I remember as kid being forced to sit in a hard pew during Sunday “church services.” My mom would hand me some crayons and a piece of paper, or a small toy, or a snack, so I would be inconspicuously entertained as the music played and the holy man talked. Whatever it took, I guess, to keep me from being a distraction to the people who were there to “worship.” “Be quite,” I was often told. “This is God’s house.”
Occasionally, my father would give me some pocket change to “give to God” by putting it in the offering plate. I still recall a mental image of some guy behind the scenes stuffing all the offerings into a big bag and taking it to “God” in His office at the top of a tall building. What He did with it after that, I never knew.
The “services” were long, boring and way over my head. One time, I counted all the times I thought the pastor should have said “amen” during a long prayer. As I recollect, he could have finished that flowery oration more than a dozen times, but he just kept going on and on and on, until the long-awaited “amen” finally came, freeing me from the uncomfortable hands-folded/head-bowed position.
Often on the way to “church” my parents would argue, or yell at us kids, or say bad things about some other member they were at odds with. The anger and frustration would be thick, yet as soon as we stepped out of the car, we had to smile and act like everything was just great. “We’re at church,” was the reason given for the sudden suppression of true feelings. Of course we had to be “nice” and put on our Sunday best whenever we visited “God’s house,” didn’t we?
I was too young to know the details, but I recall my father many times coming home fit-to-be-tied after some or another “church” committee meeting. “They” were all a bunch of self-serving, incompetent idiots, and just didn’t “get it,” was basic gist of his reports.
Sure we kids sang the little song, “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people…” But we did it in a building, with a steeple, that we called “church,” so this quaint little ditty really made no sense at all. Even back then, I think I knew what “hypocrite” meant. “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan said. True that.
When I grew older and finally moved from home – after all the Sunday school classes with sugary, goody-two-shoes teachers … all the V-BS arts and crafts, flannel graphs and Kumbaya sing-alongs … all the gold stars for getting my memory verses right … all the youth functions with some dorky, over-the-hill dude who tried too hard to be cool to “connect” with us kids … all the countless “services,” and “sermons,” and potlucks in the fellowship hall – I was finally given a choice of whether or not I wanted to get up early on Sunday morning to “go to church.” Of course, my reaction was not just “no” but “hell no.”
Who really wants a God who is distant and dull? I mean, if His “house” is so boring and fake, His designated holy men are so namby-pamby, His “services” are so repetitive and rote, and His “church”-going “children” so superficial and divided – and if, in the end, after all our effort and expense to be active in “church” we’re really no different than our neighbors who actually get to sleep late on Sundays – what’s the real point of it all? I sure as heck didn’t see it.
I still don’t see the point. Thankfully, however, I’m now able to distinguish between the reality of the Living God, and the box we’ve put Him into after 2,000 years of tradition … between the things God truly does for and through us, and the things we’ve done ourselves “in His name” … between His true children (those who are led by the Spirit), and those who simply claim to “believe” … between God’s organic design for Church, and the clergy-led social clubs we call “church.”
But back then, however, the very thought that the true God was way different from (and also displeased with) “church” as we know it was not in my frame of reference. So I walked away from “church,” and pretty darn near walked away from Him, too. Had I only known then what I know now, I would have been spared loads of heartache.
Thankfully, my Good Shepherd left the 99 others and came after me. He had to chase me halfway across the country, and through quite a few dark places, but He got me, and I’ve been with Him ever since. Now, I haven’t been in “church” so much – I sat through a “service” only a handful of times during a recent decade! – but I’ve been blessed with an ever-closer walk with Him. Odd, isn’t it, that the further the “organized church” gets in my rearview mirror, the closer I get to Him? Maybe that’s not so odd after all.
You see, a big problem with the way we practice “church” today is that we can be so adamant in claiming our way of practicing “church” is the only way to connect with God, that when people reject our way, they end up rejecting our God, too. This happens way, way more often that most “church” people realize.
(“Well, they never came to my ‘church,’” you may say. You must realize, I’m not just talking about the specific way it’s practiced at “XYZ Church,” I’m talking about the whole dadgum thing we call “church” today – the whole show-up-at-the-designated-time, face-the-front, sing-the-music, listen-to-the-lecture, put-the-money-in-the-basket thing – because that sure as heck isn’t “church” as God designed it. I don’t care how much your “church” dresses it up or claims to be “non-traditional” or “relevant” – or, on the flip side, how diligently you’ve kept the traditions of your denomination’s founders – if you recognize a distinction between “clergy” and “laymen,” you think a “service” is a pre-set time and way of meeting, or you think funding your local “church” is equal to giving money to God, then yes, I’m talking about your “church.”)
Fact is, whether they leave from burnout, woundedness, boredom, a subconscious realization that our traditional practices are hollow and man-made, or seeing that we Christians can’t agree on even the smallest things with the folks at the “church” down the road, “back-door losses” are a big issue in churchianity. In all my efforts at evangelism, I must say, this seems to be THE primary reason most of the “lost” in our culture don’t want to get found: They, or someone who influences them has been there, done that, and got the bloody t-shirt to show for their experience in “church.” Truly, I do believe that what we have done “for” God all these years has driven more people away from Him than the devil himself. The devil can only offer emptiness, shallow “solutions,” and short-term “pleasure.” We’ve been doing the same, only we’ve been stamping Jesus’ name on it.
The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, mercy, self-control – is what everyone in the history of the world has ever looked for. And it can only be found in an authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And this can only be fully experienced in Body life as He designed it. Jesus Christ – as manifest through His true Body on earth – is the authentic hope of the nations, and the true, deepest desire of every human being. When we finally get this, we will be an unstoppable force.
But to get it, we must learn to separate God from churchianity, and choose which one we will serve. Because the two are NOT the same.
Introducing people to God through Jesus Christ is entirely unrelated to inviting them to “church.” In fact, inviting them to “church” is quite often the very worst thing we can do for them!
We must learn to truly trust God. If we do our job and personally introduce people to Him, He certainly reserves the right to lead them to plug into a “church” and participate in “services.” And if He does, more power to them! If He doesn’t, then we must realize that Father knows best.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Just like any other counterfeit the enemy offers, the Christian “religion” can be an addictive drug. Like licking your lips on a windy day – which provides temporary relief but only makes the problem worse before long – participating in “religious” activities can give us a burst of euphoria. Problem is, this quick fix is no fix at all.
When we fall into this trap, we see our only course as doing more of the same. Drug addicts look to take more and more of their drug of choice. “Religion” addicts seek to sit closer to the front, sing louder, put more money in the plate, get involved in a “church” committee, etc.
I’ve known people who even went to seminary and/or into full time “ministry” for this very reason. Needless to say, they generally end up hitting a brick wall before long. Because no matter how much you pursue an addiction, you’ll never find what you’re looking for. As Solomon said, it’s like chasing the wind.
Those who are responsible for feeding others can take one of two general approaches. They can aim to truly edify (the Greek word for this means to build up or construct, as in a building) by serving a balanced, nutritional diet. Or they can seek to give their charges a sugar high – a quick burst of spiritual fervor that quickly fades to black. “Minsters” who do the latter – who are all, I’m sure, well intentioned, but trapped in tradition – are little more than drug pushers. They offer a counterfeit “religion” in place of a true, functional relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of “church” activities today are geared towards giving folks nothing more than sugar highs. Our entire churchianity system is built accordingly. “Religion” addiction is job security for “clergy,” because druggies need a pusher, and kids who are addicted to sugar need a candyman. Otherwise, if folks were to connect directly to The Source — operating, individually, under the Headship of Christ — then the whole basis for our ”church” buildings and institutions would crumble.
If you’re in ministry, you’re no doubt familiar with the yo-yo effect. Folks come to an event, “church service,” concert, rally, conference, camp, retreat, etc., and get full of “the Spirit” – and then soon after, they’re back where they began, if not worse off. This manifests itself in many ways, including folks repeatedly answering altar calls, or appearing as Sunday-only (or Easter and Christmas only) Christians, or in backdoor losses, or even in suicide attempts. They “get it” during the activity, and then quickly lose it when they walk out the door.
It is this phenomenon that made Billy Graham’s best “retention rate” no more than five percent. He could get crowds into a “spiritual” sugar high, and lure multitudes to raise their hand and walk to the front of the assembly, but when it all came down to it, fewer than five out of one hundred of them really got it. Makes for great fame and fundraising, but where’s the fruit?
I’ve dealt for decades with ministries and ministers, and am sad to say that way too many are unwitting facilitators of this phenomenon. The paradigm for most formal Christian activities these days is how people were “moved” by the event. So we play the music and dim the lights just right, bring a moving message, put on a multimedia show, stage skits, facilitate “deep” thought, load folks up on Bible trivia, “move in the Spirit,” etc., all to make an “impact.” But like giving crack to an addict or candy to a kid, it’s often all just a temporary high.
The alternative, of course, is true edification – The Way Christ and the early apostles modeled it. That is, building up each person, one at a time, through deep, personal, long-term relationship. Growing them over time through providing proper spiritual nutrition, from milk to red meat.
In The Way, we don’t seek to give folks a sugar high; instead, we introduce them to the Living Water and Bread of Life. In The Way, there aren’t quick bursts of “spiritual” euphoria that quickly fade to black; instead, there’s a constant connection to the Spirit that gives us true peace and contentment in every situation, every day, and that only grows deeper with time.
Folks who are used to sugar highs can think this Way boring. They’d rather go from high to high, and if you’re not providing it, they’ll go to the “church” down the road that puts on a better Sunday morning show. They’re chasing the wind.
“Ministers” who are trained pushers of the Christian “religion” can’t relate, either, as The Way doesn’t fit into our “church services,” or fill the plates, or pack the pews. You see, “ministers” who are raised in the sugar high culture need their own high, too – but for them, it’s become the “amens,” or raised hands at the end of the “service,” or growing membership, or bigger buildings, etc., that give them their fix. Like any addict, they believe they need more of these counterfeit “results” to keep going. They, too, are chasing the wind.
The Way builds on The Rock, it doesn’t chase the wind. The Way chooses edify over sugar high, every time.
No, The Way is not sexy. But it is the only way we can bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: I wrote this last spring before I began this blog. Stumbled across it today and thought it’d be a good one to throw out here. Nothing like the slaughter of a sacred cow to start a meaningful dialogue …
In 1959, the greatest Christian salvation machine ever conceived by man invaded Australia, as a Billy Graham Crusade swept over the continent, from shore to shore. Leading an ecumenical effort that included a vast and varied union of denominations and congregations, blasting through all forms of mass media, and speaking in the largest venues in the land, Billy faithfully shared a clear, direct and inviting presentation of the Gospel of Salvation to more than 3,300,000 people in person, and countless millions more through radio, television, newspapers and closed-circuit broadcasts.
This was in the early days of Billy’s remarkable, life-long outreach efforts, and his organization’s scope and scale continued to grow for decades. He returned to Australia with similar Crusades in 1969, 1979 and 1989. Several associate evangelists of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) visited throughout this period as well. In 1996, Billy’s son Franklin, now the president of the BGEA, led a full-fledged crusade that touched the largest cities on the continent.
It is beyond argument that the majority of the population of Australia, for at least two generations, have heard the straight-up Gospel of Salvation, clearly communicated by the most sincere, faithful, capable, organized, and well-funded mass-market evangelists of modern times.
Yesterday I saw a news item from the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197). The lead paragraph says, “A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.” Using a proven statistical model applied to a vast amount of census data, the researchers found “that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.” Top of their list? Australia.
What’s gone wrong? The Bible says the truth will set us free, but this truth is a hard one to swallow.
Is the Christian faith fated to dwindle into oblivion?
Is the Bible outdated and meaningless for today? Is it even, really, the true word of God?
Are the hearts of the people in Australia simply hardened, and they are doomed as a nation to spend eternity in Hell?
Is the rise of the Antichrist inevitable, and so he’s conquering that continent against the best efforts of the Body of Christ?
If you, like me, reject these notions, then what is it?
Did these leaders lack faith, integrity or competence? Of course not! That’d be the easy way out – to claim these Crusades, and all others like them, have failed because the men weren’t righteous. It’s easier to abandon men than methods. But that’s wrong! I believe these men, and others like them, are incredible, faithful, sincere and highly-capable men of God. They are not the problem. Instead, I believe the facts prove that mass market, salvation-based evangelism is not the way to win the world for Christ.
Jesus and Paul modeled for us a different method: Personal discipleship.
They also taught a different message: The Gospel of the Kingdom. This, according to Christ, is the seed we’re supposed to plant. He said the message of salvation is just the first step; that you must be born again just to see the Kingdom. The Kingdom message tells us we are His sons and daughters, with a victorious identity and destiny, and a mandate to establish dominion over all creation. With the “born again” message alone, we view the cross as a means of salvation, a way out of here. (And how’s that message working for us?) With Christ’s message of the Kingdom, we view the cross as God sees it, as a means of invasion. Through Christ, we now have full access to the power, provision and direction of God Himself, to seek first and establish His Kingdom!
It pains me to say it, but the facts are the facts: The methods, models and messages that the Body of Christ have dogmatically revered, embraced and funded for generations have been measured, and they are a massive failure.
But our faith is NOT fated for failure. Victory is our destiny!
The Bible IS the word of God, and it is more relevant and needed today than ever before!
Hearts around the world are parched and hungry for the reality of the Living God, ready to embrace Him when they meet Him!
“The Antichrist” is the one whose days are numbered; the Kingdom WILL come on earth as it is in Heaven, just as Jesus prayed! We are more than conquerors!
We just need to plant the right seed and use the right cultivation methods, returning to the ways of Christ and the early apostles. This truth WILL set us free – free to bring the victory and seize God’s eternal inheritance that is stored up only for those who conquer the world for Him.
It is time for an UPRISING. It’s time for Christians to stop waiting and start winning!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
NOTE: I am writing this from a hotel lobby in Abuja, Nigeria. I’m here for a quick BAM (business as ministry) trip…
Most churches and ministries these days play fast and loose with the word “conversion.” They speak of making “converts” and liberally quote the quantity of “conversions” from a given activity. Problem is, there generally is no understanding of what “conversion” really means, so in reality these efforts and statistics – and indeed, many of these “ministries” – are pretty much worthless.
I realize those are very strong words, so please allow me to make myself perfectly clear. God is absolutely all about conversion, and He desires for us to work to convert all mankind. But if we don’t know what authentic conversion is as God intends it, and instead pursue a misguided, watered-down, man-made conception of “conversion,” then we simply are not going about our Father’s business. We can do all sorts of things “in His name,” and in the end He will tell us, “away from me, I never knew you.”
To avoid this terrible outcome, we simply must know what God means when He says the word “conversion.”
Ray Croc, founder of McDonald’s, once famously said, “When you’re green, you’re growing, and when you’re ripe, you rot.” Truer words are rarely spoken. A disclaimer: What I’m writing here may be new information for you, and it may be unsettling. I pray you are green.
Another disclaimer. Someday, I’ll get a hat or button made with this on it, and wear it when I preach:
“Correct me if I’m wrong.”
While what I write here may be new and unsettling to some, it’s fully substantiated by Scripture. And if you allow Him to do so, I believe the Spirit of God will confirm it to you. But if you think I’m off base, please, please tell me. I seek nothing more than truth.
Now here’s the heart of it: For way too long, we have confused “faith” with “belief,” as if intellectual acceptance of the truth of Jesus as the risen Son of God is all it takes to be saved. And so, when someone finally has come to accept this truth, we have counted them as a “convert.” Problem is, this is simply NOT the case. Satan himself believes that Jesus is God’s son, that He was crucified, died, and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins. And last I checked, Satan isn’t a convert, is he?
The Bible clearly tells us that true conversion is something different entirely. It’s a two-step process, with belief being the first step. Yes, belief comes before conversion. But belief itself is NOT conversion. If you’ve convinced someone of the truthfulness of the Bible, and led them to an intellectual acceptance of Christ as our risen Savior, then you’ve done a good thing, no doubt. But you have NOT made a convert!
The second step, the most important step, the step the devil won’t take, the point of TRUE conversion, comes when a person yields their will fully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Before this, a person is not saved. After this, they are. This, and only this, is the point of conversion in God’s eyes.
The Bible repeatedly makes a pronounced distinction between these two things: Belief and Surrender.
(Were this a book and not a blog post, I would proceed with many dozens of substantiating Scriptures. For the sake of space, allow me to give just a few.)
In Chapter One of his gospel writing, the Apostle John says, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:14) So receiving Christ — believing in Him – is a big deal. It gives us the right to become children of God. It opens the door. But it is a right only; it does not make it a done deal! Later in the same book, John records that Jesus said the same thing, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Being “born again” gives us the right to become children of God; it allows us to see the Kingdom.
Actually becoming children of God, and entering the Kingdom, is another step entirely. It requires more than simple belief! The Apostle Paul put it this way, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) In the same vein, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Being led by, being born again by, the Holy Spirit, is the point of conversion, and not a moment sooner. THIS is when we become God’s children and enter His Kingdom. And this is distinct and separate from intellectual belief in the truth of Scripture.
The question is, in my life, who’s the boss? If I lean on my own understanding, if I am conformed to the patterns of this world, if I follow the impulses of my flesh, then I am not converted, and I am not a child of God. If, instead, I am a sheep who knows my Master’s voice, if I have the mind of Christ, if I live by faith and not by sight, then I am indeed converted, and adopted as a full child and heir of the King of Kings.
Over and over, the Bible makes this point clear. And yet in our quest to build bigger budgets and buildings, we’ve simply left the truth by the wayside.
We don’t talk much about the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus what was required for salvation, because it’s too hard: “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and then come follow me.”
We don’t sing pop-praise songs based on the words of James: “Faith without works is dead.” Folks don’t want to sway back and forth all bleary-eyed to that refrain.
We don’t hear too many sermons about James’ instruction to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Hard to fill pews and plates with that one.
I read a blurb in an in-flight magazine the other day about a woman who met a famous violinist after a concert. “I’d give my life to play like you do,” she said.
“I did,” was his reply.
Jesus is calling us to the exact same understanding. We want the eternal life that He died for? We must die, too. We must offer ourselves as living sacrifices, according to the words of Paul, who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
No, belief alone does not save us. It gives us the potential, the right, the power to become children of God. Changing our minds is not conversion. Changing our hearts is. When we die to self, when we crucify our flesh, when we yield fully to the step-by-step guidance of His Spirit … this is the true point of conversion, and not a moment before.
Conversion doesn’t come when folks raise their hands after a rip-roaring sermon, or when they say the magic words of the “sinners prayer,” or when they check the “I received Christ today” box on the response card. These are great things, and thank God for them! But they are not conversion. If you’ve achieved this, you’ve done a good job – you’ve made a good START. But that’s all it is – a START. Your work is not yet done!
Remember, our job is to make disciples, not just to make believers. If all you’re doing is making believers, I’m sorry, but your ministry results are all make believe.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friend!
There is power in the name of Jesus. And politicians of all persuasions have sought to wield that power for more than 1700 years, since Constantine marched on Rome under the sign of the cross. (In fact, Constantine was the first person to use the cross as a “Christian” symbol, and he did so as a campaign logo of sorts, much like the Obama “O” of his day.)
It seems genuine believers in the political arena, on both sides of the aisle, believe they have a monopoly on the “real” way Jesus would vote, and are often quick to point accusatory fingers at their brethren on the other side of the issues (often accompanied by the most inflammatory, hateful language).
This may shock my “conservative” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “liberal” worldview. And this may shock my “liberal” friends, but yes: there are genuine Christ-followers who adhere to a “conservative” worldview. And you know what? I believe both are equally sincere in their love for the Lord – and equally manipulated by the dark princes of American politics.
To all believers, we must wake up and realize that the enemy – yes, our real enemy, not those people who support different candidates than you do – is the only one who wins when we are divided, regardless of who prevails at the polls. Christ calls us to unity, and our unity will only be found in Him. We will never find unity if we seek it through partisan victory or political domination.
It’s a sad state of affairs when conservative Republicans believe that corporate tax breaks and harsh treatment of honest yet undocumented immigrants is the “Christian” way, and that anyone who thinks differently is morally bankrupt. It’s just as sad when liberal Democrats believe that Christ is honored by bloated government bureaucracy or poverty-breeding entitlement programs, and that anyone against such things is greedy and hateful.
Does Jesus really advocate unquestioningly supporting the modern, political nation of Israel, and turning a blind eye to their brutal treatment of Palestinians? Are modern Israelis (in contrast to ancient Israelites, who actually had predominantly Hebrew blood and adhered to the Old Covenant) really God’s chosen people? ‘Splain that one to me.
Many years ago, I made a living as a political consultant, until I felt the Lord call me out of that arena. I’ve kept an active interest in politics, and stay in touch with my friends who are still in that game. I’ve also been the C.O.O. of a television and radio news network, an officer in a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalist, and worked in publishing much of my career. Here’s something I know: I’m no “conspiracy theorist,” but fact is, for every big issue out there, there is big money at stake. Fortunes to be made and lost. Moneymen behind the scenes of the political game pull the strings that make every candidate and activist dance. They manipulate the media and the message, at every level, in every detail. That’s just the way it is.
Joseph Goebbels, the evil genius pioneer of modern propaganda, masterfully manipulated the German population to support Hitler’s Third Reich. The tools at his disposal were primitive by modern media standards. Today’s propagandists have exponentially more power at their fingertips – and they use it, with Goebbels’ passion, to advance their own purposes. We are fools if we don’t accept the fact that our political arena – and the people in it (that is, us) — is just as manipulated as it was in Hitler’s Germany.
Does Jesus really care about the American tax code? Does He care who is in the White House? Does He care whether the person picking produce on a distant farm has a Green Card or not? Does He care if I can own a gun? Does He care which way I vote, or if I vote at all?
Maybe He does, maybe He doesn’t. Folks who knew me back in my activist days may be surprised to hear me say this, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is this: The first thing Jesus cares about is the hearts of people. His Kingdom is not of this world; instead, it is within each of us. Genuine followers of Jesus Christ are but strangers here; His eternal Kingdom is our home.
Am I saying that we should sit on the sidelines of politics? No, I’m not. We are to be the salt and light of the world, seek first the advancement of His Kingdom, and glorify Him in everything our hand finds to do. And in a democratic nation, that includes politics.
What I AM saying is this: We must refuse to follow those who divide us. We must question our own reasons for supporting the issues and candidates we support, and cut the puppet strings that are tied to every single issue we debate. We must operate in courageous meekness, pursuing unity, in the role of peacemaker. We must not be afraid to buck the trends, reach across the aisle, change our minds and speak the truth. We must find a new voice, a new way, to glorify God in our civic activities. We must let Christ, and Christ alone, pull the strings that guide our actions and votes! When we do, I believe we will find that Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat, neither liberal nor conservative – and that there is good and evil beneath each of these headings.
The Kingdom of God is advanced from the bottom-up, and from the inside-out. Love conquers all. Love your political “enemies.” Get to know them, and minister to their deepest needs. Stop the angry rhetoric, finger pointing and closed-minded rejection of everything that is counter to your favorite party, candidate or ideology. Win hearts for Christ, and let Him take it from there. The Holy Spirit is a better voters’ guide than anything any advocacy group can publish.
When the people turn towards God, and are yielded to His Spirit, the issues we’re fighting over will disappear — selfishness, suffering, brokenness, illness, betrayal, crime, rage, greed, corruption, destitution, and every other social sickness will fade away — and His Kingdom will rise.
And I believe that’s a cause we can all get behind.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
God has taken me far and wide in His service. I’ve been blessed to spend time in remote villages in Brazil and Honduras, the streets of Paris and London, big cities and rural villages in Tanzania and Nigeria, and communities all across America, including a recent mission trip with a group of young people to an Indian reservation in Oklahoma. I’ve dined in the Ritz in Paris and a thatch-roofed hut in a village that had never before been visited by an outsider. I’ve sat behind Billy Graham’s private desk and behind natives in dugout canoes; preached in opulent American sanctuaries and an overcrowded Third World prison; jetted in First Class and been sandwiched in rundown, foreign taxicabs. And along the way, I’ve been privileged to get to know presidents, governors, celebrities and billionaires … and indigents, addicts, lepers and hardened criminals.
Even as I write this, recounting these adventures feels like watching Forrest Gump share his life story. I never set out to travel or to experience all that I have; it’s only by God’s grace and good pleasure that I’ve witnessed so much of this world and met so many interesting people. Along the way, I’ve done my best to extract every bit of knowledge and wisdom from these experiences, and now I feel burdened to share as much as I can of what I’ve learned with others.
In my missionary travels, one thing I’ve seen over and over again is the tragic disconnect of American elitism. Don’t get me wrong – I’m proud to be an American, and I am thankful for our nation’s relative freedom, security, prosperity and Godly heritage. But sadly, it seems we American Christians – and the people we seek to reach – are deceived into thinking our material prosperity is somehow akin to godliness. It’s like everyone thinks we have it all figured out, and that our ways are the best ways, in every way. As a result, folks around the world tend to be drawn to us like moths to a flame. They generally come with their hands out, and we’re generally way too eager to fill them with stuff – and then consider our missionary work done.
Our money. Our technology. Our buildings. The way we do “church.” All these are craved by the “have nots,” who tend to think, like a cow straining for the “greener” grass on the other side of the fence, that material things and empty religion hold any real value.
Let me tell you, it’s true. The first thing you notice when you visit an impoverished area of the world – including here within our own borders – is all the things they lack that we take for granted. But if you spend enough time there, you begin to see the opposite – the things they take for granted that we lack. And when you step back and look at it all in perspective, you find that, in every important way, we’ve got our whole value system upside down. Because the society the world calls “rich” is one of the most impoverished in the world in the things that matter most – and the “poor” of this world are some of the wealthiest in every important way.
I just got back from a 3-week trip to Southern Nigeria. It is very similar to the other Third World countries I’ve visited. Every Christian I spoke with there has experienced and witnessed countless, authentic miracles. Try finding a mainstream American Christian who has seen one. The people in their “poor” culture put God first, value family, honor their elders, crave knowledge, walk with dignity and respect, and work tenaciously for a better tomorrow. (I visited a large, public, state university, and you know what? In every possible way, it was more of a Christian school than any “Christian” school I’ve ever seen in America!)
Sadly, these are mainly far-out, abstract “ideals” for Americans – and no longer the bedrock values upon which our culture is built.
And even sadder, they seem to think that if only we could be more like America, then everything will all be better.
Yet saddest of all is that we tend to think the same way, too! So our missionary goal is to export “Americanism” – the worship of stuff; the pursuit of physical comfort and stimulation above all else; the hollow sensational, showmanship of our churchianity.
Sometimes I feel like screaming, “STOP! We’ve got it all wrong!” We’re the ones who need missionaries from there! We need to go there with our ears open and lips closed. THEY have what WE need, and not the other way around!
In my most recent mission trips, some simple truths have begun to crystallize in my mind. Everywhere I go, and everyone I meet, all share the same needs – and the same solution to their ills:
No matter who they are, their potential is inborn. It’s not something you or I can give them; it is a gift of God alone. Every single human being has the opportunity to be adopted as a full offspring and heir of the Creator and King of the Universe. They have royal blood and birthright! The very best thing we can do is simply recognize that in them. How do you recognize royalty? With honor and respect! These – nothing more, and nothing less – are the keys to unlocking their full potential. They cost us nothing, and yet we tend to find them the hardest to give.
Our Provider is their Provider, too. There’s not one thing you can give them that God can’t give them better and more abundantly. The same promise applies to them as to you: If they seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, He will give them everything they need, every single day. Of course, if God puts on your heart to give something – money or other – do it joyfully, only give credit where it’s due, and don’t go beyond His leading. Just remember, they don’t need another thing, they need the King! Introduce them, and He’ll take it from there!
They sure as heck don’t need to be indoctrinated into our traditions. Their unique way of doing “church” – whether it be through dancing to drums, or seemingly chaotic celebrations, or praying in sweat lodges – so long as it’s Christ-centered and Spirit led – may very well be superior to what you and I have come to call “church.” Once again, open your ears and close your mouth. You may very well learn something. If our forefathers had done this, our world would be a brighter place today.
Peace, joy and love are fruits of the Spirit, not byproducts of any material things. And they’re contagious! Just walk the path the Lord lays before you, step by step, and these things will be manifest in and around you.
Their best path forward is the one led by the Spirit. It’s not according to the “American Way,” because, as a nation, we’ve lost our way. Introduce them to the Father through the Son, and help them hear the voice of the Spirit, and you’ll be equipping them for an incredible destiny.
The best thing of all is, you don’t need to be rich, or eloquent, or brave to forever change the world. You don’t even need to be far from home. Don’t let your abundance — or your lack! – get in the way. Wherever you’re from, and whatever you have, “as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14). And when all is said and done, that’s all that really matters.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Seems like “The Kingdom” is becoming a new buzzword in churchianity. That’s great, in some ways, but sorta makes me uneasy in others.
Yes, the Gospel of the Kingdom is the heart of the message that God desires to communicate to mankind. It is the core of the Bible, from Page One all the way through. So it’s great that Christians today are, maybe, finally starting to see this and get it.
But the fact is, peoples’ wrong understanding of God’s Kingdom has led to all kind of bad stuff over the centuries. Heck, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day crucified Him because they misunderstood the Kingdom. They though it was political, and when Jesus didn’t bring a political uprising against the Romans, they executed Him as a heretic.
A wrong understanding of the Kingdom of God inspired Paul, when he was Saul, to kill Christians. It launched the crusades, fueled the fires of the Inquisition, and has led modern churchianity to build billions of dollars of steeple-topped monuments to men’s marketing abilities.
Just slapping the word “Kingdom” on a message, organization or endeavor doesn’t make it so.
The pre-eminence of the Kingdom message in Scripture is undeniable, even though many seem to ignore it. I kicks me in the gut when I realize that this was “news” to me, even after spending decades under a steeple. When it finally hits them, this realization takes lots of Christians by surprise. They, rightfully, feel shortchanged. I know pastors, missionaries and other seminary graduates who have said the same thing!
Here are the facts:
- The words “born again” are used ONE TIME in the Gospels, when Jesus — in private, after dark, on a rooftop, talking to one man – told Nicodemus that you must be ”born again” just to SEE the Kingdom. (Sadly, getting folks “born again” is the sole driver of the vast majority of Christian endeavors, and yet without the Kingdom, that’s a pointless pursuit.)
- The word Kingdom is used 120 times in the Gospels, 154 in the entire New Testament. When you look for it, you’ll see it is the basis for virtually ALL of Jesus’ teachings and parables, and those of Paul, too.
- The first paragraph of Acts says Jesus spent His last 40 days on earth teaching His apostles about the Kingdom. The last paragraph of Acts says Paul spent 2 years in Rome teaching all his visitors about the Kingdom.
- Jesus said the Kingdom is what we’re to seek first, every single day. And when we do, He promises that God will provide all our needs!
- Why did Jesus come to earth? What was the purpose He claimed for His living as a man among men? Salvation, you say? NO! He said, crystal clear, that His purpose was to proclaim the Kingdom of God. (See Luke 4:43)
- When He explained the meaning of the parable of the sower (which is the basis of most outreach ministries) Jesus said the truth of God’s Kingdom is the seed we’re supposed to plant in the hearts of men, not the message of “salvation” alone. Sorry, Billy, but we sure have missed this one!
- Jesus said the end won’t come till the Gospel of the Kingdom (no, not the Gospel of salvation alone) is preached to every tribe and nation.
I could keep going on and on, but I think these should establish the point for any thinking Christian who is hungry for the truth: The central message of Scripture — the message Jesus came to share — is the message of the Kingdom of God.
It seems we’re good about teaching folks about Jesus — but we’ve missed the boat entirely when it comes to teaching them what Jesus taught! A disciple, by definition, teaches the teachings of his teacher. This may be a hard word for some, but it’s the truth: If someone is teaching some gospel other than the Gospel of the Kingdom, that person is not a disciple of Jesus Christ, because they’re not teaching what He taught.
Like I said, a lot of folks are throwing the word “Kingdom” around these days, slapping it onto all kinds of hokum. For the record, the Gospel of the Kingdom:
- Is NOT some ecumenical, kumbaya message that all the man-made “churches” should lay aside their doctrinal differences for the sake of superficial, organizational “unity.”
- Is NOT some code for a Christian Mafia-type “familia,” calling Christian businessmen to link together for the sake of making tons of money, for whatever good intentions.
- Does NOT support the building of huge “churches.” In fact, it has nothing to do with the “religion” of Chritianity — not one bit!
- Does NOT call for or apply to a Christian political party, or any form of top-down, forced theocracy or law-based “righteousness.”
- Does NOT call for violence, military conquest, or American global hegemony.
- It has NOTHING to do with the modern, man-made, geo-political nation of Israel.
- Does NOT call for blind allegiance to or compulsory financial support of any self-proclaimed “apostle.”
- And, it does NOT mix in any way whatsoever with the modern, man-made fable of the “end times” that says “the antichrist” will rise to global prominence, and that Christians will have to be rescued in some upcoming “rapture.” (That is about as anti-Kingdom as a teaching can get!)
When we pursue any one of these things for its own sake and call it “Kingdom,” we’re heading down the path of the Sanhedrin, the Inquisitors, the Crusadors, and everyone else who’s jimmied their own agenda and understanding into God’s perfect Word.
The Gospel of the Kingdom is at its core unsettling to the status quo. Yes, it DOES call for Christian unity, for direct action, for functioning as a Body, for advancing righteousness in every sphere (including business and politics), and for the global pre-eminence of the Body of Christ — before He returns. But it’s a whole lot deeper, a whole lot simpler, and a whole lot more revolutionary (personally and corporately) than we’re practicing today.
So, what IS the Gospel of the Kingdom? Stay tuned for Part Two! …
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: Several years ago I took a one-week personal sabbatical and retreated to a cabin in the remote South Texas countryside. I had no idea what God planned for me during that time, and was ready to do anything He asked of me — even nothing. I was hoping for some time to catch up on sleep, yet God had other plans.
Almost the very moment I walked in the door of the cabin, the words started coming. I pulled out my laptop and started writing. (Actually, it felt more like taking dictation!) By the end of the first day, I had typed nearly 50,000 words! At the end of the week, I had completed a manuscript, which I entitled Living God. (Funny, I felt more refreshed at the end of the week than if I’d slept the whole time.)
I showed the manuscript around to a handful of close friends, one of whom is a successful writer, and while everyone encouraged me to publish it, I never felt a release from God to do so. He just kept saying, “Somday, but not now.” As I went forward, it became clear I was supposed to first publish UPRISING. And so, Living God has remained on my hard driving, collecting proverbial dust.
Just recently, the Lord prompted me to pull it back up and start working on it again. I’ve learned much since that week in South Texas, which I must incorporate. Also, I didn’t put in any proper attribution or references as I wrote it. Taken as a whole, the revision/editing process has loomed as a daunting task. Then the idea dawned on me to pull it out, one chapter at a time, and serialize it here on this blog, chewing the elephant one bite at a time.
I pray it blesses you.
It’s all about the fruit
We are all made in the image of God. From the poet to the diesel mechanic, from the primitive jungle dweller to the president, from the truck driver to the symphony conductor, and everyone else – male and female, rich and poor, intellectual and ignorant – we are all bearers of His likeness. We hold this image in jars of clay, each one fragile, cracked and incomplete.
His majesty is greater than any one of us can contain; we can each only bear a miniscule fraction. Like a drop of water, which is indeed completely H2O and has all the properties thereof, the image of God we carry is fully God. But it is not God in full. God is like the ocean, we carry but a drop. Only Jesus Christ was, could be, and is all in all. He came and lived among us to make God manifest; to prove that a being who is fully human could fully carry the image of God.
Driving through the countryside in America’s Old South, one can’t help but notice the sprawling vine known as kudzu. It is a non-native plant that is taking over, covering literally everything in its path. Left unchecked, it will cover forests, trees, farms … anything. What is incredible to think is that, while kudzu is not from America, everything that constitutes that aggressive and ubiquitous plant really has been there all along, in the soil, water and sunlight of the South. Nothing is there that wasn’t already there. Not one cell, fiber or nutrient was imported into the state. Nothing, that is, but the DNA contained in one single seed. That seed, planted into rich the Southern soil, slowly but surely is re-organizing its environment into a living thing that is taking over the state.
Just like it took only one seed of kudzu to take over the South, it takes only one kernel to produce a full crop of corn. Plant it, and it will grow into hundreds. Plant those, and they will become tens of thousands. Plant them; millions. Plant them … and from one seed you can feed the world.
Jesus came as the seed of God. I believe that, just like one seed becomes many, we who believe are implanted with a piece of Him. We are the many who came from the One. Our hearts are soil carrying a seed of Christ. Yet the seed in each of us is but a small part of the whole of God. Yes, it is fully God, like the drop of water is fully water. But the seed in each of us is not the fullness of God; the fullness of God can only become manifest on earth through the Body of Christ. The first coming was a body of one. The second coming will be when He returns as the Head of a Body of many. He come again after the growth and knitting together of each individual believer into a unified whole. (See Ephesians 4:11-16)
The DNA in your fingertip is the same as the DNA in your eyelash. Exactly the same. Leave a fleck of skin off your finger or one eyelash at a crime scene, and they will know it came from you, because the DNA is fully you. But it is not the fullness of you. I marvel that even though the information in each cell of our body is identical, the fact is each cell is unique. Cut off the tip of your finger and a fingertip grows back; each cell just slightly different from the other so that the end of your finger completes itself. Lose an eyelash and an eyelash grows back, just slightly different in form and purpose than the eyelash next to it. How does each cell know where it belongs if the DNA is the same? Only by the design of God.
Just like this, the seed of God that is in us, the DNA of Christ, is implanted not so that each of us can grow into little autonomous Christs, but so each of us can grow into our own unique part of His Body, each with a purpose, each with a place, each a little bit different from the next, so that, when we all reach maturity and join in unity, the Body of Christ will be complete. And when the Body of Christ is complete, that will usher in His second coming. He came originally as God in full, in the form of one man. He will come again, as God in full, as the head of a body comprised of many men and women. And then His fullness will cover the earth.
Understanding it this way, our purpose in this life becomes clear: Our job as believers is first and foremost to cultivate the Christ in us, so that ultimately He’s the only thing people see when they look at us. Then second we are to help plant and cultivate that seed in others, so that He lives fully through them, too. And third, we are to knit each cell of His body together through Koinoneia, which is the deep, intimate, loving, Christ-centered fellowship of believers. That is our job, and it is in concept really quite simple. Of course, it is also the most difficult thing we can do; it is the grand fight and struggle of this age.
When a seed grows in good soil and with proper care, at maturity it becomes a plant that produces fruit. Fruit is nothing more than a seed or seeds surrounded by the nourishment it needs to begin its own new life. From this perspective, our job is to be fruitful: to grow ourselves into healthy maturity, so that through our existence, our species – in our case, Christ – expands and grows exponentially with each successive generation, in the same way that one acorn can over time become a forest of oaks.
Each one of us has been implanted with a seed of Christ. That seed is indeed fully the image of God, but it is not God in full; it’s just a piece of Him with a specific purpose and destiny. We are all called in general to be fruitful; more than called, we are required – the tree that does not produce fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire! But the fruit of each of us will not all be identical. Those of us who are fingertips will multiply similarly, for example. All good fruit will carry God’s likeness, but only a piece of His likeness. In this regards, the Kingdom of God is sort of like a fruit salad – we all produce fruit, and all fruit comes together as one. Or better yet, the Body of Christ is like a living garden containing all kinds of fruit bearing plants. (Sound familiar? That’s how Eden was described.)
Finding our calling specifically means knowing who we are. For me to know who I am is for me to know my specific purpose, what kind of fruit I am to produce, my purpose and my destiny. Your unique identity in Christ IS your calling.
Metaphorically, the Kingdom of God is like a kudzu plant. Starting with the DNA of Christ that was planted in the grave and grew into new life, drawing off of the nutrients that God placed in the earth and in our hearts, and re-organizing everything for His purposes, He will eventually take over all that is seen and known.
Analyzed in detail, He is in actually one vine with many branches, each one unique.
Looked at even closer, each branch produces and multiplies slightly different fruit, so that piece by piece we may comprise the fullness of Christ.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Why are you a Christian? What do you “sell” when you attempt to share your religion with others (if you ever do)?
Think of it from the other guy’s perspective. This, I would venture to say, is what many people are thinking when subjected to most “evangelism” methods offered by most “Christians” today:
If all you’re offering me is heaven when I die, then I don’t want it. Why would I want to give my life to a faith that makes me wait till I’m dead to find out whether I’m right or wrong? I can get that “promise” of a better afterlife from just about any other religion on earth. Heck, those Muslims will blow themselves up for it, they believe it so much. Why is your promise of heaven better than theirs?
Oh, so you’re throwing in a holy book, stories of long-ago leaders, and a professional holy man to help me live a “better” life? No, I think I’ll pass. Again, I can get those things anywhere. In fact, quite a few other religions have more credible holy men than you. Don’t your “clergy” get caught with their pants down, or their hand in the cookie jar, all the time? Forget about it. At least those other faiths have some discipline in their ranks!
It’s more than that? So you’re upping the offer with a “house of worship,” a community of like-minded (whatever that means!) people, songs to sing, and a weekly ritual gathering? Well, I can see that you all put on quite a show — fancy mood lights, good quality music, and that speaker guy can sure be motivational. But I think I’ll keep my Sunday mornings for football. Anyway, what religion doesn’t have holy buildings, communities, ceremonies and such? And somebody’s gotta pay for the fancy facilities and the razzle-dazzle show you put on … and I know what’s next: You’ll be trying to tell me your god wants me to help pay for it all, so we can keep the show going. No thanks.
Ok, NOW you’re getting “spiritual” on me. So I can “pray” and spill my guts to some helpline in the sky. And then there’s your “suggested” code of ethics. “Suggested,” I say, because the other “Christians” I know sure as heck don’t follow it! I see quite a few of the folks from your “church” at the liquor store, strip clubs, R-rated movies, divorce courts, etc. The only difference I see is that your religion makes them feel guilty about it all. And that “prayer” thing — you folks have nothing on the Muslims you bash so much. Those folks have the prayer thing down!
No, if you’re just offering me heaven when I die, a holy book with curious historical figures and wise saying, a place of worship, a holy man to lead the way, a weekly ceremony or “show,” a community of folks who share the same whatever you call it, an avenue for prayer, and guilt-inspiring rules for living, I don’t want it! EVERY OTHER “religion” on earth offers the same stuff — and they all point fingers at each other and say they’re wrong. Heck, even you “Christians” can’t agree. There are, what, hundreds of “churches” in my town, and NONE of them seem to do it the same way, or agree on even the most fundamental things. And you want me to pick YOURS? Gimme a break.
To heck with that! Now please, don’t knock on my door again. In fact, you know what my friend? I’ll “pray” for YOU — that you open your eyes and see that if that’s all there is to your religion, you’re WASTING YOUR TIME and THROWING AWAY YOUR LIFE.
You can get real friends from the Rotary Club or Masons, and they do a lot more good works in the community than you guys! Their gatherings are just as meaningful as a yours, and they’re not all always criticizing each other, making each other feel guilty, gossipping, putting on a false front, or asking for money! You can get that spine-tingly feeling from good music at any old concert, and heck, once you pay for your ticket there, they don’t keep trying to guilt you into giving more! You can hear MUCH better motivational speakers at a sales conference, or just buy a DVD set off an infomercial! Any professional association or community group will have a good code of ethics, and why limit yourself to one holy book, when you can have them all? I find meditation is just the same as what you call “prayer” … and that heaven thing? You know, if there is a god, I think he’ll see that I’ve lived a pretty good life, and that’s good enough for me. I sure live cleaner and more generously than most of your fellow “Christians” that I know!
So take your tracts, your oh-so-predictable “evangelism” methods, and your fake smiles – AND STOP trying to GUILT me into thinking I’m a scumbag that your god hates unless I subscribe to your religion – and leave me the heck alone!!
So if the promise of heaven, membership in “church,” and all the trappings of the Christian “religion” don’t cut the mustard, then what IS there?
(link to Part Two: http://wp.me/p1XBI6-5P)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!