The Godly Trait You Must Discern to Survive the Days Ahead

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There are two kingdoms, one of darkness, the other of Light. Can you discern which is which?

Strength / Weakness

Gain / Sacrifice

War / Peace

Clamor / Quiet

Taking / Giving

First / Last

Kingship / Servanthood

Self / Selflessness

The thread that runs through all the words on the right side?

Humility.

Remember that word. I believe with all my heart that it is the most important word for Christians to understand at this point in history.

Humility.

For followers of Jesus to properly discern truth in the coming days, I believe we must be looking for humility.

Upside-down churchThe Kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom. For that reason, most people cannot understand it, even people who claim to be part of it. Everything about the Kingdom of God makes little sense from a worldly perspective.

What good is weakness? What benefit comes from being last? How can one attain the heights as a servant? Why dwell in quiet? Humble? Really?

To lost people, it’s all foolishness.

Humility runs through that foolishness.

If Christians want to discern the times, the people, the events, and the truth, we must be looking to see humility.

Where there is no humility, there is no Presence of God. Where there IS humility, we will likely find God there.

I believe this is “first line” discernment for our times. Almost everything that is not of God will fail the humility test.

I look around and I see supposed Christians who are displaying no evidence of humility in their lives. Many of these folks have a national stage. For the sake of their souls, they should well consider leaving that stage. They show no humility at all.

I see many “Christian” events that are filled with loud, clanging gongs, with noise, self-promotion, and smug self-satisfaction. They are dominated by people who pat themselves on the backs for how much better they are than others. Read their books, and they always refer to each other. There is no humility in any of it.

You look on all sides, and the Church in America is filled with more, better, louder, bigger, and every level of eyecatching production and excellence, but there is not a shred of humility in any of it.

Where is God? He is in the things that go overlooked, the small, the quiet whisper, the person of no account. Those who lack humility cannot find Him because they are constantly looking in the wrong places, to the wrong people, and to the wrong ideas.

Christian, in all things, look for the humble. That is where God will most likely be.

But the humble is humble for a reason, and few people will take the time and effort needed to look through all the noise, pride, power, and fame to find what is truly humble and embrace it.

Please, look for humility. And consider walking away from anything that lacks it, no matter how worthwhile it might seem otherwise.

The soul you save may be your own.

Why I’m Not in Church on Sunday Mornings Anymore

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Leaving, walking out of churchurchWhen my 15-year-old son graduated out of Sunday School, he missed the dialog he got in class. We sat passively in church on Sunday mornings, and I could tell he was disconnecting. I’ve never been a twice-on-Sunday person, so I thought that perhaps we instead could go on Sunday nights, where the youth group was a little more like the Sunday School he had been attending. Similar worship, but with a little more back-and-forth, and a more intimate crowd.

Still, something is not the same. It’s not just the transition from Sunday morning to Sunday evenings, but something in me. And it’s because I’ve changed at the same time the Church in America has.

We’re at a crossroads, folks. I’ve written about it for years, but I think I need to talk more about it.

This transition has got me pondering where we as Christians got off base and the general status of the Christian Church in America. I want to share my experience.

I want to reiterate that it’s my experience. I’m drawing on it. It may be different for you. It probably is.

First, I don’t have any allegiances to any one flavor of Christianity. Each has some validity, and each has its blind spots, and even its wastelands. In fact, the valid and invalid differences are largely what define each church or denomination.

I’m going to cheese off a lot of people by saying this, but if you’ve been in the same denomination from the day you were born, it’s like living on a farm in Montana in the middle of nowhere. Nothing wrong with your place, but East Etherville, Montana, is not New York City, and it sure as heck is not Beijing, China. Don’t kid yourself into thinking you know what the Christian faith is like, because your flavor of it ain’t even close to being the full expression. Really. You don’t know. And as much as I’ve been around the block in a bunch of American denominations of radically different expressions, I’ve never sat in a Catholic cathedral in Argentina, a house church in peril in Iraq, or a decaying Greek Orthodox Church in Athens. I can imagine what those would be like, but I would be wrong. You and your favored flavor are wrong, too, about some aspect of the Christian Church universal. Just accept your limited view and subsequent wrongness. You’ll be a better and more humble servant of Christ if you do.

So again, what I share here is my experience. It’s wrong from the start from someone’s perspective, and I understand that. You don’t have it all down either. Thank you.

I grew up in the Lutheran Church, and as much as the Lutherans had it going on with understanding grace and the centrality of Jesus, there wasn’t a lot of concern for the lost or for being the priesthood of all believers empowered by the Holy Spirit. Sure, the priesthood of all believers is a bedrock Lutheran understanding, except like an excerpt from Animal Farm, some creatures were more equal than others—and those had ordination papers and a seminary degree.

Ironically, it was a Spirit-filled Lutheran who taught me about the charismata, but then there wasn’t much room for that wonderful man in Lutheranism either, so…

I saw a lost-concerned, Spirit-filled way to live when I started attending an Assemblies of God church. While the leaders at that church were solid, the denomination had trouble with some of its other leaders and big names, and it all tainted the rest of it. Human frailty—and for a young, naive man, it was hard to make sense of. Now, I know better.

The Church of Christ Restorationist asked many good questions about some aspects of the Faith I had always taken for granted, but they had the opposite problem with wayward leaders, and I never understood how one could restore the Christian Church by blackballing people.

The Presbyterians held Scripture and study in high regard, but sometimes money was held up equally high, and people who didn’t have any money not so much.

Evangelical Free excelled at being all evangelically. Good sermons, though.

Methodists somehow hold together their big tent of diverse factions, and we can all learn from them, but they also have a hard time telling anyone, “Yeah, that ain’t right, and you need to stop doing that.”

The Vineyard rocked both the Kingdom of God Now and the Kingdom Not Yet, and it also got the gifts, creativity, and worship right. In fact, the Vineyard folks had the best balance—at least until John Wimber died. And that whole Kansas City Prophets fiasco.

American Baptists—well, they have John Piper and a few other solid pastors who are trying.

Pentecostals have a great sense of duty to God and country and to ol’ time religion. Coming full circle, I just wish there were more focus on Jesus (rather than whatever it is I’m doing) and grace.

Here’s the thing. All those churches and denominations have their goods and bads. But somehow, someone, somewhere, some church, has got to put all those goods in one place. And start dumping the bads at the same time.

Does any church pray anymore as a corporate body on Sundays? And not here and there, three minutes and a cloud of dust, but on-your-knees, specific, intense, non-canned prayers, both with church leaders leading and the people in the seats praying for the immediate needs of the folks sitting next to them. I mean, how hard is that? Really, if the Church as a whole isn’t devoted to prayer, we might as well pack up and end the charade. We’ll spend a half-hour singing witless, CCLI-approved chart-toppers, but praying for more than five minutes taxes everyone’s ability to focus. C’mon, Church!

I used to adore worship times. I would genuinely lose myself in the hymns of my old Lutheran church and during the peak era of the Vineyard with its huge P&W influence. Great, great music sung with passion to our great God.

Today, I grit my teeth in worship time because the songs we sing are so bizarre, unfocused, irrythmic, vague, and constructed for marketing purposes. Who is this sung to? For? And why is there a new song or two every week? Why does the entire verse consist of the same note or two, and yet it’s so hard to sing? Heck, I used to play drums on a church worship team, and I’m not even sure how to make all the syllables fit in that line. And why does nothing rhyme so I might recall the rhyme and remember how the song goes? Maybe it’s me. I dunno. I think the last contemporary worship song that helped me connect to God was “Revelation Song,” and that came out like a decade ago, right?

I don’t want to sit in a pitch-black theater anymore, where I can’t see people around me (you know, the Body of Christ), and where I can’t look at anyone on stage because I have a strobe light flashing in my eyes, all 50,000 watts of it. I don’t want to go to church and worry that I may have an epileptic seizure from the light show.

Jesus, Light of the World. Remember when churches were lit by natural light? Often with some stained glass windows, which were enough light show for most of us? I get enough darkness during the week. Can I come to church and see the faces of fellow believers lit both by natural light and also the Light of the Holy Spirit? Please?

And speaking of Jesus, can I hear the Word of God read out loud? A big chunk of it? In context, please, and not a set of cherry-picked verses used to make a point. And can the sermon be about Jesus and not about how I can try harder to be a good Christian? I don’t need five points and an application or three. I need Jesus. I need to hear about Him because it’s unlikely I’ll hear about Him from the world, except as a curse word or two, and the world is where I dwell for most of the week anyway. Maybe if I heard more about Jesus, some of those places where I’m screwed up as a husband, parent, employee, or whatever would get better because I had more of Jesus—rather than having more Christian principles I can’t possibly keep because I’m a broken person who is terrible at using checklists to make myself better.

Maybe I could go to church and use the gifts God gave me to help other people. If I had a chance. I pray well, I think, and I do hear from the Lord for other people. Words of knowledge. Words of wisdom. I care about other people, but sometimes my life is harder than I wish it was, so I don’t get the chance to do as much personal ministry outside of this blog and those opportunities I might have for a couple hours a week in the assembly of the believers.

Sometimes, I wonder if any church thinks I have value within the Body of Christ. I think I’m not alone in wondering that.

Maybe I’m too self-centered by asking these things and wondering what the solutions might be.

I hope to see a church that lifts up Jesus and never stops doing so, where the whole Bible is read actively and with joy, and prayers are the language of love that each of us bestow on each other (and not just hidden in our prayer closets).

I want to sing to the Lord and not worry that I’m off beat or that I’ll screw up the words, and that those words have real meaning about Jesus, and not some capitalized Someone, or some River, or Rain, or whatever the market-driven metaphor of the week is. I want to connect with God in worship and not hope to and instead leave disappointed that somehow I knew how to worship just fine once, but I’m not doing it right anymore.

I keep hoping for more spiritual Light and not more artificial lights. There’s enough gloom in the world; I don’t want to marinate in it on Sunday, punctuated only by lasers and disco balls.

I really don’t want to hear about me anymore or what I should be doing. I’m painfully aware of what I can and can’t do, and the can’ts outnumber the cans. I want to hear about Jesus, because He can do everything, and without Him, none of us can do anything.

I want to hear about and experience the Kingdom of God Now. Because none of us is marking time until Heaven. It doesn’t work that way and never has. Most of us are aware of the Kingdom of God that is Not Yet. Most of the Church in America has shifted everything to the Not Yet and acts like the other half doesn’t exist. I want to see—and be a part of—the other Kingdom half too.

I long to be the beneficiary of the assembled Body of Christ’s collective charismatic giftings and to use my gifts to help too. Because that’s the entire point of being the Body of Christ, each person unique and necessary to the health of the whole. Along the way, maybe we will hear prophetic revelation that will be discussed and discerned as true by mature leaders, so the church can anticipate needs and not always just react, both with too little and too late. You know, the way Paul said the Church should be, not this deaf and dumb thing we substitute because we’ve disempowered everyone out of ungodly fear.

More than anything, despite all the cranks, killjoys, fearmongers, and naysayers, I pray for a Church that is everything we see in the Book of Acts and more. Because THAT Church has never stopped existing—except in the hearts and minds of shriveled people. And I’m not one of them. God help you if you are.

We keep asking what is wrong with the Church in America. We’re wringing our hands over what has gone awry, and why attendance is down, and why, why, why…

I’m no genius, but it seems to me that we have simply forgotten what is main, plain, and important. We have no patience for God, no love for anything authentic, and we want to be entertained for an hour.

But that’s not everyone.

I really don’t want what most people seem to treasure in a church nowadays. A show doesn’t cut it for me. Neither will business principles and celebrities save a church, nor hip leaders, marketing trend analysis, or flash.

The Holy Spirit showing up in power WILL draw people, though. Churches toss in everything else when there is no presence of God. Sooner or later, people get wise to the lack. They’re getting wiser every day.

Some people want the presence of God. Heaven knows I do.

Maybe I’m self-centered in my wants, but I want real Church done the old-fashioned way. More than that, I desperately need it. Maybe you do too.

The Gospel’s Good News–And Why Even Some Christians Don’t Believe It

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In trying to usurp the role of God, Man walked away from God and created a rift. To counter, God showed Man what it would take to cross that rift and return home to Him. That answer was called the Law. All Man needed to make the Law succeed was to do all of it perfectly.

Problem with the Law: No one got it right. Ever. In the end, what the Law accomplished more than anything else was to show the impossibility of doing it. The Law was a bridge too far, and no one could cross. God showed Man what was needed to make it across, but Man failed utterly.

Peace and rest in JesusExcept one man, Jesus. He kept all the Law perfectly. He achieved the holiness that comes from doing all the Law correctly. And when He had crossed that metaphorical bridge over the rift and reached the other side, Jesus announced, “It is finished.”

Except a lot of people don’t believe it is finished. Even Christians. Therein lies the problem.

Every Sunday in churches across the world, people sit in chairs, pews, and even on the bare ground and wonder what they need to do to cross the bridge. Because the rift is still there, and if they don’t cross the bridge, they remain separated from God. The rift they know. It’s that the bridge has been crossed for them that they fail to grok.

This sitting in church Sunday after Sunday and sometimes days in-between and wondering how one is going to cross that rift is one of the greatest plagues on the modern Church. It’s a sign that even though the Church has the Good News of Jesus, it’s not sinking into people.

The major difference between Christianity and nearly all other religions is that those other religions demand people cross the bridge using their own power, their own religiosity, their own supposed holiness. What methods people use varies from religion to religion, but one thing stays the same: people utterly fail to cross the bridge on their own.

In the Christian faith we have the Good News, or what we call the Gospel. That Good News first heard by the people of Palestine 2,000-plus years ago proclaims that Jesus has come on our behalf, and He will cross the bridge for us. He will keep perfectly all the Law, and not only this, but He will be the sacrifice of blood demanded as recompense for Man creating the rift in the first place.

Jesus came, lived, ministered, and accomplished.

Jesus did it all. It is finished. No more recompense necessary. No more need to cross the bridge on our own. Jesus did it all for us.

The question is of holiness, that which is required to approach a holy, perfect God who has set a bridge across the rift. The answer is in Jesus. His holiness in keeping all the Law and satisfying the debt becomes your holiness and mine. For those who come to Jesus as their hope for crossing, Jesus imputes His holiness. By being in Jesus, we have crossed the bridge and been counted holy and debt-free because God sees what Jesus did for us, not what we try to do for ourselves.

In the mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the stoner rock band releases its newest album the band members believe will be bigger than The Beatles’ White Album. Spinal Tap’s album is entirely black. No band name. No title. No cover information. Nothing but blackness. Trying to wrap their heads around the concept, they ask, “How much more black could this be?” To which comes the answer, “None. None more black.”

How much more holy can a believer in Jesus be? None. None more holy. Jesus did it all on His own for us. Nothing we can do on our own can make us more holy, more acceptable to God. It is finished. We can’t add to what Jesus did, either. Jesus took care of it all. Our ridiculous contributions add nothing. The Bible calls our feeble attempts “dirty rags.”

The fancy word for trying to cross the bridge on our own religious merits is Pelagianism. It should be better known as AbjectFailure-ism. Weirdly, while some people reject Pelagianism, they’re OK with a modified form of it. Saying that Jesus got us mostly there but adding our own merits boosts us all the way across is the mockery of Jesus’ “It is finished” known as Semi-Pelagianism.

Those who love what Martin Luther started in the Protestant Reformation get a hoot out of mocking–for good reason–the stupidity that is Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism.

Except…

You see, we have this problem of should-ing in the Protestant Church. Christians who say they believe Jesus when He says He finished it all don’t actually believe. Instead, Church leaders and other well-meaning busybodies tell us we should tithe, should volunteer, should read our Bible ___ number of times a day, and should pray ___ times a day too. We should have a monthly date night with our spouse, should avoid the wrong kinds of movies, should do this thing or that action. Should, should, should. The result? Too few Christians believe that Jesus said He finished the job and paid the price so that we can lay down all these shoulds and live truly free. Instead, we get a message that shoulds all over everyone.

That’s not Good News. It’s removing the chains of the Old Testament Law that Jesus said He fulfilled and freed us from and putting on chains we make out of a mistaken reading of the New Testament. We exchange one imprisonment for another. We’ve just added a coating of Jesus to the chains.

That’s the crazy thing about the Gospel. You and I don’t have more lawful requirements to fulfill. This is what makes the Good News a scandal. The idea that we can’t add anything to what Jesus finished galls people. It angers because we want to be proud of our own religiosity.

The group Jesus opposed more than any other were the Pharisees. They insisted they had crossed the bridge on their merit. When Jesus pointed out that they’d failed miserably, they sought to kill Him. That’s how much they worshiped their own religious pride.

Each of us has his or her own Pharisee inside that insists we can keep the Law and not fail. There’s an American version of that Pharisee too, one that tells us we have other laws to keep such as being beautiful, successful, empowered, in control, and masters of our own American Dream.

Whether an American Phariseeism or the old-fashioned original kind, that Pharisee in us is both deceived and a damned liar.

Jesus condemns this self-righteous, “don’t need your help Jesus because we’ve got this bridge crossing thing covered on our own” Phariseeism every time He can.

In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the younger son tells his father that he wishes dear ol’ dad were dead and demands his inheritance, which he then blows on hookers, booze, and partying. Eventually reduced to coveting slop intended for pigs, he crawls back home demoralized.

At first sight of the prodigal, his father runs to him and tearfully welcomes him with open arms because he loves that messed up ingrate kid so much.

Meanwhile, the elder son stands by dad, pissed, because he never whored around, didn’t squander his inheritance, and was here at home all along, dutifully keeping his own nose clean.

Which of the two sons gets the stern lecture from the father? You’d think the younger, but you’d be very, very wrong.

Jesus also tells the story of a farmer who hires some men at the first of the day to come work in the field after those early risers agree to the wage. But the work is too big, so later in the day he hires more. Then even more. Near the close of the day, the farmer is still hiring.

Finally, the day ends. The farmer pays everyone he hired the same money, but the men who worked from the early morning, who agreed to work for that amount, are hacked off. They insist they acted like the best kind of workers and not like those who frittered away most of the day and only came out to work near sundown. How can the farmer give everyone, fritterers included, the same pay?

In both parables, Jesus points out self-righteousness: We’re scandalized by God’s ignoring of what humans do to try to cross the bridge, incredulous that He looks only at what Jesus has done.

Like the father of the prodigal, God stands at the end of the bridge over the rift with His arms open. In fact, when we hear the fancy spiritual word repentance, all it means is that God has His arms open and simply wants us to cross the bridge and come home to Him. And because the bridge was already crossed by Jesus and the bridge itself paid for, being in Jesus means we’re already considered to have crossed and paid. There’s nothing more to do but rest in the arms of Father God.

No more tragic figure exists than the person who believes Jesus is God but who spends all of life trying to be a “good Christian.” To him or her, I say this: Stop trying! It is finished. Jesus did it all. Rest in Jesus’ success. If you try to perform on His behalf, you’re usurping the role of God again, which was the very error that started this mess!

Some folks will object to this post on the grounds that we need to be slaving away to perfect ourselves to look more like Jesus. But the promise from God is that because of Jesus’ finished work, that’s not our job but God’s alone. He is both the author and finisher of our faith. It’s all on Him to make us look more like Jesus and none of it on us. Can the pot mold itself? No, only the Potter can mold it as He sees fit.

It is finished. All we have to do is acknowledge our failure to get across the bridge on our own and our desperate need for Jesus. Then we can head home and fall into the embrace of our Heavenly Father.

And that’s the Gospel’s Good News.