Leadership in Today’s Church

(started in 2013 but didn’t publish until today 2017)

When you come to the webpage to write a blog, you automatically go to the first line…the “Title” line…and I have no idea how to even begin to write this, much less what I title it.  It is much bigger than I can wrap my mind around because it comes from a love of God’s people, the Church, which has taken years to progressively grow, love for my brothers and sisters in Christ, including family, from many different theological backgrounds and positions.  As I try to wrap my mind around around what I want to say, I don’t even know where to begin, nor where I’m trying to end up with this.  This is coming from the writing of my presentation for my internship here at Mars Hill Church, from a material we use called “Porterbrook.”  The presentation I was giving was on the section entitled “Understanding Leadership.”

Normally whenever I’ve read that statement or even anything with the term “Leadership” attached to Christian ministry I’ve automatically judged and disregarded reading anything further.  However, this time I was forced to read further, because I have to write a one page synopsis on this topic for the unit.  To let you in on my mental process into why I didn’t like the term “Christian Leadership”…I basically interpreted any teaching on leadership as a “Used Car Salesman Approach to Church Leadership.”  I saw any leadership resources as ways to teach “pastors” how to control, dominate, influence, manipulate, and coerce people in the church to do what you say and rally the congregation around you and your ideas, no matter how biblical or not they were, and not on biblical characteristics or the leadership of Jesus by the power of the Spirit.  While this may have some ground for truth in some resources, it was not necessarily generally true.  There are many pastors who strive to faithfully lead and love those who have been entrusted to their care.

“Leadership” – so what does this word mean?  What is it?  What does it look like?  First we have to remove ourselves from the view that this is talking about telling other people what to do and extract manipulation from its definition.

To try to bring some clarity to my next section, I also want to be clear about a few things that I don’t mean.  I do not associate Evangelicalism to patriotism (nationalism) – I do not believe that America is a Christian nation, nor has any favor of God as a country, so when I speak of the Church, I do not mean this patriotic “God Bless America” religion, who’s god is the Republican elephant or even trying to advance one nation.  I also do not mean Fundamantalism – a flight from cultural involvement and transformation and operating out of a sense of a “moral majority” mentality who desires to force Christian moralism upon the pervading  culture.

Democracy is one of the biggest nemeses to the leader is the innate Western issue concerning leadership, especially leadership in the church.  In this form of thinking, “my” opinion is just as valid as any other voice.  I was having a conversation with a gentleman the other day as we threw out the statement “I wonder if Facebook is the greatest demonic creation of our generation.”  As sinfully oppressed beings, we instinctively desire autonomy from any leading/ruling body or person.  Especially in this generation, we as individuals, do not want to be ruled over or led.  We want to do what we want to do, for others to accept us the way we are no matter what we do or say, because we are expressing our individualism, and we, in our own heads, are always right – or at least we’d like to think of ourselves.  The self is about the self, as the self is itself consumed with itself. The problem with democracy in society is not just that it is filled with broken sinners in need of grace, but rather that the democracy ideology itself permeates every area of our western culture.  Majority defines “right” and “wrong.”  There are many implications within the rising generations and how our “me” ideology has infected and will, for the next decade or longer, become the leading force of problems as a society politically, religiously, and economically.  This comes into play specifically as we teach the coming generations about leadership and those in authority.

We live in rebellion against “the man” as a culturally accepted norm.  Anything that is seen as corporate, big, ruled over by a leader is evil.  Movies and music have been made to depict any and all leadership as malicious as comparable to totalitarian warlords.

When I would envision someone in “Leadership” I saw them as this “used car salesman” types who had pizzazz, charisma, flair, eloquence, a chiseled jaw line, fine dressed, perfect teeth (like a worship leader I saw recently) whose intention was to manipulate me and pull the wool over my eyes.  But leadership is not about our ability to coerce others to do what we want them to do, believe what we tell them believe, convince them to “buy into our vision,” or even rally around us as a leader.  Leadership, good leadership, is about character and competence.  Leadership, namely Christian Leadership, is ultimately and always about leading people to the knowledge and worship of God.

How do we observe this is the scripture?  Look at each figure who God used as a leader in the story of God.

  • Abraham – fathered a people for God’s own purposes
  • Joseph – was key in God’s preservation of His people
  • Moses – deliverance and establishment of the covenant with God’s people
  • Joshua – led God’s people into the promised land
  • David – represented God’s good rule over His people
  • Nehemiah – Gave hope to God’s people
  • Jesus – Accomplished final deliverance and salvation for His people by placing His Spirit into His people
  • Paul – God used him to lead to the flourishing of God’s new covenant people
  • John – Showed Christ’s’ Church the final hope of God’s Glory and the rule and reign of Christ

These are just small attributions of each of these leaders and is not an exhaustive list, but seeing them in the frame of mind of being powerfully used by God as “Leaders” of His people throughout history.

We need to take our cues on leadership from Christ, His written Word, and His Holy Spirit within us; not from the business world.

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Why is the church “dying”?

It’s simple . . . it’s not.

The Church, the bride of Christ, is not dying, nor can she.

There are many dead and dying “church organizations” in the world, but THE CHURCH, is indestructible, eternal, under the sovereign hand and protection of Christ, and will endure.

How easy is it to “plant” a church organization?

Things you need to exist as an organization:

  • 501 (c) 3 status
  • Pastor (CEO)
  • Secretary Treasurer/Clerk (CFO/COO)
  • Worship Service
  • Bank account
  • Givers to fill the bank account
  • Building that is built/purchased in the name of the organization
  • Board of Directors/Leadership/Elders/Deacons
  • Marketing/Missions/Multiplication
    • Website
    • Facebook
    • Flyers
    • Focus on evangelism
    • Door to door surveys
    • Other various “missions” programs
  • Small Group Bible Studies / Sunday School

Things you need to exist as the Church:

  • The Holy Spirit

This may seem overly critical and simplified, after all planting a church organization takes a lot of long hard work.  But the question is; should it?  Think about it, if the Church is a work of God, should it take effort on our part?  Yes.  Should it kill us?  No.  Could it cause us to be killed by unbelievers around us?  Maybe.  What is the work?  Proclaiming the gospel of life and watching the LORD save and bring spiritually dead people to life.  Being rejected and seeing many more spiritually dead people remain spiritually dead.  But as we see people come to faith in Christ, as we see people grasp the grace of Christ, we will see the Church grow.

How does it grow if there’s no 501(c)3 church organization with a building and structure?  Let’s look at scripture.  Where did they meet?  There are FAR too many scriptures to quote (and even if I tried, I would be guilty of proof-texting) that speak to this, so read the New Testament . . . yes all of it.  If you want a really great historical/chronological read view of the New Testament Early Church as who she truly was, check out the book that leads you through a beautiful view of the history and life of the New Testament Church in The Untold Story of the New Testament.  What follows is my interpretation of scripture and Church history based on biblical, historical, scholarship, and archeological studies.

The Church, the group of people who were given salvation through the indwelling Holy Spirit, began meeting house to house and also met together in large groups in the temple courts (specifically Solomon’s portico) to listen to the teaching of the apostles (the “sent ones”) until they were banned from all Jewish gathering places such as synagogues and the temple itself (which Jesus said would happen).  The majority of Church gatherings/meetings met in homes as the foundation of their time together.

Around the middle-latter part of the 3rd century there were some people who expanded their homes to build enlarged living/dining/meeting room spaces for larger groups of people (see dura europos).  Church buildings didn’t arise until the rise of Catholicism in the 4th century with Emperor Constantine.  *For more on this see Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity.  The majority of the Church met in homes in groups of about 20-30, or depending on how many people they could comfortably fit in each home.  They didn’t call themselves a “small group” of a larger “church organization;” they simply called themselves “the Church that is in ______________ ,” a community that manifests the presence of Jesus Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit in a specific geographical location, and every home that had a group meeting in their home called themselves a part of “the Church.”

They met together, but didn’t just meet with one another; they believed they were meeting/gathering with, manifesting, and experiencing the very presence of the living Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit that dwelled within each of them.  They would hear from Jesus because they didn’t believe they were a bunch of individuals who gathered to read the Bible and discuss “what this passage means to me,” but would read scripture and ask, what is Jesus speaking, or let us express this to Jesus who is present with us.

This isn’t reserved only for the early Church, but occurs even still today!  In Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church we see things that happened scripture occurring today in many home Church gatherings that have stepped out in faith to live the scripture, live how the early Church lived, and not only that, but to believe like the early Church believed.  They believed they were saved by grace through faith, not bound by the law, nor licensed to sin, but freed from both the law and sin and made alive through grace.  They believed they were indwelled with the very presence of the Almighty LORD God and ruler, creator, and sustainer of this world and of the universe.  They believed they were holy and that whenever and wherever they met/gathered became a holy place because it was being filled with God’s holy people, the Church.  They did NOT believe that the Church was a building, an organization, a pastor, or even just a group of people who met for a meal, an event, a “service,” or a group therapy (as many believe today).  They believed that wherever God’s people met, who were indwelled with the Holy Spirit in order to manifest and experience the presence of Christ together, that was the Church.

So what about our dead and declining churches today?

We’re seeing dying and declining church organizations.  Why?  Because many are simply long existing social clubs that have used the Bible to preach morality, works, and “salvation” in an effort to continue existing.  They seek after new marketing strategies, adding young people to the mix to continue bringing in people, money, and time.

I’m reminded of the movie In Time.  In this movie, society has figured out a way to genetically modify people in order for their bodies to stop aging at 25, and then they buy, earn, give, barter, or steal time to continue living until they are killed or the meter on their arm runs out of time and they die.  Their time literally “runs out.”

The mindset is that we have to continue working to feed the church organization new people, new givers, new attendees, new “customers,” and new “investors” in order to buy more time for our church organizations to continue to exist.

What would the Church be like if it didn’t NEED an offering to exist?  What would that Church be doing, what would that Church be believing about themselves, how would that Church use financial gifts, goods, and services so that no one in the Church had a need and they could bless their unbelieving neighbors who had a need so that they could bring the kingdom near and bring others into the kingdom?

The Perceived Problem . . .

There is a mass exodus of people leaving church organizations specifically here in America.  Christian leaders are writing books entitled Autopsy of a Deceased Church or Growing Young among many others to try out different marketing strategies to “reengage” with culture, to “get church attendance up,” to stop the decline, and to regain church prominence in American society who is “kicking God out of schools and government.”  There has been the constant presence of “God” through “Christendom” (Christianity in social, political, economic, and cultural prominence) in America, with its peak in the 1950’s.  Since then, we have seen a massive decline over the years of both the amount of attendees, acceptance, prominence, and desire for involvement in church and by church in American society in all forms.

As I’ve said many times and will continue to say, I see this trend and I am grateful.  Many have written about the “rise of the nones” – meaning, there is a great rise in people who check the religion box “none” on survey’s.  This doesn’t mean that people are ceasing to be Christians, it simply means that people are ceasing to pretend to be Christians and are being honest.

The gospel of salvation by grace through faith in the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the LORD Jesus Christ is foolishness and offensive to those who are perishing (nonbelievers/outsiders).  Many churches don’t preach the gospel of grace because they want attendance to stay up in order to continue to exist.  Grace doesn’t sell.  Works sells.  Self-Help sells.  Church organizations with flashing lights, free food, and fun/cool market strategies to bring in the crowds sells.

Would your spiritual life in the Church be enough without a church name, without 501(c)3 status, with no offering, no church building, no administrative offices, no worship service, no Facebook, no website, and no bank account?  If Jesus and His presence aren’t enough, maybe you need to rethink what you were saved into or whether you know Jesus at all.

 


 

Do you sit there in your church building before, during, or after the service and wonder if this is it, if this the entirety of what Jesus came to build?  Do you sit there and wonder, “Is this it?  There must be more!”  I believe Martin Luther’s work is far from over.  What he began was LONG overdue, but he being a part of that which distorted Christianity to begin with in the 4th century, the Catholic church, he was only able to stomach so much change.  I believe there is currently and coming a “neo-reformation” or “continued reformation” that is bringing the heart of His Church closer to what she was intended to be and do and believe and experience.

The Church and the continued reformation cannot be “simplified” to one blog nor to one person.  As this is a much longer, larger, and convoluted discussion.  To start somewhere, check out my teaching series through Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity, Andrew Farley’s book The Naked GospelLarry Crabb’s books Understanding Who You Are, Connecting, and SoulTalk.  This is just to get started.

Be a part of what Christ is doing in the life of His Church, His Bride, His Body, His People, and see what grasping the power of the gospel of grace through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

8 Responses When Your Church Leaders Fail You

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While I know there are many other stories than mine (which I have written here), and yours may be much different than mine and I know for many of you the stories may be more difficult and painful.  I thought it helpful to consider these 8 responses to what to do when church leaders fail you:

 

1. Don’t demand something from the person who hurt you

We often think that someone who has hurt us OWES us something. They owe us an apology, a severance, a reinstatement of us back into our position, or a public confession of how they hurt us (even if it was a mistake and not a sin).  This is not a reflection of Jesus who took upon Himself God’s penalty for our sins and mistakes.  To portray Christ, we need to first see how He lived, that He desired above all things – repentance.  Repentance is something that involves them and God first and foremost, as David said, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4), even though he impregnated Bathsheba and murdered Uriah.  Others were implicated in his sin, but He sinned first and most damnably against God.  But remember, we also sin against people through rebellion and make mistakes through our own folly, so we need to seek repentance before God and experience His forgiveness and then if people are implicated in our sin,  seek their forgiveness and restoration in our relationship with them because Jesus desires unity in His Church and most importantly, for us to “Love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:34-35).  As Paul says in Colossians 3:12-13, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”  We forgive, not because they have done anything to merit our forgiveness or to deserve our love, but because we put on the character of Christ as a new creation with new desires, with supernatural abilities to be exude kindness, humility, patience, and have compassion for people so as to be able to forgive people with the same veracity that God in Christ has forgiven us.  And so our indignation is calmed and our vindication is made complete because of what Christ did for both my sin and their sin on the cross.

 

2. Don’t demand your own penalty upon that person

We can often feel vindicated by asking for them to step down from their position or even a public announcement of their sin and shame both maybe in public media fashion (as is the trend today with big digital “Christian” news and gossip blogs).  As Paul states, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).  As this is used in many wedding ceremonies for a husband and a wife, yet was actually intended as an admonition to the church in Corinth, imagine a healthy, loving, Godly marriage.  They work through their problems because they are covenanted together, they love one another, and work for the good and unity of their marriage.  So we are to fight for unity and oneness in the church because we are covenanted together as the body of Christ.  I don’t seek the public humiliation of my fiancé, nor will I demand a public shaming of her when we are married, so why do we seek this form of humiliation upon those who love and serve us in leadership?

 

3. Receive grace

The gospel is that Jesus came to those who would murder Him to bring restoration between mankind and God.  He laid Himself down, He humbled Himself, He sought the good of people, and to fulfill the will of the Father.  He lived the perfect lives we could not live and died the death we deserved, so that He could bestow His righteousness upon us for our imperfect lives, and become the substitute dying in our place, bearing our sins in His death, so that we would then be resurrected with Him and He was raised from the dead. Those who believe in His name are empowered with the same Spirit of grace.  When we sin or make a mistake, we don’t have to have fear to hide it, to be shamed by it, or to live in fear because of it.  The ultimate wrath for our sin and shame was placed upon Jesus and we don’t bear that anymore.  We bear consequences for our sins and mistakes, but we must first know and experience the grace of Christ and then we are free to accept responsibility, apologize when we have wronged someone, and seek restoration because we know that God desires peace among His people.

 

4. Give the grace Jesus gave

In this way we experience the Kingdom.  Jesus came to inaugurate the coming of His kingdom.  The miracles Jesus performed were His kingdom bursting through into the world showing us that there will be no blindness, physical ailment, pain, sickness, or even death.  There will be plenty to nourish all, no worries about money, and we will have perfected relationships.  This is how the kingdom of God penetrates this world.  The church is the place and the people that God is using to do this in this world.  It’s supposed to be weird, because it’s different.  We turn the other cheek, give our tunic also, give to those who ask, not seek back what is stolen, and love when others hate us.  Why?  Because that’s the kingdom.  In God’s kingdom there will be no one who strikes us, who steals from us, who begs from us, or who hate us.  And this is how we portray what that kingdom looks like.  Give grace to the one who hurts you, who, by their folly or sin, have a harsh impact on you and your family.  The only way we can still seek vindication is if we have not first experienced the grace of Christ and let Him heal our hearts.

5. Don’t rally opposition or “recovery” relationships

When I was hurt, I would seek people who were also hurt by this church and its pastor, would have lunch with them, talk about our stories, and why they were the worse kind of people.  We would celebrate their folly and revel in their struggling.  I would feel justified and somewhat vindicated by doing this.  I would publicly shame them in class when we would be talking about church discipline and would use any opportunity I could to simply point arrows over their walls and join others in doing so, in the name of “Recovery.”  This isn’t how Christ desires for us to find healing and restoration.  I don’t know of any teaching in scripture that says, “if restoration doesn’t work, blast them publicly and force repentance out of them by openly shaming them before unbelievers.”

 

6. Seek wise counsel if considering moving on, and move on graciously if you do

Really seek wisdom as to why you are deciding to leave a church.  It is far too common in our day to leave a church and move on to another one, and often times for menial reasons.  There are many stories of churches splitting or people leaving churches because of differences of opinion over which side the piano should be, if Adam and Eve should have had navels in the mural they painted on the wall and other such nonsense.  There is much foolishness in the people.  We need to meet with, wrestle with, and be open to hear from those who are wiser than us, not going to someone who will tell us what we want to hear and justify us in our indignation, but someone who will speak the truth in love with us, to ask us questions to make us think, consider, and contemplate our decision and ask them to pray with and for us through making this decision.

 

7. Pray for the good of the person and the ministry you are leaving

It is very difficult to hate someone and desire their destruction when we are praying for God’s heart for that person because Jesus loves them, He created them in His image and likeness, their identity is not in the sin they committed against you, but is found solely in Christ Jesus.  When we pray for God’s bride, the Church, He makes it difficult for us to remain hateful and vindictive against His people because He loves His Church, imperfect as they are.  If the church is preaching the gospel and faithfully teaches the Bible, pray for the church and the pastors who have hurt you, pray for their good, that God would work in and through them, that He would work to soften and mold their hearts to become more like Christ, and for Him to be made much of in that church if they are struggling to teach what accords with sound doctrine.

 

8. Continue to love Jesus AND the Church, His bride

When we have been hurt by the people and the institution that represents LORD that we believe in and worship, it remains difficult to associate the continuation of worship after we have the situation. If things get to the point where you’ve sought reconciliation, consulted wise counsel, prayed fervently over the person, the church, and the situation, and you come to the conclusion that you need to move on, I would encourage you to get plugged into a church that loves Jesus and preaches and teaches the Bible as soon as you can.  Don’t dottle around, dating churches here and there, never landing anywhere, becoming one who has a “private faith” – this disconnects you from the body of Christ. This cultivates a heart of bitterness, strife, anger, and resentment making it all the more difficult to join another church body.  It is very important to understand this last point: You will never find a perfect church, that will serve you perfectly, love you perfectly, and that will make no mistakes or hurt anyone. We are an imperfect people serving a perfect Saviour and we need to lean into Him, trust Him, find our solace in Him, and He will give us rest for our weary souls and help us to love the Church, His bride.

Disagreement Among Brothers

CONFLICT

I remember when I was a kid and my best friends and I would be hanging out, something would be said or done, and a fight would break out.  I was typically not involved in it because I have never been one who enjoyed or desired to participate in fighting.  In fact the only memory I have of being in a fight was a very small one in which my friend and I were in our club house (a big washing machine or dryer box his parents gave him after their recent purchase) and something was said or done and he started hitting me, and I made my way out of the box, and very frustratedly told him that if he couldn’t work out problems without feeling the need to hit me, then we couldn’t be friends anymore (except I probably did it a bit more incoherent and flustered, being a 7 year old and all).  Well needless to say, we continued being friends, being neighbors and all, and we remained friends until I moved away.  I did not come from “that” family who had several boys who liked to beat up on each other, throw each other in trash cans, vandalize each others stuff, or maim each other in the name of familial love.  I grew up with an older sister, a mother who worked in Special Education, and a father who was and still is in student ministry in the church.  I was raised to solve conflicts in way that extinguished anger, brought peace, and resolution without suffering (which makes me sound like Yoda).  Have I always been perfect or even good at this?  No.  By all means, I’m still sinful, but we, through humility and repentance, can and ought to strive for peaceful resolutions amongst conflict, especially with our brethren in the Church.

Conflict is going to be a reality in our world today.  Between Facebook, academic papers/presentations, magazines, articles, journals, and blogs we are going to offend someone simply by affirming a belief, proposing a question, being funny, romantic, or sarcastic…we will cause conflict.  How we solve such conflict reflects what we believe about Christ and how we live out our theology.

There are many “hot button” issues that have been and will continue to escalate into the forefront of discussion…and conflict.  Issues such as homosexuality, women in ministry, American politics, the authority of scripture, predestination, end times, alcohol, marijuana, sacraments, church politics, etc…

When it comes to friendship, what role does our theology take?  Theology indeed can unify and it can divide even the strongest of friends.  The impact one’s theology has on their ability to create and maintain friendships is in direct correlation to how much one believes his/her theology establishes right relationship with God.  We are more naturally inclined to befriend people with whom we have commonalities.

To what extent, pragmatically speaking, can an egalitarian relate and commune with a complementarian, an outspoken “Christian homosexual” with a conservative Deacon, a calvinist and an arminian, someone for WIM (Women In Ministry) vs. a Conservative (only men in the pastorate/eldership), an inerrantist with someone who has a much looser stance/view of scripture, a charismatic with an secessionist, or any other such combination of theologies?  We are going to have conflict.  It’s not going to go smoothly.

GRACE

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God.” Matthew 5:9

We are not perfect, they are not perfect.  We are meant to walk by faith.  Knowing we are wretched sinners drives us to this conclusion; when it comes to interacting with each other from different theological realms we are going to believe our theology and stand firm in it, and because the majority of believers desire to become more conformed to the image of Christ, His grace needs to be at the forefront of our personal interactions with people with all, especially with those with whom we disagree.  Even though we may disagree with individuals, this ought not be an invitation to berate or assault a brother or sister in Christ if they are indeed a part of the brethren.  This does not mean we do not correct or discipline them that teach what is false and brush over it just to “keep the peace.”  Our desire is to teach in accordance with scripture and if someone teaches that which is in conflict with scripture then they are self-deceived and the truth of God is not in them.  Paul said to the Galatians, “But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all…” (Galatians 2:14) – Paul publicly corrected Peter, a disciple who walked and talked with Jesus.  Correcting was always and should always be done with reconciliation and grace being extended.

When we disagree, we are often moved initially towards prideful criticism of the character and position of the person in question in order to make our view appear superior.  We can often come across as appearing as though we are more capable of complex critical thought and that the other person’s position is so ridiculous or “offensive” having ought never to have been voiced.  I understand that not everything I say is going to be orthodox, and when I say something stupid, I am more appreciative and tend to be less defensive towards people who correct me in grace, who display through their concern for my soundness of theology, an attitude of love and respect towards me even though I may be wrong.  Rather than approaching correction with an attitude to being shame upon the person, respond to them, no matter how brash their own assertions, with an attitude of love and you will see the brash veneer melt away.

REJECTION

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:18

There will be those who disagree with us and there will be those who despise the very foundational gospel we preach and thereby we become an enemy to them.  The true gospel will draw people to Christ or it will repel them from Christ.  Great is the repulsion of those who taste and see the goodness of the LORD and it is only bitterness in their mouths.  The gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing.  This repulsion leads to many times to different reactions.  A few specific reactions to draw upon:

1) Repudiation – the individual is led to utterly despise Christianity and the Church.  They turn against the very source of joy and salvation in favor of their own lives.

2) Distortion – the true gospel is distorted to fit the culture one lives in, distorted to appease the people they have surrounded themselves, and/or distorted to fit their desired sense of morality and truth rather than to submit themselves to the Truth.  Romans says this is when they suppress what is really true, replace the truth of God for a lie, they turn and worship creation rather than the creator (Roman 1:18-23).

3) Vilifying  –  individuals who not only disagree with the gospel, but who believe what we preach is dangerous to the health and happiness of others will often, well-meaningly, decide to take up arms against the gospel, seeking to destroy its influence and affects.

 

Forgotten Gift

You ever have those gifts you get that you open up Christmas Day and the first thing you think is, “Clearance Aisle?” At that moment you realize that the person didn’t put in any thought whatsoever into buying you that present and what do you do with it? You regift it? You return it? You throw it away? You put it in a closet somewhere never to be seen again until you move or die. Then there’s those gifts you get from someone who goes to the tree and grabs the gift themselves or pulls it out from their bedroom personally to make sure it’s safe and that it makes its way straight to your hands. You open it and the giver has their eyes fixed on you awaiting your grateful reaction with eager anticipation. You open the gift and you cherish it, you’re overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness, the time, money, energy, and love they put into the gift. The gift builds a stronger love between you, not because of the gift itself, but the love shared through the gift. Those are the gifts we keep, the gifts we continually use, save, and cherish for years to come.

Often we treat God’s gift of Himself as a half hearted gift bought on the clearance aisle and replace it with the things we provide for ourselves. We don’t cherish the gift nor the giver like He desired when He gave His most precious gift. We treat His gift with disdain and contempt. Bonhoeffer calls this “cheap grace.” This isn’t a legalistic thing that we have to change the things we DO necessarily in and of themselves. Because I can also tell the gift I put a lot of thought into that are not received with the love and gracefulness that I desired but the person acted so grateful but you can tell when they’re not really grateful for your gift because it’s not something they think they wanted or they view your gift as insignificant or meaningless to them. Do we treat God’s gift like this? Do we pretend to be grateful because we don’t want to offend God but we really see His gift as lesser in light of what we can do for ourselves? Are we so out of touch with the heart of God that we are not drawn close to Him and pure and passionate intimacy is built between us?

How do we view this with hope and not simply guilt and feeling bad? God desires us. He loves us and invites us into intimacy with Him to cherish the gift and – most importantly – the giver, so that we He reminds us of the gift, we are drawn into intimacy with the giver. “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10

God so loved the “world”(?)

If you know me, or have read anything I have out there, you’ll know that my theology is more on the side of what’s known as “reformed” (typically known for believing in predestination or more formally known as “Calvinism” or known historically as “the doctrine of justification”). I have had MANY conversations in seminary, with friends, and with family about this belief and the consequences of believing this way, and some of the difficulties in perceived contradictions to this. Some of the more well known scripture passages that some have a difficulty reconciling is John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever would belie in Him, should not perish, but have eternal life.” But don’t forget the next verse “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” And another in Romans 10:13 (quoted from Joel 2:32) which says “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.”

The word “world” is a term which has multiple meanings. It was said of Jesus that “the entire world” was following after Him. Now obviously this does not mean that every single individual in the world was going after Jesus. The “world” can, and often times does, refer to God’s overall creation. God came to this world as fully-God and fully-man in Jesus not to “condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…” Jesus came not just to rescue individuals, but His very creation as well. This is why in eternity the earth will be restored and we will dwell with Him on the new earth, not floating on some cloud up in the “heavenlies” somewhere. He will restore that which was broken, both sinful nature and the material creation. “In a latter part of Romans, Paul wrote that ‘all Israel will be saved (11:26). A bit earlier he wrote that only ‘a remnant chosen by grace’ (11:5) will be saved out of Israel. He then proceeds to show us that ‘all the world will be saved…[via] a remnant chosen by grace,’ then why can’t we say that ‘all the world will be saved via a remnant chosen by grace’? This, I believe is the intent of John 3:16 – God so loved the world so much that he sent his Son to save all believers (not those who will die in unbelief). His mission was to save the world, not condemn it. And because of the elect international remnant, the world is, in fact saved!” – Michael Horton “Putting Amazing back into Grace.”

Often times points are best illustrated through stories. I am not the best story telling, but here goes nothin:

Imagine with me…two tribes, the Spoodikacks and Monokallos were opposing forces. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… 🙂 …the great ruler Mpampa built a great fortress for his people to dwell in harmony. However, the fortress was now ruled by the oppressive Spoodikacks. Within the great fortress were Monokallos whom Mpampas desired to rescue. So he sent his best, brightest, and purest soldier, Heroas, in to fight in order to rescue the ones he assigned for Heroas to rescue. Upon their rescue, Mpampas deployed his forces to completely destroy the forces within the great fortress by poison, fire, and acid in order to dissolve the stench of evil and death from its walls and restore it to its former glory.

The LORD’s plan for his creation has always been the rescue of His people/kingdom (those who believe, who are called according to His purpose, predestined for adoption as sons and daughters of God), the destruction of sin and evil, and the restoration of His creation. Jesus died to save “those whom the Father draws” to rescue His people and restore His creation on a holistic scale, not simply a vague generalistic “offer” He threw out there for people to accept of reject as if His kingdom were made up of the “fittest” of humanity that somehow had the strength and ability to choose God.The reality is we are all corrupt, “none choose good, no not one.” If no one chooses good, how is even one person able to, left to their own devices, able to choose the greatest good in the universe, namely God? He/She can’t. It is utterly, improbable/impossible. Simply because no one left to their own devices WOULD choose God. Our very corrupted nature is at odds with God and His goodness. It is only by the divine providential choice and redemptive work of God that we are given the ability to know Him. He rescues us. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should bear much fruit and that your fruit will abide…” (John 15:16). So God DID/DOES love the world (His creation) so much that He gave His only begotten Son, that “those He chose and appointed them that they should bear much fruit (John 15:16), those whose names are written in the book of life, which was written before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8, 17:8), “those He chose in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him [having] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:3-5),” should not perish, but would have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world (His creation), but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” This is not to say that God doesn’t condemn the world. It is saying that the mission of Jesus was to come to earth to be “the propitiation” to save those whom the Father had predestined from the foundation of the world.” By His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, God redeems those He loves, and pursues through His Holy Spirit those who are “not His people” making them into “His people,” the kingdom of God. Then at the end of time, He will return and redeem and purify His creation back to its original glory and splendor for His people to dwell with Him forever.

The doctrine of justification is not speaking to those who are “not His people” necessarily. The usual emotional response – and refutation – given by those who oppose this doctrine usual appeal is to assert such statements as “my god wouldn’t do that” or “that’s not fair” or “he offers salvation to everyone” or other such philosophies that may or may not originate in scripture, and mainly appeal to the emotion and wisdom of men, not the clear teachings of divine scripture and orthodoxy. Some are chosen to glorify God through their redemption and glorification – to receive that which they do not deserve, and the rest God has destined to be recipients of His divine justice (Romans 9) to receive exactly what they deserve “the due penalty of their actions” (Romans 1:27). The grace of God is not something universal and cheap. It is intentional and very costly, and what was costly to God cannot be cheap to us or treated nominally.

Spousal-Remorse

Some never marry out of fear of “buyers remorse.” Do any of these sound similar to why many might be afraid of marriage?

“The anxiety may be rooted in various factors, such as: the person’s concern that they purchased a current model now rather than waiting for a newer model, purchased in an ethically unsound way, purchased on credit that will be difficult to repay, or purchased something that would not be acceptable to others.

In the phase before purchasing, a prospective buyer often feels positive emotions associated with a purchase (desire, a sense of heightened possibilities, and an anticipation of the enjoyment that will accompany using the product, for example); afterwards, having made the purchase, they are more fully able to experience the negative aspects: all the opportunity costs of the purchase, and a reduction in purchasing power.

Also, before the purchase, the buyer has a full array of options, including not purchasing; afterwards, their options have been reduced to:
– Continuing with the purchase, surrendering all alternatives
– Renouncing the purchase.
Buyer’s remorse can also be caused or increased by worrying that other people may later question the purchase or claim to know better alternatives.”

Yes, I’m aware I just compared relationships to consumerism, but flip these words on their head…how many of us single folks are still single because we view relationships like this…as if we’re a consumer? The harsh reality is, for many of us, we ARE consumers in a romanticized culture obsessed with selling us the latest, greatest, best, and fastest results now. Why do you think there are so many dating sites out there? It’s all about me me me, what I want, who I am, and what I want in a relationship that matters. Rather than serving, love, honoring, forgiving, and sanctifying someone else, it becomes about how “attractive” a person is before I ever get to know them (yes I’m guilty), and then about how they meet MY qualifications for a future spouse based upon “are they the most appealing physically, are they the personality traits I want, do they have ‘features’ that fit my lifestyle, will other people in my life approve of this person, what are things I might possibly ‘regret’ about marrying this person, and will I be happy and satisfied by my decision?”  Yes it’s sad and to see it so plainly really appears heartless and ruthless, but subconsciously how many of us actually think this way?  There’s the question…now here’s the answer…

I don’t know…. figure that one out, and let me know.

For me…I wanna talk to the couple who loves one another, the husband who serves and leads his family well, the wife who loves her family and honors her husband…I wanna talk to the married couple who is 80 year old and waddling down the side walk with a Bible in one hand and holding their beloved’s hand with the other as he opens his sweetheart’s door walking to church together.  My brothers and sisters in Christ, we must be done with consumeristic “christian” dating, pithy romanticism, and worldly conditional “love” based upon personal preference as if our future spouses were meant to be the ultimate satisfaction to life.  Jesus.  Love Jesus…not love Jesus first and you’ll earn a spouse…when we love Him, our affections are found in Him, when our attention is focused on Him, a marriage relationship fails in comparison.  It is only when marriage becomes secondary to Christ that we will ever truly know how to love someone…anyone…spouse, friend, family, stranger… Jesus!  Focus on Jesus!…and when your desires are His desires, He will give you the desires of your heart…Himself…but first He must become the desire of your heart.  If a spouse is the desire of your heart, you will get “spousal remorse.”  If Jesus is the desire of your heart, you will get Jesus.  Maybe you’ll have a spouse one day, but if you get Jesus, that won’t matter as much.