H.O.W. It Works

I have said for many years, if someone, anyone, truly works the 12 steps they will come into a right understanding of a relationship with God and come to accept Jesus Christ as Savior. It doesn’t matter if they be atheist (as I once w claimed to be), agnostic, disillusioned, unchurched, oppressed, even other faiths, or worldviews. If we are totally honest, open-minded, and willing, to look at all the facts regarding creation, life, death, separation from God and its causes, our shortcomings, our relationships with others, and the claims that the Bible makes; we will become disciples of Jesus.

The keys to recovery, whether it be alcoholism, addiction of some sort, or anything the Scriptures frankly call sin, are Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. The three points of the AA triangle within the circle represent these three ideals.

If we seek recovery and a relationship with God living out these three principles to their fullest, we will invariably come to the same conclusions. If we short ourselves on any one of them, we will end up hitting a wall. This wall may not cause us to relapse in recovery, but it will stunt our growth spiritually regardless. Let’s take a closer look at these three principles and see how they affect our lives and how they can guide us into all truth objectively.

First, honesty. Looking at ourselves, no matter how well put together an individual seems to be, if we are honest, we are all muffed up in many ways. We all have our shortcomings, our defects of character, the places we injure ourselves or others, the things we cover up, justify, or outright lie about, the places we miss the mark of whatever objective or subjective mark of perfection set for us by ourselves, our society, or our belief system. For some, these may be extreme and outwardly obvious. For others, they may be more subtle. If we look at our various cultures, communities, countries, and our world; we can really see just how muffed up we can get.

If we honestly take stock, the Bible has one word that describes all of this, sin. There are many lists throughout Scripture, but there are two that really sum up all the rest… whether you agree with specific items or not, I ask you to simply consider them.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God.

1 Corinthians 6:9‭-‬10 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/1co.6.9-10.NET‬

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, depravity, idolatry, sorcery (getting high on drugs), hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish rivalries, dissensions, factions, envying, murder, drunkenness, carousing, and similar things. I am warning you, as I had warned you before: Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God!

Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/gal.5.19-21.NET‬

These two lists sum up very well everything that causes any and every kind of harm we can cause to ourselves and others. The Scriptures are clear in both respects, these things separate us from God both now and have eternal consequences.

You may ask, why should I believe anything the Bible has to say? Other than looking at the truth of just these previous couple paragraphs, if you are willing and open-minded enough to give the Bible a fair shake, See also the attached article by Charlie Campbell, 10 Evidences for the Bible.

10 evidences

There is a Creator. Sin has separated us from him. The Scriptures say this,

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.

Romans 1:18‭-‬20 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/rom.1.18-20.NET‬

If we can honestly accept there is really a problem here. Guess what… God has also provided a solution to the problem. Jesus.

Are you open-minded enough to hear about him? Are you open-minded enough to hear about a loving Creator Father that wants a relationship with us? Are you open-minded enough to read a book that through the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit was given to us to explain how glorious he really is and what he has done to have a relationship with us? Open-minded enough to hear how he has been working since creation to bring us, sinful, rebellious, imperfect human beings into a relationship with a perfect and holy God?
The Bible tells us…

For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God. Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.

John 3:16‭-‬19 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/jhn.3.16-19.NET‬

You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross! As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5‭-‬11 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/php.2.5-11.NET‬

because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation.

Romans 10:9‭-‬10 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/rom.10.9-10.NET‬

If we say we do not bear the guilt of sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8‭-‬9 NET https://bible.com/bible/107/1jn.1.8-9.NET‬

If we are willing enough, we can break down all the barriers between us and God. If we are willing enough, we can bridge the gap. If we are willing enough, we can help others to do the same. We need to be willing to be open-minded. We need to be willing to honestly evaluate the facts and face the truth. We need to be willing to let go of ourselves and accept God on his terms, rather than making up our own.

Because of our sin, God sent his Son, Jesus, to live a perfect human life as God in the flesh. He died on the cross, convicted of crimes he did not commit as a holy sacrifice to make us right with God the Father, bridging the separation sin has caused. He rose from the dead, as both a symbol of his divinity and to raise all those who are willing to follow him into an eternal relationship with the Father and give us his Holy Spirit to live in and with us, so we can live in his image and show his sacrificial love to all the world.

Can you be honest enough to accept this truth about yourself and God? Are you open-minded enough to give all this information consideration or further your own search for the truth? Are you willing enough to do the hard work and soul searching to restore your relationship with God and follow Jesus?

Have faith, do good, show love, and do the next right thing!

May God bless you!

Hard questions for “traditional” congregations

As I have been studying church life and death, and observing different congregations, and pondering the future of the Church in a post-Christian culture; some thoughts and questions come to mind.
Let’s make one thing clear. The mission of the church has never changed nor should the message of the church change; but our presentation and strategies for accomplishing the mission and delivering the message needs to be polymorphic and adaptive! Don’t get me wrong, small congregations are not bad and large congregations are not good and vice versa… but, every congregation should be a vibrant reflection of our living God equipped and able to fulfill his mission and purpose. If church culture, big or small is holding back Kingdom growth, if a congregation is withering and dying because it is not tapped in to the True Vine and not producing fruit, that is a HUGE problem.
Most of these are not new or original, but I think every congregation needs to assess them.
1. If your pastor had a very limited skillset, would you prefer someone skilled in funerals or baptisms?
2. If you have a multigenerational church, does the primary financial support come from those 65 years and older, or younger?
3. If you have a multigenerational church where the older generation is the primary source of support…if the matriarch or patriarch dies, do you think their scions will stay, if nothing changes?
4. If the older generation passes away, how long will the church survive financially, especially if those younger generations leave because the church refuses to adapt to the 21st century?
5. For the older saints, if you could look down from heaven, would you prefer to watch the younger generation stay engaged in your congregation after you are gone, or would you prefer to not see your traditions change? Whether it be music style, order of service, the tradition, fill in the blank…
6. If you are in the older generation, would you rather be intentional about making changes to impact younger generations, or would you prefer to drive them away for the sake of maintaining the tradition? (Of course, they should stay and respect the time honored tradition because holding on to our tradition is more important than keeping people engaged in the church…)
7. If you are in one of these churches and struggling to find a pastor… are you looking for a caretaker to maintain the estate, then wrap up it’s affairs once it has passed away, or do you want someone to guide and lead you into the future (even if change is painful)?
8. If you keep records or can call to mind, how many visitors have come to your church in the last 2 years? How many came back a second time? How many are still there? If you could ask why they didn’t come back, what do you think the answers would be?
a. Not enough youth? Is it because all the young people and young families are going to a more contemporary church down the road?
b. Not enough programs? Is it because there are so few people left attending your church?
c. Music? I spoke to an older friend recently who had been church shopping for a while… in succession, he went to several churches that had not changed to contemporary praise styles. His comment, “my parents made me go to a church like this when I was a kid (60+ years ago), it was tiring then, it needs to just die already.” He said, “I loved the message, and the preaching was good, but I won’t go back.” This is a man who constantly says he should have been born a century ago, hates and doesn’t understand technology, doesn’t have a smartphone or computer, wishes phones still had live operators and party lines, and has a hard time with tv remotes…
9. If you keep records, how many baptisms has your church had in the past 5 years? How many were young adult/adult new believers? How many were children of existing families? If your church is only baptizing it’s own children, is it really fulling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations? How many of the lost, irreligious, unchurched, disillusioned, spiritual, agnostic, or atheist people out there has your congregation made disciples of in the last 10 years?

To contrast two churches: both were founded in the 1800s. Both had attendance around 100-150 in the late 80s early 90s. Both have strong foundations in biblical truth. Both hold tight to biblical ideals, sin, salvation, and expectations of godliness. Both are multigenerational churches with ages birth through 90s+… two very different situations in 2019.
a. Determined after a period of decline 25 years ago, it would make adaptive changes the expectation and norm. Determined to be on the forward edge of worship, programs, outreach, teaching and technology. Average weekend attendance now is nearly over 1,000 plus viewers streaming online and listening/watching podcasts. Has a dynamic website, their own smartphone app, several worship teams, hundreds of volunteers, the list goes on… With a budget of millions per year going to Kingdom work around the world and impact in their community able to support many full-time staff. Easter weekend saw 5 services in two auditoriums plus a satellite congregation all packed, all with the same message of hope, and around a dozen baptisms.
b. Has held on to traditional worship with hymns and a piano. Has a rudimentary website. Has average weekend attendance around 50 with a budget well below $10k per month and can’t support one full-time pastor. Average attendance on Easter and no baptisms.
While I have never been a fan of the “dog and pony show” overshadowing strong biblical teaching and exceptional pastoral care, if not adapting to the trends in praise and worship, not adapting to changes in technology and delivery of the message, has crippled your congregation to the point of minimal impact and even death…
A pastor friend of mine sat next to a senior saint during a contemporary worship service. He asked her, do you like this music? She answered, “It’s okay. I loved the old hymns, but I really love watching my grandson praise God up there on the drums!”

Unfortunately, there are congregations and even entire denominations, that will refuse to hear this message. They will blame everyone and everything for the death of the portion of Christ’s Body they are stewards over… Christ said, the gates of hell will not overcome his Church, but we allow our insistence on not adapting to kill our congregations while the faithful are left to find somewhere else to attend a worship service…

The deepest sadness is these congregations are full of friendly, loving, devout believers in Jesus Christ. However, the only way one congregation grows, is when another congregation dies, and those who want to hold on to tradition consolidate… these people need dedicated pastors and staff to equip them for ministry, but as the congregations dwindle and funds dry up, only bi-vocational pastors, who inherently have their attention split (serving two masters), or pastors who have an independent source of income, usually retirees (who have already put their time in and are looking for someone to take the mantle of leadership) are able to serve in these congregations because of simple economic demands on their families.

Unfortunately, time and again, once the older generation who resisted adapting for so long pass away, the church is in critical condition and on life support, and it is too late to breath new life in; leaving both the pastoral team and members with no way to keep the doors open, even if the mortgage was paid off 50 years ago…

The facts and statistics do not lie. This is the sad reality facing churches that do not adapt.