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I want to start this post by saying, right up front, I say these words with fear and trembling. Who am I? I don’t have the right to say this. But it burns in my heart, and I must.
Not long ago, my family and I were in a restaurant where we received excellent service. A mistake was made on our order and the manager immediately corrected it with his apologies. I made the comment to my son that, good or bad, service starts with management. There’s no such thing as an employee problem, it’s always a management problem.
I think the same can be said with the church today. I look around and see so much worldliness, so much narcissism and selfishness, so much “me-ology” instead of theology. Yet I don’t think the problem begins with the body. I believe we have a leadership problem.
I’m being challenged by the words of Paul in Colossians 1:24 where he says,
“I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church.”
I’m wondering how many of our leaders today are willing to “fill up their flesh” with the sufferings of Christ for the sake of the body? I’m wondering how many leaders today are willing to lay down everything and literally become servants to the body? To suffer and travail for the good of the church of Jesus Christ.
I see a lot of leaders for whom “ministry” has become a career. I see a ministry class that has become separate from the body, in many cases above the body. I don’t see a lot of leaders who are willing to suffer on behalf of the body. I don’t see a lot of leaders who are willing, like John the Baptist, to live in the wilderness with no comforts of home in order to challenge the people of God to repentance and obedience.
Jesus warned His followers of the “leaven of the Pharisees” and how that leaven can leaven a whole lump of dough. He warned His followers about the pride and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who held the rank and file to a standard they themselves did not keep. He warned them about a ruling class that would exert power over God’s people for their own personal gain.
And He said that leaven would leaven the whole lump. If there is a problem with worldliness in the church, follow it back to the leadership. If there is a problem with hypocrisy in the church, follow it back to the leadership. If the church has failed in its job of taking care of the orphans and widows, follow it back to the leadership.
I’m begging our church leadership. Please consider whose kingdom you are building, Christ’s or yours. Please consider whose money you are spending. Please consider how we could have come to this: multi-million dollar buildings while so many suffer, meaningless programs meant to suck up to donors while the world is careening out of control, and a form of Godliness, but no power of the Holy Spirit.
Please know my heart. I know there are a lot of wonderful men and women who are in leadership in the body of Christ. But the church is sick, the temple of the Holy Spirit – the people of God – lies in ruins. And the rebuilding of that temple begins with repentance at the highest levels. It begins with leaders who are willing to step down from the pedestal and suffer and travail for the body of Christ. It begins with leaders who are willing to fill themselves up with the sufferings of Christ, that His body might be nourished and replenished.
Until the head finds its healing, the whole body will remain in its sickness.
King Hezekiah was one of the truly great kings of Judah. He was faithful to God like few kings before or after him. He tore down the pagan altars, cleared the debris of idolatry from the temple and restored true worship to the nation. Hezekiah did everything right.
We might think, if there were ever a soul that deserved the blessing of God, it was good King Hezekiah. So what happened as he finished cleaning up the land and turning the hearts of the people back to their God? He was besieged by the king of Assyria.
This might have been an opportunity for Hezekiah to complain to God and ask, “Why? I’ve done everything you asked me to do. I’ve done more for you than any other king before me, and this is the thanks I get?” I know I certainly would have reacted that way. I react that way at a lot less hardship and trouble in my life.
But Hezekiah did not lose faith. He did not give in to the fear. He did not question God. Instead he cried out to the Lord.
Often, after we have restored true worship and committed ourselves to faithfulness, we will then suffer attack. I have seen it time and time again, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others. This is an opportunity for God to test us, to see what we are made of, to see if our faithfulness is really genuine. Will we complain to God when our lives are besieged? Or, like Hezekiah, will we remain faithful?
2 Chronicles 32 tells of of some very specific steps Hezekiah took as he trusted God through his time of testing:
He stopped up the springs so that the Assyrians would not have water. He cut off that which would have strengthened the enemy. He was going to make it as difficult as possible for the Assyrians to besiege him. We must cut ourselves off from anything that would feed the attack against us. Make sure our own actions are not strengthening our enemy and making his job easier.
He strengthened himself, built up the broken wall, fortified the city and armed everyone. He committed to preparation and everything he could do to be ready. We must strengthen ourselves as well with the weapons available to us. That means more prayer, more time in God’s word, and more time with fellow warriors.
He encouraged the people and strengthened their resolve so that they would not be prey to the Assyrian threats and intimidation. He reminded the people that, “there are more with us than with them.” We must use the word of God to strengthen our resolve. We must view this siege as an opportunity to build our faith. Stay in the scriptures that encourage us to trust in God, lean on Him, and wait on Him.
He humbled himself and cried out to God. He joined with the prophet Isaiah in prayer and petition before God. Hezekiah was humble enough to recognize he could not do it alone, that he needed a man of God to stand with him. And, ultimately, he recognized his utter inability to withstand the attack apart from God’s power fighting for him. He did not rely on his own strength, but on God’s.
Maybe, like Hezekiah, you have been faithful to God. And yet, like Hezekiah, you hear your enemy on the wall hurling taunts and insults your way. Maybe you’ve been questioning where God is. And just maybe you’ve been thinking your own faithfulness and goodness is enough to carry the day. Maybe that’s why you’re in this place.
The attack is meant to humble us, to remind us that no matter how sincerely we follow God, we are not saved by our own righteousness. It always has been and always will be God’s power that will get us through. Period.
So don’t give up. Follow the above steps. Strengthen yourself in His word and in His presence. Don’t submit to the fear and questioning. Don’t listen to the intimidation and humiliation the enemy throws your way. One day you will see the victory of the Lord.
1 Samuel 15:9 ~ But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were unwilling to utterly destroy them. But everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.
“Destroy the despised and worthless” was not the command that God had given Saul. The command was, “Destroy everything. Kill all that breathes Totally wipe out the Amalekites.” Why? Because the Amalekites had ambushed Israel on their way out of Egypt. God had promised to punish them for this act, and Saul had been commanded to carry out that punishment.
But Saul did not obey God. As Samuel arrived at the camp, Saul announced that he had carried out the Lord’s instructions. “Then what is that sound I hear? The bleating of sheep?” asked Samuel. Instead of destroying everything, Saul and the people kept some of the best of the land, supposedly as a sacrifice to God. The despised and worthless they destroyed, but the best of the flocks they did not. And for this disobedience, the kingdom was taken from Saul.
God also says those words to me: “Destroy everything. Destroy every work of darkness, every temptation that can ambush you along your way out of Egypt.” And, like Saul, I’m okay with destroying the despised and worthless things. I don’t have a problem getting rid of what I perceive as the “big stuff.”
But what about those things that are attractive to me? What about the things I enjoy? What about the seemingly harmless things that, if allowed to live, may someday ambush me? The “big sins” are no problem. But what about how I spend my time or money? Have I crucified those desires? What about my thoughts? Have I allowed those to live? What about unhealthy relationships, unprofitable habits or secret fears?
In verse 15 of this chapter it is clear that Saul thought he was doing God a favor, sparing sheep he had been commanded to kill, saving them as a sacrifice to God. But God made it clear, He demands obedience, not sacrifice.
How many have had the kingdom of God die in their hearts because they hold on to things that should have died? For how many as the love of God grown cold because of divided attention, divided love, and a divided heart?
Do you dare to let it all die? Do you dare to hold nothing back, to cut ties with all that has ambushed you along the way? God has chosen us by His overwhelming grace. It is now up to us to be obedient to His will, to carry out His commands. Until that happens, giving up the “big sins” is just window dressing.
Many people might assume I hate the church. With a book titled “The Church Must Die”, I can understand how they would arrive at that assumption.
But they are wrong.
I actually love the true church of Jesus Christ. The problem comes in because what most people would define as “the church” today is not really what it should be. We have lost the correct definition of church. What I hate, what I think must die, is the modern incarnation of church. Actually, it’s not such a modern incarnation. It is one almost 2000 years in the making.
If you define church as an institution, then yeah, I hate that. If you define church as a building, I hate that as well. If you define church as something you go to on Sunday morning or something that dominates your life with religious rules, then I most certainly hate that.
Many people might assume I hate Christianity. With my blog called “Quitting Christianity,” I can understand how they would also arrive at that assumption.
But they would again be wrong.
It’s just that “Christianity” and all its derivatives have become loaded words. They are full of so much negative baggage. Say the word Christian, and people’s minds are instantly made up.
To some it means “a religious way of life I was taught by my parents.”
To some it means rejection, judgement, arrogance, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy.
To some it calls to mind every time they have been made to feel less than valuable.
Whether right or wrong, these are the perceptions when you use the word “Christianity.” I don’t want to play into those stereotypes. I don’t want to give in to assumptions. I don’t want to erect a wall even before we have the chance to talk. Even if that wall is mostly deserved.
Modern Christianity has largely given Jesus a bad name.
The Jesus we claim to serve was harsh with the religious purists, those who thought they had it all figured out. We reward those people.
The Jesus we claim to serve was merciful on the poor, the helpless, and the sinners. We are harsh with them.
It is completely backwards. I am clueless how those who claim to serve Jesus could have erected a religion any more antithetical to His teachings than what we have today.
Think I’m wrong? How do you feel about gay people? How do you feel about Muslims? How do you deal with an atheist? What if a smelly, drunk homeless man wandered in to your Sunday service and plopped down next to you? How would you react?
Far too often I’ve been the one turning away, looking away, running away.
So where do we go from here?
It is not enough to condemn our modern incarnation of church and Christianity. We must redefine those words. We must reclaim them as something authentic and real. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I believe that starts (and probably ends) with love. I’m talking about simple communities of believer who are deeply committed to loving each other and the world around them at the cost of everything else.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” He said this to His disciples immediately after He had demeaned Himself by taking on the lowliest of possible tasks: washing their feet.
The leadership lesson was clear. Jesus demonstrated the kind of servanthood He expected from His followers. He expected those who called themselves by His name to literally kneel before the world in service and love, humbling themselves. The very word “ministry” in the New Testament is defined as “service, like one who waits tables.”
We have to get back to that kind of love. The kind of love that serves others. The kind of love that forsakes its own interest in favor of those it seeks to lead. The kind of love that says to a woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” The kind of love that looks and feels and smells and acts like the Jesus we claim to serve. All the worship services and sermons and megachurches cannot replace the simple acts of love and mercy that were demonstrated over and over again by our Lord.
I’m not there yet, but I want to be. I want to take that journey that ends in me loving those that disgust me. I want to find that place where I serve even those whom I find repulsive. You may disagree with what I’ve said. You may think I’m too harsh, or that I’m too hard on the church. You may think that I’m just some bitter complainer. Think what you will. But I hope you’ll still join me on the journey towards dying to self and loving like Jesus.
I’m tired of messing around, I just want it to be real.
In the book of Joel, the prophet laments God’s punishment in the aftermath of a swarm of locusts that had ravaged the country of Judah. This instrument of God’s wrath had swooped through the country, devouring everything in its path. The devastation was complete,
The field is wasted, the land mourns; for the grain is ruined, the new wine is dried up, the oil fails.
In chapter 2 the prophet paints a poetic picture of the swarm descending like a conquering foe,
They run like mighty men,
They climb the wall like men of war;
Every one marches in formation,
And they do not break ranks.
They do not push one another;
Every one marches in his own column.
Though they lunge between the weapons,
They are not cut down.
They run to and fro in the city,
They run on the wall;
They climb into the houses,
They enter at the windows like a thief.
The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble;
The sun and moon grow dark,
And the stars diminish their brightness.
This metaphor is a powerful one. Instead of God sending a foreign power to conquer and punish Judah for their sin, He chooses a plague of nature. Instead of one giant enemy, He uses a million little ones.
Think about the power of this Biblical example to us. Often we are on the lookout for the big enemy. We take great care to prevent the big sins, and take great pride when we evade them. But what if it’s not a giant enemy we face, but a million little ones? What if it is not a single death blow that brings us down, but a million tiny little mouths, each eating away at who we are.
Our modern, media-drenched society offers me a million opportunities each day to choose something other than God. A million things I can focus on. A million ways to wander off the path, even if only for a step. A million chances to ignore, judge, condescend or look away. A million excuses to pick me and my way.
Little bite by little bite these enemies can devour my growth, ruining the grain and drying up the oil and new wine. Before I know it I am stripped bare of what I once was. And it wasn’t the big enemy that slayed me, but a million little ones.
This is not meant to inspire guilt, but caution. Our focus can be so fixed on the giant that we miss the locust. Sometimes our enemy takes a different for than what we expect. What if my enemy doesn’t sound like a roaring lion, but a game, a song, a relationship or any one of a million devices meant to sap my strength and weaken my focus. We defend against the big enemies and miss the million little ones.
They are easy to overlook, but just as deadly. Ask the prophet Joel.
I was reading in Hosea this morning and saw this verse in chapter 13,
When Ephraim spoke, trembling,
He exalted himself in Israel;
But when he offended through Baal worship, he died.
I started thinking about idolatry in my life, asking God to show me areas where I still turn to idols instead of Him. The first things that came to mind are fairly obvious, things like over indulgence meaningless entertainment or sins I continually struggle with. But as I prayed and thought, it occurred to me that idolatry may take shapes and forms in my life that aren’t as blatant.
Think about Israel’s idolatry for a minute. Baal was a Caananite god of rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture. In a society largely dominated by herding and agriculture, could there be any more important deity? In fact, the name Baal means “master or lord.”
So when Israel turned to Baal, what they were really saying is, “God, we do not completely trust you to bring us rain and favorable weather and fertility for our crops and herds. We will also worship this local deity, just in case you let us down.”
Now I’m thinking about idolatry in my own life, and it’s making a lot more sense. I’m seeing the things in my life that I’ve turned to for security instead of God. I’m seeing those areas that I’ve “hedged my bets” and spread the risk out to more places than just God. While I may not think it consciously, what I’ve said in many areas of my life is, “I don’t fully trust God, so I’ll make sure I have a plan B in place.”
So while I haven’t bowed my knee to a little statue, I’m guilty of idolatry nonetheless.
What to do about it? Well, the first step is to recognize God’s grace in my life, grace that covers even my worst unfaithfulness in the blood of Jesus. Second, I start looking at those areas where I don’t fully trust God. What are those areas where I rely on my own plans, my own strength, or my own talent? Where do I have a contingency plan just in case God doesn’t come through?
It’s not easy to look in those secret places of the heart, places we haven’t dared explore. It’s hard to let go of my back up plan, leaving it all in God’s hands. It’s scary to abandon all my options and trust fully in Him. But if I’m going to live a life that’s truly surrendered, a life that’s finally becoming what He intended for it to be, I’m going to have to take that leap.
Anything else is idolatry.
…you said to me, ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king. Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen and whom you have desired. And take note, the LORD has set a king over you.
God did not want His people to have a king. When He brought them out of Egypt, they had just spent 400 years living the horrors of serving a king. They knew how short a leap it is from king to despot, from ruler to oppressor. Beginning with Joseph, Pharaoh had taken 20% of everything in Egypt for himself. God brought His people out of that bondage and told them in the wilderness, “If you serve me, I will only demand 10% of your income.” God’s kingship was fair, just, and compassionate.
Yet, after all God had done, Israel still demanded a king. Samuel warned them of the cost of getting their desire. He warned them that God still wanted to lead them Himself, and by choosing a human king over God, they were sacrificing eternal security for some temporary fix to their problems.
There’s a lesson in this story for us as well. As Christians, we know the hardship of serving under Pharaoh, the weight of living under the power of sin and the world. Yet God, in His mercy, has delivered us from that bondage. He has offered to lead us, not just as a king, but as a loving Father.
Yet we have demanded a king. We have not been comfortable serving God directly, and have asked for our king to lead us. Our king? Religion. Religion takes the thinking out of following God. Instead of seeking Him and listening to Him, we just have to follow the rules. Instead of sitting at the feet of Christ and listening to His voice, we can listen to a sermon and just do as we’re told.
But what price have we paid for our king religion? We have sacrificed the power of the Holy Spirit. We have sacrificed the true power to change the world. We have given up the thrill of hearing His voice and knowing Him for ourselves. “Not true!” you say? Look at places in the world where religion does not yet rule. Look at house churches in China, or secret groups in Islamic countries. The power of the Holy Spirit to rock the world is alive in well in those places where religion does not dominate God’s people. In fact, in those places, religion is on the side of the state, persecuting and killing Christ’s followers.
It is always the end of religion. A king that demands more than we can pay, a leader that has become an oppressor. We have traded spiritual freedom for security, and have ended up with neither. We live in a world full of walking wounded, millions of victims of the king religion.
Christ still wants to be our king. He still wants to lead us as a loving Shepherd. If we choose to forsake our king religion and follow King Jesus, a new life of freedom is waiting for us.
Do we dare?
Throughout history God has been unwavering in His love for sinful man. Throughout my life God has been steadfast in His love for sinful Dave. Never once has He given up on me, never once lost patience.
And how have I repaid Him? By wandering. My heart has many lovers. I love the approval of man. I love my own gratification. I love the world and its delicacies. With my lips I declare my love for Him, but my roaming eyes tell a different story.
David must have felt my regret in Psalm 86 when he said,
Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name.
“Unite my heart.” That’s what I need, a united heart. Singleness of purpose. Instead of my many distractions, I need the center of who I am and what I love to unite with a single goal: to fear His name and walk in His truth.
What would it look like if I were to have this united heart? How would my life change? Maybe it would mean less entertainment, less indulgence in the flesh, less selfishness. Maybe a united heart would abolish fear, because I would be submitted to His will without doubt. Perhaps a united heart would bring a greater sense of focus and purpose to my life.
I know this for sure: The things I have held on to for security and safety would have to go. My crutches, my sacred cows, my secret hiding places would disappear. I would have to abandon the temporary in favor of the eternal.
What has your heart followed after? Maybe it’s time to let God unite the many fragmented pieces of your heart into a single focus. Maybe that’s the beginning of us finally becoming who we’ve failed to be.
My neighbor, Gracie Rosenberger, is an incredible lady. She fell asleep at the wheel when she was 17 and barely survived the horrific crash. In the years since, she has had both her legs amputated, undergone over 70 surgeries, and pretty much lives her life in excruciating pain. Yet she is truly one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. She refuses to let her disability become a handicap.
Gracie recently released a book called “Gracie (Standing with Hope)” with her husband Peter, and together they chronicle their journey of grace, doubt, and God’s faithfulness through it all. It’s an amazing story. There is a quote from Gracie in the book that just about knocked me over. Keep in mind, this is a woman who lives her life in a constant state of pain. Here’s the quote,
“Pain relief is not a worthy life goal.”
Now, Gracie would be the first person to say, “I’m no hero,” but that quote, spoken by a woman who has suffered so much, is heroic.
And it made me think. I’m thinking about all the people who have made pain relief their life’s goal. Maybe not physical pain, but emotional and spiritual pain. I’m thinking of all the people who medicate themselves with alcohol, drugs, and other substances, all in pursuit of pain relief. I’m thinking of the young people who cut themselves to relieve their pain, the affairs and broken marriages, the sexual addictions. We have tried many medicines, but found no cure.
I’m also thinking of myself. Is that the extent of my life’s goal, to not hurt? I might not turn to something as obvious as alcohol or drugs, but I’m avoiding pain in every way I can. I’ve been afraid to try new things and take risks because I fear the pain of failure. Pain relief has driven me to waste countless hours in mindless entertainment and frivolity. Pain relief has caused me to hold back in my relationships out of fear of intimacy. Pain relief has caused me to disobey God, because His calling requires opening myself up to ridicule and rejection.
How about you? Is your life an elaborate web of pain relief? Has it become your life’s goal just to avoid pain? What might happen if you took that risk and opened yourself up to what God really has for you? Paul faced the same dilemma in Philippians 3,
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
There is no “power of His resurrection” without the “fellowship of His sufferings.” There is no gaining Christ without the loss of everything else. There is no resurrection without being conformed to His death. Paul understood the pain that might be involved, but found the reward worth the risk, the gain worth the loss, the life worth the dying.
Maybe it’s time we come up with a life goal greater than pain relief.
Peter and Gracie Rosenberger have a foundation called “Standing with Hope.” It helps to provide prosthetic limbs to amputees in Africa. If you’d like to help with their great work or find out more about it, go to www.standingwithhope.com
Yes, I’m writing a post on why I don’t like Easter. I’ve tried to be quiet and keep my feelings to myself, but I can’t any longer.
Put down the pitchforks and torches. I don’t have anything against celebrating Jesus’ death and resurrection. His love and sacrifice is the reason I’m even alive today. I thank Him every day for what He did for me.
And that’s my problem with Easter. God never told us to create a holiday in honor of Christ’s resurrection (or birth, for that matter). The Jews had a festal celebration of Passover. The pagans had a festal celebration for the vernal equinox. We just couldn’t be left out, could we? “I know, Easter!” someone said. The problem is that Jesus death and resurrection – the very thing we celebrate – put an end to the need for religious observation. The veil that separated God and man was torn, and we no longer needed religious ritual to serve God.
Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 4,
But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years.
Jesus freed us from the need for religious ritual, but we went running right back to it. They weren’t sufficient to bring man to God then, and they are not now. We no longer need a “Holy Week,” Jesus died to make every day holy. We no longer need a festal celebration to honor Him, we honor Him every day in how we live our lives.
And if it’s a celebration of His death and resurrection you want, Jesus already gave us two, and commanded us to keep them: baptism and communion. These can be celebrated every time we get together, every day of our lives.
“But what’s wrong with a holiday?” you ask. I’ll give you three reasons it’s wrong”
- It lessens the importance of every other day. Instead of celebrating Christ’s sacrifice by changing the way I live, Easter gives me an “easy out”.
- It gives unbelievers and incorrect view of what following Christ is all about. They see our emphasis on religious tradition and not on the call to “die daily.”
- All those good people wearing their fancy Easter outfits further divides us from the poor, the outcasts and the sinners. They already feel out of place among us, and the elaborate dress and ritual further serves to drive a wedge between “us” and “them.”
We are losing the battle, my friends. Look around. Christianity is not growing, it’s shrinking. The world knows most of what we call Christianity has become a weak and powerless bunch of religious ritual, and we have played right into their hands. We serve a Savior who scorned the religious elite in favor of the meek and humble. We serve a Savior who hangs on a cross and asks us to join Him. We serve a Savior who has promised the same power that raised Him from the dead to empower us to change the world.
Instead we have traded it for a holiday and a chocolate bunny.