Category Archives: discipleship

HOW COVID19 EXPOSED THE TRUE CONDITION OF THE CHURCH

Pastors that I know who lead large churches tell me that they’ve lost literally hundreds of members due to the pandemic shutdowns. These people neither watch online nor have returned to church when in person services resume. This phenomena has led to discussions about what the church will look like after covid19, which has led many to say that we’ll need to “rethink” and “redo” how we do church in the future and will need to “relaunch” after the pandemic is over. In other words, we’ll need to be creative and “think outside the box” in order to entice these people back to church.

How sad. I believe that the loss of so many people who have decided not to return to church is just a symptom of a deeper problem – many of those who attended church in the past weren’t really in love with Jesus. Their relationship with Him was shallow, and they did not have a solid biblical and theological foundation. They occupied a chair or place on a pew on Sunday mornings, but their heart was far from Him.

Which brings up the cause for this tragedy – the church didn’t build them up in their faith. All this talk about “revamping how we do church” is a serious indictment that we weren’t “doing” church correctly before the pandemic hit, and covid19 just exposed this.

The church today is saturated with lots of “stuff” – myriads of programs, high energy praise bands, the latest technology, latte bars and lounges, rock star pastors that exude “cool”, and services that include movie clips, skits, interpretive dance, motivational sermons, and a casual laid back atmosphere where we are encouraged to come and “have fun”.

I wonder, where is Jesus in all of this?

Sadly, while His name in mentioned in church services, He is not the focus. The focus, unfortunately, is on everything but Him. If we had put the focus on Him, this idea of “redoing” and “relaunching” church would be moot. In the last 30 years or so the church became so clever and cute that it forgot that it exists for one purpose – to bring Him glory. Worship services are supposed to be just that – times to worship Him collectively as a church family. Sermons were supposed to be geared to help Christians grow deeper in their faith, not to give a theologically light feel good motivational speech centered on “me”. Praise bands were supposed to lead us into the presence of our awesome God and set the atmosphere for true worship, not to entertain us with their dazzling array of skills and smoke and mirrors performance. Programs were supposed to enhance our spiritual growth, not be times of social activity with just a smattering of theological content.

We got it all wrong.

If we were doing it right, we wouldn’t feel the need to redo that way we do church in order to get people that we lost to to church. Being innovative, having more programs, enhancing the technology we use in the service, exuding more “cool” and being more “relevant” aren’t the answer. Jesus is.

Jesus is enough.

If we had just focused on Jesus to begin with, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the situation we currently are in. If we would have just kept it simple and poured our energies into magnifying Him and going deep into His word, that would have been enough. My friends, Jesus is ALWAYS enough. If people would have really known Him deeply and had a deep love for Him, they would flock back to church because they want to know Him more and worship Him with their church family.

Jesus is enough.

The enemy has distracted us with many other things to get our focus off of the One who was, is, and always should be the main focus of everything. There’s nothing wrong with simple Christianity. We don’t need latte bars, fancy bands, overbooked church calendars to keep people busy, or every technological gadget on the market. We need to magnify Jesus. When we highlight these other things, the focus gets placed on them. When we highlight Jesus, the focus gets placed on Him. And that is where it is supposed to be. When He is the center of all we do, everything else takes care of itself.

Is it time to “redo” the way we do church? Yes! It’s time to make all the other “stuff” in church smaller and make Jesus bigger. It’s time to simplify things and focus on Him. it’s time to build a strong, unshakeable foundation in people by going deep into Scripture. It’s time to guide people into a deep, intimate relationship with Him.

In the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, and [we] must decrease”.

Jesus is enough!!

IT’S NOT OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY

It’s a phrase that you see and hear everywhere – on church signs, on church websites, in sermons, and in contemporary Christian music. It’s a phrase that people gravitate to and have accepted wholeheartedly. What is the phrase? “It’s okay not to be okay”.

This is true in the context of those who have not trusted in Jesus as Savior – those who are not saved are unregenerated sinners who come to Him in their rebellious lifestyles and, when they repent of their sin and by faith trust in Him, they are forgiven and born again. They don’t have to “clean up their act” before being saved. The indwelling Holy Spirit will empower them to to do this after they are saved. So, unbelievers come to Jesus in a “not okay” state.

However, way too many born again Christians have adopted this phrase for their lives. They love this phrase because it justifies their sloppy, mediocre lifestyle that is far from the standard set by Jesus for those who would follow Him. Pastors and musicians tell people that we are all flawed and messed up but it’s okay because Jesus loves us anyway. Well, yes, we all are flawed Jesus does loves us with an unconditional love. That’s not in question.

However, it’s not okay for a truly born again believer in Jesus to not be okay. Why? Because truly born again believers have the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity indwelling them, and He equips them with everything necessary to live a God pleasing life that glorifies Him. Look at these verses:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).

These verses tell us that we have everything necessary to live a godly life, and that’s because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. You see, we have the power to be “okay”. Now be careful here. I’m not talking about perfection, as no one in this life will ever be perfect (Jesus was the only one to walk this earth in perfection). But what I’m talking about is a life that is on the journey of true discipleship, a live that hungers and thirsts for holiness and righteousness, and a life that tenaciously strives to make God smile. A life that knows there are higher heights to climb and deeper depths to plunge. A life that is never satisfied and content with where they are at spiritually.

Sadly, in today’s Christianity, the bar of discipleship has been set way too low, so low, in fact, that most Christians are satisfied with just a shadow of the life they have been called to live. Most Christians just shrug their shoulders and say “well, I’m not perfect and God loves me anyway, so everything is fine”. What a defeatist, pathetic resignation.

Jesus, however set the bar extremely high. Read the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and look at these statements by Jesus:

Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me'”. (Luke 9:23)

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples”. (Luke 14:33)

Wow, these words that tell us that it’s not okay to be not okay. Jesus is telling us that we are to be sold out disciples, surrendered to Him and devoted to Him above everything else. Being not okay is just an excuse for not surrendering to Him in every aspect of our lives and not dying to self so that He can be Lord, and I mean truly Lord, of our lives.

Scripture often tells us to live a life here on earth worthy of our awesome God:

” As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesian 4:1)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27)

“…so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…” (Colossians 1:10)

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children,
encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)


All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering”. (2 Thessalonians 1:5)

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)

What is a life that is worthy of God? One that is passionate for Him, and is thus passionate for holiness because such a life glorifies Him and dives deep in intimacy with Him. A life worthy of God is the life that dies to self, embraces spiritual brokenness, and is on the journey of surrender to Him. A life worthy of God lives in the attitude of humility and repentance, being quick to acknowledge sin when we, in our imperfection, fall short of His holy standards. But alas, most Christians don’t want this. They want just enough of Jesus to get to heaven but not enough of Him to make Him Lord of their lives, so they live life carrying the banner “it’s okay not to be okay”.

Tragically, far too many Christians have taken the high bar that Jesus set for His followers and lowered it to make themselves feel good and to justify their mediocre walk with Him. However, for those who are the journey of true discipleship and holiness, for those who intentionally die to self and surrender their wills to Him daily, they are the ones that bring glory to Him (which is why we exist). This leads to walking in His manifest presence, which leads to the full, abundant life Jesus said He came to give (John 10:10).

My friends, don’t buy the pathetic fad phrase of the day – “it’s okay not to be okay”. Strive, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to live according to His standards, not the popular notion of shallow Christians. Surrender all of yourself to Him, follow Him with all your heart, and live a life that is worthy of our glorious, awesome Savior. This is life at its pinnacle.

WHY WE EXIST

For centuries, everyone from philosophers to theologians to thinkers to everyday people have wrestled with the purpose of life and have pondered questions like “why am I here?” and “why do I exist?”. Many theories and ideas have surfaced from hedonism which says we exist for our pleasure and happiness, to existentialism that says we are masters of our own fate and captains of our own ship, to illusionism that says all life is just a mirage and we need to realize that we are just a microscopic part of the universal oneness, to those who say that we exist only as a result of random chance as byproducts of evolution.

These answers result in hopelessness, emptiness, and inevitably lead to the conclusion that life has no real value. Is it any wonder, then, that suicide among young people is so high? Without meaning and purpose, hope is vanquished and it’s natural to become despondent. And those who live without meaning and hope think that their only way out of this meaningless existence is to end it. Also, is it any wonder that the moral condition of our society is in such a horrible condition? If this life is all there is, if there is nothing beyond our few years on this planet, then we might as well eat, drink, and be merry right now, and do whatever brings us happiness now, which leads to seeking that pleasure in sex, drugs, alcohol, cheating to get ahead, materialism, and other behaviors that are totally self centered.

However, there is a very simple answer to the questions “why am I here?” and “why do I exist?”. We exist for God’s glory. Period. Every human being is an intentional, specific, and unique creation of God, and we exist because He wanted us to. He created us to be worshipers of Himself and to have a deep, intimate relationship with Him.

My friend, your heart is beating at this very moment and you are breathing this very second for one purpose – to glorify Him.

He is the Creator and sustainer of the universe, and, as it says in Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”. All created things declare His glory by their very existence even though they are inanimate things or a part of the animal world. How much more, then, should we human beings, the only part of His creation that is created in His image (which means that we, unlike the other parts of God’s creation have an eternal soul, have the ability to make moral choices, and can have a relationship with our creator) bring Him glory. Such an awesome, powerful, majestic, glorious, righteous, and holy being as God is worthy of and deserves nothing less than our undivided worship.

Life is not about us. It is about Him. When we live with this reality as the driving force of our lives, we will than experience the reality for which we were created, and life will have full meaning and purpose. We will then live with hope and confidence in the future because we belong to Him and know that our eternity is secure in the blood of Jesus. We know, without any doubt, that this life is not all there is.

How do we glorify God in our everyday lives? Simply by dying to self and surrendering every facet of our lives to Him. And this is evidenced by our obedience to His Word. We glorify Him in our marriages when husbands truly love their wives as Jesus loved the church and when wives respect their husbands as the God ordained leader of the family. We glorify Him in our families when we teach our kids Biblical truth, invest our time into their lives, and set a godly example for them to follow. We glorify God in the workplace by working with excellence, honesty, integrity, and character. We glorify God in our entertainment choices by viewing movies and television programs, logging on to websites, and reading books and magazines that meet His standard of moral purity. We glorify God in our finances by being content with a simple lifestyle so we can invest in His Kingdom work on earth. We glorify God in our church by humbly serving where He leads, caring for our church family, and not causing dissension. We glorify God in our spiritual lives when we spend consistent time in prayer, studying His Word so that we know what we believe (theology), why we believe it (apologetics), and how we believe it (practically living it out), and by maturing in our Christian walk. And we glorify God in our interactions with others by being humble servants instead of putting ourselves first.

To sum it up, we glorify God when the primary desire of our heart is to know Him intellectually, pursue Him relentlessly, approach Him reverently, love him intimately, follow Him unconditionally, worship Him passionately, stand up for Him unashamedly, serve Him excellently, and enjoy Him gladly.

We exist to bring Him glory. Life is not about us. Life has been, is, and will always be about Him. When we embrace this truth, our lives will take on the greatest meaning and purpose possible in the human experience. May this define us in 2021.

DEEP

The church today has a desperate need. It’s not for more individuals with PhD’s or ThD’s. It’s not for more talented singers and musicians. It’s not or more eloquent speakers. Nor is it for more people with dynamic, charismatic personalities (those that possess the proverbial “it” factor). I believe what the church needs now more than ever is deep Christians. Followers of Jesus that leave the safety of shallow, superficial Christianity and risk it all to plunge into the depths of discipleship. Those who are not satisfied with a safe, predictable, status quo relationship with Jesus and dare to launch out to know Him as well as a human being can know Him in this life.

What is a deep Christian? Deep Christians are those who really understand the cross and have a solid theological foundation in which to anchor their relationship with God on. Deep Christians understand their total unworthiness and God’s mind boggling grace, Deep Christians have a profound sense of humility, understanding what they were and yet understanding their present position as a child of the living God only because of His incredible grace.

Deep Christians come to God in spiritual brokenness and are totally dependent on Him in every aspect of life. They die to self and surrender to Him completely, knowing that the only reason for their existence is to bring Him glory. And this brokenness, surrender, and dying to self is with gladness and joy. They don’t care what anyone thinks about them, they only care what God knows about them. Deep Christians hunger and thirst for holiness, and hunger and thirst to know Jesus more. They bear fruit for God’s kingdom, and desire that He, and only He, gets the glory.

Deep Christians are definitely not spiritually weird in that they have their heads so far in the clouds that they can’t relate to others, or are smug and obnoxious Bible thumpers who act superior to others. Nor are they perfect super saints who have “arrived”. They just live their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit and and emanate the sweet aroma of Jesus wherever they go, even if they are hated by others, criticized, or laughed at.

Deep Christians know Jesus intellectually, pursue Him relentlessly, approach Him reverently, love him intimately, follow Him unconditionally, worship Him passionately, stand up for Him unashamedly, serve Him excellently, and enjoy Him gladly. 

Are you a deep Christian? My friend, don’t settle for shallowness and superficiality. Don’t be like so many Christians who are an inch deep and a mile wide. Leave the safety and predictability of the shallows and dare to plunge deeply into our incredible God. He wants you to. Dive deep, you’ll never regret it.

A GOD IN OUR IMAGE LEADS TO SLOPPY CHRISTIANITY

I believe that one of the major deficiencies of modern day Christianity is our view of God. In order to attract more people to church and make them feel comfortable, the church has presented God as just a shadow of His true essence. We have made Him too ordinary, too common, and too plain. We have brought Him down to our level, thinking people will see Him as more approachable and more relevant. In the quest to make Him more likable, we have portrayed Him as a cosmic genie who is just waiting to grant our wishes, or “Joe” down the street who we watch football and eat guacamole with, or some cool dude who plays video games and lives on social media. In short, we have created God in our image.

How utterly tragic. Today’s Christianity has lost the understanding of the awesome holiness and majestic glory of God. In the Bible, everyone who caught a glimpse of the incredible awesomeness of God was overwhelmed beyond words. Indeed, the very nature of God– His sovereignty, omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, eternality, holiness, righteousness, justice, and immutability is so profound that it causes us to fall on our faces in worship of such a magnificent Being.

This unbiblical view of God is evidenced, I believe, by a couple of things. One is the worldly lifestyle and sloppy discipleship of many Christians. Since God, in our recreation of Him, is basically just a good ol’ boy, there is  no need for holiness, no need for deep discipleship, no need for surrender, brokenness, or dying to self. We set the bar of discipleship too low because, after all, God is “cool” and lets us slide. However, Jesus set the bar of discipleship extraordinarily high – just read, for example, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, Luke 9:23, or Luke 14:26-33. The sloppy, discipleship of many Christians is a direct result of a faulty view of God.

The second evidence of our unbiblical view of God is seen in how we dress for church. Most churches tell people to come in whatever they are comfortable in – short shorts, flip flops, lounge pants, baseball caps, etc. After all, they say, God is more interested in your heart than in your attire. While this is true, I believe that this has been taken way too far. Sloppy dress has a direct correlation to a lesser view of God. Think about it – when you go to a place that requires nicer attire, it becomes more special than going to a place where you can wear your sloppy jeans and worn flip flops. Going to  a nice restaurant where nicer dress is required is a lot more special than jumping in the car with your well-worn “work around the house” clothes and heading to McDonald’s. Yet, many people come into the presence of the King of Kings looking like they just finished cleaning the house. For most people, it is just not a special thing to come into the presence of our awesome God because we have recreated Him into a lesser God.

Thus, sloppy dress follows our sloppy view of God. I’m not saying we need to wear fancy three-piece suits or evening gowns to church on Sunday, but, at the very least, dress with respect for the KIng of Kings and Lord of Lords in whose presence we are coming. At the church I pastor, in the FAQ section of our church brochure regarding what to wear we say this: “Wear whatever you like as long as it is in good taste and respectful in coming into the presence of the King”.

Yet, this majestic, sovereign, awesome God who we worship is also our “Abba”, our daddy who we can have a deep intimate relationship with. Jesus died on the cross to bring justification for our sins (He died in our place to take away our sins and give us eternal life), but also to bring reconciliation between us and the Father (to restore the broken relationship between Him and us because of our sin). These two aspects of our salvation – justification and reconciliation are so crucial in our understanding of, and approach to, our awesome God.  Justification reminds us of the majestic holiness of God, and that we must approach Him with reverence and awe (the intellectual understanding of who He is). Reconciliation means that we can have a deep, intimate relationship with Him as His children (the emotional connection with Him).

This Biblically balanced understanding of God will lead us to the incredible relationship that He desires us to have with Himself. Both of these – intellectual and relational – , in proper balance, are necessary because having just mental knowledge (without emotion) leads to cold legalism, and having just an emotional connection (without mental knowledge) leads to sloppy mediocrity (which, I believe, is the prominent attitude of most Christians today).

No, we don’t need to “change” God to make Him relevant to our culture. He is always relevant, and He is enough! Know God intellectually and worship Him. Love Him intimately and have a deep relationship with Him. When you have a healthy balance of these two, you will know our awesome God as He wants to be known.

 

 

OF DOVE AWARDS AND CHRISTIAN BOOK AWARDS

There are so many awards in the the area of the arts – Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, CMA Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Tony Awards, etc, etc, etc. These awards are very coveted and give the winners prestige, plaudits, and fame.  And, sadly, the church has adopted the practice of rewarding its artists.

Dove Awards are given each year to Christian musicians in categories such as Song of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Group of the Year, Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the year, New Artist of the Year, Worship Song of the Year, and Praise & Worship Album of the Year (and many more). Also, these recording artists tape music videos of their popular songs, which are videos of them lip syncing their song with creative camera shots of them in while they “sing”. In the ones I have seen, the focus is always on themselves.

Another award in the Christian arts arena is given by the Evangelical Christian Book Association (ECBA) to Christian authors for books written in categories like Bibles, Bible Reference Works, Bible Study, Ministry Resources, Biography & Memoir, Christian Living, Faith & Culture, Devotion & Gift, Children, Young People’s Literature, and New Author. And, sadly, many books that are written by big name authors are really not written by them at all. They have “ghost writers” who actually write the books (using the authors main ideas), with the author putting his or her name on the cover as the writer of the book. I’m sorry, but this is just dishonest, even if they put the “ghost writer’s” name in much smaller print under their name (which is in very large print).

When these musicians and writers are given their awards on the big night, they thank God and say all praise goes to Him, but then they grab their awards and joyously receive all the adulation that comes with winning. The winners of these awards will tout their achievement, and make sure that everyone knows that they are a “Dove Award” winner or an “ECBA (or “Gold Medallion”) Award” winner when they come out with a new album or book. Additionally, when they appear on a Christian radio talk show or TV show, they are introduced with accolades about how many Dove Awards or ECBA Awards they have won. The more the better.

I don’t want to sound like a killjoy and a stick-in-the-mud, and I know that many don’t agree with me, but I think this is just wrong.

Awards for worship songs? Are we really competing with each other for who writes or sings the best worship music? Do we really compete with each other for who sings the best, or which band or soloist gives the best performance on stage? Are spiritual gifts given so we can compete with each other on whose is better? Is worship a competition?

And book awards for Bibles? Correct me if I’m wrong, but God is the author of the Bible. All the notes at the bottom of the pages are just extras. And regarding the other categories, do we really compete with each other to see who writes the best about God or the Christian life? Is the measure of a book determined by how many copies it sells and how popular it is with people?

All spiritual gifts are given by God and are given for one purpose – to bring Him glory. We should use them with humility, knowing that they are not ours to use for recognition, applause, or self gain. We don’t use them to compete with others who have been given the same spiritual gift for an award and a bigger recording/publishing contract. If anything, the very fact that God would give us certain gifts and use us at all should bring us to our knees before Him in humility and awe. It should compel us to recognize that we need Him in using these gifts, and that these gifts are useless when we exercise them in our own power for our own recognition.

I would love to see the recipient of one of these awards leave the trophy on the podium and never mention it again. And when one of these individuals is a guest on a radio or television show or at a conference, I would love for them to be introduced simply as a bond slave of Jesus, not as someone who has won “x” amount of Dove Awards with “x” amount of gold or platinum albums,  or the winner of “x” amount of Christian Book Awards with “x” amount of best sellers.

Don’t get me wrong, we all need encouragement as we serve our awesome God, and it gives us joy when we know that what we do is making a difference for the kingdom of God. But when we go out of our way to congratulate ourselves, to reward ourselves, and use these awards to promote ourselves, we have let pride take over and have actually robbed God of the glory that is due Him alone. We have put ourselves in the spotlight instead of Him, no matter how “Christianese” the acceptance speech is in saying that all glory goes to God, while the winners clutch their trophy and basks in their victory. Church, we have congratulated ourselves to death.

Serving God by using the spiritual gifts He has given us is both humbling and joyous. Humbling in the fact that none of us is worthy or capable of serving Him in our own strength, and joyous in the fact that serving Him in His power and strength for His glory makes Him smile and pleases Him.

Knowing that He is pleased and glorified is our reward. And no trophy or applause can ever rival that.

WILL THE CHURCH LET JESUS BACK IN?

 

In the second and third chapters of Revelation, John records seven letters that Jesus wrote to the churches in Asia Minor. Many believe that the seven churches represent seven stages of the church throughout its history since its birth at Pentecost, with the last church Jesus wrote to, the Laodicean church, representing the current church as we near the end times.

The Laodicean church was characterized by compromise and apostasy, as can be seen in Jesus’ statement to the church: So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.” (Revelation 3:16-18) 

Then Jesus said this to the church:  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me”.  This verse is usually used in evangelistic meetings, but, when taken in context, it has nothing to so with evangelism. Jesus is talking to a church, and thus, it is assumed, to believers. What Jesus is saying to this church, and, thus, too us today (if indeed the church of Laodicea represents the current church, which I believe it does) is to make the church about Him once again.

What a horribly tragic statement for Jesus to make. The church belongs to Him (Matthew 16:18), and He is the head of the church which is, spiritually speaking, His body (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 4:15). The church exists to exalt Him, and thus He is the main focus of everything we are about. And yet we have, in a sense, ushered Him out the door. In this verse we see Jesus knocking on the door of His church, waiting for us to open the door to let Him back in.

How have we kicked Jesus out of His church? In our attempt to be relevant and popular with the culture we have become the focus of church instead of Him. Sermons are too often centered around “me”, using pop psychology, and shallow “feel good” messages that tickle our ears. We have become afraid to challenge the congregation with the true meaning of discipleship. How many sermons have you heard that teach absolute surrender of all we are and all we have to His lordship? Or sermons about dying to “self”, or spiritual brokenness, or biblical holiness? Have you been taught theology and doctrine (without good, sound theology we have no foundation on which to grow in our walk with Jesus…theology is absolutely crucial).  In my travels over the last twenty plus years of full time ministry, I have seen way too many shallow, lukewarm, mediocre Christians. And, disturbingly, most are totally comfortable and content to stay that way.

Unfortunately, the church has become only a shadow of what Jesus intended it to be. It is no longer a place of extravagant, heart felt worship, but has become a place of entertainment. I’ve come across numerous church web sites that tell potential visitors to just come as you are, bring your latte into the auditorium, and sit back and enjoy the “show”. They say to come and have fun. Fun? We don’t come to church to have “fun” (fun is what you experience a an amusement park). We go to church to worship our awesome God in reverence and awe. We go to bring a sacrifice of praise and to grow closer to Him, not to be entertained and given a pep talk on how to be successful and happy. To be sure, we do receive joy when we are in His presence worshiping Him, but that is a totally different thing than “fun”. Fun has its roots in our senses and emotions. Joy, on the other hand, has its roots deep within our souls.

Additionally, the church is supposed to be a place of prayer, but we have made it a place of pragmatism. Prayer should be the most important thing we do, and is indeed the very life blood of the church, but it has become just a quick interruption that we feel we need to do (if we do it at all) in the midst of our overbooked church calendars. Instead of prayer we have become self-reliant, self-sufficient, and self-empowered. We use Madison Avenue marketing techniques to make the church grow, secular business practices for managing the programs and staff, and statistics to measure our “success”. My friends, the church is not a business!  It is the body of Christ that is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and when we use worldly pragmatism we only get natural results, but when we pray and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we’ll get supernatural results.

What a tragedy! Jesus, the Founder and Head, is no longer leading His church, the body. The body has severed itself from its Head and the results have been devastating. The church is scorned and mocked by the very culture we have been called to impact, and are now considered irrelevant and, shockingly, the biggest threat to the advancement of society.

The Laodicean church indeed!

My friend, Jesus is knocking on the door of our churches. He wants to come in and, once again, take His rightful place as the center focus and Head. Will we open the door and let Him in?

NONTHREATENING CHRISTIANITY IS COMPROMISED CHRISTIANITY

 

One of the popular buzzwords in the church today is “nonthreatening”. I’ve seen many churches tout their “nonthreatening” services, “nonthreatening” Bible studies, and I even saw one church invite people to their “nonthreatening” prayer meeting. When they say “nonthreatening” what they really mean is that they don’t want to offend anyone and want everybody to feel comfortable. It is their desire that everyone enjoy the service, Bible study or prayer meeting without feeling uneasy about what is said.

Simply put, “nonthreatening” Christianity is compromised Christianity.

This “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises the gospel message. You see, the gospel, by its very message, is very threatening. It tells me that I am a sinner separated from God, and the result is hell forever. It tells me that I’m not okay, and that I cannot earn, bribe, work for, or persuade my way into heaven. It tells me that Jesus had to go through a horrible physical death on the cross because of my sin, and had to endure the wrath of the Father that I deserve. It tells me that I must repent of my sins and put my trust solely in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

The “nonthreatening” gospel is crossless and bloodless. People are invited to “accept Jesus in their heart”, and they will be on their way. There’s no mention of confession, repentance, conviction of sin, the cross, or the blood of our awesome Savior. Just accept Jesus in your heart. It’s nonthreatening and not offensive, but it is also worthless. Today;’s church is filled with people who think they are saved but have no clue what the true, biblical gospel is, and are on their way to a lost eternity. The “nonthreatening” gospel is cheap grace at its ugly best.

Additionally, “nonthreatening” Christianity compromises discipleship. To be a follower of Jesus, the Bible says that I need to surrender totally to Jesus and follow Him unconditionally. It tells me I need to die to self daily and, in spiritual brokenness, live as a bond slave of Him. It tells me that the cost of following Jesus may indeed be everything, and that I must be willing to forsake all for Him if He should ask me to do so. In a “me” focused culture, this is definitely offensive, and is very threatening to our self absorbed mindset.

“Nonthreatening” discipleship is void of any mention of holiness, sanctification, surrender or dying to self. In the minds of many in today’s church, following Jesus means owning a Bible, coming to church when it doesn’t conflict with other activities, and throwing a twenty in the offering plate once in a while. It is a cheap imitation of what the Bible clearly defines as being a Christian. This Christianity “lite” had weakened the church dramatically in the last couple of decades.

Yes, the truth may be hard to take because it is so convicting, but it is still the truth and the only way to real life. When we compromise the truth to make people feel comfortable and safe, we lead them on the dangerous path of eternal destruction (the “nonthreatening” gospel) and the pathetic road to a mediocre, shallow relationship with Jesus (“nonthreatening” discipleship).

We don’t need to be cute with Biblical truth. Just preach it, teach it, and share it, and let the Holy Spirit do His job in the hearts of people. Yes, the uncompromised proclamation of the gospel will be threatening and offensive to the unsaved, and the uncompromised truth about discipleship will be threatening and offensive to Christians .  But do we dare teach anything less? We were never called to make comfortable people in all nations. We were called to make disciples of all nations.

The truth may hurt, but the truth will set people truly free.

“LORD, BREAK ME” – A BOLD AND DARING PRAYER

 

I have been a Christian for 37 years. About a year after I was born again I read a short book by William MacDonald entitled “Lord, Break Me”. After I read it, I figured that this was crucial to living a life honoring to God, so I prayed that the Lord would break me. A short time after I prayed this I mentioned it to an older fella who had been a Christian for many, many years. When he heard what I prayer he smiled, shook his head, and said “Man, are you in for it now. That’s a prayer that God always answers”.

Well, about 36 years later I can say that God certainly does answer this prayer, and it takes a long time, dare I say a lifetime, to answer.

God answers this prayer because it gets at the very heart of what He wants from us – total devotion and surrender. David said in Psalm 51:16-17: “For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

What does it mean to be “broken”? It means to be reduced to the point of humbly realizing and accepting that without Jesus we are nothing. It is to understand we are spiritually bankrupt without Him, and have nothing to offer Him but our total brokenness. Simply put, being broken is to die to self and totally surrender all of yourself to Him. “Self” (the prideful “me” that wants to be in control of my life) must be reckoned as dead, because “self” does nothing to bring Him glory.

The breaking process is long, tedious, and painful.  God must bring us to and through many dark times, uncertain days, many tears, gut wrenching revelations about ourselves, and humbling experiences. To break us of our pride, self-reliance, self-sufficiency, selfishness, idolatry, and worldly ways necessitates some drastic measures, and God is a master of these measures. However, spiritual brokenness is the key to His heart.

It is the broken person who God can use powerfully in this world. You see, God must shatter us so that He can rebuild us into a vessel He can use. Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkrgaard once said: “God created everything out of nothing. And everything which God is to use He first reduces to nothing”.

If God is to indeed break us, the process is long and hard, trust me, I know this first hand because It has been over 36 years since I prayed that prayer and I’m still in the process. Along the way He has brought me to my knees in tears many times, and has been relentless in the process. But along the way I have experienced Him in ways that I would have never known without the process. You see, God cannot have the results of the process (deep intimacy with us and anointing to bring Him glory in our lives) without the process (breaking us).

Think of it in terms of a fruit tree. We have lots of them in our yard and every January we prune them pretty severely. We cut off the dead or diseased branches that will harm the tree, and prune the good branches way back to allow for new growth in the spring. Now if the tree could talk it would probably shout “STOP!  This hurts, and you are wrecking me!!”. But we know that, in order to bear good fruit in the summer, the hard pruning is necessary. Do you see the parallel for us? In order to be fruit bearing and useful to God, He must do the same to us.

Just last Sunday in our service as we were singing in worship, God reminded me of this prayer that I prayed so many years ago. I realized that He hasn’t forgotten it, is still in process of answering it, and wants me to remember and reaffirm it. I was overwhelmed in His presence, and knew that the breaking process, though painful and ongoing, has brought me to this point in my life. I’m not sure what He has planned for me around the corner, but whatever it is, I know that the breaking process has prepared me, and is preparing me, for it.

My friends, will you be daring and bold enough to pray, in all seriousness and earnestness, “Lord, break me”? Will you invite Him to crush the worldly part of you that keeps you from a deep intimate relationship with Him and from the power He would bestow on you so as to use you for His glory? It is what He desires to do in your life because He loves you too much to leave you as you are. Being broken is the key to His heart. Isaiah 57:15 says: “For thus says the high and exalted One Who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, And also with the contrite and lowly of spirit In order to revive the spirit of the lowly And to revive the heart of the contrite”.

It’s up to you. It’s an act of your will that results from being sick and tired of mediocrity and shallowness in your walk with Jesus, and from a heart that is hungry and thirsty for Him. Is it painful? YES! Is it necessary? YES! Is it worth it? YES! Is it what God wants from you? YES!

My friends, will you right now bow in humility in His presence and dare to pray: “Lord, break me!”?

 

THE THREE WORDS THAT CHANGE EVERYTHING

In my last post I wrote about how most Christians never rise above the level of mediocrity in their walk with Jesus because the bar has been set too low. Most Christians just aimlessly float through life with a “oh well, I’m just a sinner” mindset and never experience all that God has planned for them. However, God has blessed us with everything necessary to live a holy, God glorifying life, and to reach the destiny He has planned for us.

You see, as born again believers in Jesus, we have it all. Why, then do so many believers miss this? Why do so many live such a defeated Christian life and settle for mediocrity? Because most never appropriate the profound truth found in Romans 6 that every believer has died with Jesus to their sins. Romans 6:5-7 says: “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection,
knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin.”,  and Romans 6:11 tells us: “Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” . Add to this Colossians 3:3: For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. “ and Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me”.

You see, my friends, the totality of the Christian life can be summed up in three words: DIE TO SELF.

“Self” is that part of me that wants to be God, that part of me that wants to call the shots. Simply put, “self” is the old, sinful me. When we, by faith, repent of our sins and trust in Jesus as Savior, we become new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”  What an incredible truth! However, when we become this new creation, it is important to remember that the old self is not eradicated, The old, sinful “me” is still hanging around.

This is where dying to “self” comes in. I must, based on Romans 6, Colossians 3:3, and Galatians 2:20, consider that my old “self” is dead, having been crucified with Jesus. How, you may ask, is this possible? Obviously we weren’t living two thousand years ago, and we certainly were not crucified with Jesus. So what does this mean? Simply put, we must consider it a fact that positionally, (not physically), our old sinful “self” was put to death with Jesus on the cross, meaning that the power of sin has been broken in out lives.

Two phenomenal truths happened at the cross – 1. Jesus died for our sins, which is justification; 2. We died with Jesus to our sins, which is sanctification. All Christians (if they are truly born again) grasp the first truth. But very few grasp the second, which leads to a mediocre life. 

The Biblical truth of dying to “self” impacts every aspect of our lives. When I counsel married couples having problems, or when I talk to an individual struggling with sin, or an individual who is just going through the motions of Christianity, the common cure is very simple – DIE TO SELF. “Self” is the cause of virtually all sin and problems in life. Why? Because “self” is rooted in pride, and pride is the root of all sin.

In talking to couples with marriage problems, I have heard so often the phrase: “he/she is not meeting my needs”.  Well, marriage is not about “you”. It is about being a humble servant of your spouse. Just think, if every married person would die to “self”, would there be as many marriage problems?  No! The “I” and “me” focus would be replaced by the focus on “my spouse”.

If every individual would die to “self”, would there be as much shallow Christianity as we see today? No! Believers would die to the old desires and replace the  attitude of “I’m going to do what I want to do” with “I’m going to do what Jesus wants me to do”. This would impact our entertainment choices, our relationships, our handling of money, our attitude at work, how we use our time, and what comes our of our mouths. Dying to “self” is, in effect, making Jesus Lord of our lives (instead of calling Him Lord but never giving Him the reigns of our lives) and living in obedience to His commands. You see, we mess up our lives when we (“self”) call the shots instead of God.

Practically, dying to “self” means that:

  • I don’t need to get my way
  • I don’t need to be recognized when I do something
  • I don’t need others to validate me
  • I don’t seek retaliation when I am wronged
  • I don’t need to be served or coddled
  • I don’t need to be popular
  • I care more about what God knows about me than what others think about me
  • I am content with whatever God determines for me
  • I care more about my holiness than my happiness
  • I am not impressed with myself, and realize that life is not about me
  • I put others before myself
  • I surrender myself without any condition to God
  • My number one goal in life is to bring glory to God

You see, my friends, this is the only way to deep intimacy with God, to experience the power of His awesome presence, to experience the true meaning and purpose in life, and to be used by God to advance His kingdom. There is no lifestyle on the planet that can compare with a life that has died to “self”.

Why do we find it so hard to die to “self”? Because we are told by our culture that life is all about us – about our happiness, our comfort, our pleasure, our way. We are told that we are the captains of our ships and the masters of our fate, when in reality we are neither. Our life is about God – bringing Him glory, serving Him, and walking in intimacy with Him. I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, but life is not about you. Never has been and never will be. It is about our awesome God.

Have you died to “self”? It is a daily choice that we must make. You see, since the old “self” is still in existence, there is a continual battle raging between the old “self” and the new “self”. The one you nurture will be the one that you will serve. If you feed your new “self” daily with prayer, studying God’s Word, and communing with Him, you will experience victory in your life. If you neglect these and feed yourself with worldly things, your old “self” will dominate and you will make choices that are destructive to you and dishonoring to God.

It’s our choice. Do you want to rise above the level of mediocrity in your Christian life? Are you tired of being shallow in your knowledge and love for Jesus? Then die to “self” daily. It is the only way to bring glory to God and reach the destiny He has planned for you. Not a life of perfection, as we will never be perfect in this life, but a life where victories far outweigh the failures, and a life that goes deep with Jesus.

Remember, the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in three words, the three words that change everything – DIE TO SELF.

My friends, die, and live!