11 things many in the church, yes even YOUR church, are in denial about.

  1. America is a Christian nation. There are still plenty of “die hards” out there still holding on to fantasy land.  Contrary to wishful thinking, the moral high ground, once held by a more singularly focused majority of Christian/Catholic believers in America, has been ceded over to secular society and a cultural “Christian club” atmosphere significantly lacking in immovable and unchangeable standards.  The unthinkable 50 years ago in terms of marital, moral and societal character has become tolerated if not boldly promoted in more and more denominations and churches across the breadth of this country.  The mantra of being “on the right side of history” is being heard with increasing volume as the church attempts to “fit in” and be found relevant in the eyes of a society which has embraced a philosophy of “all of the above” when it comes to work and play.  A humble attitude of servant hood, holiness and intercession is more imperative than ever in our role as “occupied” Christians.
  2. Divorce is not that big of a deal. This is a topic which, in most cases, requires one to change the entire focus and origin of marriage from being one of sacrifice, commitment and servant hood to a focus of selfishness and a “what makes me happy” attitude.  Marriage was intended to be a picture of the unfailing commitment of God (the groom) to his people (the bride).  So for the church to let this institution fall from its rightful position of highest importance and honor is deplorable.  In fact, if any were wondering why answered prayer seems to be harder to come by these days one need only read Malachi 2:13-16 where God plainly states that our petitions and sacrifices are no longer acceptable because of the high divorce rate among His people.  These verses should be an aha moment for the church but instead is perhaps our biggest area of denial.  High divorce rates, which God clearly hates, are literally denuding the church of its effectiveness by surrendering this most important standard to the enemy.
  3. Pornography is primarily a problem among the un-churched. Patently FALSE!  YOUR men sitting in YOUR pews in YOUR church are viewing pornography at alarming rates.  All surveys indicate that pornography viewing among Christian men is on par and in some instances higher than that of their secular counterparts.  Here are some statistics spanning 20 years.  In 1996 an informal poll was conducted at a Promise Keepers conference which indicated that 1 in 3 of the attendees admitted to struggling with pornography.  By 2009 a poll conducted by the Barna Group found 21% of Christian men saying they were fully addicted to porn and a staggering 64% saying that they viewed porn at least once a month.  By 2014, just a short 5 years later, a new Barna poll saw that number had ballooned to as high as 79% among adult Christian males. This epidemic is also probably one of the single biggest contributing factors to denial #2.

http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/penny-starr/pornography-use-among-self-identified-christians-largely-mirrors-national

Footnote:  At a recent men’s meeting at our church only about 10% of the over 200 men present raised their hands when asked “who here feels comfortable praying with their wives”.  Likely there is a direct and devastating relationship between that percentage and the percentage of those viewing porn since what guy is going to feel comfortable praying with someone they are being unfaithful too?

  1. Our Christian youth are remaining chaste. Again, patently FALSE!  And again I’m talking about your youth in your church.  Partly as a direct result of denials #2 & #3 with the added enticement of denial #5, our youth see little reason or import in purity and chastity and are in fact seduced in the opposite direction by media, movies and moral relevance.  They have watched increasing numbers of grown adults, pastors or lay church workers getting caught up in divorce, adultery, affairs, pre-marital sex and pornography with little accompanying stigma, shunning or earthly consequences.  As a result, they have grown to view participation in these areas as inevitable and the status-quo.  What was once normal and healthy curiosity held back by well articulated and time honored standards of character and chivalry has morphed into rampant sexual experimentation run amuck as any consequences of sexual sin has been clouded as they witnessed the preceding generation’s promiscuity given a progressive wink and a nod.  What has become accepted as normal in the church has little resemblance to biblical or traditional virtuous behavior.  A study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy  conducted in December 2009 indicated that 80% of evangelical youth had had sex compared to the only slightly higher 88% of secular youth of the same age.  Young Christians simply do not understand or care “what’s the big deal” as the church has failed miserably in articulating to them the abundant blessings and benefits of sexual holiness nor the dangers, statistics of sadness, divorce rates and diseases related to rejecting God’s plan.
  2. With the things people wear now days, modesty is not that big of a deal. Historically, everyone would have agreed that men are stimulated visually.  With what “passes” these days as modest one would think this well established fact had gone by the way side.  I’m here to let you know that nothing has changed in the water as myself and all the guys I know are still very affected visually by form fitting, almost revealing and “cute is the new sexy” attire popular in today’s society.  And, truth be told, this is a contributing factor in denials #3 and #4.  In no way am I suggesting Burkas as the norm for Christians.  But surely we can find some reasonable middle ground between the biblically described “bloomers” under full length robes, as instructed for those who minister before the Lord, and the almost nothing is too tight or revealing practice we see common today.  One need only do a Google image search of “sexy jeans” to understand that the very popular leggings and skinny jeans are understood by society to be “sexy”.  Is this what we want to be seeing, teaching (by practice or acceptance) and displaying as normal among Christians.  I am suggesting that it should not be so.  When almost nothing is left to the imagination, as if men needed help with their imaginations (again see denial #3), where else can you go.  I do not believe I should have to put a guard over my eyes at church.  I have to do this all day long out in “the world” and I think church, at a minimum, should be a safe place for me, my sons and the men around me (to a person, this is the opinion of almost every guy I have discussed this topic with).  Men are drawn away because of their own lust and they can’t blame anybody else. My understanding of the “preferring my brother” concept in scripture has me, for example, forgoing alcohol around a brother for whom this has been a struggle in the past and see this principal as applicable in being considerate towards all with modest dress, especially the weaker brother.  And with the porn viewing stats in denial #3 it’s clear the overwhelming majority of us are that weaker brother.
  3. Why all the fuss about homosexuality? Simply put because it is sin and it destroys lives.  It is included in a long list of sins in Romans 1 including gossip, murder, envy etc. for which there is a punishment of death.  Churches left and right are falling all over themselves to capitulate on this subject.  The Pastor of Hillsong New York, Carl Lentz, recently said “we have a lot of men and women who are gay in our church and I pray we always do”.  This was his way of avoiding taking a firm position on the acceptance of homosexuality after a couple of men in their choir (one on staff) announced they were getting married.  Can you imagine substituting a different sin in that narrative such as “we have a lot of pedophiles in our church and I pray we always do”?  That would be absurd (at least as of this writing).  Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God (no more or less than other sins) and even many in the gay community are skeptical about the goings on.  The following article is a fascinating read. http://thefederalist.com/2016/05/16/loveless-narcissistic-sex-addicts-a-gay-man-critiques-his-community/
  4. The voice of the prophet is pretty much gone/ignored. That would depend on where you look and what kind of prophecy you are looking for.  The last 3-4 decades has seen a different kind of prophet come on the scene.  They tend to be more philosophical, political or personal in their target subject.  I have no doubt that the Lord can use almost anyone to deliver His Word to His people.  I fancy myself as having prophetic leanings but I am constantly reminded that a jackass did it once which hopefully keeps my errant ego in check.  My personal take on the most common role of prophets (at least biblically) is one where the prophet indentifies areas of concern, gives a warning of impending consequences and offers steps of correction or repentance in order to prevent some or all of the fallout.  Having witnessed numerous “personal prophecies” which have been delivered to others, and even myself, over the past half century, I have not always seen these types of prophecies producing enduring fruit or valuable direction.  It certainly has happened, but it seems to be more the exception. Very recently some “prophets” identified a certain political candidate (now president) as “God’s man of the hour” – maybe, but also maybe not.  The main thing I believe is lacking when it comes to prophecy and the prophet today is accountability.  There were pretty severe consequences for false prophets in times past and I think many would think twice before opening their mouth if punishments were re-instated.  I do believe there are countless prophets today calling for holiness, integrity and commitment – unfortunately fewer and fewer are listening.
  5. God’s message is one focusing only on mercy. This one is a “two sides of the same coin” issue or one of both/and. One of my main mentors when I was a young adult was Dr. Charles Farah of the theology dept. at ORU.  He defined heresy as emphasizing one truth at the exclusion of another.  This is exactly what is occurring with the plethora of “feel good” preachers pouring in over the horizon emphasizing all the blessings and none of the curses.  The oft extravagant lifestyles and mansions combined with 6 & 7 figure incomes fly insultingly in the face of the lifestyle and message of the humble servant Jesus whom they claim to emulate.  It is these same preachers who have been the quickest to capitulate on whatever is trending in society in order to maintain their popularity as their income and lifestyles depend on it.  When a spiritual leader omits consequences or judgment from the narrative they likely do an eternal disservice to the hearer.  This is unconscionable on the part of these self serving demagogues.  The cost of discipleship is terminal as it brings us to the foot of the cross.  It is at this beloved monument where true acceptance and riches are found as we follow Jesus, embrace holiness and find true joy in the knowledge that Jesus took our judgment on Himself.
  6. Love wins! This is actually not an area of denial as much as it is an area where wishful thinking is taking a front row seat. I’m referring to the very popular book of the same name (Love Wins) by Rob Bell.  This is different than the preachers in denial #8 as Rob takes a more Universalist view of religion (I can’t bring myself to call it Christianity) in which any eternal consequences are non-existent, hell is not real and everyone will ultimately be “saved”.  I can understand the immense popularity of this message especially for those with friends or relatives who have not accepted Jesus.  The thought of some eternal physical punishment is not a happy one and to cast some spin on scripture which insures an eventual address in paradise is universally appealing.  The knowledge that we serve a patient God who is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance affords me the peace to leave ultimate judgment to His discretion.  But lacking a Judeo/Christian basis for a Universalist/no hell scenario, I cannot be party to a message which, according to the scriptures we have, defrauds the hearer by giving some transitory peace of mind.
  7. The road to heaven is wide and easy to find. No we would never actually say this, but the growth of the “Club Christian” atmosphere in the world defies the fact that scripture actually says the opposite is true. And although somewhat related to denials #8 & 9, this is perhaps the most sobering point to ponder here.  I have a love/hate relationship with the parable in Matt. 20 where the kingdom of heaven is described as being like a land owner who hires various groups throughout the day and then pays them all the same as if they had all work the entire day.  I especially like to think of God that way as I might be one of the last hires and I want all He has for me.  But then the prideful part of me sometimes feels like the one hired first with an inability to appreciate the last person getting the same as me.  I am so very glad to leave in God’s hands justice, reward and judgment.  At the same time, He did leave in our hands an abundance of scripture indicating there is both judgment and mercy.  In fact, it gives me great pause to consider the full context of Matt. 7:13, 14 which plainly states that the road to destruction is broad and MOST will find it and the way is narrow and hard that leads to life and FEW will find it.  God, be merciful to me a sinner and please help me find that most narrow of pathways that leads to life eternal!
  8. I’m sure these are issues in some churches, but not in mine. That is why I call this the top things many in the church are in denial about.  Having been youth pastors for the better part of 15 years in churches that would be considered very conservative and evangelical I can tell you my biggest concern is for our youth.  I say it that way because most all of the denials above which directly impact adults have devastating consequences on our youth.  Parents and pastors easily notice or identify problems with other churches or other people’s kids but are often blind to that which is closest to them.  I personally know several circumstances where cultural Christian young people are having sex while their parents, youth pastors or churches are clueless.  And I use the term “cultural Christian” very intentionally as this is the best way to describe the children of God fearing parents for whom Christianity is seen as a social identity instead of a relationship with Christ with eternal ramifications.  If you are in denial that these are issues in YOUR church, then this blog is ESPECIALLY for you!

I am not suggesting this is a complete list.

PS Abortion:  Thankfully this is not a denial in most churches.  But I am not sure all Christians understand the absolutely demonic nature of what has become such a norm in our society.  It is only in modern day in which the murder of babies either in or outside the womb has become acceptable.  It was only backward and barbaric nations which practiced the sacrifice of babies.  It was only amongst the most heinous of civilizations in which to slice a baby out of its mother and cut into pieces in their dying presence was considered the ultimate insult.  Here are some facts to have at your disposal if you encounter someone considering abortion and they have no “moral” reason not to.

  1. 31% of women having abortions report suffering physical health complications (1)
  2. 10% of women having abortions suffer immediate, potentially life-threatening complications (2, 3, 4)
  3. Women have a 65% higher risk of clinical depression following abortion vs. childbirth (5)
  4. 65% of women suffer symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after abortion (1)
  5. Women’s death rates from various causes after abortion are 3.5 times higher than after giving birth  (6, 7)
  6. Many women describe their experience as ‘a nightmare’, which can hardly be equated with ‘choice’. 60% of women surveyed after abortion responded that:’Part of me died’ (1)
  7. Suicide rates among women who have abortions are six times higher than those who give birth (7, 8)
  8. Abortion increases a woman’s risk of future miscarriages by 60% (9)

References

  1. Source: Rue et. al., “Induced abortion and traumatic stress: A preliminary comparison of American and Russian women,” Medical Science Monitor 10(10): SR5-16, 2004.
  2. Frank, et.al., “Induced Abortion Operations and Their Early Sequelae,” Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners 35(73):175-180, April 1985.
  3. Grimes and Cates, “Abortion: Methods and Complications”, in Human Reproduction, 2nd ed., 796-813.
  4. M.A. Freedman, “Comparison of complication rates in first trimester abortions performed by physician assistants and physicians,” Am. J. Public Health76(5):550-554, 1986).
  5. JR Cougle et. al., “Depression Associated With Abortion and Childbirth: A Long-Term Analysis of the NLSY Cohort,” Medical Science Monitor 9(4):CR105-112, 2003.
  6. M Gissler et. al., “Pregnancy Associated Deaths in Finland 1987-1994 — definition problems and benefits of record linkage,” Acta Obsetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica 76:651-657, 1997.
  7. M. Gissler, “Injury deaths, suicides and homicides associated with pregnancy, Finland 1987-2000,” European J. Public Health 15(5):459-63, 2005.
  8. Gissler, Hemminki & Lonnqvist, “Suicides after pregnancy in Finland, 1987-94: register linkage study,” British Journal of Medicine 313:1431-4, 1996.
  9. N. Maconochie, P. Doyle, S. Prior, R. Simmons, “Risk factors for first trimester miscarriage—results from a UK-population-based case–control study,” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Dec 2006.

Note: Studies 6, 7 and 8 looked at death rates for an average for up to one year after the end of the pregnancy. Another study found that looked at suicide rates for up to eight years found that, compared to women who gave birth, women who had abortions had a 62% higher risk of death from all causes and a 2.5 times higher suicide rate. Source: DC Reardon et. al., “Deaths Associated With Pregnancy Outcome: A Record Linkage Study of Low Income Women,” Southern Medical Journal 95(8):834-41, Aug. 2002.

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The Babylon Affect

Genesis 11:6 – The LORD said, “They are one people with one language. This is only the beginning of what they will do! Now nothing they plan to do will be too difficult for them.

God saw all the amazing things the “globalized” people of the earth were accomplishing and He saw it as a negative.  Why would great advancements, huge building programs and international cooperation be seen as a negative?  Because God knew that along with “nothing they plan to do will be too difficult” would also come an arrogant practice of anything goes.

So it has taken several thousands of years for the world to be “globalized” again to the point where language differences are of little consequence when all you have to do is hit “translate page” on Google or upload a comparable app on your smart phone for instant, real time translation.  Just yesterday I saw and advertisement for an ear insert that instantly translates a language.  There is again no language barrier in the world.  As a result, truly amazing things are taking place in the advancement of the world in technology, medicine, farming, science, construction, manufacturing as well as equally negative, anything goes, factors of relativism, pride and debauchery.

An amazing amount of these “advancements” have taken place in my lifetime.  I was visiting with my father a few months back and we were discussing the decline of the church’s influence in America in particular.  He made the point that WWII was a significant factor in the beginning of the globalization of the world.  Prior to WWII, the vast majority of people were born, grew up and died all within a few miles while all the time going to the same church, generally knowing the same people as well as being subject to the same peer influence and pressure for most social and character life issues.  The effect of WWII on that localized influence was monumental.  With the advancement and reduced cost of both local and international travel, it was no longer assumed that you would live and die in your “home town”.  Troops from across the globe, in addition to fighting a war, were exposed to vastly different and exciting new states, countries and cultures.  Combine this shrinking of the world via travel with the ease of international communication and collaboration and what was once the local village ultimately became the World Wide Web breaking down all remaining barriers.

Don’t get me wrong, I see it as a good thing when somebody in South Africa comes up with a piece of some medical puzzle and he is able to instantly collaborate with someone or even several someones in other countries to affect a breakthrough in medicine.  That is not the problem God saw with common tongue and communication.  It’s when some guy with a foot fetish, (or substitute some other fringe activity) who because of social media and the ability to search the whole world in an instant for others with the same interest, no longer feels alone and the need to hide or curtail his vice.  He now feels validated and accepted practicing what would have otherwise been viewed as weird and perhaps even deviant to his local community.  Don’t believe me.  Oh you doubters, there are now foot worship fetish parties all over the world.

http://www.footnight.com/la.html

When it comes to appreciating nice looking feet, perhaps there is little concern for the decline of worldwide morality.  There are, however, other incredibly destructive things which have come “out of the closet” in my lifetime.  And I’m not just talking about homosexuality.  In the big scheme of things, homosexuality may be one of the lesser evils which have found validation in today’s society as a result of the shrinking world.  By far the most destructive things to emerge “triumphant” in modern society are areas in which the church has capitulated to “right side of history” and culturally correct or expedient practices.  The reason falling standards in the church bears so much consideration is because, lest we forget, “judgment begins in the house of God” 1Peter 4:17.

I am going to be as blunt and honest as I can here because the future ability of the church to regain its effectiveness, influence and reputation in the world is at stake.  Just a short biblical lesson shouldn’t be too tedious for those who already know and it will be helpful for those who don’t (of which there are apparently multitudes).  From the very beginning of the establishment of the Jewish nation, leadership was admonished to not collect a big salary (multiply gold for themselves), to follow God’s eternal laws and to serve the people.  Most of them unfortunately failed to do this causing countless reoccurring problems.  Jesus however, as our most perfect shepherd/leader, did in fact model these eternal values by living a life of servant hood and sacrifice paired with an extremely modest lifestyle.  How is it then that today there are so many “pastors” who insult God’s commands and the very essence of who Jesus is by embracing living standards more closely resembling the “lifestyles of the rich and famous”?  It’s because they can go on line and find other pastors “succeeding” who have equally inflated opinions of themselves who live in million dollar homes and who collect 6 or 7 figure salaries.

It is primarily a modern day phenomenon in which a person can feel “called” into the ministry and service of Christ and have the prospect or expectation of being greatly enriched by doing so.  And if we are going to be completely honest, even the un-churched are often all too aware of the commands in scripture for a modest lifestyle among Christians and these affluent and greedy mega-church practices, which more closely resemble those in the corporate world, have them dismissing and tuning out entirely because of the blatant hypocrisy.

I’m going to sound a bit liberal here for a moment (please forgive me) but how do so many churches justify cushy couches, fancy coffee bars and worship leader spot lights combined with a multitude of projector screens, mood lighting and the latest internet technology while we still have the destitute, lost and desperate right outside our church doors.  I suggest it is our priorities which need remodeling – not our “out dated” facilities.  And here is the kicker, those “bigger, better, more” accoutrements are the very reason we are not drawing in or retaining our young people as they see these things as a shallow mimic of their entertainment world.  They are longing and searching for something very different than their most recent secular concert experience when it comes to engaging and worshiping a holy God – or was it for naught that God said “My ways are not your ways”?  And in Romans 12 when God exhorts us “Don’t become like the people of this world.  Instead change the way you think.”  What follows is a list of activities of servant hood, giving, teaching, showing mercy etc.  Conspicuously lacking is any mention of fancy buildings or big salaries.  This is not to say that functionally appropriate facilities are not necessary, but they cannot take precedence over the work of the ministry.

There are many more factors which have led to the church growing in its irrelevance.  In order to maintain those high salaries, fancy coffee bar lobbies and environmental sanctuaries, which by the way are resulting in ever increasing budgets, many churches have rolled over on many eternal biblical standards.  They simply can’t risk losing those tithe dollars so in order not to offend the offenders, long standing Biblical laws are massaged and equivocated on to include a hate for divorce that mirrors God’s (Malachi 2:16), an intolerance for adultery, teen sex, gossip, greed, homosexuality and more.  Pro-active mentoring and accountability for Godly character has become a fading and lost art.  I offer one glaring example from Malachi 2:13 & 14 where God plainly informs His people that the reason He no longer pays attention to their prayers and sacrifices is because of the high divorce rate.  Could it be stated any more plainly?  And here we are today with divorce rates in the church approaching the same level as in secular society.

I hope you are able to track with me on this as to the negatives of the church being “plugged in” to the progressive globalized world.  To possibly help illustrate this I will offer an example.  Most of us Christians, as well as non-Christians, view the Amish and similar communities as old fashion, behind the times and maybe even a bit weird.  But let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a minute and consider this quote from an article on the Amish Studies website.

“Why would God frown on a telephone? What sense does it make to keep a tractor at the barn but not take it to the field? Is it not inconsistent, if not outright hypocritical, to hire non-Amish drivers but refuse to own cars? And what could be the difference between 12-volt electricity from batteries and 110-volt current from public utility lines? These distinctions may look silly to outsiders, but within the context of Amish history they are important cultural adaptations that have helped to slow the pace of social change and keep worldliness at bay”.

Obviously the rejection of many types of technology hasn’t been a catch-all for the Amish, but in their close knit and tight communities the influence or validation of Biblically fringe practices have had little opportunity to foment and grow.  Not too unlike it might have been 100 years ago in a smaller community where if some guy in your church is abusing his wife and the other men in the church find out, they would have taken that guy out and given him a good talking to or more depending on the level of abuse.  Or if the guy with some other fetish or deviant inclination was unable to find others like himself in their town he might truly have understood that this was a lifestyle or way of thinking which he shouldn’t entertain.  But today, it almost doesn’t matter what fringe or deviant interest you might have, you are sure to find a few hundred if not several thousands of people “just like you” amongst the billions of people in the world for the simple reason you were able to search it on Google or some other social media and even go the their annual conference.

And on a more broad note, how is it that so many young people today feel the freedom to be dismissive and rude to their parents, teachers and other community “elders”?  Because they see it modeled every day on the latest TV sitcom, late night comedy “news” or selfie video on social media.  And if all those other young people are doing it then it must be ok and all those grey headed people are just stupid and out of touch by trying to hold onto those outdated practices of honor, character, respect, morality and hard work.  Even among many Christian youth it hardly even enters into their minds that the first commandment with a promise was to honor those “older” people in your life (parents).  They have been brainwashed into believing they know better after finding validation for their attitudes with the latest trending YouTube video and they do not even hesitate to inform you of their new found enlightenment and your “old and busted” views.

How unfortunate that the globalization and shrinking of our world through the ease of communication, and the internet in particular, has spawned 2 very different results.  One being the almost limitless capacity of our world to accomplish things formerly thought impossible as well as the ability for anti-God practices to gain an increasing foothold in the church because “everybody is doing it” and I can prove it because I read it somewhere on the internet today.

As much as it pains me (and the Lord) to say this, I don’t see things changing for the better in the church in general.  So many have fallen hook line and sinker for the Joel Osteen, Rob Bell and Carl Lentz types who embrace feel good wealth fantasies, no worries about eternal punishment and an unwillingness to call blatant sexual sin – sin.  I am feeling more and more that Jesus was not speaking metaphorically when He said that the path to eternal life is narrow and few will find it.  I am challenged everyday to watch my attitudes, anger, impatience, un-forgiveness as well as my devotion to the principals of scripture and how it compares to the life of Jesus and the fruits of the Spirit.  I have a long way to go, but I cannot turn aside  from that narrow path to run across the median to that wide and inviting road shouting to the rest of humanity, and so many who call themselves Christians, “wait for me, I’ll catch up”.  This is not about being on the right side of history.  This is about being hidden in Christ and Him alone.  And the promise is that if we do so we will be despised on this earth.

PS  As I was writing this over the past few weeks, I felt strongly that it was a prophetic word for the church.  I was praying the past few days for the Lord to confirm this word in my heart before I sent it out and this morning a good friend posted an excerpt from a short letter written by Derek Prince probably 25 years ago.  That letter parallels this blog in several ways and I felt it was a confirming encouragement to go forward.  Thanks Richard!  Link below

http://www.derekprince.org/publisher/file.aspx?id=1000021473

I have never asked this, but if this blog speaks to your spirit, pray about sharing it.

Monumental Selfishness

I write my blogs as an outlet, sometime as an outlet for passion, sometimes for a prophetic word and sometimes in disgust and anger.  This is one of those disgust and anger times (with likely prophetic overtones).  I have to be careful as my much more mercy oriented wife exhorted me to be cautious about what I might say, but I am getting closer and closer to “taking numbers and naming names” when it comes to some of the bile I see “Christians” spewing.  This will be short but goes to the core of Jesus, the Gospel, the Love of the Father and asking “just where is YOUR home?”

This blog is simply posing the question “what are the really important things in your ‘Christian’ life”?  And yes, I put Christian in quotes a second time as I suspect there are many out there who are just playing church because it’s the cool thing to do but who have little willingness to actually embrace the heart of the Father. 2 Peter 3:9

Is prayer in school important to you?  What about tax deductions for donations to the church? Are the Ten Commandments carved in stone and place in your town square important to you?  Is the preservation of your earthly home and your earthly country your focus? Are Easter bunnies and Christmas lights on your list of top ten things you must have to enjoy “your” Christianity? Then it’s just that, “your Christianity”, and not the one that I read about in the Bible which places our citizenship in an eternal heaven and not some fading home on this earth to try and fight for and preserve for “just us Christians”.

I am not saying that those things are bad, not at all.  But I am saying that if devotion to things like the ones mentioned above take priority over opportunities to lovingly rub shoulders with those who don’t know Christ then you yourself have not experienced the fullness of the love of Christ in your own life.  And this is why I call it monumental selfishness because you are choosing temporal things over the call to share eternal joy with someone who isn’t “like you”!

christian-hypocrcy

What is a Christian?

It was in Antioch where in Acts 11:26 it says that the believers in Jesus were first called Christians.  The term Christian comes from two Greek words.  The first one is referring to Christ or the anointed one and the second indicating a following or adherence to (the subject) which in this case is Jesus (Christ).  It is usually understood to identify a “follower of Jesus” or more specifically, someone who is “like Jesus” or Christ like.

The term Christian does not identify someone’s parents, nationality, church attendance, race, gender, political persuasion or club membership.  It was intended to singularly and uniquely identify someone who follows and takes on the attributes, attitudes and characteristics of Jesus.  This was important in the early church formation as to be a follower of Christ was a significant departure from the status quo of religious leaders and zealots who were joined in a corrupt hierarchical system of money, manipulation and control.  So to reflect the character of Jesus was distinct enough to garner its own descriptive term.

This is vitally important for us to understand today as the practices of Jesus (and subsequently His followers) were highlighted by humility, modest lifestyles, serving others, outreach to non-believers, modest dress, knowledge of Scripture, holiness, repentance, fellowship with other believers, spreading the Gospel, spiritual accountability, correction and discipleship.

Hopefully, for most of my readers, what I have written so far will be considered somewhat academic in nature and shouldn’t come as any shock or cause controversy.  But perhaps this next part will change that.

Identifying fellow believers in Christ was important in the early church since they were few and far between.  So when Jesus says in Matthew 7 “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” He is giving advice on distinguishing between false believers or wolves and true “Christians”.  The early church incorporated Jesus’ exhortations and used them to advise on issues of fellowship and church discipline.

Fast forward to today where the label “Christian” has come to be associated with almost a third of the world’s population, to include many top athletes, performers, politicians, motivational TV personalities and church “leaders”.  But purely from a practical standpoint, the attributes of Christ are often far removed from many of these high profile figures as well as the not so high profile.  I/we, of course, cannot judge hearts, but we are instructed on ways to judge actions, fruit, character and attitudes.

Christ is in the business of transforming and changing lives from the corruptible to the incorruptible, from unholy to holy and from earthly focused to a focus on eternity.  It is not some small and insignificant power by which Christ influences lives towards sanctification.  It is the unlimited power of the creator of the universe which courses through the lives of those who have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for our sins.

I can’t say for certain why so many today, who have little or nothing to do with Christ and His character, identify themselves as Christians but I can speculate.  First off, they simply do not understand what it means to be a Christian.  Take Trump for example; I think we are all aware of his interview where he was asked if he had repented and ask God for forgiveness and he didn’t even really know how to answer the question.  This is not intended to be a slam to Trump but rather highlighting his understanding of Christianity as being one of the most common out there.  Many simply don’t have much of a clue as to what it really means – the extent of their knowledge is that their parents were Christians or they were “raised” in church.  Then there are those who may have a pretty good understanding of what it means to be a Christian but they have little interest in actually living a Godly life but they understand that to identify as a Christian affords them some particular status or image as an impression in other people’s minds.  Sort of like if I tell people that I am a skydiver they will automatically put me in the category of crazy, extreme sport or daredevil even if I have never actually jumped out of a plane.  There are those who don’t want to disappoint family or friends and continue to pose as a Christian simply to keep up appearances out of a sense of obligation.  There are those who do it for financial gain.  And then there are those who do it because it is some trending thing to wear a cross or thump your chest and point to the sky.

Bottom line, in my opinion, the days are such that we can no longer warm up to or tolerate posers as representing Christ and the church.  In the same way we would unanimously reject the Westboro group as not representing Christian values, I believe we must distance ourselves from an increasing number of what I will call “wanna be” Christians who for reasons of financial, political or social gain preach, chest bump or bow at the altar of a pop-culture religion that has little to do with the life and lifestyle exampled by Christ.  I submit that these types are eminently more dangerous than the Westboro crowd as they are far more socially acceptable yet blur the focus and distinction of the cross of Christ to those around them and in some cases to the nation and the world.  The line of difference must be as clear and distinct as the character and nature of Christ or, honestly, there is no difference.

Matt. 7:14 How narrow is the gate and how constricted is the road that leads to life, and there aren’t many people who find it!

1 Cor. 5:12 After all, do I have any business judging those who are outside [the Christian faith]? Isn’t it your business to judge those who claim they are inside?

Being like Christ is the issue, not blue blazers or Khakis!

The following link was posted on our facebook thread today.  It is an article which basically encourages giving a pass on certain activities to certain new converts or congregations who practice differently than you practice.  The author mentions activities such as a person smoking a cigarette, using foul language or the less than stellar former lives of some of the 12 disciples.

http://www.faithit.com/f-bombs-and-bikinis-what-it-really-means-to-be-a-christian/smoking man

I understand that many Christians do not drink or smoke and they refrain from activities like these for various reasons.  The Bible is clear that Christian are not to get drunk, but there is actually no prohibition on either smoking or drinking and in fact it is clear that Jesus and the disciples drank alcoholic beverages.  Were they ever accused of being drunk?  No!  Were they ever accused of being foul mouthed?  No.  Were some of them foul mouthed prior to accepting the call to follow Jesus?  Likely so.  Did a couple of them get off base when they wanted to call down fire from heaven?  Absolutely, and Jesus didn’t hesitate to call them out for their horrible behavior and rebuke them.  What they did before choosing to follow Jesus is germane only to the extent it displays for all to see that grace and salvation is available to all.  And the Holy and sacrificial lives they lived after Jesus called them out is a testimony to the character of Christ which they took on thereby causing others to call them “Christian” or like Christ.

Christ expects perfection from us (Matt. 5:48) but He also understands that salvation is a process of sanctification.  I find it odd that the author chose to focus on foul language and the F bomb for leniency since changing the words one uses in conversation is probably one of the easier areas in which we can be more like Christ.  I have a much harder time with patience, envy, anger and materialism.  A conversion experience should speak for itself in a life converted to be more like Christ through repentance and turning away from our former life.

Tim Enloe tells of a people group in Tanzania who although they have never previously heard the name of Christ or met any Christians, once they hear the Gospel and accept Christ as their Lord and Savior they immediately stop the status quo of horrible sexual practices and beating their wives.  They don’t even have to be told the whole gospel to immediately understand in their renewed conscience that some things are simply not to be a part of their lives any more.  But then Tim doesn’t present some “join the club” form of Christianity.  They present a gospel more in keeping with the “Christ bids us come and die” concept as presented in “The Cost of Discipleship” book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Perhaps a huge disservice is being done by those who call people to come and “join” without explaining the true cost of following Christ.

“Wise as serpents and gentle as doves”

MYOB!  I would love for someone to show me the chapter and verse where “mind your own business” is the way forward with the Gospel.  There has been outrage in the past couple of days because the pope identified characteristics that he doesn’t see as being Christ-like (Christian) in Trump.  Frankly there are countless other characteristics in Trump which I feel more strongly suggest a lack of being like Christ (affairs, divorces, denigration of women, etc) than the suggestion of  building walls but that is maybe for another blog.  I am not going to debate Trump’s standing before God, but the outrage has followed something like this “no one has the right to question someone’s faith or religion”.

Really?  Why do we have missionaries?  Why do we have discipleship? Why do we have CR?  Why do we have accountability groups? Why does scripture – IN MANY PLACES IN BOTH THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS – command us to confront bad behavior with the judgment that we will be found guilty of the same sins if we don’t?  Why does scripture say that “by their fruits you shall know them”?

There is a huge difference between discernment and judging – judging is God’s role which is the authority to carry out punishment.  But the current decline of morality in both in the secular community and the church is a direct result of MYOB.  The Biblical fact is that we ARE our brother’s keeper.  And continued failure to act as such will only perpetrate the church’s slide into oblivion and insignificance.  Many wave the “judge not that ye be not judged” verse while ignoring all the other verses about holding people accountable – how’s that been working for us?  I personally have little interest in being part of one more social club to join and party with.  That’s not what I signed up for, that’s not what drew me to the cross and that is most certainly not what Christ died for.

So whereas building walls can be seen as being wise, to also look for ways to build bridges (done wisely) must also be part of the way forward for peace and the spread of the Gospel.

I will never be able to understand why the church has such a great desire to blend into the fabric of the world when every indication in scripture warns us against doing just that.  Never was a scripture more prophetic for today than “How narrow is the gate and strict the way that leads to life, and FEW are those who find it” – Jesus!

I read it on the Internet so it must be true – right?

There are lots of places to get your news and information these days – CNN (leans left), FOX (leans right), NPR (leans intellectual), the Internet (leans – everywhere), gossip magazines (leans to the gullible & bored), the government (leans politically expedient) and then you own personal experiences which although definitely lean true, they might not be the whole truth.

Here are a couple of examples to illustrate my point.  In just the last couple of days Barbie has been told that Michelle Obama is really a man and that Barak is gay.  Follow that up with the “breaking news” there is a project in Alaska called HAARP which “they” are using to cause (among other things) the drought in California and the earthquakes in Oklahoma.  The sinister motive behind the infamous “they” is to cause everybody to move out of California and return the fertile valleys to Government lands and the earthquakes, which center around Cushing, are an effort to disrupt the oil industry and once and for all stop the Keystone Pipeline project.  It didn’t take much checking to find out that the HAARP project was scrapped in the last few years due to lack of success and funding and earlier this year the entire project was deeded over to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks.   And here is the really scary part, the people who told Barbie of these ridiculous conspiracy theories were “mature” adults (55 years+) one of whom works in education at a local university and another attends our church.  The internet was cited as the source of these stories when Barbie asked.  I did some checking (on the internet) and the Michelle/Barak story was originated by none other than the trusted investigative reporter Joan Rivers.

By the way, I am not going to discuss either these issues here (or anywhere else for that matter), but I would like to discuss the fact that just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it so.  I have read or listened to numerous reports or rants about the proposed acceptance of Syrian refugees in recent days. They have covered the gamete from “they are part of a well planned Trojan horse” to keep out at all cost to “God is love” and because of that fact it follows we should let them all in.  Most notably have been numerous reports that there is little to no risk in letting them in and especially the widows and orphans because the vetting process is almost foolproof in weeding out all (current) jihadists.  There are likely elements of truth in all these angles.

I would like to share a story directly related to this discussion from my own personal life experience – not off the internet.  When Barbie and I first lived in Israel in the late 70’s things were drastically different from today.  It was very common for the population to tramp (hitchhike) all over the country accepting rides from whoever stopped, whether Jew or Arab.  People didn’t think twice about shopping in East Jerusalem, the Arab quarter of the Old City, Bethlehem or Gaza.  If you rented a car you could drive wherever you wanted with no concern beyond a flat tire.  Yes there were occasionally terrorist attacks, but in most cases they were carried out by jihadists who had snuck across the border from Jordan or Syria in the hours before the attack.  In other words, the vast majority of the Arab population were living and loving life in a peaceful co-existence with their Israeli occupiers.  Fast forward to the early 90’s when we lived there for a couple of months as part of YWAM (Youth With a Mission).  Imams from the surrounding Arab countries began to garner greater and greater control over the Arab population in Israel to the point there were significant security concerns at many of the traditional tourist locations such as Bethlehem, Jericho & Hebron.  And a visit to Gaza was totally out of the question.  The team we led got a pretty good feel for the deteriorating situation as we spent a lot of our time in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  We were strongly cautioned about taking our rental van into predominantly Arab sections of the country as ambush attacks on cars with Israeli tags were on the rise.  Barbie and I have been able to visit Israel a couple more times in the last 20 years to include a spring trip last year.  Now there are walls, fences and checkpoints everywhere, you are forbidden from taking rental cars into many areas and a population that some 30 years earlier was not radicalized has been, in just one generation, transformed into what may well be a radicalized majority who are carrying out knife, car and gun attacks (some by women and young boys) almost on a daily basis from Arabs within the country.

You see, to truly understand Islam, you must understand the huge influence the main Imams have over their “flock”.  Not too unlike prominent Christian leaders such as the Pope, Billy Graham and Joel Osteen have over trends in Christianity – some good and some not so good.  In Islam, there are a significant majority of the Imams calling for jihad.  Take note that one thing that has been missing in response to the recent terrorist attacks has been any broad scale denouncing of them by the Imams of the Islamic world.  Yes, there have been some Arabs who have denounced these acts, but what has dominated the headlines are things like what happened a couple of days after the Paris attacks when Turkish fans booed and shouted Allahu akbar during a moment of silence to honor the Paris victims before a soccer match between Turkey and Greece.

So is there risk is bringing the refugees here?  Yes, there are absolutely great risks and anybody who dismisses the cautions claiming there is little to no risk either doesn’t understand Islam, has little interest in learning or they read something on the internet to the contrary.

Having said all that, as a Christian, I must try and view this situation through God’s eyes and a heavenly perspective.  The US is not my real home, I hopefully count my life on this earth as no value for the sake of the Gospel and what if all this is part of Gods grand plan to bring those in desperate need of the Gospel right to our door step?  As one who has been involved in mission work in the Middle East, I can tell you it is very difficult if not forbidden to do mission work over there.  And this refugee challenge might just be a golden opportunity for the Church to strategize together for the sake of the Gospel.  What if Churches across this country offered to sponsor refugee families on a grand scale?  Not to cram the Gospel down their throat, but to love on them, serve them and help them get jobs and housing in a strange new country.   What if?

I love and am challenged by the story of the Moravian missionaries Dober and Nitschmann who went so far as to sell themselves into slavery in order to bring the Gospel to the West Indies in 1732.  There was of course great risk for them to do that, and although there is risk in bringing Syrian refugees to American soil we too could echo the cry heard from Dober & Nitschmann from the bow of that ship as it pulled out of that German Harbor –

“May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering!”