Asking the right questions when looking for a new church home is vital for your spiritual well-being and that of your family.
Like it or not America is in a state of decline socially, religiously, and globally. From an international standpoint we have all the appearance of a toothless lion. We maintain a fearsome facade, but our bite no longer demands the same respect it once did in decades past. Most Americans are war weary and no longer have the stomach for issues abroad. Secondly, we’re living on credit with a national debt quickly approaching 18 trillion dollars. The idea that we’re too big to fail is a fallacy. I’m not a financial guru, but I've lived long enough to know there will be another correction in the markets. The real question is will we survive when the bills come due. Finally we've become a nation lacking the moral fortitude needed to lead others. We’re not only on the verge of financial bankruptcy, but we’re also morally bankrupt without any real sense of urgency to correct our course.
Some may think I have a negative view of the world, when in truth, I’m simply being realistic. There’s little debate how the international community now views America, and the second point of our national debt is well documented with many financial experts predicting another crash soon. Lacking moral fortitude can be debated, but the evidence based upon our rapidly changing attitudes toward what is and isn’t acceptable tells the story of our decline.
Take a moment, and think about a few recent events.
Some two weeks ago the sports world, as we know it, was up in arms because of the racial comments of Donald Sterling. His 31 year old girlfriend had secretly taped one of his archaic rants and later released his tirade to the media. Of course there was a national feeding frenzy, and the NBA quickly moved to punish Sterling with the harshest penalties possible. The 81 year old Sterling has been banned for life from all NBA events, and there is now an attempt by the league to force the sale of the team he’s owned since 1981. There is no defending his racial comments, and he has since apologized, but to no avail. As the old southern saying goes, “put a fork in him – he’s done.”
According to numerous news sources this isn't the first time Donald Sterling has found himself in the cross-hairs of public disdain, but it is the first in which the scope of his misdeeds have reached this level of national intensity. There have been reports throughout his years in Los Angeles about cheating, not paying players and hotel bills, and even serving as one of LA’s biggest slumlords. What I find most interesting is Sterling’s past actions didn't rise to the level of concern as did his words in this most recent episode of idiocy. There’s nothing right about Sterling’s racial ramblings, but where are all the defenders of free speech, capitalism, and rights of ownership? Americans once highly valued freedom of speech, but now it appears this right is only valued if it’s in agreement with the majority. No one in the NBA or media seemed all that upset when this man left his wife of 59 years to have an affair with another woman 50 years his junior.
Could it be that only the “right kind of free speech” is important while fidelity in marriage isn't a big deal to most of the American populace? Can a person who asks for forgiveness in our country never be forgiven of stupidity of speech while adultery and other acts of immorality are simply overlooked by the public at large?
The answer appears to be – yes. Lie, cheat, steal, or commit some form of sexual transgression and America shrugs. Commit the wrongful act of saying something considered offensive by the masses, and it’s as if you've committed the “unpardonable sin.”
Take a statement by LeBron James, for example, who apparently is the spokesperson for “all” current NBA players. He stated last week that “the players” believe no one from the Sterling family should maintain possession of the Clippers once the elder Sterling is removed from ownership. James’ answer is to punish the entire family for the crime of offensive speech, because the senior member of this family said something repulsive. Wow! Forgiveness when asked? No way.
So let’s understand this correctly. Free speech isn't really free. If we follow the logic of James and the NBA then exercising your right to say something stupid or offensive should cause you to lose ownership rights to your property. Your family members should also lose their rights to any property, and your ability to earn wages should be compromised.
This isn't an isolated event. Don Jones of the Miami Dolphins was fined and suspended by the NFL this week because of a “tweet” he made concerning Michael Sam’s show of affection toward his “boyfriend” on ESPN (May 10th). After Sam was drafted by the Saint Louis Rams he promptly kissed his lover to which Jones tweeted “OMG.” When asked if he was referring to Sam’s kiss, Jones tweeted “horrible.” Don Jones is now required to complete “educational training” before he’ll be allowed back into the NFL fold.
Educational or sensitivity training sounds eerily like the communist reeducation camps – get with the program or suffer. I know that may be a bit over the top, but other American institutions and businesses are requiring the same type of training the NFL is demanding of Jones. The message is that if you have a thought or a statement contrary to public opinion then keep your mouth shut or else. Note what Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports recently wrote:
The NFL will not tolerate any negativity from within its own ranks about the Sam story. Most of the reaction has been very positive. And if you're a NFL player and you don't agree with Sam's lifestyle, you better keep that to yourself. ... The NFL is making sure that anyone wanting to turn this positive story into something negative will pay the consequences. There's way too much at stake for the NFL to be passive about this. Jones had to learn the hard way. Now that other NFL players see what happened to him, don't expect to hear a lot more negativity on the subject.
It’s a good thing former NFL running back Darrick Ward is no longer playing, or he most likely would have experienced the wrath of Roger Goodell. The Christian Post has reported that Ward and his family have received death threats from Gay Activists due to his tweets about ESPN’s coverage of the kiss. Basically Ward’s response was that he thought it was inappropriate for ESPN to show the Sam’s kiss because children were watching the draft. ESPN and the NFL, I believe, wanted to make a statement and they did, proving they’re a progressive organization. I love the game of football having played for a number of years, but I don’t tune in to ESPN, the NFL Network, or watch games on Sunday afternoons for a progressive political statement. I tune in simply to watch the game.
Our words and actions may cost us personally at times whether they’re right or wrong, but surely I’m not the only one who sees the real danger that lurks ahead. When Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church were protesting the funerals of American soldiers and saying the vilest things some wanted to pass laws to quiet his group which I believe would have been a mistake. I don’t have to like the views or what someone may say to appreciate their right to think it and say it – whatever “it” may be. If we continue to police every word as a nation, it won’t be long until it hits home with you and me. Our First Amendment rights aren't to protect the majority but the minority.
The reality is that these events are simply indications of greater problems in our country and the Church as well. Studies from Pew and Barna, along with other research groups, provide us enormous amounts of data each year from which we can intelligently decipher our national direction. One conclusion which is becoming ever clearer is that our constitutional rights are rapidly evaporating under the guise of a pseudo-tolerance and politically correct society. We should keep in mind that a majority doesn't automatically equate to being in the right. A large number of Americans no longer seem to care if the US Constitution is pillaged by ethically challenged individuals in leadership as long as it doesn't affect them personally. So from a secular point of view our problems appear to be a constitutional crisis that seeks to “fundamentally change America.”
In regards to the Church, her issues are not only intertwined and influenced by a worldly mentality but also from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual apathy. There is an issue with the refusal to deal with sin and especially the sin of homosexuality. This is extremely prevalent within the Millennial Generation – those born between the late 1970’s and 1990’s. Here are some things we know about them:
If one wants to see a fair depiction of the life and struggles of Millennials look no further than Pivot TV and their show “Raising McCain.” I’m not suggesting this is a great show, but it does provide some insights as to the direction we’re heading both in America and the Church. I normally cringe when I watch the show because of the flawed thinking that is often promoted concerning social issues; I think the arguments presented lack depth. Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan is the host of the show, and she certainly is no conservative, but what you'll see if you watch her program is Millennial thinking in action.
Here’s the good news about Millennials. They still want to maintain a connection to the Church. As long as these 20 – 30 something year olds want to be engaged we have a chance. We have a chance to lead them to greater biblical and theological understandings. The Church in America has a chance to thrive again.
So what’s the bad news or bottom-line? Internationally we’ve become the punch-line for a bad joke; at home personal rights are eroding daily; race relations are digressing into an abyss of cultural discord; the institution of marriage is being devalued and the family unit deconstructed; sin is viewed as a relative issue; and the Church is facing generational challenges which could lead to a Church that looks more like the Church in Europe – almost dead.
All of these things give followers of Christ more reason to pray Maranatha … Lord Come! I’m not suggesting we be discouraged in any sense. The Scriptures have never taught the world would grow progressively better but worse (2 Tim 3:1-9). God is still on His throne, and as believers we’re called to be faithful while we await the return of Christ. God is still God, His Word is true, and that’s something to be positive about!
Dolphins fine and suspend player for tweeting negative comment about Michael Sam; Frank Schwab, editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports
LeBron James says NBA players feel no members of Donald Sterling's family should own Clippers; The Canadian Press – Sun, 11 May, 2014
Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations; Diane Thielfoldt and Devon Scheef, August 2004
Barna Millennial Project; https://www.barna.org/barna-update/millennials
Recently I attended a viewing of the “Son of God” and was somewhat taken aback by its lack of biblical reliability. My wife stated she knew before we entered the theater I would be disappointed simply because she knows me and my love for the Word of God. I truly had high hopes because of the support this film had garnered from the evangelical community, yet I’m still coming to terms with the continuously changing face of evangelicalism. There is often a portrayal within our society that all evangelicals are conservative and biblically literate which is far from the truth. Theologically America is less conservative today and our view of the Bible is in decline.
"Despite a clear cultural interest and awareness of the Bible, the research also shows that neutral or negative attitudes toward the Bible are becoming more commonplace. In 2011, more than half (53%) of adults said the Bible “contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life.” In 2013, that percentage dipped below half of the population (47%). And although the 61% of American adults who want to read the Bible represents a majority of Americans, it’s a step down from the 67% of adults who said the same in 2011. Furthermore, the percentage of adults who believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life has declined substantially from 75% to 66% in the last two years." (Barna)
From Barna’s research I would venture a guess and say most Christians who watched the “Son of God” did so more with a devotional eye rather than a factual one, and that accuracy wasn't as important as was the emotional factor. I realize certain creative liberties will always be taken by filmmakers – even those holding to the Christian banner. Creative license however shouldn’t be an excuse for a lack of Scriptural faithfulness, and especially for those who are held in high regard within Christendom.
Now for those who enjoyed the “Son of God” and were moved by this film I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but I do believe there are some things we should think about as Christians. So what are my real issues with this film?
First, the cynic in me says this production wasn’t as pure as some would have us believe. The film was peddled as an evangelistic tool to many pastors, and I sincerely hope numerous individuals came to know Christ as Savior but I’m not so sure. Knowing what I know now about how the movie was produced from bits and pieces of “The Bible” on the History Channel, I question if the motives weren’t more for financial reasons based on the success of the miniseries. I don’t have a problem with this film making money, but I do have a problem with what I believe is a lack of truthfulness in its marketing.
Secondly, the storyline was fragmented most likely because it was spliced together and better suited for television rather than a larger theatrical production. This was not the high quality film that was characterized by its representatives.
Third, Downey’s Catholicism was more on display than the Gospel of John. In the scene of the Last Supper the false doctrine of transubstantiation is promoted (a belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ and becomes a means of salvation). The Archdiocese of Washington has even devoted video lessons based on particular clips from the film including the doctrine of transubstantiation (explanation). And then there is Mary Magdalene’s constant presence and placement of importance beside Christ which is not only misleading but a distraction to say the least.
And lastly the biggest problem I have with the film is what was intentionally left out. At one point Christ Jesus is addressing Thomas and states, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” That’s it – no more. The exclusivity of Christ is abandoned and I have to wonder why? Clearly the statement is from John 14:6 and what is excluded is, “And no one comes to the Father except through me.”
Was this done for political correctness in order not to offend others? Who knows? What I do know is that faith in Christ is the only means of salvation, and there’s no reasonable excuse to leave such an important fact out of the dialogue as presented.
Were there positive aspects to this film?
I was moved by the crucifixion of Christ and was once again reminded of His sacrificial love. And of course His resurrection was reassuring because without this we have no hope. As Christians it’s inconceivable to demand perfection in this production or any other, but we should maintain an expectation of authenticity that honors God and His Word.
In the brief video below Paul Washer brings some interesting thoughts to the table. I certainly believe, based upon what I've seen in the Church during the last 25 years, that many children and individuals have been given a false sense of security simply because they "prayed a prayer" at VBS or in Sunday School. Watch the video and then please share your thoughts.
Many times the story is told of how an individual or family joins a local congregation and all seems well until "feelings" are hurt or difficulties arise. Some leave and join another congregation while others drop out of church altogether.
Have you ever left a church or moved your membership because of one of the following reasons?
Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
For the last few years I've been on a journey to discover the biblical Church. The beginning of this expedition started with a sense of conviction that many of our activities in the modern Church are self-centered rather than Christ-centered. Success is often viewed through the prism of programs, numbers, and building projects. The idea seems to be: “Better programs lead to greater numbers and bigger churches.” No doubt we've all heard the argument that “Church A” must be doing something right because of the number of people who attend on a given Sunday. But I think we should challenge ourselves to look beyond the figures and into the actual families and individuals who make up these numbers. Things are not always as they appear. It’s easy to put on a façade one day a week.
In a somewhat intense discussion with one church leader I recently made a statement that was met with shock and denial. In the context of conceding to the “bigger must be better mentality,” and with little or no focus on biblical accountability I said, “It appears some Church leaders are more concerned with butts in the seat and dollars in the plate.” If we truly love God and the people we serve then shouldn't we be concerned with true biblical discipleship? Are we in fact doing things in the Church by God’s design? About three years ago I read “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna which challenged my own thinking about how we “do church” today.
I wasn't raised in a Christian home, and so when I entered the ministry I assumed a lot of the way we do things in the Church to be biblical. I don’t believe those I looked to in the early years meant to mislead me or anyone else. I do believe, however, these leaders simply followed the patterns others before them had followed.
Through the modern era we have systematically separated the family within the Church by age and preference. In order to experience a greater sense of “worship” we place our children in “Children’s Church,” and our youth in a “Youth” program. We've developed a mentality which is destructive to the family and Church by adopting the belief; “Our youth are the future of the Church.” The reality is that children and youth who have accepted Christ are part of the Church today.
The Scriptures indicate a family integrated form of worship, yet the Church seems to have taken a different direction. In order to be seeker sensitive and “family-friendly” we've incorporated many worldly customs in order to draw a crowd rather than equip the Church to carry out one of Her first missions – biblical education in the home.
I think we've placed our youth in a precarious position by providing separate worship experiences, meeting places, times, and event driven activities which appeal to a more secular mindset. By segregating our young people from their parents we've created an atmosphere which is more destructive than helpful. The Church has taken a position of leading our children that does not rightly belong to her. The greatest teachers a child should have are Christian parents and in particular Christian fathers.
How was I wrong? I was wrong because at one time I supported the bigger is better and multi-program ideas without giving them much thought.
The video below is entitled, “Divided the Movie”, and is fifty-four minutes long. I highly encourage you to watch this video, or simply listen to it while you surf the web. I truly believe you’ll find it beneficial and eye-opening.
Ravi Zacharias is one of the most respected, if not the most respected, Christian apologist in the world today. His comments on America and the state of the American Church are spot on. Every follower of Christ should take seriously what he has to say in regards to our future and that of the world.
Rod West, DBS
Do you remember the children’s song “This Little Light of Mine”?
Remember how it goes?
This little light of mine,
There is no doubt that secular society has a negative view of the Church today, and most attributed this to the behaviors of Christians. It’s certainly understandable why some may believe this way when it’s often hard to identify Christians from non-Christians. Our culture is a self-centered one, and to many it appears Christians habitually forget they’re to be light bearers and not the light. As believers we need to remember the life we live is not our own, and the light that shines within us should be reflective of Christ. There’s no room in the Church for narcissism, yet when we take to the stage of Christendom in order to draw attention to self we automatically obscure the true Light. When our words and actions are self promoting it damages the testimony and cause of Christ.
In Patrick Morley’s book “I Surrender” he makes this interesting statement:
“… the church’s integrity problem is in the misconception ‘that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior.’”
I’ve found through my years of ministry that a great number of individuals try to compartmentalize their Christianity by separating their beliefs from other areas of their lives. We’re either all in or all out. Christ Jesus never called anyone to part-time service. He also didn't call us to be a spectacle seeking the approval of man by diverting the Light or diluting the Gospel.
If we’re to truly make an eternal difference in the lives of others for Christ then our actions must match our words as light bearers. Ask yourself this question, “When those outside the Church look at my life who do they see?” Keep this in mind; light exposes the sin of mankind when held in comparison to Christ. Light also has the ability to draw or expel depending upon the heart.
Heed these words from John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Let the world see less of us and more of Christ as we serve as His bearers of Light.
“A few years ago woman in Lake City, Florida tried to rob a local motel armed only with an electric chainsaw … that wasn't plugged in.”
As human beings we are prone to do some dumb things at times. Back in the 90s I was invited to speak to a congregation looking for a pastor, and the message I was to deliver that Sunday would be my trial sermon. This particular church had a habit of taking prayer requests before the message, and this prayer was to be led by the pastor.
Typically when I take prayer requests I write them down, and when I pray I look at my list in order to make sure all have been mentioned. On this particular Sunday there were a great many requests, and one was for a young man believed to be suffering muscular dystrophy, (MD). As I was approaching the end of my prayer I began to close my eyes, and I proceeded to say:
“Lord God, we ask for Your healing hand to be upon _____________, and if it be Your will please heal his ‘VD,’ I mean MD.”
By this point it was too late because I could hear the snickering of many in the congregation. So what did I do? I did what any minister would do; I kept going hoping the people would forget and that my embarrassment would soon fade. The funny thing is this young man’s mother was on the pulpit committee, and a week later the church called me to be their pastor. By the way, this dear lady is a wonderful Christian, and I’m not sure if she even remembers the dumb thing I said on that day.
Again we all do some dumb things from time to time, but the reason we do them varies from person to person. Sometimes we do dumb things without thinking. Often these are impulsive responses in which we react to the actions of others out of anger or shock. At other times we do dumb things out of disobedience. Then there are times we do dumb things because we’re ignorant. Oliver B. Greene made a statement once that resonated with me about the beliefs people fervently hold to; his statement was: “You can be sincere, and sincerely wrong.” He was speaking in reference to one’s belief about salvation, but this can also apply to many other areas of our lives. There are times when we would rather forfeit truth than face the reality we've made a mistake or heaven forbid we've been proven wrong.
This brings me to the Body of Christ and Her focus. It’s not unusual for followers of Christ to ignorantly center their attention on the “here and now” while stating they believe something different. Our worship and the fluent use of “Christian speak” looks and sounds spiritual until we realize we’re living for the moment and not what lies ahead in Christ. There appears to be a vast shallowness in the present Church, yet many worshipers are oblivious or even blind to this superficiality.
The question is why?
Some individuals would rather live in a state of denial than deal with the reality of their spiritual shallowness. Another reason is many of our spiritual leaders are superficial themselves and seek nothing more than to elicit an emotional response in order to gain an audience. For some there is no genuine care, compassion, or concern for the spiritual growth of the flock. The bottom line for some spiritual leaders lies within numbers, ego, and leaving an earthly legacy.
As true followers of Christ we should strive for several things:
1 John 2:28-3:3 (ESV) And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.
Christian, husband, father, pastor, friend, and lover of the Word of God!