Urgent Church: Nine Changes We Must Make Or Die

The following article was reblogged from https://www.sermoncentral.com

 

Many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

It broke my heart.

Another church closed. This church had unbelievable potential. Indeed, it had its own “glory days,” but only for a season. But, 10 years ago, few would have predicted this church’s closure. Today, it is but another statistic in the ecclesiastical graveyard.

I know. We don’t compromise doctrine. I know. We must never say we will change God’s Word.

But many of our congregations must change. They must change or they will die.

I call these churches “the urgent church.” Time is of the essence. If changes do not happen soon, very soon, these churches will die. The pace of congregational death is accelerating.

What, then, are some of the key changes churches must make? Allow me to give you a fair warning. None of them are easy. Indeed, they are only possible in God’s power. Here are nine of them:

  1. We must stop bemoaning the death of cultural Christianity. Such whining does us no good. Easy growth is simply not a reality for many churches. People no longer come to a church because they believe they must do so to be culturally accepted. The next time a church member says, “They know where we are; they can come here if they want to,” rebuke him. Great Commission Christianity is about going; it’s not “y’all come.”
  2. We must cease seeing the church as a place of comfort and stability in the midst of rapid change. Certainly, God’s truth is unchanging. So we do find comfort and stability in that reality. But don’t look to your church not to change methods, approaches, and human-made traditions. Indeed, we must learn to be uncomfortable in the world if we are to make a difference. “We’ve never done it that way before,” is a death declaration.
  3. We must abandon the entitlement mentality. Your church is not a country club where you pay dues to get your perks and privileges. It is a gospel outpost where you are to put yourself last. Don’t seek to get your way with the music, temperature, and length of sermons. Here is a simple guideline: Be willing to die for the sake of the gospel. That’s the opposite of the entitlement mentality.
  4. We must start doing.  Most of us like the idea of evangelism more than we like doing evangelism. Try a simple prayer and ask God to give you gospel opportunities. You may be surprised how He will use you.
  5. We must stop using biblical words in unbiblical ways. “Discipleship” does not mean caretaking. “Fellowship” does not mean entertainment.
  6. We must stop focusing on minors. Satan must delight when a church spends six months wrangling over a bylaw change. That’s six months of gospel negligence.
  7. We must stop shooting our own. This tragedy is related to the entitlement mentality. If we don’t get our way, we will go after the pastor, the staff member, or the church member who has a different perspective than our own. We will even go after their families. Don’t let bullies and perpetual critics control the church. Don’t shoot our own. It’s not friendly fire.
  8. We must stop wasting time in unproductive meetings, committees, and business sessions. Wouldn’t it be nice if every church member could only ask one question or make one comment in a meeting for every time he or she has shared his or her faith the past week?
  9. We must become houses of prayer. Stated simply, we are doing too much in our own power. We are really busy, but we are not doing the business of God.

Around 200 churches will close this week, maybe more. The pace will accelerate unless our congregations make some dramatic changes. The need is urgent.

Hear me well, church leaders and church members. For many of your churches the choice is simple: change or die.

Time is running out. Please, for the sake of the gospel, forsake yourself and make the changes in God’s power.

By Thom Rainer on Apr 7, 2017

President, LifeWay Christian Resources

How Big is Your God – Pt 3

When I thought about how big God was I found  I was no different that most other Christians.  My life certainly didn’t reflect the God of the scriptures.  When I prayed I didn’t really see much results.  People I prayed about didn’t get healed, didn’t get delivered or set free, didn’t get saved.  And to be honest I was getting frustrated

What about you?  Have you ever faced these situations?  How’s your frustration level in spiritual matters?  Just how big is Your God?  Think about the people you have given up hope on.  People whom you think are a lost cause, feel like their never going to change.  Or think about the times where we turn to the credit cards and bank loans or pawn shops because there are bills to pay, instead of allowing God to provide.

Do we stand in the face of opposition and difficulty confidently assured of our God who stands with us, or do we cower in fear of what people think or may say.  Do we accept all challenges boldly, jumping in with both feet because we know “God will provide”, or do we shy away from difficult situations.  Do we willing step out into the unknown simply because God said ‘go’, or do we try to figure out all the angles first.  These were all questions I asked myself.

Just how big is your God?

Enter David in our story found in 1 Samuel 17.

Davids brothers were part of Saul’s army facing the Philistines.  And as David was to young to enter the army he would travel back and forth with supplies for his brothers.

So David left the sheep with another shepherd and set out early the next morning with the gifts. He arrived at the outskirts of the camp just as the Israelite army was leaving for the battlefield with shouts and battle cries.

21 Soon the Israelite and Philistine forces stood facing each other, army against army.

22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies and hurried out to the ranks to greet his brothers.

23 As he was talking with them, he saw Goliath, the champion from Gath, come out from the Philistine ranks, shouting his challenge to the army of Israel.

24 As soon as the Israelite army saw him, they began to run away in fright.

What I found interesting is Davids response to Goliath wasn’t fear.

“Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?

David response wasn’t to cower and hide.  He saw and heard the same things his fellow Israelites were hearing.  He served the same God they did.  He had grown up hearing the same stories they did.  If you were to ask him how great God was he probably would have the same answer his countrymen had.  But something was different in David because he didn’t even hesitate in his response.  Instead of running away to hide like everyone else had he charged headlong down to meet the giant saying

“You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD Almighty – the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied”

David personally knew how great God was.  God’s greatness for him was not a theory talked about in church.  It was a confident assurance that gripped him in the center of his being  and it caused him to have great boldness.  He absolutely knew God was going to back him up and defeat this giant, and it was a boldness that none of his fellow countrymen had.

How big is your God?  Is it a theory?  Its a tough question isn’t it, and it is one each of us needs to ask ourselves, because God doesn’t want to remain a theory we simply talk about.

How Big is Your God? – Pt 1

What are your favourite stories in the bible?  Stories that moved you and excited you?  Stories that made you wonder about the possibilities.  Who are the hero’s you love to read or hear about?  David and Goliath?  It is probably the most popular and familiar story.  A little scrawny guy with rocks in his pockets who stands against the giant.  Maybe it is Daniel in the lions den, or Jonah and the whale.  Maybe it is Moses and the splitting of the Red Sea.  There is the story of Elijah and his defeat of the prophets of Baal.  Maybe it is the story of Paul and Silas locked up in prison where God shook the whole jail and set everyone free while they prayed and worshiped.

The bible is full of stories where people saw great and powerful miracles done by a great and awesome God.  Stories about men and women of faith whom God powerfully used.  Stories that move us and cause us to desire the same, ‘God powerfully move through me’.  As Christians we want to see people healed and set free, and see lives transformed.  And when it doesn’t happen we can sometimes think the problem is we are lacking faith.  Most of us have heard people teach or talk about faith, and we have read the scriptures where Jesus teaches on faith like According to your faith be it done to you.” Matthew 9:29 ESV

Faith is something that is very necessary in our lives and walk with God because without faith it is impossible to please Him, but if you asked most Christians about their faith level, most would be fairly discouraged.  We have many Christians who read the scriptures of Jesus telling His disciples that they had “little faith” and think that applies to them.  Then we read where Jesus said we only had to have faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains, and we feel lower still.  A mustard seed is pretty small, and if that is all it takes to move mountains then our faith must be pretty small then because we can’t seem to move a cold, let alone a mountain.  Or that’s how many followers of Christ feel.  At times in my walk with God I have wondered “Just how small must my faith be?”

“If only I had more faith” is a thought many of us have had.  I would pray for people, usually with little to no effect, or at least not one I could see.  And I wondered, why did things happen when people in scripture prayed, and not much seems to happen when I pray.  I know I’m not alone in my wondering.  Many other disciples before me have wondered similar things.  People like Charles Spurgeon, CS Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and AW Tozer.  And many others after me will wonder as well.  Even the disciples of Jesus had questions like this.  At one point the disciples tried to cast out a demon for hours with no success at all.   Jesus came along and cast it out with a word.  And afterwards the disciples went to Jesus

[MAR 9:28] His disciples began questioning Him privately, “Why could we not drive it out?”

As I have pondered on this question I felt like I was looking in the wrong place for my answer.  I began to feel like the source of my problem wasn’t in how little faith I may feel I have, but more in where I had my faith placed.  God began speaking to my heart and I began to understand that the size of my faith is totally unimportant if the size of my God was wrong.

A great faith in a small God will yield little to no results, A small faith in a great God will yield the miraculous

So the question I began asking myself is How Big is Your God?

You’re such a Curmudgeon!

“You’re becoming such a curmudgeon!” one of mcurmudgeon-with-bow-tiey co-workers said to me a couple weeks ago.  I had to admit I didn’t know what he was talking about.  He grinned widely and said it means “a cranky old man.”  It’s a comment meant to be a joke but it has got me thinking.  Because the things we say we believe we don’t often live like we do.  Craig Groeschel wrote “The Christian Atheist”, a book which premise is that Christians today declare that God exists and is involved in their lives, and then live like He isn’t.

We live in a society which says that they are Christian.  For many it is because they go to church, at least at Christmas and Easter.  For others it is cultural, and while we are getting further and further away from a Christian culture many still see themselves as Christians.  And there are others who believe in the Christian message.  But it isn’t what we say we believe that matters.  In fact our lives declare more about what we believe than anything we may say.  And for many of us our lives are not declaring what we hope they may.  It is a fact I have been looking into in my own life.

It is not a bad thing to evaluate your walk with God from time to time.  If you don’t you will quickly become complacent and coast through life.  Paul wrote “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 MSG

Everyone of us needs to look at what our life is saying about our beliefs.  Are we following Jesus or are we saying we are Christian and living like He doesn’t exist?  Craig Groeschel wrote “Who do we believe in more? Ourselves or God? Our actions and decisions will reflect that.”  Our actions declare what we believe.  John Calvin wrote “the doer is he who from the heart embraces God’s word and testifies by his life that he really believes.”   Rick Warren said something similar when he said You only believe the part of the Bible you do.”

Paul said three times in scripture “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Philippians 1:27 NLT, Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1.  Our conduct says a lot about us and about what we believe, and the world around us is watching.  Are we declaring the majesty of Christ, or the selfish whims of our own hearts.  What is your life saying about what you believe?  Is it agreeing with the words you say?  It is a tough question to ask, but a very important one to answer.

The false self and God

true-identity.jpgWe were created for relationship.  Each and every person has built into us a need for others.  We need relationships in order to be healthy and grow.  Unfortunately we have given into the idea of independence and we can go it alone.  This was not the plan that God had in mind for us.  God created us for relationship and the primary relationship was meant to be with Him.  Everyday God would come and walk through the garden and interact and share with Adam and Eve.  And even though things got screwed up by the choices they made that removed us from relationship with God, He never let go of this one thing.  We were created for relationship, and God deeply desires a personal relationship with everyone.

Our problem is we don’t know ourselves and we are not willing to look within and see what is inside us we end up hiding from God.  We take large portions of ourselves and hide them away for fear of rejection, or because they are parts of ourselves that we don’t like, or are uncomfortable with.  We live a life based on the image of who we want people to see, or what I have begun to understand as a false self, or false identity.  We have learned to portray ourselves in a way that seems favorable and ignores anything that is uncomfortable about ourselves.  And every moment of every day of our life God wanders in our inner garden, seeking our companionship. The reason God can’t find us is that we are hiding in the bushes of our false self.

David Benner wrote “The more we identify with our psychologically and socially constructed self, the more deeply we hide from God, ourselves and others. But because of the illusory nature of the false self, most of the time we are not aware that we are hiding. Coming out of hiding requires that we embrace the vulnerabilities that first sent us scurrying for cover. As long as we try to pretend that things are not as they are, we choose falsity.”

The problem is we don’t always recognize our false identity because we have lived with it for so long that we have become comfortable with and live according to who we made ourselves to be.  But that very thing we use to protect ourselves from others ends up separating us from God who deeply loves us.  We end up not knowing ourselves, and as a result we miss out on knowing God.  The worst part is we don’t even recognize that we don’t know God, because we design Him to suit ourselves.  So we think we know Him and we follow Him, but we are following a “god created in our image.”

What is worse is the very thing we use to hide ourselves ends up creating this very thing.  “Having first created a self in the image of our own making, we then set out to create the sort of a god who might in fact create us. Such is the perversity of the falspuppet1e self.”  We then pursue a life we are comfortable with and allows us to never examine ourselves to deeply, and we never really have to change.   Our false self will keep us in bondage and we will be happy to allow it until we realize that isn’t what God designed us for.

If we are willing to allow God to show us who we really are, and begin to work from there we can encounter the true God and see our lives transformed.  But it begins by being wiling to see ourselves differently.  If we close the door and refuse to look inward we lose the ability to truly know God.  Knowing God will always cause us to see ourselves and to know ourselves.  We cannot change what we do not know, and if we never allow God to reveal our true nature we will never allow Him to change us.

Even though it may be uncomfortable and even painful we must be willing to allow God to remove our shell and our false identity.  It begins by asking God to help you see what makes you feel most vulnerable and most like running for cover.  Our false self will try to protect itself and keep you hidden, but we cannot allow it.  The places we feel the most vulnerable is the very place that God wants to open our hearts to His presence and love, but He can only do this if we allow Him in.  So we need to ask God to help us look inside and to help us see the things that we use to defend ourselves from feeling vulnerable.  Then we need to ask God to prepare you to trust enough to let go of these fig leaves of your personal style.

The riches of God’s presence await us if we are willing to open ourselves up to His touch.

Unmasking our false self pt.1

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Everyone is on a search for authenticity.  It is something that everyone has a deep desire for.  We may not know what it looks like when we see it, but we all have an expectation and idea of what it may be like.  It is like the idea of perfection.  Know one really knows what perfection looks or feels like, because no one except Jesus has ever attained it, but we have an idea of what it would be like.  What we know about authenticity is how we give it our best shot to scramble after what we think it is and what will give us fulfillment personally.

We seek after authenticity and seek a way for living that leads us to happiness.  Unfortunately not all routes we may take are equally authentic.  It stands to reason that if there is a true self we are working to become, that there is a false self we can also be.  “If there is a way of being that is true to my deepest self, then there are also many other ways that are false.” David Benner.

It didn’t take us long in life to discover that we needed to look after ourselves.  Early on we began to develop a plan of coping with life and achieving our definition of happiness.  We began to figure out what made us feel good about ourselves and we worked at trying to fulfill those needs for love, survival, power and control.  This is where our basic identity began to form, and the way we lived and the experiences we had began to form in us an identity and a way of seeing the world around us.  It also began to form in us the deepest desires which will drive us throughout our lives.  Many of the behaviors we now have are a simple result of our souls searching for its needs to be met.  And a lot of it is subconscious, because we don’t even recognize the behaviors for what they are.

We grow up learning what our strengths are, or the things we thing we do well that bring us the things, or feelings we are looking for.  But some grow up learning what their weaknesses are, struggling to simply enter the world feeling like they have any value at all.  These feelings and behaviors make up our sense of identity.  And many times the identity we portray is not who we are at all.  It is just the way we handle life and we have lived it for so long we never question it at all.  It is something we simply accept, and expect others to as well.  The problem is we can often see the false identity in others, but it is very hard to spot in our own lives.  Because it is our “normal” approach to life that we simply accept is the way we all live.  It has become like the air we breathe.  We are so accustomed to it we are no longer aware of it.  In order for us to change we have to be willing to see ourselves as different from we see ourselves currently to be.  Our self-image and our desire to hold on to it, or be willing to let it go will decide whether we can break free from the molds we were put into, or we will continue to live in bondage to a way of living and seeing life.  A bondage to a self that was created for us and is not who we are.

Saul is a perfect example in scripture of someone with a false self-identity.  He was fanatically zealous and ruthless, consumed by personal ambition and terrorized the early Christian church.  After he encountered Jesus his life was completely changed, and he saw himself completely different.  He had exchanged his image of self for a new one.  He came to understand who he was, and who he was in Christ.

The core of our false self is “the belief that my value depends on what I have, what I can do, and what others think of me.” Basil Pennington.  Thomas Merton describes it as “… winding experiences around myself… like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and the world as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.”  Our false identity is always wrapped up in something other than us.  We make ourselves feel important by what we do, or how others think about us.  We place a value on ourselves by how many friends we have on Facebook, or how many people agree with our opinions.  “Because it is hollow at the core, the life of a false self is a life of excessive attachments.  Seeking to avoid implosion and non-being, the false self grasps for anything that appears to have substance and then clings to these things with the tenacity of a drowning man clutching a life ring.”  And so we have the race “keeping up with the Jones’ ”

This isn’t much of a way to live and without the willingness to see ourselves as different that we are we will never be able to break free of the cycle and discover our true identity.