Thoughts about Christianity and Culture.

It seems that our culture has completely rejected God’s Lordship over us. In other words, Western Culture has warred against The Church, and seems to have overcome The Church in defining morality. It is important to say early that The Church will not be defeated. Yet, if we look at Christianity from the historical perspective, and more importantly, from the biblical perspective, we understand that The Church is not immune to suffering and persecution.

It is important to make a quick point here: it is possible that God will allow American Christianity to suffer instead of taking her out the world, or Jesus returning in our lifetime. Now, I am not saying that Jesus is not going to return in our lifetime either, but it might be healthy for Western Christians to consider what may be coming our way. In fact, in my reading of The Bible, it seems to me that Christianity is made up of peculiar people who long for the Return of Christ, not so the world can finally get what it has coming, but so that this world and humanity can be healed and put right. Therefore, it is wise to check our motivation about Christ returning. Additionally, properly motivated is to long for the Return and includes Christians being examples of The Way; Christians, consider this identifier from the book of Acts.

Now, as culture has won the right to openly redefine morality, The Church should now consider how we got here and what our future may look like.

First, for too long, we American Christians have relied on legislators disciple people while we lived high-on-the-hog in our personal lives. This meant that we ignored the crucial expectation of God to be Holy, and ignored the command of Christ to make disciples. After all, who had time to make disciples? We had to pursue our goals in secular society that meant that we needed to completely focus on our jobs first, families second, pleasures third, and if there was time, we might attend an organized church service on Easter. We spent time turning immorality into political issues instead explaining in a spirit of love that certain behaviors and motives are sinful and place people at risk to miss Heaven. All of this while we ignored the poor and those who were born into tough situations of no fault of their own.

Secondly, We spent time pointing fingers at people and judging them even though they were not part of The Church. Yet, all the while we were doing the same things they were, either secretly, or we would simply say proudly, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” So we seemed to try to impact America by saying, “Do as I say, and not as I do.” Listen, this type of attitude toward sin is not going to save anyone from sin; let alone persuade someone that we know The Way. Remember though, we relied on the government to fight for us, and to disciple the population. All of the while, because of this type of attitude, those who do not know the Lord aren’t seeing people who are trying to point them to a better life, but they see people who attack them because the life they found themselves in.

It seems that we Christians better start changing our approach to winning people instead of winning society. We need to quit trying to bull people into living biblically, and start showing them. It seems now, though, there could be a great time of testing that may come upon the American Church. For too long, too many have claimed to be Christians, but in reality sinned as much, if not more, than everyone else.

Testing may come in the form of God allowing Bible “scholars” to redefine morality in a way that embraces political correctness so as to mislead those who are nominal, at best, in regard to faith. Testing may come from certain forms of biblical doctrine becoming illegal to teach. Yet, God still holds us responsible to teach it in spite of what the laws of man read. This alone will hold a great amount of tension for many who try to travel The Way.

How will this happen? Well, nominal faith already exists and many do not attend organized church, many do not read The Bible, and many who claim to be “saved” just go about their lives without regard to what is happening; let alone coming, or what God desires from us corporately and individually. After all, once we have prayed the proper phrase, then God is no longer able, or desires, to hold us accountable for what do and don’t do. Therefore, all that we cared about, self, remains good; no worries.

I am not a prophet, but I really believe that huge changes are coming in how The Church is looked at and is allowed to operate. It seems that we Christians have not realized that we have lost the culture war, or at least we don’t seem to care, and we are not prepared for what Church looks like in the coming years. And, what is worse, all of this while many Americans still claim to be born again, and megachurches continue to spring up and dominate the Christian culture. All of this while salvations are continually claimed, but do nothing to impact our culture, or our churches. Clearly, we need to begin adjusting what we are doing and reexamining our motivation for doing it.

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Where does the money go?

On the FaceBook newsfeed I’ve seen several articles and videos about where the money goes in mega-churches.  It must be part of a capital campaign, or trying to answer questions since Mars Hill in Seattle is having cutbacks take place, and etc.  It is a great question because even though I’m a pastor, I can imagine having the same question if I was a member in the church too.

First I want to applaud some of the mega-churches for giving the statistics about where the money goes.  Openness is paramount in my opinion when dealing with money.  Many of these churches have been secretive in the past, but some are being transparent and that helps when ministry is being performed in a suspicious climate.

I would like to offer another idea about where the money goes from a small church pastor’s perspective.  I have been in ministry for a while now and I’ve seen various moves, or fads, within The Church.  I’ve learned that people are a bit fickle when it comes to commitment to a particular Body of Christ.  In fact, people are very migratory.  In other words, people seem to only commit to 2 to 3 years in one church.  Then, something better comes along and they are gone.

This really isn’t an article about church attendance as much as it is about commitment.  After all, there are consequences when commitments are broken.  While poor church attendance is frustrating, it simply just keeps things from moving quicker.  Therefore, I would like to share some of these consequences to leaving the small local community church.

For starters, when Christians become migratory by leaving their community church because of age on the facility, preferred style of music, because of problems with the people in the church, or because the pastor is not someone they want to follow, there is impact to the church that has been left.  In addition, there is impact on the community that the church is in.  Plus, it is helpful to remember that relationships and problems are easily worked out by those who love Jesus; but that is another article.

Consider that for whatever reason, someone simply leaves a local congregation and attends a church out of town.  When this happens they take their financial resources with them; not to mention their manpower.  Furthermore, they take their influence with them too.  In fact, they join the vision of the pastor who may be in another community that has nothing to do with the community they live in.  This causes the local church, when enough people un-commit, to go into a type of survival mode.  I am aware that many “super leaders” in The Church would say that this is poor leadership.  Yet, it will take time to re-calibrate the vision he had for the community; if he or she had one.  Besides, the people the pastor believed were behind him or her are now no longer available.  It takes time to for a small church to replace them.

This matters because we could assume that God has that church planted in its particular community so that church could be a blessing to the people in that community.  For instance, their ministries cannot be accomplished within the community that God has placed these local churches.  This leaves people to wonder, “Where does the money go?”  After all, the money shortfall stalls the ministry to the community from moving forward.  The answer may be that the money that God gave His people who live in their community to bless and finance ministries that meet needs of people has gone into the large productions of mega-churches that are in other communities.

I should note that often I talk to believers from the community who tell me how they desire to see God do something in the community that they used to attend church.  These people will encourage me and still have the expectation that I have an assignment, but these continue to be non-participants in God’s redemptive purpose for their community.  Yet, they will travel out of town on Sundays.

Recently, a non-denominational ministry that is designed to reach kids before they are 14, ran out of money because the churches within Liberty, my local community, were not able to give enough financially for the ministry to operate.  As of now, it is operating; thank The Lord.  Yet, why is it so hard to finance that ministry?  It seems it could be argued that God’s people refuse to remain committed to the Body of Christ, that likely, The Holy Spirit placed them in.  What is worse, the local Body of Christ that they left is now stumbling and cannot move forward in a way that benefits the community.  The resources were there to meet those needs until many Christians became migratory and went to a comfortable environment that was more pleasing.

Obviously, there are “experts,” or expert debaters out there who  may be able to dispute my observations.  Yet, the fact remains, as a small church pastor, I ask, “Where does the money go?”  Once I begin the process of speculating, as I am now, I can’t help but come to this type of conclusion.  Once I reach this conclusion my next question is, “Why do people blow off the local church for the mega-church setting so readily?”  Guess who is usually contacted to go see the sick and dying.  You guessed it.  The pastors who are left in survival mode.  Many do not realize that one day this service won’t be readily available if the migrations continue; but that is another article too.

I think what is amazing is that Christians have not stopped to ask, once they are part of their new churches, a couple of questions: “Where does the money I give go?”  And, “How does my giving at this new church help my community 15-30 miles away?”  It’s amazing how much vision a local community pastor can have.  It’s also amazing how little is accomplished in the community because the manpower and finances have left the community.

In my community it is not just my small church that experiences the consequences of migration from one church to another.  It actually is close to the same from church to church.  If my opinion is close to right.  then, what type of answer will many of these Christians have to the question Jesus will likely as about faithfulness with what He gave to so that they could bless their community?  Or, does it really matter?

This was not a scientific approach and very well may be mere opinion.  Yet, in the local church that desires to serve the community, one has to ask, “What is the motive for the exodus from small churches to mega-churches outside of the community?”  Somehow it seems Christians have an agenda and God has one too.  They don’t seem the same.

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Trust in God from Genesis 12

In Genesis 12 we have the story Abram.  In my series Walking with God, I spoke about Genesis 12:1-9 because of the great promises made to Abram for following God by faith.  After all, Abram left everything he was comfortable with to follow Yahweh to a place that was still not clarified to him when he began to literally walk.  In fact, he was even able to get some people to go with him!

Genesis 12:1-9 is a great look into what it means to place all of your faith (hope, security, control, physical well-being, trust, and etc.) in an invisible God.  This is a great story since Abram lived in a time of great idolatry.  Yet, he heard God!  He heard God in contrast to those idols who cannot speak.

In Genesis 12:10-20 Abram doesn’t do so well.  In fact, all of that faith that he placed in God seems to be for a fleeting moment.  In fact, this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to actual faith.  A famine broke out where Abram was.  Here is one of life’s circumstances that simply occurs beyond our control.  However, Abram’s stomach begins to control him because he decided to move on to Egypt so that he, and those who were with him, could find food.

In contrast to the earlier part of this chapter, where I bragged on Abram’s faith, Abram was not told by God to go to Egypt.  Let’s think about this for a moment.  Abram left to go to the land that God would show him and for incentive God made great promises to him and those who were to come behind him.  In my mind, to leave in the first place, I would have to literally trust God to take care of me and my crew.  Yet, that is not what we are seeing here; at least from my vantage point.

Listen, if God was going to do all that He said He would do, then why didn’t Abram simply stay put?  Abram’s earlier trust should have come across his mind.  God had assumed responsibility for him.  He should have stuck it out, but he didn’t.  In fact, he told his wife to tell a half-truth that she was simply his sister.  Abram told her that since she was beautiful, he would be treated well and spared his life because of her.  Wow!  Where did the trust in God go?  He now seems to think that between the abilities of Pharaoh and Sarai that will be saved.

Even more troubling is that he allowed Pharaoh to take his wife to be his wife.  It is good to remember that God is Holy.  John Oswalt once said, “God is Holy! He is Holy for our good and our ill.”  Even though Pharaoh seems innocent, God is just and afflicted he and his people.  This seems to be God’s Holiness that brought ill on Pharaoh.  Further more, Abram is accumulating wealth at the expense of his wife being wife of Pharaoh!  So now we have innocent people being hurt since Sarai was born too soon for women’s rights to help her.  Likely, she didn’t have a choice in Abram’s decision; not to mention what was happening to the Egyptians people for not fault of their own in this situation.

Remember the promises God made Abram?  Since we know the story Abram, who later became Abraham, we know that God promised him and Sarai a son.  Yet, later since God seemed to be taking so long in fulfilling that promise Sarai she offered to Abram her servant Hagar.  So Abram impregnated Hagar and had Ishmael.  Nevertheless, this was not the Promised Son.  The Promised Son was to be born 14 years after Ishmael.

We have to consider how Abram’s decision to go to Egypt impacted this.  Is it possible that Isaac, The Child of Promise, could have been born sooner?  There is no way to know for sure, but consider that God would not want any connection possible between Pharaoh and Sarai.  After all, Pharaohs generally thought of themselves as gods on earth.  And for sure, I can imagine the talk among those in the camp with Abram and Sarai.

If this assessment is possible, then how much impact does a lack of faith have on God’s people?  It seems that we can prolong the good that God has in store for us by not following Him by faith.  In fact, it seems best to remain in the situation that brings you struggle until you hear from God.  Famines that drive us to make decisions irregardless of God are meant to be a time of testing our faith.  We may find that when we continually try to escape uncomfortable situations that we are demonstrating a lack of trust in God’s ability to maintain us in spite of what we face.  How much sooner would those in the camp with Abram have seen God’s power if he remained where he was?  And how much sooner would Abram and Sarai have received Isaac?  Thoughts to ponder.

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Doctrine

What I like about WordPress is that I am able to see how people found my blog.  Most of the time my blog is found it through the search engines.  One of the phrases that seems to show up often is “What do Wesleyans believe?”  Well, obviously we are Christian Protestants in the the Evangelical persuasion and should be thought of as believers who see themselves as part of the Holiness movement.  Therefore, I thought I would post our foundational beliefs along with the Calvinist viewpoint for a bit of comparison.

I will start with what Calvinists generally believe, although there is some variance, taken from the famous TULIP:

  1. Total Depravity: The personality, mind, body, and soul of a person is totally depraved.  Devoid of any ability to will spiritual good toward salvation.  There is nothing in us that can bring about salvation.  We are born with Original Sin inherited from Adam..  Regeneration occurs before faith.
  2. Unconditional Election: God has chosen some for salvation.  He has done so without regard for the decisions of those who have been chosen (Elect).  God elects, chooses, some to everlasting life no matter how hard-hearted.  He also elects others to eternal damnation.
  3. Limited Atonement: Christ died only for those whom God has chosen.  Therefore, those who are elect received salvation through His shed Blood.  Through the Blood of the Cross, Christ has redeemed by cleansing from Original Sin and sin committed before and after receiving faith, chosen ones from every tribe, nation, and language.
  4. Irresistible Grace: The Holy Spirit gives an irresistible urge to be saved to those who are elect.  Basically known as effectually drawing them to Christ so that they come most freely to that which is good.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: Those who are chosen, or elect, will persevere to the end.  They cannot fall away from the state of grace.  They cannot lose their salvation.

Wesleyans are Wesleyan-Arminian.  Our beliefs were greatly influenced by John Wesley and James Arminius.  Here is what we believe:

  1. Limited Depravity: People are deep in sin, but God has extended His grace to all so that everyone can be saved if they “will.”  Faith occurs before regeneration.
  2. Conditional Election: God has called everyone to salvation, though many whom He has called do not respond.
  3. General Atonement: Christ’s Blood was shed and is available for all.  It is applied to those who respond to His offer of salvation.
  4. Prevenient Grace: God has given prevenient grace to all, which draws them toward saving grace, but the individual is not forced to respond to God’s grace.
  5. Conditional Security: Once saved, a person will always be saved unless by defiant, continued, purposeful rebellion, they refuse grace and choose apostasy.

Here are some useful links: TULIP, Arminius’ Remonstrance. and The Wesleyan Church.

These beliefs are just two doctrinal points of view within the Protestant Church.  I suggest that if you are someone who wants to compare what people believe, then you need to go to their website.  Often mainstream denominations will have their Articles of Religion posted.  However, churches that are autonomous, meaning independant or associations, may not have websites.  This means that you would have to ask the pastor if you could see what they have printed about what they believe.

Often, many assume that everyone believes the same things.  Yet, many times Protestants only agree on a few things.  In fact, I caution you that if you ask a pastor, or someone involved in a different church, what a church associated in a different denomination believes, you should not expect total accuracy.  Sometimes people take liberty in turning what another church believes into something outlandish.

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I’ve given in

In an attempt to spur church growth I’ve decided to say that we are not going “mainstream,” but actually go mainstream.  We are going to replace are 1950′s picture of Jesus in our foyer for the Jesus that is more relevant and appeals to so many. hipster_jesus1 hipster jesus 2 hipster1

I have selected two pictures of Jesus to use and a better picture of His Disciples after one betrayed Him.  Peter snapped the pic.  Preaching  from the Bible with the 1950′s pic of Jesus just did not have the Instagram appeal that is needed to create an environment to find hope in.  It is likely that with these pics, preaching from the Bible will be more of an experience for those who want to find hope in the 21st Century.  What do you think?

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Why I am hardcore about listing salvtions

For years I’ve struggled with churches who list salvations and “celebrate,” their victories.  As a pastor, I know that I already seem awful for writing this sentence.  Yet, it really isn’t my intention to take away joy.  My purpose is to question whether or not we, as pastors, are capturing the truth of the Bible.

Consider repentance.  Most agree that repentance is a requirement for salvation.  There are two different types of repentance in the Bible.  One type of repentance is worldly.  This repentance is illustrated by someone who is sorrowful about his or her situation.  This is much like Judas Iscariot who betrayed Christ.  He was sorry because he had betrayed an innocent man.  So to escape his situation he was sorry enough to hang himself.  We may assume that he likely did not receive salvation since he did not adequately repent; and since Jesus said it was going to be bad for the person who betrayed him.

In the Bible, the repentance that leads to eternal life is known by many to be Godly repentance.  This repentance occurs when someone is sorry for his or her sin.  In fact, they are sorry enough to change his or her life from living a life of disobedience to a life of obedience.  This is foundational for salvation.  Paul, also known as Saul before his conversion, is a great example of this type of repentance since his life was completely changed on the Damascus Road.

Many pastors and theologians are now questioning “The Sinner’s Prayer.”  The concern is that many are simply hanging their hats on simply believing in Jesus and that phrase itself as if there is nothing left to do.  While I continue to use this phrase, since it helps me to explain to someone what salvation looks like, I also realize that many pray this prayer and do not really commit to the Lord.  Herein lies the problem for listing, or counting, salvations for everyone to see.  If these people never bear fruit and have nothing more to do with church, then they cannot be counted.  They are still in their old lives and not new life in Christ.

Let’s look at confession now.  Yes, I said confession.  It is biblical and not solely Catholic (Roman), but it is catholic (universal).  In fact, in the Bible we are told to confess our sins to each other (James 5:16).  But, in today’s modern church, we simply ask people to raise their hands if they want to receive Christ as their Savior.  I see reports on Facebook sometimes where members of a church talk about people receiving Christ in services and use numbers anywhere from 10-3000!  This is great news!  Yet, when you investigate what this might have looked like, these salvations were seen by a show of hands.  What about confession?

Consider John the Baptist for a moment.  When he called on Israel to repent, he did not ask for a show of hands.  He asked them to come forward to be baptized.  What of confession?  Who did those who “received” Christ confess their sins too?  I guess we could say to Jesus, but what of “to each other?”  Who will hold them accountable so that it can be measurable, really, whether or not they were actually saved?

Consider the idea of believing.  Belief is a multi-use word in our society.  For example, I believe The Statue of Liberty exists; though I have not experienced it.  I have not shaped my life after it; but I do give it patriotic praise during wartime.  Again, I believe in air which has impacted my life because I can’t stay underwater long if I should choose and I know that I am sustained by it.  Yet, while on dry land I think nothing of it.  However, believing in Jesus goes beyond that of the demons since He does have my respect.  I now use the term believe to reveal that I have staked my entire being on Him and His ability to save me physically and spiritually.  When I use that term in that way it dwarfs when I use the word believe in the context of The Statue of Liberty.  Same word, but two different intentions and outcomes.

Do those who are counted as salvations really understand what it means to believe, and how it impacts your whole life with a simple hand-raise?  We haven’t talked about Vacation Bible School yet.

What about receiving?  Reception seems to look like transformation as the result of receiving.  I am amazed on a regular basis that fruit never seems to be measurable from those who raise their hands to be saved; except in attendance at church on Sundays.  Transformation often does not take place in such a way that fruit can be measured outside of a church setting.  I likely sound judgmental.  Yet, Paul and Jesus seemed to believe that we could see the results of someone’s salvation easily.

I write this so that we can get a discussion going about what real salvation looks like.  In fact, if my concerns are valid, then people need to reexamine whether or not they received Christ.  Further, this could mean that The Church in America is worse off than we realize since numbers may be skewed.  Again, I will say that if everyone, who we like to claim is really saved is really saved, then the impact of The Church in America would not have to resort to politics to change the country, but the country would be changed by transformed lives.

I feel more comfortable to say that my church had a certain amount of salvations when people are conquering evil in their lives.  I feel comfortable when these people are active in church, and out of church.  Often churches will record many salvations, yet their attendance numbers do not change.  My fear is that we are creating manipulative excitement in order to make our churches look wonderful.  And that we are competing church with church through these possibly skewed numbers.  This is why I’m hardcore about salvations listing.

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2014 Final Four game between Kentucky and Wisconsin

First, I want to say that Kentucky and Wisconsin played a great game and these teams did not lack in effort.  These teams demonstrated what good defense is supposed to look like.  March Madness is a great time of year for college basketball fans.  In fact, for those who love college basketball it is much like The Super Bowl for NFL fans.

While watching the game I realized how large of an impact officiating has on the flow of the game.  I am usually someone who complains about referees often, and frankly, I was just angry because things didn’t go well for the team I rooted for.  However, my college basketball team is Indiana.  Indiana wasn’t invited to the tournament this year.  Further, they were not invited to the NIT either, which is another rant for later.  Therefore, I really didn’t have a dog in the hunt in the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

The problem in this year’s tournament has seemed to me that there has been a few blown calls, or non-calls.  I won’t list them here, otherwise it would cause me a great deal of typing to share what was wrong with each call. Click here for one article that addresses this problem.  These calls have impacted several games.

In the Kentucky-Wisconsin game, Traevon Jackson was whistled for three blocking fouls.  The last call was arguably a decent call.  But, the first two calls were ridiculous.  Now, the refs made, or did not make, calls that helped Wisconsin too.  Yet, I want to put for the idea of how those blocking calls, alone, impacted Wisconsin’s game.

When the referees blow calls on an impact player like Jackson, who was clearly in good defensive position to take those charges, and the Kentucky guards are allowed to drop their shoulders and dribble into the defender, Jackson, the ability to defend the lane is greatly diminished.  In fact, the result was Jackson taking an early seat on the bench for the two calls in the first half.  Not only did this impact the Wisconsin team, it empowered the Kentucky team to really hit the lane with drives from their guards.

There was a point when the feeling seemed to be that Wisconsin was going to go up 20 on KU, but taking Wisconsin’s good defense away, because of poor calls, kept the game close.  In the second half there were a couple of times when Jackson was back in that he backed up on defense to avoid getting his third and fourth fouls and allowed the Kentucky player easy access to the basket for a score.  Remember, Kentucky won this game by won.  It is easy to see how these silly calls impact the game if you simply take that one basket away because it would have been defended.

Calls were also not being made because often KU players were holding, out in the open, WU players cutting to the basket.  Imagine if these calls were made, and WU made their free throws how this changes the outcome.  It seems that KU’s guards, although Harrison made a great shot to win the game from way outside, would have rendered ineffective in the game.  Or, at least instead of Bo Ryan adjusting his game plan, then it would have been Calipari adjusting his.

At the level of the NCAA Tournament, why is it that poor officiating takes place in such obvious situations?  At the high school level, one can see a few bad calls because those officials are working a regular high school game.  The Final Four is not a regular game and you expect to have the best of the best.  Announcers were seeing those calls and commenting on them much like they were in the rest of the tournament.  Is there not an official who can observe all of the officials during the game to hold them accountable?

When kids are giving great effort, especially defensively, it is unacceptable to see officials blow calls.  The fact is, it is not one or two bad calls during the game, but it is consistently inconsistent poor calls.  Someone should be holding these officials accountable because these are high stakes games.  In my mind, the Wisconsin team played near perfect and the game was taken from them by the officials.  Kentucky played great, but  WU was better.  This is just wrong.

This is why most believe that teams like Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky, seem to get extra benefits from the officials.  The only way that I can reason out how these bad calls continue to be made is that there are some schools that hold a certain amount of respect from the NCAA and the officials so that they are favored.  This unjustly impacts programs that have worked hard to get into those major games.  In the world of replay, and everyone watching their TV’s, how is it there is no serious discussion about this problem?  Let’s hope, at some point, someone will figure this out.

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