Monday, April 29, 2013

Without the Bread of Life, You're Toast

"Without the Bread of Life, You're Toast"

I saw this saying on a church sign driving down the road last week. It was on a church whose sign I make a point of looking at because they often have clever sayings like this. Most of the time they make me chuckle because they are so cleverly done. I like driving by there because I am always interested in what the new phrase on their sign is.

I chuckled at this one too, at first. And while I still find it clever, I couldn't help but to have some frustrating thoughts about it. It's not that it was a cute saying, I have no problem with that. The problem is that so often We leave it as a cute saying.

Realize what it is, exactly, that this sign proclaims. It says that if you do not have the Bread of Life (Jesus (John 6:35)), you will find yourself burning in Hell. To be honest I had a difficult time typing that last sentence. It wasn't difficult because of any doubt, but because there is no doubt. Placing it in writing just makes it more "real," so to speak.

You see, the phrase is much, much more than just a cute saying. It is a truth that we must understand, and one that we cannot leave as just a cute and clever saying if we want to  be a people who do God's will.

There is no compromise with whether Jesus is the only way to Heaven. If there were some other way, any other way, He would not have had to die a horrible death on the cross. All the torment, all the pain, all the suffering and abuse and insults that He dealt with in His life would have been pointless if we could be saved by anyone or anything else.

In John 14:6 Jesus says "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." This is not an inclusive statement. It explicitly excludes everything else as a possibility for salvation. I ask if we believe it. If so, I ask another question that is just as important.

Do we live it?

Our friends, our families, our co-workers, our acquaintances, everyone we meet, needs to know about Jesus. They need to know about His saving love and sacrifice. They need to know how to meet Him in baptism to be forgiven and they need to know how to live in peace with God. You may notice that I have emphasized the word "need." This is not a small deal. It is everything.

I will be the first to admit that I am a terrible, terrible evangelizer. The sad truth is that I do not try nearly as hard as I need to, and often not at all. I am working on it. It is difficult and not my natural inclination, but I am working on it and will get better at trying to bring others to Jesus with God's help. I have faith that He can use even me.

I will be talking to people about Jesus going forward. I will get better about evangelizing new people and I will begin talking to my friends who are not Christians about Jesus. I will do better at being what God tells me I must do as His child. I will not let those around me down without a fight.

Because without the Bread of Life, they're toast.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Heart of the Problem

In all the research I have done, I see a consistent decline in the church. Active members, youth, activity level, and everything else. In so many metrics available for measuring, the church, for all intents and purposes, is in decline. This isn't true for every church out there, but for a frighteningly large number of them (especially in the States), it is.

Why is this happening? There are statisticians and ministers and leaders and books and 8 billion other writings on the subject. Everything from lack of relevancy, to being too relevant, to culture, to age or any other number of factors are blamed. Many even take an all-of-the-above approach and cite a number of things working together to bring down the church.

In response, we hear the familiar cries of "More events! More outreach! More progressivism! More conservatism! More fill-in-your-answer-here!" It is all done with good intent. People want the church to grow so that it can reach and save more people. Some of it contradicts each other, but that is because people see different answers to different solutions. 

Unfortunately, the more I read and the more I think about all of this, the more I realize that all of these things are just symptoms of what the actual problem is. I began to realize it a couple of years ago, but only in the smallest sense. As time has passed, however, it has become exceedingly clear that we are not tackling the main problem. The biggest problem the church is facing today is not shrinking churches, or less evangelism, or even the youth leaving the church. Those are all major issues, but they are the symptoms. They are not the heart of the problem. They are only what we see. The heart, the core of the problem is this:

We do not believe that God is working and will work in our churches if we put ourselves on the line.

Perhaps you think "how dare he say that!" Perhaps you think I'm right. Either way, I ask that you read on before you make a decision on whether you agree or not.

I have realized that people act on what they truly believe. If they see a bus about to hit them they will move out of the way if they believe it will hit them. If not, why worry about it? If I believed that my best friends could make a million dollars by singing the oompa-loompa song in the mall, I would try and get them to do so. 

In the same manner, if we truly believe that God will work with us, through us, and for us, that He will take care of us and perform His will no matter what, why do we not act on it? Why do we not put ourselves and our churches on the line and run as if we are running a race? Can we say we truly believe if we are running the church like a cautious business?

We have churches with savings accounts in the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars! In budget meetings we talk about how big the bank account is and are happy when it is higher than last month! We worry about litigation issues instead of  building neighborhood playgrounds and we water down ideas in order to make it as easy as possible to hold an event instead of putting something big and huge out there and risking failure.

Now I am not saying it is wrong for a church to have some savings for a rainy day. Nor am I saying that spending money wisely or considering the consequences of certain actions is wrong. I am saying that if we allow those kinds of issues deter us from doing what is needed to reach out and grow the church, we are on a very, very dangerous path and the symptoms of a declining church will only get worse.

The church is not a business. It cannot survive being run like one. Unless we are willing to put our lives, our finances, and the very church on the line, we are holding God back. In Malachi 3:10 God tells the people:

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse,
That there may be food in My house,
And test Me now in this,”
Says the Lord of hosts,
“If I will not open for you the windows of heaven
And pour out for you such blessing
That there will not be room enough to receive it.

Do we believe it? Will we really test God in this and see if He holds true to His Word? Let us stop with regarding the business side of the church so highly. It should come far behind getting out there and doing His Will. He will provide for His people. He promises that in both the New and Old Testament, and has proven Himself to be true every time we lean on Him.

If we truly believe, let us act.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Crushing

I really enjoy new Christian music. It used to be that I didn't care for it very much, mainly because I didn't know what the good stuff was. However, I have been listening to more and more of it. Recently I heard a song by the David Crowder Band that starts out:

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

As I sat there listening, I began to wonder, "Just how often do we feel the weight of God's love on us? How often do we really understand that God does not want us to 'be ourselves', but to become what He desires us to be?"

You see, God does not call us to be "happy" in the way the world refers to it. He does not even want us to "be ourselves." God wants us to be His, and His alone. He wants us to be His so much that we are willing to give up anything, anything to do so.

Recently I posted on Facebook:

I am convinced that God wants to crush us. Not with fear and difficulty (though He will use that too if necessary), but with the weight of His love and mercy.

It is to brokenness that we are called. Crushed into nothing by Him so that He can put us back together how we ought to be. Being crushed is the only way we end up whole.

What better way to be turned to dust than by the enormous weight and gravity of the love and mercy of God?

That is what I believe the world finds so hard to accept. In society being crushed, being broken, being destroyed, are all bad things. There are no good connotations associated with them. But in God's eyes, they are exactly what is needed. We are put to death at baptism. We are killed because there is no other way to be raised as a new creature, as God's own child.

Instead, the world tells us that God doesn't (or shouldn't) care about our sins. If something is difficult to resist, then God doesn't care, and we can go ahead and do it anyway so long as it doesn't "hurt somebody else." But that is not what God calls for. He calls for our lives to be so enveloped by Him that we give up our choice to sin. Not out of fear or terror (though He will use that if needed), but out of love for Him.

God wants us to feel the enormous weight of His love and mercy. A love and mercy that forces us to recognize who He is. He is the God of the Universe. The Creator of All Things. He is the Almighty. He is I AM.

Yet He has gone through torment and death to save us from ourselves.

So the next time you are tempted by something, remember that you can stop yourself. Whether it be telling that little lie or excessive drinking or homosexuality or listening to what you shouldn't or lusting remember that you have given your choices to God. As Christians our choices are no longer or own, but we have voluntarily given them to God who saves us.

We are crushed to be recreated whole. We are broken to be properly fixed. We will still mess up, but only when we insist that our choices are ours. When we do fall, He is there to restore and rebuild us. He always will be.

But we must also give ourselves to Him. Not just in part, but wholly and completely. 

Monday, April 1, 2013


"Hi, my name is Jared and I am way too interested in political news."
"Hi Jared."
Now that we've got that out of the way, I do want to say that I make a point of not commenting on politics one way or the other unless it is to my close friends and family. The nature of being in ministry is such that it could very easily result in alienating people and pushing them away from Christ. Therefore, I simply say nothing, watch, and take note of which way the winds are blowing and what people are willing to say publicly so that I know where to meet them in conversation.

That said, I am secretly a political junkie who regularly feasts on all the latest world and political news like an adolescent girl with a stack of Teen magazines. Whether its Pyongyang's blustering about nuclear weapons or the attitude the Supreme Court has in questioning it's latest case, chances are I have either heard or read about it somewhere in the course of my day. It's not often that I am caught off guard by anything happening in the world. Oh how I do love the information age.


You see, over the last 10 or 12 years I have noticed a growing problem with the 24/7, everybody always knows everything news cycle. Some might say it's making us more polarized. I would agree. Others might say every little thing, regardless of how important (or not) it is, gets way, way too much coverage. I would agree with that also. Still others might say that it works to try and shape public opinion rather than simply report on it. I would agree with that as well.

But that is not the problem I have noticed.

The problem I have noticed is that, whether the shows realize or not, they turn people against each other by turning them into caricatures of what they really are. Battle lines are drawn for the sake of entertaining the audience and making the other side look like idiots. If you don't believe me look up the Piers Morgan or Sean Hannity shows. Regardless of what side you are on, take note of not only how the other side is portrayed, but the words and phrases used in these "debates." Then stop and consider how much information you are not getting from the sound bites and video clips that are played. It is entertainment, and it is built for ratings.

What does this have to do with Christianity though? The problem is that when we allow those we disagree with to be reduced to caricatures of who they really are, and allow those views to affect how we see anyone who happens to disagree with us, we stop seeing people how God sees them and start seeing people as the world does.

If we are not careful, we will cease to be the Christians we must be.

Where the world tells us to attack and make those who disagree with us bleed, God tells us to pray for our enemies and do good to those who persecute us. Where the world tells us to get revenge, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Where the world tells us to shout down our opponents, Christ tells us to show His love to everyone regardless of how wrong or mean they are, correcting when necessary and encouraging when appropriate.

If instead we see people only as enemies, only as cartoons, only as objects with which to argue and assail with rhetoric, we will never get to what is truly important, which is sharing God's Word with those who need it most.

Please don't misunderstand me. We don't have to back down and slink away when faced with something. As Christians we must be willing to speak for truth and goodness, especially when it is under attack. But don't let anything, especially political views, stop you from sharing the most important thing of all: That Christ came and died for all of mankind so that they can be with Him in the end. Everything else will sort itself out.

But it always starts with Jesus.