Not that I don’t believe it exists and that I’m prone to it. I believe it does and I know that I am.
It’s just one of those words that has too many interpretations to be used effectively in casual conversation.
(I don’t use the word “Christian” so much either. Way, WAY too many interpretations of THAT word.)
In certain company, if I were to utter the word sin, I would find myself standing all alone holding my own personal (Jesus) Freak Flag, listening to crickets.
Because not many people want to talk about the word sin. But when you don’t talk about something, meaning begins to take on more and more personal connotations. Definitions aren’t globally understood and accepted when they’re formed and sequestered inside a vacuum of individual history and experience.
“Sin” can mean different things to different people. But my thought is that before the word sin means something to me, it means something.
When I think about the multitude of sins in my life, at the core of each and every one of those sins, I recognize a desire to choose for myself what is right and wrong rather than look to God and submit to His authority. That’s why Steve Fry’s statement: “the root sin of all sins is this desire to act independent of God.” hit home with me.
Regardless of the actual behavior, the choosing to decide for myself – to act independently of God – is rebellion.
Rebellion against God. It’s the heart of the nature of sin.
It’s not my actions alone which constitute sin and separate me from God. My actions are an expression of the state of my heart and my mind. And the state of my heart and mind are a reflection of the state of my relationship with Christ.
I can admit my dependence on God, live under His authority and experience abundant life in Christ.
Or I can act independent of God, choosing to rebel against His authority and separating myself from Him.
oh, that’s bound to get me in trouble. I can hear it: “sacrilege!” “blasphemy!” “heathen!”
or maybe you’re thinking I’ve completely lost it.
evangelism. is like Halloween?
For those of you who will click away because you don’t have time to read a crazy woman’s blog, see ya later.
But for those of you who are saying “okay. I’ll bite. WHY is evangelism like Halloween?”
Here’s a little glimpse into the crazy that is me.
My kids go to a non-denominational Christian school. When they were little, every few years, one of them would come home from school in October and tell me that one of their teachers had told their class that celebrating Halloween was a sin. They came home with horrible stories about pagan practices and a load of guilt bigger than their backpacks.
I always responded the same way.
Me: “What does Halloween mean to you?”
Kids: “costumes. candy.”
Me: “That’s right. Do we practice any of those pagan rituals?”
Kids, alternating:“Minnie Mouse, Blue from Blues Clues, Cinderella, Jack Hammer Rescue Hero, Sleeping Beauty, Darth Vader, Barbie, a pirate, Boba Fett…”
Me: “That’s right. In our family, we celebrate Halloween because dressing up and trick-or-treating is fun. Costumes and candy. It’s sad that some people only see the bad things about Halloween. They’re missing out on all the fun part. Besides, you know what that means?”
Me: “More candy for us.”
If you came away from that story with “Salvation is like getting candy.” then I am a terrible writer and you should just CLICK HERE and go waste your time somewhere else.
Here’s my point: Our family’s approach to and motivation for celebrating Halloween has nothing to do with the horrible things associated with Halloween and everything to do with what we love about Halloween.
Are there horrible things associated with Halloween?
We don’t celebrate Halloween because of those things.
Moving on to evangelism.
Over the last few weeks, I have learned the hard way that “evangelism” is not a simple word with a commonly accepted definition. Let’s look at two of them:
1. The spreading of the Christian gospel by preaching or personal witness.
2. militant or crusading zeal
I choose Door Number 1.
Here’s what that definition looks like on the other side of my personal filters: “Being a witness to what Christ has done and is doing in my life – because I’m so passionate about it I can’t keep it to myself. Sometimes through opportunities to speak to a group, more often than not, one on one, within the context of my personal relationships.”
My approach to and motivation for sharing how my life is impacted by my faith in Christ has nothing to do with “militant or crusading zeal” and everything to do with the fact that my relationship with Christ is the best part of my life.
Some people, who know about the “militant and crusading zeal” definition (maybe because they’ve been a victim of it in the past?), will be hard pressed to hear any talk of Christ through any other filter. They would rather I shut the hell up. And be gone.
But here’s the thing. I don’t often talk about hell. Not because hell doesn’t exist. I believe it exists just like I believe pagan Halloween practices exist. And I’m not afraid of talking about hell. It’s just that hell is not at the forefront of my mind or my motivation when I talk about what Christ is doing in my life.
Rather, my passion for Christ stems overwhelmingly from the foundational peace and joy I experience because I am saturated by the intimacy of my relationship with Him.
So, to review. How is evangelism like Halloween?
Let’s extract two key paragraphs and compare:
Halloween: Our family’s approach to and motivation for celebrating Halloween has nothing to do with the horrible things associated with Halloween and everything to do with what we love about Halloween.
Evangelism: My approach to and motivation for sharing how my life is impacted by my faith in Christ has nothing to do with “militant or crusading zeal” and everything to do with the fact that my relationship with Christ is the best part of my life.
Is Halloween about pagan practices for you? Does evangelism mean "militant and crusading zeal" to you?
I am sorry for your loss. and more candy for me.
Tangent: Notice something. NOWHERE in the original definition #1 or in my filtered definition #1 is there ANY mention of converting people.
MrYehbut: “Well, you can’t deny that converting people is the goal of evangelism.”
Maybe for some. But they hold to a different definition of the word evangelism. Conversion is not my goal. Please don’t put words in my mouth or ulterior motives up my sleeve.
How am I so sure I don’t harbor a hidden goal to “convert” someone? Two reasons: (1) I am abso-flippin-lutly confident that I can’t convert anyone. Only God can do that. (2) I love being a stepping stone in someone’s growth. It’s my favorite part about training and coaching. I love asking people questions and I love learning what makes them tick. The side benefit is that I usually learn something in that process.
Danger Will Robinson. Rant Ahead.
Here’s the thing. I understand that there are people who have been a victim of “militant and crusading zeal.” I’ve been a victim of militant and crusading zeal. But I saw the zealots for who they were. A misguided fragment. I did NOT automatically stuff all Christians who talk about their faith in a tiny little box and write them off as annoying wackadoodles to be ignored or venomously and sarcastically ridiculed.
I personally believe that most reasonable, tolerant people are intellectually capable of evaluating individuals and situations on their own merit.
Evangelism means different things to different people. I’ve explained why I tell people about my faith, but I haven’t explained how evangelism fits into my everyday life.
So I gotta tell you, when someone stamps “militant and crusading zealot” on my forehead before they get to know me, it’s my faith in God and my respect for them as an individual that keeps me from looking for my own stamp. The one that says “lazy bigot.”
“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard.” Acts 22:15
“Witnessing assumes that the results are up to us; being a witness assumes that the results are up to God…In biblical evangelism, there’s nothing you have to memorize, no techniques or sales pitches to practice, no complicated philosophical arguments to comprehend and communicate. It’s just telling your story naturally, in the midst of the many divine appointments the Lord gives you each day. In the biblical sense, a witness does not always witness, but a witness is always a witness who shows others what Jesus had done and is doing in his or her life…In fact, being an effective witness is as easy as inviting [someone] to have a cup of coffee.”
This is the 9th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
oh, go ahead. click the youtube video. It’s 7 seconds.
Lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much. Lemme sum up.
When I talk about “preaching Christ”
I am NOT talking about preaching
“everybody is a sinner and they need Jesus or they’re going Hell.”
This is something we need to get out of the way before I continue. Purge this assumption from your mind. It is an obstacle to the actual message I’m trying to convey. A misleading tangent. A stumbling block. A wrong assumption.
So I need to say it again, louder.
When I talk about “preaching Christ”
I am NOT only talking about preaching
“everybody is a sinner and they need Jesus or they’re going Hell.”
My point, from the very beginning of this blog series is this:
THERE. IS. MORE!!!
and I WANT IT.
Is that whole “preaching Christ means preaching about getting saved” thing gone?
I’ve gotten some very eclectic feedback on this blog series. One of the reasons I held off hitting the publish button for as long as I did was that I knew that what I had written was filled with the potential to confuse, discourage and tick people off just as much as it had the potential to wake up, inspire and encourage people.
I wondered. Would I hear crickets? Would anybody even read it? Would anybody want to talk to me about what I’d written? Or would it make people so uncomfortable around me they would avoid eye contact and walk the other direction when they saw me coming? Would something I’d written hurt someone? Make them angry? Would people tolerate my ideas if they were different than their own? Would I be dismissed with the silent treatment? Would ANYone identify with me? Would ANYone agree with me?
But one thing I didn’t expect was that some people would think that by saying I wanted a “Christ-centered” church and that I wanted my pastor to “preach Christ” I was saying I wanted every sermon to be like this:
or worse yet, like this: (be sure and read it with a southern accent and yell the one syllable words that have morphed into two syllable words ending in “ah.”)
“EV-ER-EEbody IS A HORRIBLE, SINNER!!!! IF YOU DO NOT ACCEPT JESUS CHRIST-tah, IF YOU ARE NOT BORN AGAIN-nah, YOU’RE DESTINED-dah TO BURN IN HELL-lah FOR ETERNITY. DO I HEAR AN AMEN?!”
That is NOT what I’m talking about.
and yet, in spite of everything I had written, that’s what some readers were coming away with.
I’m telling you. It was driving me nuts. I went back over my Christ-centered posts again and again and I didn’t SEE it. I could NOT find it.
WHERE DID THAT COME FROM? WHERE DID I SEND THAT MESSAGE?
Kudos to my friend “Flutterby43” for reminding me about decoding. Sad, really. I was a communication major. I should have remembered this.
Encoding is, to simplify it, the words and pictures I use to convey my message. DEcoding is how that message is interpreted. The constant here is that the encoding of my message is the same for everyone who is reading my blog posts. The variables are the personal filters that my message has to make it through as people interpret (decode) that message. The discrepancies in those interpretations are due to the fact that sometimes my message isn’t making it through the decoding process unscathed by those personal filters.
Translated? We all have baggage, people. And sometimes, that baggage leads us to interpret – or decode – messages in messages that aren’t really there. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. We’ll all do it again.
But this time, I got some feedback about this message.
Here’s the conversation that finally led me to figure it out:
Flutterby43: “My quiet, introverted nature gravitates toward a more contemplative worship style, and I would be overwhelmed and, yes, SCARED by fire and brimstone – but I totally get where you’re coming from.”
Me: “Your comment “fire and brimstone.” Where does that come from? You’re not the first person to take that away. What did I say that caused you to think that? I can’t find it. I don’t see it.”
Flutterby43: “You didn’t use the term – That’s just my phraseology – honestly, if I had a pastor telling me every week that I needed Jesus, because I’m a hopeless sinner, it’d get old. (Again, that’s just my interpretation of what you’re saying) I know I need Jesus. I know I’m a sinner. But I’m just not an “in your face” kinda gal. I tend to beat myself up on my own – if I heard that every week, I’d come away from church feeling so bad about myself, I’d probably just crawl into bed and never leave the house!” (emphasis added)
Me: “ahhhhhhhh. Thank you! That was driving me crazy. I think I get it. “Preaching Christ” gives the impression that I’m talking about evangelism. and it appears evangelism means “fire and brimstone” and “turn or burn” to some people. I REALLY need to finish this series. I still haven’t gotten through what I mean by Gospel and preaching Christ. I thought I clarified that I wasn’t just talking about evangelism, in my post “the gospel is more than evangelism,” but I need to hurry up and explain – more and better.
There’s more to Christ than salvation.”
I knew when I started posting this series that it was long and that it would take me a while to get through it, but I didn’t think through how the drawn out nature of the process could lead to premature and incorrect assumptions about my point.
The fact is, some people are going to run my message through their personal internal filters and think I am saying:
“I want to hear fire and brimstone turn or burn sermons every week. And every chance they get, I think everybody in my church should tell all their friends (and strangers) that if they don’t repent they’re going to hell! And when they don’t, they should feel really guilty about it. It’s just more evidence that everybody is a horrible, hopeless sinner and bad Christian.”
That’s NOT what I’m saying. Thankfully, from the feedback I’m receiving, I’m confident that some people are identifying with what I actually AM saying – my true message is resonating with them.
But here’s the thing, now that I know there are some people are going to interpret the words “Christ-centered” as “fire and brimstone turn or burn evangelism”, it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY TO MODIFY MY ENCODING in an effort to clarify my message and minimize any misinterpretation.
So, I’m holding off on my story for a little longer. I’ve got some encoding work to do.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
“Everything is made to center upon the initial act of “accepting” Christ . . . and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshipping, seeking, singing Church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart-theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.” The Pursuit of God (free on Kindle from Amazon)
by A. W. Tozer.
This is the 9th post of a series. CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
I’ve been telling a story these last 8 blog posts. I got through August of 2012. But I have to interrupt myself. The story can wait.
Today, my pastor preached Christ.
and I mean he PREACHED Christ.
In his words, “TESTIFY!”
Today, my pastor preached an evangelical sermon. Not one person left my church today without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not one person left my church today without hearing how their lives could be changed by placing their faith in Jesus.
I sought him out. I had to tell him:
“I am actively praying that the culture of this church and the foundation of every sermon will be saturated in the core of the message you gave today. THANK YOU.”
but here’s the thing.
the gospel is so much bigger than a sermon.
one sermon canNOT change the culture of my church.
one man canNOT change the culture of my church.
Even if He tried to do it through sermons alone, not every sermon can be about accepting Jesus. Evidencing the gospel of Jesus Christ is much more straightforward within the context of an evangelistic sermon than it is in sermons addressing every facet of our lives as Christians.
The gospel is much MUCH more than evangelism.
I need to say that again, even louder.
The gospel is much MUCH more than evangelism.
I’m a reader. It’s a freakish obsession. And I’ve learned something I want to know more about.
Jesus can be found in EVERY. Book. of. the. Bible.
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” John 5:39
I want to hear more. I want to learn more. I NEED to learn more.
I want to dig DEEPER than what this kid can tell me in 4 minutes
I want to find Jesus in every nook and cranny of my Bible. EVERY WEEK.
I will NEVER tire of learning about the redemptive story of Jesus Christ.
“Now, you may be thinking, Okay, the message of the Bible is Christ; I got it. But we have to talk about other things too. Didn’t Paul talk about singing, home life, master-slave relationships, and his coworkers in Colossians 3 and 4?
Yes, he did. However, he addressed all of these topics in the light of Christ. The other subjects were like spokes in a wheel, the wheel being Christ Himself…
So Christ is found in the big picture, but He’s also found in the smallest details. he’s at the forefront of all spiritual things, yet He’s present in the practical things as well.
How did Paul put it in Colossians 3:11? “Christ is all and in all.”
This is the 7th post of a series. To read the sixth post, entitled “going through the motions” CLICK HERE.
If you need some context, links to all of the previous posts are provided at the end of this post.
Back to August 2012.
In the middle of everything that was happening, I was struck with a memory that cut through 25 years. Buried in my mind, probably nestled somewhere between the lyrics of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, was a scene from the movie Labyrinth.
Seems straightforward. Just a story. A fairy tale.
But even the filmmakers intended it to be a metaphor.
Here’s the backstory/narrative:
The protagonist, a young girl named Sarah, was on a quest. She had to find her way through a magical labyrinth in search of a child who had been stolen by an evil King.
At one point, the evil King causes Sarah to lose her memory and she finds herself in the middle of a junk yard. As she stands, she braces herself against what she thinks is a pile of junk, but it turns out to be a woman, with about 3 feet of junk strapped to her back. There are more junk people everywhere, sifting through piles. As Sarah looks around with a confused expression on her face; all she can remember is that she was searching for something.
She wanders aimlessly through the junk yard, followed by the Junk Lady who’s babbling incessantly. After a few minutes, Sarah stops, looking around, lost and bewildered, and mumbles,
“I was searching for something.”
The Junk Lady, immediately responsive, says “Well, look here!” and hands Sarah what appears to be her Teddy Bear.
Sarah, recognizing something familiar and comforting, immediately takes the Teddy Bear and thanks the Junk Lady who replies “That’s what you were looking for, wasn’t it my dear?” Sarah holds the bear close
“Yes. I forgot.”
Then the Junk Lady leads Sarah through a path in the junk, toward a door, saying “Why don’t you come in here and see if there’s anything else you like?” Sarah steps through the door into what appears to be her bedroom. Filled with relief, she throws herself on her bed and covers her head with a pillow.
She’s home. She’s safe.
Until she opens her bedroom door to find her father. At which point, the Junk Lady barges in,
“Better to stay in here dear! There’s nothing you want out there.”
She begins handing Sarah stuffed animals and dolls and toys, naming each one and reminding Sarah how much she loves them. As Sarah sits, her arms overloaded with dolls and toys, she seems almost in a trance and softly says, “There was something I was looking for.” The Junk Lady immediately tells her
“Don’t talk nonsense! It’s all here, everything in the world you’ve ever cared about is all right here.”
Still loaded down with all the stuff the Junk Lady has been handing her, Sarah spots a book and reaches for it.
It’s the story she’s in. The story she’s forgotten she’s in. She begins reading:
“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered…”
Suddenly, she remembers. And the Junk Lady knows it. “What’s the matter my dear, don’t you like your toys?”
Sarah is overcome with the realization: “It’s all junk!”
She throws one of the “treasures” the Junk Lady has given her and suddenly the walls of the room begin to collapse, revealing the truth. She’s in the middle of a junk yard.
It was a facade.
I looked around the sanctuary and I could see it. It was a facade.
Without Christ, it’s all junk.
Does that offend you? Stay with me, I’m making a point. I promise.
Sarah was looking for something, but she was deceived into believing all that other stuff was what she really needed and wanted.
The truth behind that scene hit home 25 years ago and it cuts even deeper today. The evil King was powerful. Why didn’t he just throw her into a dungeon? Why didn’t he just kill her? Satan is evil and he has power in this world. Why doesn’t he order some evil little minion destroy that sanctuary?
Because there’s no need. It’s too easy to distract instead. To provide things of comfort and security. Beautiful things. Things that make sense and are familiar.
Good enough things.
If you think about it, most things that end up in a junk yard were desired at some point. Somewhere along the line, someone bought or made or was given each and every item. Whether functional and useful or just something pretty to look at (and dust), the items that end up in the junk yard are things that no longer have value to us.
Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Sarah could have embraced the facade of her bedroom and all the things she thought she wanted and needed. She could have abandoned her quest and settled into a life of comfort and security, forgetting all about the child she was searching for, never venturing outside her comfort zone, never talking to the junk people or dealing with all that junk. But thankfully, because of a book, she remembered.
Once she discovered the truth, she knew she couldn’t stay nestled in that safe, comfortable facade. She intentionally destroyed the facade of comfort and safety even though it meant coming face to face with the junk.
Because she remembered she was looking for something.
Too often, Christian churches today are not what they were originally intended to be.
Too often, they are social meccas, driven by self-preservation and focused on service.
Too often, Christian churches today are more like clubs, whose leadership is firmly claimed by the kids who contributed the most materials to build the tree house.
Too often, sermons are inspirational messages, motivational speeches or dry academic lectures.
Too often, the sermons delivered in Christian churches today are so vanilla they could easily be delivered in a Mormon Temple or Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall without changing a single word and without offending a single person.
Too often, pastors are motivated to keep the peace along with their job security.
Too often, churches today are too soft.
Too soft on sin.
Too soft on Christ.
Too soft on their members. Including me.
Have you been a member of a church like I’ve described? ARE you a member of a church like the one I’ve described?
12 years I’ve attended my church.
Why have I not noticed any of this before?
Because I thought it was normal.
Consider this analogy. In a way, churches are like families. And when our family culture is all we know, we think our family is normal. Until we’re exposed to another family culture. It may be through a book, a movie, TV show, or a visit to someone else’s house. And as we notice the differences, we realize. What we thought was normal?
If we live in a vacuum, never questioning the way things are, operating on assumption and never challenging those assumptions, we can spend years going along with the way things are.
We can fall into a deep complacency.
The real danger is when we slip into autopilot and start going through the motions.
Because after a while, complacency becomes normal.
But sometimes, by stepping outside of our comfort zone, by stepping outside of what we have come to view as normal, we come face to face with problems we never saw before. We realize we’ve been oblivious.
On autopilot. Satisfied. Comfortable. Complacent. Going through the motions.
In my case, 12 years.
My relationship with God has grown stronger over those 12 years, especially since 2007, when I entered into a deeper level of intimacy with Christ than I’ve ever experienced before. But my church hasn’t played much of a part in my spiritual growth.
How did I become aware of that? If you’ve been reading this series, you’ve already seen a little bit of how God revealed it to me.
Now? I can’t un-see what I’ve seen. I can’t un-know what God has revealed to me.
It’s the difference between living “a good Christian life” and experiencing abundant life in Christ.
I’ve discovered there’s MORE than “a good Christian life.” And while I personally know some people at my church who also experience abundant life in Christ, there are too many people who have no idea what I’m talking about. There are too many people who are completely unaware that it’s possible to experience abundant life in Christ. There are too many people who are settling for that “good Christian life.” Too many people who don’t know that in addition to salvation by grace, through faith in Christ the “more” I’m talking about is also the strength to make it through a day, the ability to serve in His name because He equips us for that service and for the freedom to forgive themselves when they fail to “be good” – because He first forgave them.
The question is, knowing all that, what do I do? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to that “more” in spite of the seeming preference to continue with the comfortableness and safeness of the status quo? Do I stay and strive to be a witness to how abundant life in Christ is transforming me? In spite of a barrage of rationalizations and excuses? In spite of attempts to belittle me or dismiss me?
Or do I abandon my church and the people I’ve come to care about and find a place where I’m more challenged. and more uncomfortable with my sin?
Because the thing is, God never promised me “comfortable.”
Do I stick around? Can God use me here? I know He doesn’t need me, but can He use me? I know it won’t be easy. God didn’t promise me “easy” either.
Thankfully, God finally got through to me on this one: I’m not responsible for the outcome.
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24
Do I know what He will do?
I don’t get to know the mind of God as some sort of precursor to obedience. What whatever He does, He will do it. Not me.
Thankfully, I know what I need to do. I need to be faithful in the small things. Even though some people won’t like it. Even though some people find me annoying.
“Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16
I know it would be more convenient if I kept my mouth shut. More comfortable.
It’s okay. God is equipping me for this task.
I found myself watching this:
This post is the sixth in a multi-part series, written mostly in early autumn 2012, published now for the first time.
Just two days later. Friday. I was back on campus for another Christian yoga class. Afterward, I found myself back in the empty sanctuary again. This time, I picked up the pew Bible and intentionally turned to the book of Isaiah.
Because these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; Isaiah 29:13
I had to read it again.
I turned to Matthew 15:8-9, the verse I had read on Wednesday. It was a pew Bible. There were no cross references. But I knew the footnotes of a reference Bible would link them.
“This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
I glanced up at verse 7.
“You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:”
“Isaiah prophesied.” Had I seen that Wednesday? Is that why I turned directly to Isaiah on Friday? Maybe.
But that didn’t explain how I turned directly to Isaiah 29:13.
That was God. Freakin me out.
I’m not a big believer in coincidences. I was blown away by the fact that God had led me to these two scriptures. I turned back to Isaiah and continued reading verse 14.
so I will again do amazing things with this people, shocking and amazing. The wisdom of their wise shall perish, and the discernment of the discerning shall be hidden. Isaiah 29:14
I knew what I wanted that to mean.
But the Bible is not a crystal ball.
I wanted it to mean that God would do amazing things with this church. I turned on my phone and looked up Isaiah 29:13-14 on biblegateway.com. Out of curiosity, I switched versions to The Message.
The Master said: “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren’t in it. Because they act like they’re worshiping me but don’t mean it, I’m going to step in and shock them awake, astonish them, stand them on their ears. The wise ones who had it all figured out will be exposed as fools. The smart people who thought they knew everything will turn out to know nothing.”
What did this mean?
Why did God lead me to those two scriptures?
I didn’t know. It would appear I’m definitely not one of the wise ones. But it would also appear that was a good thing.
Again, I sat on the stage where I stand to sing with the praise team during worship. And I prayed Wednesday’s desperate, “mean” prayers again.
And then I prayed some more.
I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would move in a powerful way.
I prayed for our services that Sunday.
I prayed for my pastor again, that he would preach Christ.
I prayed for the congregation, that they would seek Christ and
I prayed for the worship team, that we would point to Christ.
And I blatantly and unashamedly prayed for myself. I prayed that God would equip me for His service.
I prayed for encouragement if God wanted me to stay.
Unwillingly, I prayed that God would give me a sense of hopelessness if he wanted me to leave.
I was there a while.
The next Sunday, August 19th, my pastor preached on The Book of Revelation. A letter to the Church of Sardis:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
And he spoke the name of Jesus more times in that one sermon than he had spoken it in months!
Was that God? Freaking me out? Was this a turning point in the life of my church?
And selfishly, I wondered. Was that God encouraging me? Or Satan, trying to derail me? I had prayed for God to move and still I doubted. Was this God moving? Or was it just that the content of this particular message included Jesus as a “structural component?”
I spent most of the next Monday and Tuesday writing up as much as I could remember. Everything I’ve published in the previous 4 posts and pages more. Wednesday, while writing, I was curious. What did scripture have to say about our human attempts to reach people for Christ. I Googled “Bible verse evangelism.”
God and Google led me to 1 Corinthians 1:17:
“For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
I continued reading.
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
You’ve got to be kidding me. There it was again. Was God’s trying to tell me something? Was I just too dense to figure it out? Or had God not revealed it to me yet? I know what I’d bet on. I continued to read.
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
“It pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”
God can do anything – in spite of us. But would He do this?
I still didn’t know.
The next Sunday, the pastor referenced 1 Corinthians 1:17. I knew that verse. I picked up a pew Bible and turned to read it, continuing on to verse 19. There it was again:
19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
This was getting ridiculous.
Remember, that was August of last year. Fast forward to yesterday. A friend who’s been following these blog posts sent me an email and said:
“the Scriptures call the Gospel an offense to those who are perishing.”
As soon as I opened this blog draft today God freaked me out again. I sent my friend a text and asked where that came from.
The reply? 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.
You don’t have to scroll up too far in this post to see that I’ve quoted 1 Corinthians 1:17-25.
and I wrote the first draft of this post months ago..
(to be continued. Sorry. I know this one is a bit of a cliff-hanger, but it was already soooo long.)
“If you are frustrated with the lack of gospel-centrality in your current church culture, understand that cultural frustration always precedes cultural transformation. The frustration is good and beautiful if it leads you to long for the grace of Jesus to permeate your theology, philosophy, and practice. Paul’s concluding words to the Galatian believers are poignant: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers” (Gal. 6: 18 ESV). Paul believed the only solution to church culture dysfunction is Jesus— the only One who can build a culture of grace in your church. He is the One who brings brokenness and repentance. He is the One we must trust. He is the only One who could remedy the broken sacrificial system among His people, and He is the only One who could repair the shifting church culture in Galatia. Only He can raise a life, and only He can raise a dead culture.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with our churches.”
I prayed he would be completely overcome with a burning passion for preaching Christ. A passion he would be incapable of ignoring.
I prayed that he would find no rest until he abandoned his will and his view of “effective” preaching and succumbed to that passion.
I prayed that a desire to preach Christ would keep him up at night.
I desperately begged the Holy Spirit to pursue him relentlessly.
I prayed that God would inundate him with irrefutable evidence of a continuous need to preach Christ – from every direction; through every person he encountered, everything he read, everything he saw – from emails to bumper stickers.
I prayed for him to find no escape.
I prayed for him to be profoundly brokenhearted at the realization that some of the people God had entrusted him to lead did not know Christ personally.
I prayed for him to be stubbornly unwilling to allow a single person to leave church after a Sunday morning service without hearing that JESUS is what they need, not only for salvation, but
– for the strength to make it through a day,
– the ability to serve in His name and
– the freedom to forgive themselves when they failed to “be good.”
I prayed that my pastor would be wrecked.
And that he would find no relief from the wrecking except by preaching Christ.
I prayed for each individual members of the congregation.
I thanked God for the people in the congregation who had received salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
I begged God to remind those who had forgotten Him – like I had.
and I begged Him to move in the hearts and minds of those people who had never received salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
I prayed that every. single. member of the congregation would be dissatisfied.
I prayed that people would be afflicted by an unquenchable hunger for more than the milk they were being fed.
I prayed they would develop an insatiable hankering for the meat of the gospel.
I prayed for God to somehow make me aware of others who also realized that our church was lukewarm. I prayed that I would be able to recognize and identify with others who were searching for more than
– encouragement to live good Christian lives,
– Biblical instruction on how to do so and
– affirmation that service to others was the ultimate demonstration of a commitment to God.
I prayed that people would never again use the word “enjoy” to describe their reaction to a sermon they heard, but would instead find themselves convicted, moved, inspired and personally challenged.
I prayed for myself.
I prayed that God would tell me what to do!
Should I leave the church or stay and continue to strive for something nobody else seemed to want?
I seemed to be in a tiny little minority.
Other than a handful of people, nobody else seemed to notice.
There were definitely not too many of us. If God were to move, all the glory would be His.
And as I prayed all of this, I doubted. Not that God could, but that God would.
Because although it grieved him, the father allowed his prodigal son to leave. The father didn’t go after him and force him to come home against his will. And the son, believing he knew what was best for himself, did not return.
Until he was broken and desperate.
My church is broken, but blind to the brokenness. Desperate for the Father, but unaware of the need.
Why didn’t I go to my pastor?
On two occasions. It had not gone well.
As a result of those two encounters, I decided to pray about it instead of continuing to try and work things out on my own.
Because I believe in the power of prayer. I wish I could say I always approach prayer as my first line of defense instead of my last resort. I really, REALLY wish I could say that. But I can’t.
Even though I do believe God can do ANYthing.
I was praying for God to move in my pastor’s life; for God to inspire him to preach Christ.
I KNOW God is able.
Through the conversations with my pastor, I came to a realization. If I continued to try and work things out on my own instead praying and giving it up to God, I knew it would be a lack of faith. It would be me saying:
“just forget it, God. I’ve been praying and praying and you haven’t done anything. I’ll fix it myself!”
I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.
Because God can do ANYthing. and if He chooses not to, who am I to manipulate circumstances to fit my view of how things should be?
So I begged God to tell me if He wanted me to stay and serve in spite of my longing to hear the name of Jesus proclaimed as the way and the truth and the light.
I prayed all these things and more as I sat alone with God in that empty sanctuary. And then I sat. Silent.
Listening for God to speak.
My mind came back again and again to Matthew 15:8-9:
“In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
I had come into the sanctuary that autumn morning to pray for revival in my church. For direction.
I went home.
No less confused about what God wanted me to do.
And I continued to pray. Like a widow. persistently.
(to be continued)
“If the culture of a church is at odds with the stated beliefs of the church…the unstated message speaks louder than the stated one.”
“I had come to the church campus that Wednesday morning for a Christian yoga class and after yoga, I found myself walking into the empty sanctuary instead of to my van. I picked up a pew Bible and climbed the steps to the stage to sit in the same spot I stand when I sing with praise team.”
At my church, corporate prayers emphasize our need for God and that God is a good God. A compassionate God. A loving God.
Never a mention of the fact that God is a just God and that He can’t look upon sin – of which we reek.
Never a mention that all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
Never a mention that we desperately need Jesus Christ.
Corporate prayer is safe and appropriate to the occasion. I couldn’t remember ever experiencing intimacy with Christ, being moved to desperation or overwhelmed with adoration and gratitude by corporate prayer.
Conversations are about the logistics and scheduling of programs and service. When I went to them (I’ve stopped going), discussions in classes and studies were theological, academic and intellectual.
I couldn’t remember ever being convicted or personally challenged by a sermon message or class discussion.
and I couldn’t remember it ever being otherwise. I have attended this church for 12 years. 12 years. How had I not seen it before?
I had been asleep. Numb. On autopilot. I had forgotten. I had been distracted. I had spent 12 years nestled in the security of familiarity and comfort.
Now I am awake, stirred by the Holy Spirit. Through God’s grace, I’ve been prompted to switch off my autopilot.
Now my vision is vertical and unobstructed.
And I am wrenched about what I see and how much time I’ve wasted.
I am ashamed. Ashamed to have wasted so much time. Deeply ashamed that I have allowed my children to believe this is what church is.
I looked out into the empty sanctuary that Wednesday morning and I saw a beautiful building.
And I remembered something. When the sanctuary was being built, after the walls went up, but before any painting or flooring, the youth of the church had been invited and encouraged to write scripture on the cement foundation and the walls. Under the paint and flooring of that beautiful sanctuary was the Word of God. Covered up. Hidden.
Hidden by beautiful things, but still hidden.
I read Matthew 15:8-9 again:
“This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”
Did Matthew 15:8-9 describe this church? I couldn’t say no with any confidence at all. We didn’t talk about Jesus much here. We talked about god. And yes, that lowercase “g” is intentional. Church has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the reasons I thought I was a Christian before I ever accepted Christ. But for every church I’d attended, I was suddenly able to recognize which ones didn’t place Jesus at the center. This wasn’t the only one, just the most recent.
My church is grounded in the assumption of Christ.
And I am desperate for a Christ-centered church.
I believe I am facing the end of a season of my life and I am profoundly sad about it. It keeps me up at night and it wakes me up before dawn, filling my thoughts and prayers.
I know that continuing in the status quo is not an option. Something has to change. I can’t un-know what God has revealed to me.
A few weeks before that Wednesday morning in the sanctuary, this was my prayer:
“Lord, I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason this church exists and gathers. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.”
And yet, after praying that prayer weeks before and reading what I believed to be a Word from God in Matthew 15:8-9 that autumn morning, I still prayed for revival. Filled with doubt that God would lift a finger, I prayed for a miracle.
I don’t want this season of my life to end, but I know that I can’t stay immersed in the assumption of Christ. Something has to change. My soul longs to be part of a church where talking about hard things doesn’t make people uncomfortable. I need to be part of a church where I can be open about my own sin without people rushing to assure me that I am a good person. I dream of a church where I can be a Jesus Freak and not freak people out. I ache to be part of a church where saying all this wouldn’t be met with disapproval or dismissed as coming from a wack job with too much time on her hands.
I desperately, desperately need to be part of a church where I’m not belittled or patronized because I think too much, pray too much or love Jesus too much.
“Deep within we long for the Father of all galaxies to fall on us weekly and take us to the mat with His full weight. Is that happening in your church? When was the last time you were gripped by the greatness of God?”
My church is firmly grounded in the assumption of Christ. That is not a typo. I am not a victim of autocorrect. I intentionally typed “assumption” not “ascension.”
My church is firmly grounded in the assumption of Christ. And I am wrecked over it.
At my church, we talk about God, we pray to God and more than anything else, we serve others “in the name of God.” But I could have typed god with a lowercase “g.”
Too many of the sermons could easily be delivered in a Kingdom Hall or a mosque or a synagogue without changing a single word and without offending a single person of another faith.
Sermons are encouraging and comforting, emphasizing what we should do. How we should live.Character and discipline are recurring precepts. The pervading concept is consistently service.
I can’t remember ever hearing a straightforward caveat that – Christian or not – we are incapable of the doing good and the living right on our own. That character and discipline weren’t enough for Abraham or David, much less for us.
The name of Jesus is rarely spoken in my church outside of the “in Jesus name” precursor to “Amen.”
I can’t remember ever hearing a frank acknowledgment that there are people in the congregation who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.
I can’t remember ever hearing a clear and complete explanation of why we need Jesus.
A firm but loving declarative statement that Jesus is the only way to salvation?
I can’t remember ever hearing a personal challenge to face my sin – head on.
A firm but loving declarative statement that I need to repent of my sin?
I can’t remember ever hearing an impassioned call to repentance – or to Christ.
The only time I ever hear a connection between Jesus and the message is when the message is explicitly about Jesus, which again, is extremely rare.
I am desperate to hear messages that help me make a connection between the gospel and my everyday life.
I’ve done enough reading and studying on my own to understand that the timeless, redemptive story of Jesus can be found in every book of the Bible.
I long to hear that story. I long to hear about Jesus.
In every message.
Not only is the assumption of Christ not enough, it is NOTHING.
“Every week someone should proclaim the gospel, no matter what the topic is. If we’re talking about holiness, about manhood, about marriage, parenting, money, or any particular biblical command, we need to teach it and talk about it in view of the gospel, always bringing it back to the epic story of God’s redemption.”