The Church Drop Outs

There’s a lie and heresy that has infiltrated the Church in the United States. It says that commitment to Christ is all that matters. It asserts that we can have a relationship with Jesus without a relationship with his Church.  Current church related statistics in the U.S. reflect this flawed and man-made theology. Although 40% of Christians in America claim to attend church weekly, research shows the actual percentage to be between 14 and 18%.  Each Sunday, the average church is missing 33-40% of its church attenders, a mere 15-20% serve in some volunteer capacity, and giving as a percentage of income is lower than during the depression.

Contrast this, however, with the plain teachings of Scripture and the example of the one we say we are following, Jesus.  The writer of Hebrews noted, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25).  The implication is that some who were previously faithful have become unfaithful. Luke observed of Jesus, “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom” (Luke 4:16). It’s important to notice that there is no asterisk in the text excluding us from the command and example based on how we feel, what we want to do, or how put out we are with the Church.

Unlike the command of Hebrews and the example of Jesus, American Christians are dropping out when they should be digging in. They are disappearing for a variety of reasons. Some have gotten hurt or offended forgetting it’s hypocrisy to expect the Church to accept their imperfections while demanding perfection from the Church. Others became distracted by the cares of the world and pursuits of the flesh. Some have simply become lazy, apathetic, and without passion losing their priority for the things of God. Others have been deceived and isolated having missed a signal from the Head of the Church. Many, unfortunately, have simply grown stingy and selfish disappearing from the Church because they just don’t want to attend, serve, or give. We may or may not feel we have a valid reason for withdrawing from a church, but we are never right to completely drop out of the Church.

Commitment to the Church without commitment to Christ is religion, but commitment to Christ without commitment to the Church is rebellion. If we really loved him, we would keep his commandments. People in the Church who would never board and demand to take the controls of the plane or attempt to perform surgery on themselves in the hospital or interrupt their college professor and take over the class, have decided, without call or anointing, to isolate from the Church and pastor themselves. They have the mindset that they do not need anyone but Jesus to teach, guide, or lead them. But consider that the simple action of tapping one’s toe requires that a message come from the head, down the neck, through the torso, down the spine, past the thigh, knee, calve, ankle, and foot to get to the toe.  Sever the signal at any level and the message does not get through. Just like the natural body, believers need Jesus and one another to function.

Perhaps as a culture we are forgetting just how important the Church is in this world. It is the body of Christ of which he is the head, the expression of his nature, will, and power in the earth, the seat and locus of his authority in the earth (Matthew 18), the source of revealed wisdom, mysteries, and manifestations (Ephesians 3:9-10), the benchmark of his standards and expectations, and the moral conscience for society. We must remember that there will be no transformation in isolation because life transformation takes place in community.  There will be no restoration in isolation because even Lazarus needed the Church to take off his grave clothes following his resurrection. There will be no revelation in isolation because even Peter’s great revelation from God that Jesus was the Christ came in fellowship. There will be no impartation in isolation because only those who showed up to the upper room in Acts 2 experienced the outpouring of God’s Spirit. There will be no direction in isolation because God has ordained leaders who are anointed to guide us and seasoned believers who provide the wisdom that can only come from a multitude of counselors. This is why misdirection so often accompanies isolation from the Church and why deception is so prevalent in the body of Christ today.

The confusion caused by the drop outs has many sincere believers wondering what they should do with the Church. Instead of isolating from the Church and dropping out in these days, we need to plug in like never before.  First, we need to love the church, appreciate it, and be positive about it by focusing on the virtues rather than the weaknesses. Warts and all, the Church is still the best thing going in the world. Second, we need to commit to the Church. We need to rededicate our lives to Christ, but we also need to rededicate our lives to the Church. Third, we need to support the Church by faithfully attending, serving, and giving.  After all He has done to purchase our redemption, the least we can do is reciprocate with our time, talent, and treasure. Fourth we should honor the Church by living right and modeling the message of redemption. Fifth, we should grow the church because church growth is every believer’s responsibility, not just the responsibility of the pastoral staff and leadership.  Sixth, we need to defend the Church from those that would attack and malign it internally, externally, culturally, or globally. Finally, we need to be the Church by expressing God’s love, power, and goodness in our community and throughout the world.

The Wheels on the Bus

A recent guest speaker at our church said something that pretty well summarized the ebb and flow of church commitment these days in the United States.  He said the local church was like a bus with people constantly getting on and people getting off.  His statement was designed to encourage churches and leaders about the commonality of the experience across the nation.  It got me thinking about why people, in this day where “I” is at the center of everything from our portable devices to our political theory, so willingly get off the bus God supposedly told them to get on.

Before I get the usual “the church hurt me” or “the church is unhealthy” routine, I concede up front that there are abusive churches and leaders, and church leaders and churches that are unhealthy.  I’m not suggesting that anyone should stay on the bus in that kind of environment. The fact is, however, church leaders and churches can do 1000 things right, and the first time they do something wrong or disagreeable to the bus rider, the rider gets off the bus citing abuse or a lack of love.  The fact is buses are no more or less dysfunctional than the people who ride on them.  Churches and church leaders are not abusive merely by virtue of doing their God-ordained teaching, leading, guiding, and decision-making.  Most of the getting on and off has little to do with the spiritual health of leaders or churches, and everything to do with a fatal flaw in the spiritual formation of modern American Christians: “Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This standard is for the driver and rider alike.

American believers get off the bus God told them to get on for a variety of reasons. Some simply do not like the direction the bus is going and they want to do the driving. They seem to forget that the church must operate form the perspective of the uni-vision (one vision), rather than omni-vision (all vision) or di-vision (two visions).  Many ride until they decide they have a better idea where the bus should be going. Others get off because they can’t sit where they want to sit, meaning they don’t get to do what they want to do or when they want to do it. Still others get off because they don’t like the rules on the bus.  Even though every segment of society has rules of operation and expectation for participation, some believers think the local church should be devoid of rules and guidelines.  Some choose to live at odds with the Scriptural standard and morality and hop off implying the church was somehow judging them when the rider, by virtue of jumping off, was the one doing the rejecting. Still others are seduced off the bus by the lusts in life and agendas inspired by pride. Some fall out with other riders and just want to get away from the conflict instead of applying biblical principles to the issue.  Some look outside and see a shinier bus passing them up with its perception of relevancy, innovation, or higher understanding. Many believers just want to ride the latest fad bus, or they erroneously conclude they are now too spiritual for their drivers and fellow riders, not realizing faithfulness is a much greater mark of authentic spirituality than one’s revelation level.  Of course, some jump off the bus simply because friends or others got off the bus. Finally, some just flat don’t like the driver. With all the analysis, statistics, new paradigms and models, and church growth methodologies, at the end of the day, right or wrong, so many riders get on and off based on the likeabilty of the driver.

As church leaders (drivers), we have to keep our perspective in this generation of bus hoppers.  We need to remember to keep on moving down the road resisting the temptation to park the bus because some folks got off.  It can be difficult not to become paralyzed with discouragement when it seems the people you did the most for and developed the most are the very ones who will jump off the bus. It’s to your credit that you, despite often being thrown under the bus, are not the one doing so to others.  Our priority needs to be picking up new people along the way instead of constantly pining over and grieving over the ones who jumped off.  We also need to follow the route assigned to us staying true to the God-given vision and mission of the house.  The integrity of the vision is not always authenticated by the number of people on the bus, but in the fidelity to the direction of the Lord. Finally, our focus needs to be on getting the riders who faithfully ride with us month after month, and year after year to their destination, instead of being defeated by those who got off.  Too often we as spiritual leaders teach and preach to bus riders who aren’t even on the bus instead of helping the faithful in their journey of discovering divine purpose, Christian maturity, and development.

 

 

 

The Dysfunctional Church

People today are looking for connection, and they will cross all kinds of boundaries and lines to find it.  They will hang out with people engaging in destructive behavior, or join groups, gangs, and criminal enterprises just to belong somewhere.  It’s interesting that no matter how dysfunctional the group, people will still join because of the connection they crave.

The Scripture says that, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6, NIV).  According to 1 Corinthians 12:18, KJV, “God hath set the members every one of them in the body as it hath pleased him.” To set means to place, establish, arrange, or even ordain.  The Lord has a set and even ordained place and purpose for all of His people.  He determines the location for the believer as well as the function of the believer.  He has a set place and purpose for you too.

Every Christian needs to get and and get quickly the revelation that it is impossible, however, to bring hundreds of dysfunctional people together into the church and expect the church to be automatically highly functional.  We just can’t walk through the church door, and swoosh, instant function.  Why?  Because the curse from sin damaged everything in life, including our ability to relate, communicate, and belong.  But thanks be to God we have been redeemed from the curse so we can become functional in every social structure of our lives, including the church.

The first key to restoring function to the church is to be mindful of our own dysfunction.  People in the church, just like the rest of the world, struggle with a performance mentality, anger, drama, alienation, addiction, sexual looseness, pride, selfishness, trying to fix others, social backwardness, control, strife, jealousy and envy, pessimism, gossip, fear, deception, and many other types of dysfunction.  Our places of worship can never become functional unless we all become aware of our own dysfunctions.

Second, we need to be graceful to the dysfunction of others.  One thing I’ve observed over many years of ministry is that we want grace for our dysfunction and problems, and judgment for the dysfunctions of others.  The Bible says that the merciful are blessed.  The church is filled with people at varying levels of recovery from dysfunction.  Mercy empowers them to change, but condemnation helps to lock them into a pattern of destructive repetition.  We simply can’t reject others for their dysfunction without ignoring our own.

Finally, we must be faithful to the one who can heal the dysfunction.  The Lord longs to restore His people, but we must remain plugged in and under the means of grace or the place He has set us.  What many Christians do not realize, it’s the dysfunction, not the Holy Spirit, pushing you to leave your set place and faith family.  Many believers just do not stay set long enough to get healing from the dysfunction before that very dysfunction drives them from their set place and their restoration.

By being mindful and aware of our own dysfunction, gracious and merciful to the dysfunction of others, and by staying where the Lord puts us, we can expect the Lord to begin to bring healing to our dysfunction while he elevates the degree of function overall in our local church. The church is a hospital and not a showcase for perfection, so there should always be works in progress.  The key is to progress in dysfunction and help others to do the same.

The Consequences of Standing on the Wrong Platform

democratic-vs-republican-party-in-america-republican-democrat-xlc8wc-clipartJesus told the story of two houses built upon two entirely different foundations, one on sand and the other on rock. When the storm came, the house built on sand collapsed, but the house built on the solid foundation survived.  What was the reason for the differing outcomes?  Was it the type of house?  Was it the severity of the storm?  Was one builder just fortunate?  No, the outcome was entirely based on the integrity of the foundation.  During the 2016 election, a choice will be made to once again either build upon the sand or a solid foundation.  That foundation is the official platform for each of the major political parties.

Like a building foundation, the political platform, a party’s statement of official values and positions, will affect how well our nation weathers future storms and challenges. Political candidates will come and go, but the ideas, values, and agendas remain for generations.  Too many Christians have bought into the lie that the presidential election of 2016 is about two personalities.  The truth is the election is about two different views of the world and two different directions for the United States.  Both candidates are deeply flawed but we must look beyond the personality and potential time in office and discern and project what policy and cultural legacy they will leave behind for the next 50 years.  The two major party candidates represent two very different platforms, and the values, views, and policies reflected in those platforms will impact our country long after the candidates are gone.  

The consequences of standing on the wrong platform will be severe and lasting and why I believe this truly is the most critical election of my lifetime.  We will have Supreme Court justices who bend the constitution to suit political ideology and persuasion. We will have the unrestricted slaughter of the unborn, including late term elective abortion such as partial birth abortion.  We will have an all out assault on our right of religious expression, teaching, autonomy, and practice.  We will watch our right to bear arms watered down and severely restricted.  We will see rampant wickedness and abomination further normalized in our nation.  We will watch the greatest healthcare system in the world devolve into a single payer system where medicare and social security are raided and destroyed, where healthcare premiums skyrocket, and where quality is compromised.  We will lose our national autonomy to the march of globalism putting world interests above the interests of our people.  Socialistic policies will continue to drain our national wealth rather than increasing it.  The national debt will balloon to nearly 30 trillion dollars.  Corruption and collusion in the government between the Justice Department, the FBI, the State Department, the White House, and the Clinton campaign will never be brought to accountability.  The economic stagnation experienced under Obama (the only president with no quarter with GDP at 3 percent in U.S. history) will continue because of poor tax policy and over regulation.  Our foreign and military policy will continue to lack common sense, vision, cohesion, and execution trying to control monsters like ISIS instead of releasing our full war capabilities to annihilate them. We will continue to follow immigration policies that violate our current laws, disregard rules of fairness, and ignore our security.  Energy policies will continue to destroy American jobs while failing to tap our own  resources toward energy independence. Inner cities like Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit, and Milwaukee, completely neglected by Obama, will continue to crumble under the weight of crime, unemployment, degradation, and failing schools.  

As believers we have the responsibility to evaluate the platforms of the political parties through the eyes of Scripture.  For the purposes of comparing the most critical components of the platforms, consider where the Republicans (R) stand, where the Democrats (D) stand , and where the Kingdom of God (K) stands on the issues:

The Sanctity of human life:  (R) Life begins at conception and should be protected.  (D) Abortion should be on demand, without restriction and funded with tax money.  (K) “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Marriage:  (R) Marriage is between one man and one woman.  (D) The definition of marriage should include anyone a person loves.  (K) “God made a woman and brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:22).

Religious liberty:  (R) Religious speech and practice is constitutionally protected.  (D) Religious speech and practice is subservient to protected lifestyles.  (K) “Preach the truth in love” (Ephesians 1:5).

God in government:  (R) Rights given by God trump human or government given rights. (D) God has no legitimate role in government or place in the platform.  (K) “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).

Israel:  (R) The security of Israel is supported unconditionally and it’s capitol is Jerusalem.  (D) There should be a two-state system with no claim of Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol.  (K)  “I will bless those that bless thee, and curse those who curse thee” (Genesis 12:3).

America’s security:  (R) ISIS is an existential threat to our security and way of life and must be destroyed.  (D) The greatest threat to our national security is climate change. (K) “But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason.  They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).

America’s place in the world:  (R) The interests of the United States should be placed above the world.  (D) The interests of the United States are subservient to those of the world.  (K) “The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon the earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth” (Daniel 7:23).

Like many of you, I find different aspects of each candidate disappointing and distasteful. But I have made the quality decision to look beyond the personality and the limited time each would be in office and consider the long-term implications of their policies and agenda on our nation, our children, and our children’s children.  Instead of the candidate, I am voting for the platform and the future impact of that platform on the country I love.  I am voting for the platform that best aligns with the Kingdom of God. Christian, if you believe that abortion, redefining marriage, restriction of religious liberty, the exclusion of God from government and public life, the manipulation and persecution of Israel, lip service to threats to our national security, and advancing globalism at the expense of our national interests lines up with the Kingdom of God, then please do vote for the Democrat. If, however, you reject the death and darkness of the Democratic platform choosing instead life and light, then you should join me in supporting the Republican nominee for president.  I encourage you to assess which platform is better for building a great nation, sand or rock?

 

Trump, Clinton, and The Cyrus Effect

clinton_trump_splitLike many God-fearing believers around the country, I have struggled to make sense out of this election cycle. After suffering the radical progressive policies of the past 8 years, I long for someone to take the helm of this great nation who has the spiritual and leadership credentials to bring restoration, healing, security, and prosperity back to our country (you know, someone with the moral and spiritual depth and maturity of a Billy Graham mixed with the economic, policy, and communication prowess of a Ronald Reagan).  After a long and contentious primary season that feels like Alice in Wonderland, we seem to be left with Tweedledee on the right and Tweedledum on the left.

I realize there are some Christians and Christian leaders who will exhort us all to just preach Jesus and stay out of the political arena altogether, but that position is out of sync with our nation’s history and inconsistent with God’s demonstrated concern for the nations as indicated in the prophecies to the nations in Isaiah. No, God is very much concerned with the governance of nations and He uses the nations throughout time as instruments of his purpose and plan.  I believe He still has a great plan for our country. The truth is we have a Scriptural, moral, and civic responsibility to participate and not in a LBJ IRS amendment “churches keep your mouths shut kind of way.”  We as Christians are citizens of the United States and we did not forfeit our citizenship or constitutional rights when we joined a church or accepted the call into the ministry.  We simply cannot stick our heads in the sand while our national fabric is unraveling, our country is being drained morally and financially, our future is being held hostage, and our people are being slaughtered around the world with no clear champion to defend them.

Between 597 B.C. and 581 B.C. the Jewish people were exiled to be held captives in Babylon where they cried out to Almighty God for their deliverance: “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1).  If you were to gather the rulers and elders of Israel together in that captive place and asked them what their deliverer from captivity would look like, I’m sure they would be thinking of a Moses or a David like historical and biblical figure to execute that deliverance. Shockingly, Isaiah prophesied that Israel’s help would come from a total pagan ruler, Cyrus, and worse yet, God would have the audacity to use messianic terms to describe him: “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him…so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.  For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen…though you do not acknowledge me” (Isaiah 45:1-5). Cyrus came to power 170 years after the prophecy, captured Babylon in 539 B.C. and two years later decreed Israel’s return to their homeland, the rebuilding of the temple, and that the treasury of Cyrus would pay the bill (2 Chronicles 36; Ezra 1).

I mentioned to my sister back in January of 2016 that I believed something is going on in this nation that transcends normal politics, political parties, and political alliances.  By the millions, born again Christians have been crying out to God on behalf of our nation for years, a country being held captive philosophically and spiritually. God’s dealings with man throughout history reveal one important lesson that may have some application to our nation’s current election cycle – we have the right and liberty to cry out for deliverance, but just like the Jewish leaders in Babylon, that does not mean we get to choose through whom that deliverance will come.  Too many Christians are looking for a president that would qualify for a deacon, Sunday school teacher (Jimmy Carter was a great Sunday school teacher), or pastor in their church forgetting that God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9).  

I believe we are experiencing our own Cyrus moment in the United States this year.  My candidate of choice in the primary did not survive the process (and considering his behavior at the RNC I’m glad) so it looks like I have a choice between Tweedledee (Trump) and Tweedledum (Clinton).  Despite the misgivings and ambivalence I may have toward both candidates, the question is simply who is most likely to be an agent of that deliverance?  Who appears to have the favor of God?  To me, Tweedledum has demonstrated failed leadership as a Senator and Secretary of State, she holds policies and values that are completely contradictory to mine, and she does not possess a clear moral compass as indicated by the never-ending ethical issues.  Tweedledee, a recently born again believer, is a brash, blunt, bold, and successful businessman who lacks the polish and couth (but also lacking the veneer) of a seasoned politician, but says things that resonate with many disillusioned and alienated Americans.  

I have concluded during this election cycle given the enormous stakes, including the fact that the next president will most likely appoint as many as four Supreme Court justices, to put away my grocery list of likes and dislikes and attempt to discern God’s big picture agenda and his Cyrus for this moment in U.S. history.  At the risk, well, of alienating everyone, and although as distasteful to some Americans and Christians as Cyrus was no doubt to the Jews who benefited from his political, military, economic, and human rights policies, I believe the mantle of Cyrus is on Tweedledee during this turbulent and unprecedented election season as an agent of change, not based on his spiritual or political credentials, but based simply on God’s sense of humor, penchant for irony, the prayers of his people, and directional sovereignty. Of course, time will shortly tell.

 

 

Divorcing Your Church

87604643A traveling preacher was waiting to be picked up by a local church pastor to speak at his church that evening.  Relaxing by an outside courtyard at the hotel, the preacher engaged a grandmother with two young children in a cordial conversation.  The woman noticed the man’s Bible and asked if he was a believer.  He explained he was a believer and that he was scheduled to speak at such and such church that night.  The woman replied, “I used to go to that church.”  “In fact,” she continued, “my grandchild here was healed of autism at that church.”  Stunned by the disconnect between the fact of the child’s healing of what is considered incurable by many professionals, and the statement that she used to go to that church, the preacher simply replied, “praise the Lord.”  He struggled to wrap his mind around the woman’s decision to leave a church where such faith was preached and such a powerful miracle took place simply because she was now moving in some “new” revelation.

What the preacher observed that night has in fact become an epidemic across the country where people leave their faith family despite the fact that the faith family was the source, in the Lord Jesus Christ, of the life and breakthroughs in their lives.  A couple is headed to the divorce court with no hope of reconciliation.  The Lord uses the church to restore the relationship but the couple then leave the church.  A man attempts suicide, fails, and shows up in church where he gets saved and delivered, and then leaves the church.  A young man is told he has an incurable disease but God exposes the infirmity and removes it through a word of knowledge. But then the individual lets hurt and disappointment drive him from the body God used to restore him.  A man receives a prophetic word over his life about money all around him, and after prospering in a manner consistent with the Word, departs the church leaving pledges, vows, and commitments unfulfilled.  A dejected and demoralized woman comes in to church and finds acceptance, love, and belonging only to walk away because of some minor misunderstanding or offense.  The stories are endless but they all share a common narrative of people receiving life and restoration from the church and then divorcing their churches to serve some offense, yield to a divisive or deceptive spirit, or to pursue some spurious teaching, doctrine, or practice.

According to Psalm 68:6, the Lord sets his people in families so that the benefits of redemption can be explained, explored, and enjoyed.  The word “set” means to remain or to abide.  Our destiny in this life, our ability to bear fruit, and the influence we are to have on the lives of others are all tied to remaining in God’s set place for us.  It’s easy to leave a church when it is viewed as an entity or organization, but when believers have the biblical revelation that the local church is a family, and a family the Lord has set them in, it is much more difficult for the deceiver to displace them.  Like natural families, there may be sound reasons for separation such as abuse, but in most cases people are abandoning their faith families due to a dysfunctional view of and judgment of the their faith family.  Sadly, these individuals then act like the family doesn’t even exist and was never a significant factor in their spiritual lives and well-being.  Once this type of behavior is started, unfortunately and tragically, it is often repeated over and over again sowing confusion in the affected churches, insecurity in church leaders, and contempt for the Church in the hearts of kids exposed to this behavior by perpetually disgruntled parents.

Like with any family, there are issues, challenges, disagreements, and problems, but also like most families, there are untold and innumerable benefits to being a part of a faith family.  Perhaps as American Christians we should intentionally focus on the positive aspects of family rather than focusing on what is not right or imperfect.  It’s possible for the devil to inspire us to amplify the negative, forsake our faith family, and compromise the good things God had planned to do in us and through us in association with that faith family.  Choose instead to honor the set place God has for you, to appreciate the life you have received from that faith family, and to focus on the positive when faced with issues, legitimate and imagined, in the local church.  Perhaps it’s time to remember the value of blooming where we are planted or dancing with the one that brought us.  If you have developed the habit of divorcing your church or have completely separated yourself from church altogether, consider the grace and mercy God has given to you and the fact that he did not divorce you for your imperfections.  Ask yourself a simple question: Did I and do I treat my faith family like God treats me?  Selah.

 

Clergy Lives Matter

IMG_5665Clergy abuse in the Church is well-established and reported, including controlling behavior, manipulative leadership, financial impropriety, and even sexual abuse. But just like other professions (few doctors are drug addicts, few peace officers are racists, and few lawyers are on the take), the overwhelming majority of pastors regardless of faith tradition are dedicated, sincere, honorable, and faithful servants of God tending to the flock God has assigned to their care.

What has not been sufficiently addressed and written about is the systematic abuse of spiritual leaders by some members of the congregations they serve.  The ignorance of the phenomenon where it is unknown, and the blatant disregard for the behavior where it is tolerated are taking an enormous toll on the Church in the United States.  Every four weeks 1500 ordained ministers leave the ministry.  The simple plan of the enemy is to decimate local churches of all denominations and polities by abusing, demoralizing, crippling, and displacing the local shepherds. What is simply amazing is that the devil’s primary tool in this offensive is not secular humanism in society, or persecution from the world, but internal abusive behavior by congregants.  The weapon of choice is the mouth rather than a gun.  The projectiles are words instead of rounds.  The death is an emotional one rather than a physical one.  

The vast majority of church members support, uplift, and encourage their shepherds in their ministry assignments as spiritual leaders.  Unfortunately, too many shepherd abusers are allowed to function in the shadows of the otherwise functional church sapping the leader of energy, vision, hope, joy, and passion.  Perhaps by shining the light on a few of the devices (or types of the personalities or spirits) the enemy uses and employs to abuse spiritual leaders, congregations can become more sensitive to the problem, begin to identify and mark the behavior, and then hold the behavior accountable when it is discerned.

First, the Jezebel in the congregation works to introduce idolatry by seducing the spiritual leader (and not just sexually) so that the leader is manipulated and controlled by the individual.  The Jezebel usually has a hidden or competing vision or agenda for the house.  If seduction, manipulation, and control fail, the individual will often attempt to destroy the leader through false accusations or by creating dissensions in the body.  If the leader yields to the Jezebel, their ministry is compromised.  If they refuse to yield, they incur the intrigue and wrath of Jezebel who wants the head (or the authority) of the leader.  Just like with Elijah, the Jezebel is tireless in the pursuit of it.  

Second, the Absalom, which means ironically “father of peace,” seeks to steal the hearts of the follower away from the God ordained leader.  As in the day of David, often the Absalom is usually close to the minister or someone the spiritual leader has given a platform for ministry.  Taking advantage of the platform, the Absalom stands at the social gates of the local church sowing seeds that suggest the leader does not care about the people or have time for the people.  The Absalom intentionally becomes the unofficial complaint desk for the congregation, and has no ethical problem counseling church members without the knowledge or support of the pastor, abusing the visibility, access, and trust given to them by the leader.  The result is the separation of the hearts of people from their spiritual covering and the compromise of their spiritual destiny.  The Absalom selfishly fails to consider the true welfare of the people, concerned only with the advancement of an illegitimate kingdom.

Third, the most common abuser, the Demas, receives a significant investment in time, ministry, and personal development from the spiritual leader.  Often, the Demas has experienced major breakthroughs, including salvation and even deliverance and restoration from life-controlling problems, life-destroying tendencies, and life-wrecking experiences.  Just like with Paul, Demas just one day disappears from the scene.  The biblical Demas left because of his love for the world (carnality).  Church folks leave churches today for a variety of reasons, some valid and some ridiculous. Nonetheless, the thing that marks every Demas is that he or she deserts, forsakes, and abandons the ministry, and does so without even a word to the pastor, despite the substantial ministry, love, and benefit the individual received through their ministry.  Most church members wouldn’t even think of leaving a job without giving a two-week notice.  But the Demas just vanishes with no word or explanation (except to other people), and no consideration for the damage that is done to the local church and the local church minister.  Surely the local church shepherd deserves at least as much consideration as a church member would give to Burger King.

Ministers are fully aware of the high calling they receive, the charge to speak the truth in love, the challenges of serving God’s people, the warfare that accompanies the responsibility of watching over their souls, and the need for proper self-care.  The problem is the abuse of clergy over time has a cumulative and debilitating effect, the results of which may not manifest for years or decades.  While it is the responsibility of the minister to remain faithful to the flock and maintain a strong and vital spiritual life to sustain them internally during the marathon course of their ministry, it is also the responsibility of the flock to value clergy lives by upholding them in prayer, supporting them with faithfulness, strengthening them with words of encouragement, and confronting and holding accountable the abusive personalities like the Jezebel, the Absalom, the Demas, and others as they manifest.  These simple efforts can dramatically increase the tenure of local pastors and increase the health of the churches they serve.

Call Me Mr. Holey Pants

Before heading over to church for a special water baptism and celebration last Sunday night, as is often the case, Tim and I got into a quick wrestling match (I almost always win). In the process of one of his famous “rush your Dad like a bull from Pamplona” take down moves, I tore a sizable hole in my britches.

Of course, I did not discover the tear until after I had already stood prominently in the front row of the church worshipping the Lord and flashing those behind me with the blinding light of my tidy whities. As I headed to the platform to share some Scriptures about our new life in Christ, I was met by a few gracious souls all waiting in succession to explain why I felt a draft during the service. One church member volunteered to bring in his extra pair of shorts for me to wear for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, I was able to wrap my outer shirt around my waist and cover up.

Besides the obvious embarrassment and the sense that this was a harvest for picking on Kelli’s onion ball during the morning service, I couldn’t help but appreciate the obvious spiritual lesson from my ripped pants. From time to time we all need a brother or sister to come along side of us and challenge us when there is something wrong in our attitudes, behavior, or lives. Too often, however, even though the fellow believer is genuinely and humbly just trying to help us out in our faith journey, we turn on them and label them judgmental or harsh.

I know I was thankful when a few men took the time to cover my, um, you know what I mean. The next time the Lord uses a believer to draw attention to that area of life where you are exposed, keep a good attitude and be thankful because they are looking out for you. As the Lord moved to provide a covering for Adam and Eve and as Noah’s two honorable sons moved to cover their father, be thankful that your Christian friends are trying in love to cover over a multitude of sins, not condemn you.

Sacred Assembly

“Blow the ram’s horn in Jerusalem! Announce a time of fasting; call the people together for a solemn meeting. Gather all the people–the elders, the children, and even the babies…” (Joel 2:15-16, NLT).

There has never been a time in our history when it has been more important for parents to intentionally impart the values of the Christian faith to their children and to do so in overt, deliberate, creative, and consistent ways. It is critical that modern Christian parents do not succumb to the lowest common denominator approach to influencing their kids for Christ by adopting an “it doesn’t take all that” mindset to instilling the values, priorities, and beliefs of genuine New Testament Christianity. In reality, we are in a season where it requires more diligence, dedication, and intentionality than ever before if we want our children to passionately carry the banner of the Christ’s love, power, and standard to the next generation. If we do not step up our efforts we will be in danger of losing our kids to the world and the generations to come to the cause of Christ in general.

Unfortunately, many formerly solid and conscientious Christian parents have turned on the sloth switch when it comes to raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Expecting them to pick up the Christian world view and values by osmosis or something they do not take the time to read the Word to their kids or pray for them or even make sure they are in public worship services (even though many stood somewhere before a church congregation promising the Lord and the body that they would do so). The fallout will come later as their children begin the process of individuation and decide that this “Christianity stuff” is not for them. Many of these parents will act all “shock and awe” that their kids do not want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ or associate with the Church (or worse yet, dive headlong into the world), but what they don’t realize is that the destination was set years before when they failed to emphasize, privately and publicly, the principles of the Christian faith. Rather than being surprised by the choices of their children, parents who fail to take proactive steps now to influence and preserve their children for Christ, should expect their children to withdraw from the Church and the things of God.

We need today what the prophet Joel called for hundreds of years ago – a sacred assembly of the people of God of all ages – from the newborn to the elderly in a consecrated, committed, and consistent gathering to worship God and receive a fresh impartation of truth and values. This cannot be accomplished in an isolated meeting, but it is the consequence and accumulation of spiritual life imparted over the long haul, line upon line and precept upon precept. Instead of using the birth and busy-ness of raising our children as excuses for being absent from the house of God, we should make them the very reason we are present and faithful to bring them to church for public worship and age appropriate spiritual training.

I remember my parents telling me the story of how they went to see our family pastor after having some struggles with my sister who had departed the faith and the church for a season as a young adult. His counsel to them was wise, timely, and very biblical. We all know the Scripture that promises that if we will train up our children in the way they should go, when they are older they will not depart from those values and principles (Proverbs 22:6). Our pastor encouraged my parents with the assurance that since they had been diligent to bring her up in the church and the things of God, she would be back and with a passion to serve God. He was right. She did, and now she is touching countless lives with her life.

The problem is we cannot claim the promise of such a Scripture if we do not honor the condition of the Scripture. We don’t have to know everything or have everything figured out in life and faith, but we do need to do what we know to do as parents such as bringing our children faithfully and habitually to church. Parents, you cannot claim this Scripture for your children if you are violating the very premise of it. I can assure you that in the long run and in comparison to eternity, nothing you are using as an excuse to keep yourself and your children from attending church is worth potentially losing your kids to the world. Make up your mind today that you are going to be deliberate and intentional when it comes to impacting and influencing your kids for Christ. Don’t let another service go by without taking the role of the godly parent and making sure your family is in the house of God.