “Never say never again!”

Why didn’t I listen to that stupid pigeon in American Tail? He was so wise!

Why didn’t Fievel for that matter? Silly mouse.

This was no different. I had said to myself, “I will never get bullied again!” I didn’t care how that became a reality, I just knew that the way I felt in sixth grade; helpless, scared, lost, and constantly looking over my shoulder…that was something I never wanted to feel again.

I soon developed a quick witted tongue that could verbally cut anyone down that had the pleasure of ticking me off or thinking they could handle me in an argument. I never got into a physical fight though. However, I was fully prepared to do so if the need arose.

I wasn’t a mean kid. I wasn’t hateful. I didn’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder just waiting for the next person to look at me wrong so I could stick my fist in their mouth. But I did walk around a lot more cautious and prepared to defend myself than I was when I was in sixth grade.

Honestly, I don’t know what snapped in me because it wasn’t like an overnight transformation. Perhaps it was just the desire to not be someone else’s punching bag. Perhaps there was a bubbling raging version of myself always below the surface that just needed the right environment and experience to draw it out of me.

Either way, the angry beast was out of the cage.

The angry beast had been unleashed.

Angry Christian: A Destructive Journey Toward a Growing Compassion (Introduction)

Discovering The Enneagram

Recently, I’ve been doing a book study with a number of close friends of mine (and even some new friends I never knew I had!). The study is through the book titled, The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile. To summarize, the book is an introductory journey through the enneagram, which is simply a tool to help you understand your personality type as well as your weaknesses and strengths in this personality type.

As I write this, we are only in our second week of the study, but it also means we have read through the first five chapters of the book. The first two chapters were an introduction to the enneagram, and chapters three through five were a deeper dive into the eight, nine, and one personality types on the enneagram.

Chapter three is the eight, or The Challenger personality type. It is the first personality type they really dive deeply into the book. And wouldn’t you know it, it is the personality type that I am.

I like to read (can’t say I always have though), but I go through books much faster when I use the audio book version. I already suspected that I was an eight based on the brief introduction to the subject in the first two chapters, but decided to let my wife listen to chapter 3 with me and get her first hand reaction as they described that personality type, mostly to see if she agreed with what I had already felt was likely my type.

Literally everything mentioned in that chapter my wife would simply nod in agreement and say, “Yep, this is definitely you!”

Friends, it is absolutely important to understand this recent development in me that has brought new understanding of myself in my current stage of life because if you understand what drives an eight personality type, and how they instinctively react to situations and people, then you will understand my life story and how I got to where I am now.

STARTING AT ALMOST THE END

Usually, when you tell a story, you start at the beginning. But to truly appreciate my story, then starting at the end makes more sense.

But first, let me introduce myself…my name is Brad Bates, and I am a recovering angry Christian.

I had spent many years fuming and bubbling internally and externally over various people and aspects of my life, not knowing why I would feel so angry, or why I would lash out the way I did. But, thanks to the God I serve and His infinite grace, He opened my eyes to my heart condition and opened a door for me to truly take a look at myself and see myself as others saw me…and I didn’t like it…at all.

You see, on one fateful Halloween Day back in 2017, I walked into my office at the company I was working for at the time expecting a normal day on the job. Little did I know that within 30 minutes of walking through those doors that my life would get, in the words of a famous Prince, flipped turned upside down.

People, my life wasn’t just flipped and turned upside down, my life was rocked to the core.

On October 31, 2017 I was fired from a job I had held for almost 10 years. I was a married father of four children, with a brand new house we just bought, my wife didn’t work, and I just lost my primary source of income and support for my family.

I was angry, scared, and confused.

Why would God let something like this happen to me?

Doesn’t He realize that I have four children and a wife to take care of?

Doesn’t He realize I just bought a house?

How am I supposed to pay for this thing with no job?

Doesn’t He realize that I am a victim here?

Or was I?

THE JOURNEY AHEAD

The journey ahead is really a journey through what I’ve left behind.

My hope is that over the course of several months of writing and podcasts, I am going to unpack for you how a cute and adorable kid like myself from the great state of West Virginia can go from a happy go-lucky kid in the 80’s to an angry Christian in his mid-30’s on the verge of a major life shaking crisis, and then ultimately how I’ve come out on the other side of that.

Truth be told, my real hope is that people will read this and find themselves in one of three possible scenarios:

  1. Reading my story and stopping themselves from going down the same path.
  2. Reading my story and passing it on to others to help stop others around them from going down the same path.
  3. Or reading my story and finding a way to heal from and move forward from having been down the same path I took.

So, sit back, put your seat belts on, and enjoy the ride. There’s bound to be some bumps along the way. But together, perhaps we can pull out of a destructive path and put ourselves back on to a healthy road toward a growing compassion for ourselves and for others.

The Fine Line Between Culture and Cult

I’ve been in a lot of churches over the years, and not just ones that I have served on staff at or been a member at, but also visited alone or with friends, and there is a phrase I have heard quite frequently no matter the denomination, style, or location…and that is this:

To understand our Church you have to understand our DNA.

Or sometimes they simply say, “That’s just our DNA” in response to describing something about the personality of the church.

But what in the world do they mean by that??

WHAT IS CHURCH DNA?

What they usually mean by DNA is that their DNA is their cultural distinctions that have emerged in that specific local church body versus what you may find in other local church bodies.

For example, you may find a church that has…

  • Foreign missions as a major value and focus
  • Church planting as a major value and focus
  • Music as a major value and focus
  • Prophetic ministry as a value and focus
  • Healing ministry as a value and focus
  • Cultural engagement as a value and focus
  • And so on…

In other words, there may be aspects of Christianity or the Christian life that, as a local church body, they gravitate more towards and want members of their local body to adopt as a major value and focus in their own lives as well.

It is true…we tend to gravitate toward those we have the most in common with, as there is comfort there. As a result there does emerge a common bond or DNA among the members of that local church body that becomes quickly apparent as you attend more and more of their gatherings.

In the Church culture context, this DNA usually flows down from Church leadership.

Church DNA and culture can be wonderful things to help center and unify a body.

But there is a fine line between establishing a Church culture…and establishing a cult.

THE SHIFT FROM CULTURE TO CULT

In some cases, the church DNA makes a serious shift away from simply making a focus out of an aspect of the Christian life or Church life, and moves towards something that is far more harmful than we may really understand.

If you’ve been in a church body like this, perhaps you know what I’m talking about. It’s usually not something that happens over night either…but starts off with good intentions and suddenly becomes something far more than anyone bargained for.

Here are some signs you may want to keep your eyes open for:

  • Suddenly, every person that leaves your church is an “enemy of the state”, and the church leaders, while they may never tell you to directly disconnect from them, will make it painfully obvious that remaining connected with this person is a real test of loyalty to the Church and pastor and not a wise decision.
  • Church leaders who don’t get on board immediately with the elders and/or pastor are suddenly seen as a dissident that needs to remember where their loyalty lies, or consider a new ministry and church to be part of.
  • All other churches not doing it like yours are just not as “faithful” to the calling of a Christian and a Church as you and your church are.
  • Money becomes a major focus. More specifically, it becomes something they speak more about “needing” but become less and less transparent about what is happening with that money once they get it.
  • Pastors start referring to the money the Church has gathered through tithes and offerings as though it is their own money.
  • Respectful challenges to leaders and even the spouses of leaders is suddenly seen as dissension and divisive, and is immediately squashed through direct “correction” or instant removal from your role.
  • Even the most loyal of members gets pushed to a distance by leadership and everyone’s words, actions, and motives become suspect. The pastor and leaders suddenly become very paranoid about these things.
  • HUGE decisions are made without the knowledge of the whole church, and even without the knowledge of some leaders who are seen as potentially disloyal, and are only presented at the last minute when nothing can be said or done to challenge or prevent them.

I’m sure I could keep going…I don’t just speak these things from observation…but also from participation. I did a lot of these things. And perpetuated a lot of these things in some of the churches I’ve belonged to and served in over the years…but in light of that I have to ask…

  • What happens when your local church body develops a DNA that is contrary to what the Bible tells us is the DNA of a Church and/or a believer?
  • What happens when a pastor moves from servant to dictator and demands you either adopt the DNA or see your way out of their body?
  • What happens when church leaders begin to sound more like hollow echo chambers and yes men and women rather than a body of accountability and wise counsel?

I’ll tell you what happens…you move from having a culture to becoming a cult.

But is there any way to prevent this from happening, or at least put up some safeguards to help detect when this is happening and confront and address this before it becomes too late?

SAFEGUARDS

I do think there are at the very least two steps that can be taken to help protect a Church body from becoming victims of cult mentality. Here are just some I think would make a huge difference:

  • Accountability: Pastors and church planters alike need to have accountability put into place with people who are personally given the authority to speak into the life of the pastor, the leaders of the church, and the church itself. Someone who is given the authority to give a hard check to the pastor and the churches leaders and even take steps to stop a pastor and the church leaders from being able to continue forward if they begin to exhibit cult like behaviors. More than just the pastor needs to be allowed to help determine the accountability. If this part is left up to one man, they will be more likely to bring people around them that are yes people and will be of no use to providing actual accountability. This accountability needs to be made of people both inside and outside of this local church body to provide internal perspective as well as outside unbiased perspective.
  • Plurality: A church does not need to be solely led by one person. This isn’t biblical and it isn’t wise. The picture of leadership painted in the New Testament is one of plurality. Christ is the head, and the rest of us are the body. But too often Pastors are made out to be the head, with Jesus as like…the hair or something…and the rest of us the body. The reality is, overseers and elders alike are joined together in the responsibility of leading and shepherding a local church body. There isn’t one person who gets more of a vote than another. They function in unity through careful examination and application of scripture (Ephesians 4), and they hold the feet of one another to the fire when necessary. They are vulnerable with one another and submitted to one another. They work together to equip the local church body, not rule over them like dictators and tyrants.

As with most things, there are plenty of other steps that can be taken, but I believe these two things specifically are foundational toward the development and health of a local church and helping to protect that body from moving into a cult like mindset.

WHAT IF I’M IN A CHURCH CULT?

I don’t envy you if you are, because I’ve been there, and I messed up with how it should’ve been handled. So what I’m about to tell you isn’t how I handled it at all, but after much thought, prayer, and regret…I believe this would’ve been the best approach (sometimes hindsight really is 20/20).

STEP 1: Pray and weigh out your concerns Explore with scripture and with God and the Holy Spirit what you are feeling and the concerns you have. Make sure that what you are seeing take place isn’t simply a reaction to an offense on your part. Then, if you have determined it’s not simply being offended…move to the next step.

STEP 2: Go to the Pastor and Church Leaders with your concerns The first step is simply to approach your pastor and church leaders with your concerns. Respectfully outline for them what you see as problematic. If they address them, and you see changes take effect…then this is wonderful. If they flippantly dismiss them, excuse them, or give you lip service and move on without even remotely considering your concerns, then you have cause to move to the next step.

STEP 3: Go to the outside accountability with your concerns If you know that there exists an outside accountability, then I would first recommend reaching out to them directly with your concerns. They will likely want to hear your side, they will then want to hear your pastors and church leaders side, and they may even want to bring you all together for a discussion. If it is determined by the outside accountability that nothing nefarious is taking place, but you still have a sinking feeling in your gut and you’ve given this over to lots of prayer and careful consideration (not simply jumping to conclusions and making irrational decisions), step 4 is the next and final step to take.

STEP 4: Find a new church You don’t want to do it. No one really wants to do it. But sometimes it’s absolutely necessary…hard…but necessary. You may be tempted to try and drag others out with you. Don’t do it. There is still a possibility you could be wrong about your understanding of the situation, and it would be unwise to pull others in to your corner unnecessarily. There may be times when it is necessary…but I would give careful thought toward that end, and seek a lot of wise counsel before deciding how to approach that.

Like I said, I didn’t do any of these things, and looking back I really wish I had. Don’t make the same mistakes I made assuming it will get better, and that it’s just the enemy who is trying to create division in the Church body. There may be very real concerns that need to be addressed, and if no one speaks up it may never get addressed.

Just make sure that when you act that you’re coming from a good spirit, with a right motive, and not acting on rumor, assumption, or offense.

Angry Christian: So Much for that Whole “Truth in Love” Thing

I’ve always struggled a bit with my temper.

OK…scratch that…I have always struggled with getting angry ENTIRELY too quickly. Just ask my wife…my kids…people who have served along side me in ministry…people in traffic…

Let me just be real for a moment…more often than not, my fuse was (and sometimes still is) shorter than the line to the men’s restroom at a Backstreet Boys concert.

KINGDOM JUSTICE WARRIOR!

A number of years ago, I turned my anger toward a new subject…politics and social engagement. I became the Peter Griffin (e.g. You know what really grinds my gears?) of the Christian world. I told myself that I was fighting the good fight for the good of the Kingdom of God. I was convinced that all I was doing was telling the truth, and that people’s problem wasn’t with me, but with the truth.

I used this very blog to blast off “truth bombs” toward the unsuspecting and godless culture that surrounded me. I fired them off faster than Robin Williams ad-libbing on the set of…well…any movie he was a part of. I was kicking butt and taking names.

Or so I thought.

What I really was, was a self-righteous blow-hard who put on my self-proclaimed “Kingdom Justice Warrior” cape and masqueraded around as a guy who “had it all together”.

Clearly, this wasn’t and isn’t a good thing, and has been something I have had to work towards bettering myself in over the years. And, I’d like to think I’m getting better. But, it’s been a long hard road fraught with many casualties.

A LOOK IN THE MIRROR

I have spent the last several months (and maybe close to a year) of doing some serious introspection. I have been trying to take a deep hard look at who I was, and how that aligned with what I see about Jesus and his engagement with the unbelieving world in His time on this earth.

And they didn’t align.

I was the angry Christian that the unbelieving world points their finger at and says, “See that guy? Why would I want to be like him…like the Church? They’re just a bunch of angry blow hards trying to tell me how wrong I am and point out how good they are. Hypocrites.”

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

1 Corinthians 13:1 ESV

Not only did I look in the mirror, that is Jesus, and not like what I saw…but I also looked in the mirror, that is 1 Corinthians 13, and I realized just how ugly I had become. How unlike “love” I had become.

A BETTER WAY

Now, don’t get me wrong…I still firmly believe in the truth and what the Bible teaches. I still hold to what people would classify as conservative view points on various things.

But I am learning that there is a far better way to communicate with people that doesn’t come across as 1 Corinthians 13:1 calls “a clanging cymbal”.

Just this week I have witnessed several things that disturbed me from various folks proclaiming to be Christians that took me back to my old self…and, to be frank, it nauseated me…it frustrated me…and it pained me to watch.

Not just because it reminded me so much of my old self…but because this was the Church I was seeing…the Bride of Christ…behaving in a way that I just don’t think Jesus could be supportive of.

For example…I saw a gentleman claiming to be a believer, and pro-life, calling those who support abortion “lowlife trash”.

Is that even necessary?

What was the point of that anyway?

I reminded the gentleman that before Christ, he too was lowlife trash and that he shouldn’t forget where he came from lest he lose the ability to have compassion on others and speak truth in love.

When these folks get confronted, they want to throw out the whole, “Don’t forget, Jesus made whips and flipped tables too”…and completely ignore the fact that he did that to the religious elite of his day…not the lost and unbelieving world who didn’t know the truth and know any better.

Church…we don’t have to act this way. There is a better way.

10 WAYS TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE

1 Corinthians 13 tells us how love looks. And if we want to speak the truth to an unbelieving world, we have to learn how to do it in love. Truth is…a lot of it simply revolves around putting yourself in the other person’s shoes for a minute.

  1. Be patient with the person. It may take a lot of conversations and relationship building to find common ground with this person. (v4)
  2. Be kind to the person even if they aren’t being kind to you (v4)
  3. Be humble. You don’t have it all together, and you were once in the same shoes as the person you’re talking to (v4)
  4. Don’t be arrogant about what you know. There was a time when you didn’t know it either (v4)
  5. Take careful consideration for the other person. Everything you say and do is being examined against what you claim to be as a Christian. Even if they get rude and call names, don’t do the same. (v5)
  6. Speak the truth, but don’t force it down someones throat. You know what it’s like when you feel someone is doing that to you, so don’t do it to another. It isn’t your place to force it on them anyway…God alone will work in them. You just be the voice (v5)
  7. Don’t become irritated at the person who just isn’t getting it. How many times did God have to deal with you about something before it finally sunk in? (v5)
  8. Don’t resent the person who isn’t accepting what you have to say. They aren’t rejecting you, they are rejecting truth. It’s not your place to make them accept it. (v5)
  9. Engage with the person in the truth…and do it in love without affirming or accepting their sin (v6)
  10. Be persistent, but not overbearing, assume the best of others, have a hope that God is doing a good work in this moment, and endure to the end with this person. (v7)

With all of that in mind, I want to leave you with a quote from one of the staff pastors at my church that he stated during his sermon this past Sunday that really resonated with me, and I think captures the whole posture we need to take with unbelievers…and it is this:

Our assignment isn’t to show people around us how good we are. Our assignment is to show people around us how good God is!

Pastor Neal – Journey Church, Ladson SC

Don’t Just Judge, Judge Rightly: An Inconvenient Truth

I used to be pretty critical about those who didn’t “go to church”. Clearly, they lacked something I didn’t because they didn’t want to be AT church. Clearly they weren’t as committed to God and the Church as I was…I who was on staff and being paid by the church to be there.

That is…until one day, after over 16 years of ministry and suddenly not having a ministry to “work for”, coupled with God doing a bit of work in my heart…I realized I was too harsh…

No…I was wrong.

I understand the heart of the pastor (remember – I’ve been one, and several family members are and have been as well)…I get it…I totally do. I know deep down in their hearts all they want is to see people connecting with the local church body. They want to see those people being transformed and discipled, and then going out and helping lead others into transformation and discipleship.

But inevitably they start tossing around comments about how uncommitted people are that don’t “go to church”. And it seems to me that judgment is being passed on something that perhaps they don’t really understand fully.

THE DISCONNECT

That’s not to be demeaning to pastors and church leaders (after all, I was in their shoes…and I totally didn’t get it then either), but the reality is a lot of pastors are sadly disconnected from the realities of what many of their church members go through or are experiencing.

Perhaps this is because those members do not speak about what’s going on.

Perhaps they don’t speak because they’re afraid of the judgment they may receive.

Perhaps the pastors have tried to reach out and are just being pushed away.

Either way, it’s a reality that many face.

The real troubling problem, however, is that BEING the church is much more than GOING to church. And the American Church has done a really good job of making GOING to church more important (almost) than BEING the church.

To many in the Church (leaders included), going to church is the benchmark of commitment.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Truth is, we have hundreds of people every day and every week who are struggling to “go to church” and it’s not because they don’t love God or the Church.

For some, they have suffered greatly at the hands of leaders and pastors of churches as they diligently served that church either on staff or as volunteers. They have been abused, manipulated, used, and then cast aside when they are no longer willing to be the pack horse for the church.

Others have been treated awfully by other members of the church. They have been made to feel shame over things that, frankly, don’t deserve shame (e.g. they are trivial and insignificant things that are usually ones personal conviction and not truly biblical commands).

They have been ostracized in the body that’s supposed to “love them”.

For some, they carry such weight of shame and guilt about how they are living, that as much as they may want to attend the church gathering, past experiences have shown them that they will be judged fiercely, and that’s just not something they want to put themselves through again.

That’s just a few reasons, and certainly not an exhaustive list. It can’t be. Everyone is different, and has their own unique experiences driving them to do what they do.

TAKE HEART

My point in all of this is simply to encourage pastors to not be so quick to assume what is going on, be less judgmental about those who do not “come to church”, and try to find a little grace and understanding in whatever it is that these folks may be unable to communicate adequately.

I understand the bible doesn’t teach us NOT to judge. But it does teach us to judge rightly…in other words…not jumping to conclusions or assumptions but judging rightly so that you may assess what is taking place more clearly so you can address it more adequately.

This is, after all, what Jesus taught us when He said:

John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

Smiling Faces

Christians and those of you so-called, you need to check your circle. Who’s encouraging you in the faith? Who’s reminding you of gospel implications in your every day struggles? Who has your ear, your head and your heart when difficulties arise or when drastic decisions need to be made? Take a look at the people closest to you. If you’re not being challenged or sharpened by those you hold most dear, consider a few things:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Someone in your crew is smiling in your face, laughing at your jokes and telling you that they love you and they really don’t. They have a contrary opinion to every aspect of your faith and they openly antagonize the God you say you pledge allegiance to with no regard. I am not saying we shouldn’t have unbelieving friends — I’ve got a lot of them. What I am saying you can’t play both sides of the fence.

We live in polarizing times. We seem to have drastically different opinions on every little thing. That’s okay when we’re talking about varying ways to honor God. It’s not okay when the discussion is about one way that honors God and what He says in the Word. Look at your circle again. Are the people most influential to you openly mocking and antagonizing your faith? Are they ridiculing those that are your brothers and sisters if you are indeed of the faith? Should you really be taking cues from the people that are in open rebellion to your God?

I’m asking these questions because I’ve seen so much of this. It’s disheartening to see so many people that claim to be Christians using arguments of those that have no interest in honoring God and are proudly making choices to spite Him. Say for instance, I once had a professing Christian challenge me on my view of Christian missionaries. While this person did not like my stance, there were people saying blatantly racist things about one missionary in particular and it went unchallenged. Yet, there was a problem with my support of those that are willing to go to dangerous places.

Unbelievers like to excuse their sins because Christians sin too. Is that a biblical defense for anything? Will anyone be around when you’re being judged? Why are people that call themselves Christians sharing these biblically illiterate memes and judging people by the specks in their eyes? Aren’t we plainly told to not do that? Listen, friends. I’m not saying these things to excuse any sin or hypocrisy on any given issue. I’m just saying we need to be consistent.

Again, take a look at your circle. Do you find yourself siding with your circle over brothers and sisters who aim to honor God? Do you find yourself siding with people that frequently clash with those that are bold enough to take a biblical stand against things God says are evil? You may want to reconsider who you let influence you if so.

But, hey. You don’t have to take my word for it. You don’t have to believe anything I say. If you’re a believer, you should care about what God says.

  • James 4:4
  • Ezekiel 16:32
  • Matthew 6:24
  • John 15:19
  • Romans 8:7
  • 1 Corinthians 1:20-21
  • 1 John 2:15
  • Romans 12:2

It goes on and on. Beware who you side with. You may find yourself opposing God.

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

“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”.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

“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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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!

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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”.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

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?