Riding the Cultural Waves in Church

I the late 1980s, my dad came home from a Church leadership meeting with a new book. I have this longstanding love of the written word, and so I picked it up with great curiosity. It was about “The New Age Movement, and It’s Teaching.” I inquired about it, and dad told me the Church leadership was going to go through it so that they could better handle the issues facing our culture today. At the moment, it sounded like a great idea, and I logged it into my brain as good advice for the future.

While I was in Bible college, before class one day, a student was discussing current events with one of my professors. He was asking when we were going to address some “front page” issues in class. After all, the Church needs to be able to address our culture today. The professor said, “When I was in Bible college, I had a class that taught him to deal with some issue (I can’t remember), and then when I graduated, I never met a person who believed that issue.” Then he delivered his big conclusion, “Therefore I think we are best to heed the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth, ‘For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.’” (1 Corinthians 2:2 – NIV 2011)

Through the years I have spent in ministry, I have learned the wisdom of his words. You see, my dad and our Church never had to debate people about their New Age belief. Within a short time, it was dismissed, and the culture went on to the next thing. This cycle repeats itself almost annually in our world. Right now, the topic of racism is huge, last year it was global warming, and next year it will be something else. I, like many of you, have lived through the fear of communism, the rise of the occult, postmodern thinking, Harry Potter and magic, recessions, multiple presidents both good and bad, wars and conflict globally, 9/11 with the twin towers, Osama and Saddam, ISIS, along with a dozen of other things.

The one thing that never changes is Jesus, and people’s need for him. People are sinners desperately in need of a Savior. As his followers, we must be careful about chasing after every new cultural issue and miss the main thing the gospel gives us – JESUS. Jesus’ perfect life sacrificed on the cross to pay our debt of sin.

Sure, I hope the Church takes the truth of God and engages the culture. That engagement must flow from the message of Jesus as our Savior; otherwise, it is devoid of any real meaning. When we are continually riding the waves of culture, we are always in search of the next big wave. The truth is that Jesus death on the cross and resurrection from the dead caused a cultural tidal wave that is big enough for us to ride for a lifetime.

Prevention or Clean-up?

There are two types of ministry that the Church does today.

The first I will call “Prevention.” We will never know the amount of evil that is stopped by the ministry of the Church. Twice in my life, I talked with people who were seriously contemplating suicide when a Bible teaching broke through to them. There have been people who told me of considering divorce when a Church member invited them into their lives and changed everything. Stories like these abound in the lives of those who gather with the Church each week.

The second I will call “Clean-up.” These are ministries that do good things to help people who have chosen to make bad decisions. Some of the most notable forms of this are called Celebrate Recovery, which is like an Anonymous group for believers. This ministry takes those who are hurting and helps them clean up some area of their lives, so they are more presentable to society and often their family. There is a long list of possible ways to help our fellow human rebuild after failure.

Both of these are valid ministries.

There is this tendency to think that the second one is the most important. If we are called to love one another like the good Samaritan, then we must help people clean up their lives. I totally agree, but I have a follow-up question. If the good Samaritan had arrived earlier and scared off the robbers to save a man he did not know, would that be a good work too?

I hope that in your life you will help to feed the hungry and cloth the poor. I hope you will do great things in the name of Jesus for those who have walked a difficult path in life. I also hope you understand the importance of being a mentor to a young person or pouring out your life into a newlywed who is struggling.

My mom used to quote the say, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is not just a wise saying, and it is also a truth about serving the Lord.

Short-Sighted Evaluation

One of my natural tendencies is to look at the short term to assess my situation. Today was a good day of exercise, so I am doing great physically. The past two days, my wife and I haven’t connected, so my marriage is going poorly. I read my Bible the past four days, so now I am basically a Bible scholar. What I did in the past week or less is my source for the evaluation of my life.

I think there is a danger in this type of thinking for all of us.

First, it puts us on a roller coaster of emotions. This day we feel good, and the next day we feel terrible. We go up and down with every new day until we feel nauseous.

Second, it keeps us from seeing growth over the long term. Yes, we may have only read our Bible twice a week this year, but that is double what we did the year before this one. It is more than we have ever read in our life. We are moving in the right direction.

Finally, it can keep us from making the small investments needed to improve every day. A single ten-minute conversation may be the thing that keeps our marriage alive. It does not “feel” like a success, and so we downplay it in our minds. Our feelings about issues may not always be the best gauge.

My encouragement to everyone is to take a long-term view of success and improvement. Look at things monthly or every six months. Right now, we are in the middle of July. We are a little over half-way into the year. How are things going this year? I know it has been an odd year, but still, how have things changed for you in the past six months? What things have you approved, and what needs your attention? Today, or this week, is an excellent time to take an inventory of the year.

Keep doing the right things as often as possible, and see what God does with your efforts in the long term.

The Hard Side of the Gospel

The word gospel means good news. The story of Jesus is the embodiment of a good story with good news for people.

Before you can receive this news, you need to hear the bad news. You and I are sinners. We have broken the law of God and the will of God in our lives. We are not good people, and even our attempts at doing good works are flawed. Things like pride, anger, and judgment fill our minds while trying to be nice. Our failures have been caught on video, and we know the truth. Every single one of us has sinned and continues to do so.

Then it gets worse. God hates sin. The one who created us is the same one who gave us a moral law. It was first written on our hearts as confirmed by our conscience. Next, it was written on stone and passed down to us on paper. We read the words and felt our hearts quicken when confronted with the possibility of disobedience the first time. Then we did, and nothing immediately happened, so we did it again. All the time, God looked on with disappointment and anger. When we break the law of man, we must pay man’s debt. When we violate the law of God, what can we give to make it right?

You and I are part of the eternal predicament. God creates us, and we rebel against him. God says, “Do not do this,” and we do it anyway. God says, “Do this,” and we ignore his instructions. We disobey, and our future deserves punishment, and it makes God mad.

This is the story of the Bible. You and I are not good people. We are failures. We make mistakes. We sin and stand as sinners. You and I are not better than anyone as we all fall short. After we swallow our pride and arrogance and accept this truth, then we feel despair, guilt, and shame. It is a humbling reality to admit that you do not have it all together.

One of the obstacles that stand between people and their creator is moralism. We think we are good people trying to live good lives until we die and meet a good God who is much like us. Unfortunately, that is not the story we find in the Bible in with the Old or New Testament.

This is the hard side of the gospel. We are bad people who deserve a death sentence for the way we have treated God’s law.

Once we accept this truth, then we will find ourselves in need of a Savior. And boy, have I got good news for you. There was a man from Nazareth named Jesus, and his followers call him Savior.

Today is Going to Be A Great Day

I am confident that today is going to be an excellent day.

We have never been older than we are today. With age comes wisdom. No matter how much we have messed up this year, the past month, or the previous day, it has all educated us. We are more experienced than any other day before this one, and we will not let the lessons be lost on us. We are older, and we are wiser.

We all have choices to make every single day. We can look back with regrets, shame, and guilt, or we can look forward with hope. We can take the past and let it catapult us into the future or drag us down to the depths of despair. We can accept God’s offer of grace or reject it for the pain of self-inflicted punishment.

God saw fit to give us another day. We do not have to waste it replaying our past. We are here, and we are ready for whatever comes at us. This is a day the Lord has made. Choose forgiveness, hope, and promise over all other alternatives.

Choose to make today great.

Weekend Reading

It has been over three months since I posted my favorite articles for you to read. Part of that is because of the Covid-19 issues. Many of the blog posts I have been reading are very dated with each new phase of this experience. Here are some of the best ones I have read that are relevant and worth reading. Enjoy

Christian Naivety is Harming the Church’s Engagement with Today’s Culture

WHAT CHURCH LEADERS ARE (REALLY) THINKING IN 2020

What If You Struggle to Forgive Yourself for a Past Sin?

Metaphors and Membership: How Biblical Metaphors for the Church Require Church Membership

Why It Matters Jen Hatmaker Endorses Her Daughter’s Homosexuality

Can We Disagree: LGBTQ, Jen Hatmaker & Dialogue, Part 1

5 Ways Christians are Getting Swept into a Secular Worldview in This Cultural Moment

Everybody else

The False Narrative in Your Head

The most critical voices in your life are often inside of your head. You expect so much of yourself. You have great intentions. Time and time again, you fall short of your desired goals.

Then you remind yourself of it repeatedly. Your inner voice whispers to you, “You are such a fake. You never do the right things. You should be ashamed.” The guilty feelings don’t go away. The ache of inadequacy pulls you down into despair. The memories of your failures are way bigger than any success you have experienced.

Over the past few years, I have learned the expression, “This is a false narrative.” It is often used in social media along with news outlets. A false narrative is defined as a story that you perceive as being true but has little basis in reality. This is not the same as pure fiction. The false story takes real information and then interprets the facts in a fake or imagined way.

False narratives come to us for two primary reasons that I could find in my research. One, they happen because there are insufficient information and an inaccurate assessment. We don’t have all the details, and what we do have can be misconstrued. What I see more is that people ignore part of the information and focus on the one negative part. They remember their failures vividly and forget the successes.

The second reason we are drawn to false narratives is that they elicit strong emotions, even if they are all negative. Anger and fear are the two most significant emotions that people usually feel. They are disgusted with themselves and afraid that one day everyone will find out how big of a screw up they are despite their best efforts to hide that fact.

One of the reasons I encourage people to attend Church every weekend, spend time with believers weekly, and read their Bible daily is so that they can hear the voice of truth. “You have sinned, but all of us have. You are not alone. You are forgiven. You are loved. You can do better. You can’t change the past, but you can make a new future.” These are the words we need to hear over and over to silence the voices in our heads.

The only way to truly conquer the false narrative that plays in our minds is by continually exposing ourselves to the truth. Today, at some point, the words will creep into our minds and slowly pull us down. I encourage all of you to take strength; the narrative is false. Grace is real, and God is writing a new story with each one of our lives.

God’s Work Versus Good Work

Following Jesus leads to a life of good works. No one doubts that principle as a guiding thought for all Christian service. But is it true?

The problem is that we can miss the Godly part of the equation. Following Jesus leads to a life of good work for the glory of God. Those last five words are important.

Jesus teaches this powerful parable in his longest recorded sermon that believers call “The Sermon on the Mount.” He starts telling his followers about how to be blessed in a section called “The Beatitudes.” Then he instructs those listening to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus wants his disciples to have an impact on the world the same way that salt affects food and light overcomes the darkness. The point is clear for us, do good works, and make a positive impression on the world.

Unfortunately, this is where most people stop. The final line of this part of his teaching is of the utmost significance. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 – NIV 2011) The ultimate goal is for people to worship God because of what you have done. This one statement draws a line for us that we had better not miss.

The difference between doing good work and good work in the name of God is who gets the glory. If, when you are done giving of your time and energy, people walk up and say, “You are such a good person,” then you have just done something good. I would even go so far as to say that if they walk up and say, “Your Church is full of good people,” then they have just performed a good work.

But when people walk up after the work is done and say, “Praise God for his work through you,” then you have done Christian service. When the reaction to your good works is, “Tell me about this Jesus you serve,” then you are on the right track. When the world stops and praises God for your light, then you have done good works for the glory of God.

I watch many people, and their Churches do good works, and for that, I applaud them. My hope is that people will see what we are doing and praise God. Then we are the followers of Jesus.

I Do Not Need Another Label

Do you support, “insert name of single cause movement here?” If you are not a part of the group that stands for/against “insert name of single cause movement here,” then what kind of person are you?

It seems everyone wants to give me a label. These labels often start with “pro” this or “anti” that but are not limited to those.

My simple thought is that I do not need another label. I am a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. That is the label that defines me. My goal in life is to follow him and his teaching, serve him with my gifts and make him famous above everyone else who has ever lived. His words are my guide, even when they are unpopular.

As such a person, I recognize that there are things that are right with God and things that are wrong for believers in him to do. There is also an understanding that life is complicated, and issues have a personal level that makes them difficult to see clearly. Therefore, I expect obedience to him, but offer grace into the matrix of our painful existence. My words are full of both truth and love as I live for him each day.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I do not need another label.

While some labels do fit, those are not the things that define me. My life is more than any single issue. I am a child of God through the work of Jesus to save me from my sins. I believe that and everything I do flows from it. Discipleship to Jesus is my goal, and anything less is only part of the story of my faith.

The movement of the Churches I belong to have always had the motto of “Call Bible things by Bible names.” Well, I am a disciple of Jesus, nothing more and nothing less.

Just Trying to Get Home

Last week I traveled to my mother’s house and back. It sounds like an easy trip, but it takes over eight and a half hours of drive time one way, not counting stopping for necessities.

This journey is consistently full of exciting experiences and near misses. This time we encountered a semi weaving all over the road, another one almost driving off the road, a car flying by at an excessive rate of speed, road construction, a vehicle that almost came to a stop in front of us on the highway for road construction, deer, and a combine driving down the middle of the road unexpectedly. One stretch of highway in Illinois is so rough it felt worse than gravel as I switched lanes with every new series of potholes. Our trip was interesting, disrupted, scary, and time-consuming.

Why endure all of this? One simple fact, I wanted to get home. I wanted to see my mom, and I wanted to return my place here in Missouri.

Life for a believer is much the same. It is a quest to get home. I want to see our Creator and Savior. I desire to spend time in his presence, along with all the other saints in glory. I pray my family is there, and the joy of the Lord will be overwhelming for us all.

This week and this month are sure to be full of crazy and unexpected twists and turns. It’s okay; it is all part of the journey home.