Distractions

Read 1 Kings 20:35-43

It took me a couple times reading this passage, plus reading some commentaries to really understand how it applies to life today. But I finally got it. Read the passage closely. The prophet here is setting a trap, like Nathan did with David regarding Uriah, hoping to ensnare him with his own words.

The set up is simple: the prophet tells Ahab a story about being put in charge of a prisoner. If he failed to watch the prisoner fully, and the prisoner escaped, the prophet would have to replace the man or pay a fee that would be so high, he would never be able to pay it.

With the trap set, Ahab falls right into it, telling the disguised prophet that he must take the prisoners place. The prophet reveals himself, and Ahab runs off depressed and angry.  To truly grasp why this is such an important section of scripture, go back and read the portion before this passage and you will see that Ahab had the chance to follow God’s instructions, but did not.  Ahab become distracted by the men who came to beg for mercy.  The prophet used his ruse to show that he was distracted while guarding his prisoner, and did not accomplish his assigned task.

This is where we, as Christians, come in. We have remain constant in the task which Jesus has given us. We can not become distracted by those who wish to pulled us away from Jesus. Ahab took his eyes away from God’s mission for him. He allowed for societal pressures to pull his focus off of God. And we do the same. It does not matter if it is personal relationships with others, entertainment, family issues or personal issues, we must not allow our world to influence our relationship with Jesus. We must remain diligent in keeping on task for God.

But what is the task God has given you? While we are all called to go out and make disciples of all the world, we are each given different gifts to accomplish this. I hear people around me say things like “God really did not give me any gifts, I am just ordinary.”  When you say this, you are saying that God did not create you with a purpose, that He made you simply to exist and nothing more. Is this what you really want to be saying to people?  Instead, you should be asking God to help you find your gift. Then, begin to train yourself to use that gift whenever the occasion arises.

Remaining faithful to God’s instructions is the number priority we should have in life. But what happens if we fall away? If we fail to follow through on the instructions He has given us? We can once again take a look at how Ahab responded.

1 Kings 20:43

So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria.

Instead of repenting from disobeying God’s instructions, Ahab became mad. He essentially went into his palace and pouted. Does this sound familiar? Do you take this approach too? How many times have you played the If I can’t have it my way, I will just go home card with God. This attitude is not a healthy one for spiritual growth. And don’t take my word for it, go right to the source:

1 Kings 21:25

But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord.

I don’t know about you, but to me, that is not exactly what I would want to be known for. It seems that today’s society would use that passage as a badge of honor. Everywhere we turn, we are being asked to chip away at our morals and beliefs more and more. We are asked to step away from God’s Will for us, and instead become more like the world.

Ahab did just that. He let one little misstep away from God build into another, then another, then another. And eventually he had fallen so far away from God that he could not even see Him. Notice what I said there. Ahab could not see God, it was not the other way around. God is always right there when we look for Him, but we have to be willing to look and listen. Ahab lost this willingness. Have you?

What are you doing with your resources?

(Please note, this post is not meant to single out any one church or organization my area. If you are a local pastor or leader, it is not a direct attack on you, but on the American church as a collective group)

What I want to talk about today is a question we as Christians will be faced with then we stand before God. It is a question what we should all be keeping in mind as we go about our lives.

“What have you done with the tools I have given you to advance My Kingdom?”

For a lot of people this is a scary question. Because when we look at how we use our time and resources, I think we can all agree that we are not using them to the best of God’s Kingdom. Most of us prefer to sit back and complain about what it happening around us instead of stepping up and trying to make a change.

I live in an area of the country that is just ravaged by drugs, heroin in particular (last stat I saw had my area as the #3 per capita in heroin us in the entire country). This drug brings with it prostitution (sex slavery) as well as rampant alcoholism.  Yet most churches in my area simply sit back and watch this epidemic spread more and more without want to take any action. Yes, it is on every prayer list (and do not mistake me, prayer SHOULD be the first step in any decision we make) but normally that is as far as it goes.

It comes down to this simple fact: most churches today have an inside out model instead of an outside in model. They want to cater to everyone inside their church walls, and not worry about those outside the walls.  Yes this stings to hear if you are a church leader, but seriously examine how much sincere and true outreach do you do?  What is the ratio of resources your devote to discipleship in the church versus outreach beyond your walls.

And I am not talking about missionaries outside of your area. I am speaking about right in your community.  Once again, do not misunderstand me, I am in no way saying local churches should not support overseas missions. But we should not be doing so at the expense of outreach right outside our front door.  “What did you do with the resources I gave you?” This should be the question on your mind as you go about making decisions on where to put your time and money. It is not about YOU or your church getting praise and glory. It is about bringing people to Christ through any means you have at your disposal.

The battle of traditional versus contemporary, praise and worship versus hymns, chairs versus pews  and all the other mundane arguments that occur in the modern church today take away from the most important function of the church: to bring people into God’s family.  And this goes to any organization who profess to have a mission of bringing people closer to God. As soon as you start putting limitations on how you are going to deliver God’s Word, you instantly lose your stated goal.

Jesus did not say “go out and preach only the King James bible using only hymns and piano”.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matthew 28:19-20 NKJV)

Notice there is no mention at all of the teaching method. It simply says go and teach. People learn and people come to Christ in different ways, and we need to stop focusing on the “how” they are coming to know The Lord and instead begin focusing on the “if” they are coming to know God. Just because you might not like a certain type of music, or a certain style of preaching, does not mean the person who is sitting next to you who is not saved will not be able to connect with it.

We live in a society so worried about offending people that we have let this attitude invade our churches. No longer are different styles of worship allowed. We have put a dividing line in place, saying this is how we worship in this building and if you don’t like it, there is the door.  We have shut our minds off to any possibility that someone may be drawn to Christ in a different way than we are teaching, so we keep on doing the same things over and over and over, and then complain that it is not working.

I have heard people say “well, people will be drawn through the doors of a church when God calls them”. Well if that is the case, why even do any form of outreach at all? Why bother witnessing to anyone?  This statement always makes me laugh. Our job as Christians is to lead a life that helps people see Christ through us, and then make every effort to lead those around us to Christ. This does not mean only those we are comfortable with. This does not mean only those who walk through our church doors.

We are to get outside of our church walls, into our communities, and let me people know about the love of Christ. We are NOT to simply sit on our churches and wait for them to come to us.

The biggest and most valuable resource we all have the equal supply of is our time.  It costs no money to lead a Jesus led life. It cost no money to tell someone about God’s plan for salvation. It costs no money for any of us to go out into the world and tell others about Jesus.

What is does cost us is time. Time away from Netflix, Facebook and Instagram. It makes us focus on what is important, and causes us to make to difficult decisions in how we best allocate the resource of time. If you were to stand before God right now, and have to answer “Did you do your best with the resources I provided you”, how would you answer?

Uninteded Priorities

This is going to kind of piggyback off the post from Sunday.  I have been thinking the past couple days about the message you send with the priorities you have in your life. Most the time, it is in an unintentional message. It is simple decisions you make every day that when looked out from the worldly point of view, show that you value things of the world over things of God.

So what exactly is it I am talking about here? Let me give you an example. Most churches across this country have the same schedule. Sunday morning services (a combination of Sunday school/worship service). Then you will have a Sunday evening service and a mid-week services (normally Wednesday night).  The most attended service is normally always the Sunday morning worship, which makes me ask one question: where is everyone during Sunday school, Sunday evening service and Wednesday evening service?

Now, the answers are going to be something like this:

  1. I can’t get up early enough to make it to Sunday school.
  2. My household is so hectic, I can’t get everyone ready in time to make it to Sunday school.
  3. Sundays are the only time off we all have as a family, so we need to take the time in the evening to do family things.
  4. I am just so tired by the time Sunday evenings roll around, I can’t get motivated to go back to church.
  5. I or my kids have (insert any workout or sports practice) on Wednesday evenings, and just don’t think it is fair to them to not have them participate.

I am sure there are some others that I am forgetting here, but those will be the main ones. These are very common and not outlandish reasons to not attend the services outside of the main Sunday evening worship service. Most would look at this list and say there is nothing really wrong. But I am here to tell you that this list is one of the major reason the church, families, and even the country is in the shape we are in today.

Let me rephrase the question of why are people only attending Sunday morning worship. Instead of asking why do people not come, put it this way: what do you have going on in your life that is more important than worshipping God? See, when you put it this way, it suddenly becomes a much more uncomfortable discussion. Because now you have to look at the unintended consequences of your actions. Not just for yourself, but also for those around you and your children. Everytime you say “I am not going to church because of….” you are telling people “I am placing this activity over celebrating God.” You are making all around you know where your priorities lie.

Now, if you think I am being a little over dramatic here, simply using this to shock people, let me make it clear I am not. I could not be more serious. You are placing it out to everyone who sees your actions that it is ok to put God second in your life as long as YOU are comfortable. As long as YOU need that extra hour of sleep, or need to be a little tougher on your children, or have to tell your teens they will not be able to do the activity they want too, YOUR life will be less hectic and more comfortable.

But by doing this, you are also letting your kids, your teens, and those around you not in Christ that it is ok to put worldly things over Godly things. It is ok to place activities that are temporary over that which is preparing you and them for the eternal. People around me hear me speak everyday about the importance of putting God first in everything you do.

There are many other forms of unintended priorities in our daily life. From the movies we watch to the companies we support, every choice and action we take shows the world around us what we prioritize. So urge you all to stop for a moment, and think about the small choices you are making and thinking about the unintended priorities they are showing your family, your friends and all you come into contact with on a daily basis.

Plant where you are placed

I recently started to trim down my follow list on Facebook. This was not the normal trimming I encourage everyone to do to get rid of things which are ungodly. No, I started trimming churches from my likes. Oh Patrick, how could you do such a thing?!  you might ask. It’s simple, I began to become jealous of things other churches were doing that mine wasn’t. I was falling into the church comparison trap. 

It is perfectly fine to look at other churches and ask yourself “is this something that would benefit our church and our community if implemented?” What is not ok is to say “why can’t my church be doing this?” This is what I was doing. I would see something and instantly run to my pastor saying “we need to do this, it will be awesome for the church.” Instead, I should have paused and asked God “is this something that you want me to move forward with in the church?” 

It comes down to one thing we all need to start doing: learn to serve in your home church and stop looking for “bigger”chances. God will provide you with the chances to spread His Word, you just have be willing to do it. When we learn to listen to God’s leanings in our heart and stop wanting to follow our own desires, we will do the most impactful work for the Kingdom. 

You are placed where you are because God believes that is where you can best serve Him. By fighting this, you are saying you know more than God. Is this really the message you want to be putting out in the world? 

I came to my home church with big ideas. I was going to make all kinds of changes, make the church “cool”and “hip” and “modern” (my words here). The problem is, none of those things were needed in my church. What was needed was my skill and abilities in other areas I never thought I would be called into.Three years ago when I walked through the doors of my home church, I never dreamed I would be standing in front of the congregation on Sunday evenings giving the message. Or on select Wednesday nights. I never dreamed I would be called into action to help organize the county summer park vespers services. 

But I finally stopped fighting God. I tore away the blinders that something “needed fixed” and instead accept I would be used anyway God wanted to use me where I was. I stopped looking for something better and realized what I had was more than anything I could ever want. 

I encourage you all today to pause and reflect on what you are doing in your local churches. Are you playing the church comparison game I was playing? If so, stop and look into your own church walls and ask God “what can I do to serve You in this building today?” You will see that God will open doors to you to minister that you did not even realize were there. 

Why Do We Go To Church?

This morning, my pastor shared on article on his Facebook page that I thought I was going to hate. (you can see it here). The title told me I was in for another one of those “us vs. them” lectures on how bad modern church worship is. I was all ready to type out a response, but I figured it would be a good idea to actually read the article first.

The first third was exactly what I thought it would be. But at the start of the second third, I realized the writer was conveying the message I delivered on a Wednesday night in church a couple months back. And that message is simply one single question: Why are you stepping through the doors of your church?

And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Revelation 3:14-17)

The article quoted some scripture, but to me, this is the entire key verse in regards to the modern worship movement. It to my own paraphrase on it:

To the church of America write, because you are disengaged, I will vomit you out of my mouth

The issue is not worship styles, or the “entertainment” factor, it is the engagement factor when people leave the walls of the church. We take for granted the privilege we have to be able to walk into a house of worship and openly praise God. All over the world, people are walking 5 miles to a church with no electricity or water, and share a bible and sing praises to God. Yet we want to argue about what instrument should be played on Sunday?

The point of the church is worship, but so often, we do not even know what this word means. I read two definitions of worship that I think sum it up best for me:

  • An offering of your life to God in response to His life in you
  • A response to who God is to you and what He does in your life

In other words, worship does not just take place in a building 2 hours on Sunday morning and an hour Wednesday night. It is a continuous process of thanking God for all the blessings He has given you.

I do agree with the author of the article in that I sometimes think that the more glitz and glamour that are added into worshiping God, the less worship actually takes place. It becomes more about the show than the substance.

I know this sounds incredibly strange coming from me, someone that is pushing for more and more tech in my church. And the reason I am pushing for a more modern looking church is to attract a more, shall we say, youthful demographic. So I am completely aware that what I am typing go against the things I am pushing for in my home church. But, those things I am pushing for are geared to bringing more of the unchurched in our community through the doors. Once those new in the congregation come in, why are they staying? That is where the key question is. If all the new purchases we are making do not bring about a worshipful spirit in church walls, then honestly I have to ask the same questions brought up in the article. Worshiping God should be the top priority we have in walking through church doors, and anything blocking our path do doing that needs to be put aside when we enter.

Which brings me to the second reason we should be coming to church, and that is to learn. We should be coming through the doors of our churches with our minds focused on learning and understanding God’s Word better. In our Sunday school classes, we should be bringing to the table questions we have from our bible reading the week before and then we should be offering up answers to others questions.  During the sermon message, we should be taking notes on what we hear, and going back and looking at those notes as we read through the bible passages that are mentioned. Your mindset should be on gaining biblical knowledge and understanding. And do to this, your mind needs to be free of any and all worldly distractions what might be in it.  YOU MUST BE ENGAGED. And you cannot be engaged if you are concentrating on other things other than the message that is being presented.

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.  (Acts 17:10-11)

Self-evaluation – you should be made to feel uncomfortable and want to make a change in your life every time you leave the church. What is said from the pulpit should make you examine your life, and make you want to make actionable changes to draw closer to Jesus. If you are not feeling moved to change when your leave your church, either your pastor is not telling you the truth or you are not engaged in what they are saying enough to see the areas in your life which they are talking about.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. (2 Cor 13:5)

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (James 1: 23-24)

You see, if we simply sit in church each week and hear the words being said up here, without actually listening to what is being said, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We should be made to feel a need of action in our lives about what is being said up from our pastor. If we are not, either the pastor is being ineffective or we are simply choosing to ignore those parts which will make us question the way we are living.

And finally, we should be coming to church for community.  I have spoken many times about how the church used to be the center of social activities in communities.  And I am convinced this has stopped being true because we have become disengaged with our own community. The church as a whole has lost the urgency to create a feeling of community.  When you come through the doors of your church, you must be of the mindset that the church is the focal point of your community.

Since joining my church, I have witnessed firsthand how, when it has the right mindset, can show what a loving community is can be. Both with my mom’s passing and with my accident, I came to realize how I had fallen short in engaging myself into the community mindset.

This is one of the reasons I decided in 2016 to give control of the music booking website to someone else. I realized that I was focusing on the wrong things, and that my time and energy should be placed locally in helping achieve the things I am speaking of here.

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

We love the idea of community.  Everyone engaged and involved and connected, but how many people show up here longing for  someone to reach out to them, shake their hand and have more than a 2 second conversation.  – Craig Groeschel

 So while I am not agree with everything in the article linked above, I do understand the need for us all to question why it is we walk through our church doors. Is it for the entertainment, or is it to draw closer to Jesus. I say it a lot: It is ok to bring the lost through the doors with the fun stuff, but once you get them through the doors, it has to turn serious. And there is nothing more serious than eternal life.

Where is the church in a community?

I was talking with a friend yesterday and mentioned my home church was used as a precinct on election day. He made the comment “it’s nice to see a church get involved in the community.” I did not think anything of it at the time, but later in the evening, a thought struck me: at what point did churches STOP being involved in the community.

I began looking into some statistics, and came across this, which I think is telling.

us christians

You may say, well a 5% drop is not so bad. But let’s put real numbers to it. As of today, the population of America is 323,783,811. Using this number, it would mean that 16,189,190 citizens no longer identify as Christian. Now you do have to take into account babies and youth who are not of the age of understanding, so let’s make it an even 15 million people. That is the number in just 8 years that has gone from saying they identify as Christian to not. To take it even further back, that 75% of today was over 90% in 1960.

So that is the bad news, and that is where we can certainly see how the church in America become less and less involved in the community. But there is another aspect. When you take into account the population, and the number who do not identify as Christian, you are still left with slightly over 300 million people. Now let’s take out 10 million for being too young to be at the age of understanding, and let’s say that half of what is left are not truly Christian, that would still leave close to 145 million people in this country who profess to be a follower of Christ (yes, I get these numbers are not scientific put for my purposes they will work).

The latest figures from Gallup indicate approximately 37% of the population in America attends church. So let us just work off the 145 million figure as opposed to the entire population figure. This would mean that approximately 53.5 million people attend church on a weekly basis in this country.

Now I know that was a lot of numbers, but I did it for a reason. Go back to what I asked in the opening paragraph: When did churches stop being involved in community? The answer is in that 53.5 million number. That is the number of people who have stopped standing up to the immoral river that has flooded this nation. That is the number of people who have said it is easier to just sit in a pew (or on those nice chairs the contemporary churches have) and sing the cool songs (or old hymns) and then just go home and ignore what is happening around them. That is the number of people who would rather sit back and become indifferent to the nation falling apart than to stand up for what they know to be right.

Imagine if you will that those 53.5 million actually started doing what we are called to do in the bible. Imagine if we all became like the disciples, going out and spreading God’s Word, but also letting people know about their sin. Imagine if instead of the imaginary boycott you hear about when a corporation goes against God’s Word, we 53.5 million actually just stopped shopping at the store, or stopped buying the product, or stopped watching that movie or tv show.

You see, we as Christians are not holding up our end when it comes to community. We are not leaving our church walls and being involved in our community. I am not talking about the once a year bake sale and pancake dinner. I am talking about getting active and involved in the issues which effect the salvation of those in your local community.

This is not a national problem, this is a local problem. This is problem when churches of an area will not work together for the improvement of that area. It is an issue of churches not properly prioritizing the issues of their area, instead going for the hip, cool, politically correct thing to get behind instead of the thing which truly needs dealt with.

I read a story the other day about a bible study that started meeting in a strip club, and they would minister to the girls of the club. This is how you combat an issue in your community. Not by hiding you head in the sand and pretending it is not there, but instead sacrificing everything you can to make a difference in the eternal lives of those of your area.

How far are you willing to go to make your community Godly once more?

The Impossible Is Where God Starts

One of my favorite Christian speakers to listen to is Christine Caine. She is someone who will tell you over and over again that she has no business being in the position she is in today. Her backstory is an incredible journey of someone who struggled with abuse and came out as a beacon of light for all those she comes into contact with. And one of her favorite things to say when speaking about how she formed the A21 End It movement is “Impossible is where God starts”. 
I always appreciated this statement, but never really put it into action until recently. I am part of a ministry in my area who is trying to make our small community a better place by reaching the younger generation. And for about 8 months now, it seems to be 1 step forward and 40 steps back. There are such a large number of issues we are dealing with on what seems a weekly basis, there are times I simply think “this is impossible, we are just wasting our time here, and nothing we can do here is going to make a difference.” There are times when I think the churches don’t want us, the community does not want us and at times I even feel completely not needed within in the organization itself. 

Then I remember the impossible is where God starts. I remember the words of Jesus in John 16:33

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. 

We are told right there to expect tribulations in our life, but if we put our faith in Christ, we will find peace. Reading this passage of scripture this week helped me refocus on what is truly important. The little things which our ministry is facing are challenging, without question. But in the end, it is not for our glory we are doing these things, but for His glory. When your priority shifts and refocuses on God, so does your attitude and your drive to do the work. 

No longer am I a slave to the fear of failure or rejection by the community. We will succeed in our mission of spreading the Gospel here, because the impossible is where God starts.