[2Sa 6:16, 23 NKJV]
16 Now as the ark of the LORD came into the City of David, Michal, Saul's daughter, looked through a window and saw King David leaping and whirling before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. ...
23 Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no children to the day of her death.
The American Church is in trouble. By all accounts churches across our nation are struggling, some to the point of closing their doors for good. The point of this post is not to rehash all of the numbers that are already out there but let me list some quick bullet points of what we are seeing happening to the American Church.
1. Less than 20 percent of Americans regularly attend church—half of what the pollsters report.
2. American church attendance is steadily declining.
3. Established churches—40 to 190 years old—are, on average, declining.
4. The increase in churches is only 1/4 of what’s needed to keep up with population growth.
5. In 2050, the percentage of the U.S. population attending church will be almost half of what it was in 1990.
I grabbed these statements from a blog post you can find here:
7 Startling Facts
I have heard numerous explanations about why all of this is happening but I believe there is one foundational issue behind all of it.
The Bride of Christ is standing in judgement of her King.
All across our nation there are supposed men and women of God who are compromising on fundamental biblical issues because they think the bible needs to be more relevant for today. Theses people are elevating themselves to position above God's word, so they can look down upon it and interpret it in a way that no longer offends sinners. Their intentions are good but their ways are wicked.
When Michal, David's wife, stood in the window and watched her husband and king coming into the city dancing, she despised him in her heart and because of this God made her barren the rest of her life. She was never able to have children because she judged her king! Now more than ever the world needs a church that operates in demonstration and power of Holy Spirit but our churches have no spiritual fruit in them because we have been standing in judgement of our King. We have declared that his word is out of date and irrelevant to society today. We have taken it upon ourselves to reinterpret the scriptures so that the Church won't find itself on the wrong side of history. Unfortunately, this has left the Church on the wrong side of God's judgement.
We are not a bride without spot or wrinkle, we are a bride with a barren womb.
Let our hearts cry be one of repentance! Let us stand in unity declaring that we will no longer be a church that stands at the window in judgement but goes and joins her king dancing and celebrating in the streets because the presence of the Lord has come in to the city!
Recently, I had an experience with a group of people that made feel unconnected to the group. While I went through that quite a bit as a kid, I was pretty socially awkward, it has been a while since I felt that way as an adult. I won't go into the details of what happened but let me say that it felt rather disheartening. This is a group of people that I would like to be a little more connected to but it just doesn't seem like a real possibility.
It is hard for me to find the right words to really express how this feels. No one has been mean or hurtful to me. In fact everyone is rather nice and friendly. There is just another level of relationship that I can see they have with one another, that they don't have with me. Because of this, I am always left feeling like an outsider that has to somewhat force his way into the group. While I am a generally outgoing person, the constant effort to be plugged into a group that doesn't seem to be making an effort to plug me in, is tiring. After a while, you just want to stop because it doesn't feel like the superficial relationship is worth the work.
Going through this experience caused me to look at myself and our church a little bit closer. If you asked any of us, we would probably tell you that we were a friendly inviting group of people. I think if you asked the average church attendee from just about any church in America, they would tell you the same thing. But, is that what the visitors to our churches think of us? Are we really just superficially inviting? Are we keeping people from really connecting with us?
If people aren't feeling completely plugged in to our ministries and we aren't as inviting as we think, what can we do about it?
I came across 5 things that when they happen to us, will create a connection with others. If we learn these 5 things and consciously make an effort to use them with those that walk into our churches, I believe it can move us a long way toward truly being inviting.
1. Get Concrete Help
Example: A friend picks up your kids from school for you.
When someone does something practical like this to help us out, it deepens the connection between us and them. This is the truth behind the old adage that "actions speak louder than words". When the actions of someone show they care, people know they care.
2. Receive Emotional Support
Example: Someone tells you they are sorry that you are going through such a tough time.
It means a lot to people when someone recognizes their struggle and shares in it with them. Just remember that there is a big difference in showing someone empathy and simply feeling sorry for them. Empathy generally comes from a place of equality with the person. Feeling sorry for them generally comes from a place of superiority to them.
3. Achieve Perspective
Example: Being reminded that even the moodiest teenagers grow up.
Often we feel separated from people that we don't fully understand. However, once we gain a healthy perspective on who they are, we tend to feel closer to them. Essentially, this is the other side of the empathy coin. Not only do we feel closer to those who empathize with us, because we feel like they understand us and what we are going through, we feel closer to those that we empathize towards.
4. Receive Good Advice
Example: Someone suggests that you plan a weekly date with your spouse and doing that helps strengthen your marriage. When we get a good piece of advice that actually impacts our life when we use it, it can help increase the bond between us and the person who gave us those words of wisdom. We have to be careful with his one because we can easily fall in to the trap of running around telling people what we think they need to do to fix their lives. We have to remember that we can't force people to change. All we can do is offer the suggestion and what the other person does with it is up to them. Suggestions should be encouraging, not judgmental.
5. Receive Validation
Example: You learn that someone you just met likes the same tv show you do.
There is almost an instant increase in the bond we feel with others the moment we find out that they are into the same hobbies or pastimes that we are. Most of those things require a certain amount of commitment and we feel validated when we know someone else enjoys those same things. Word of warning, NEVER pretend to like something that you either don't actually like or have never heard of. We can however be open to someone sharing with us why they like something. Sometimes just showing someone you are interested enough to listen can go a long way.
Let's remember to make an effort to truly connect with the people that God places into our lives. After all, if if we don't, they'll go somewhere else to find the relationship that they are longing to find.
Recently I saw a meme on Facebook about dandelions. While I can't remember the exact wording it went something like this:
"Isn't it amazing how when we are kids we will pick dandelions and give them as bouquets to others because we think they are beautiful. I guess that is the difference in accepting something for what it is, not what it is supposed to be."
While I understand the sentiment behind the meme, I don't necessarily agree. I am assuming that the person who made it was trying to get people to remember when they were able to enjoy the small things because we weren't old enough to be jaded. However, when I read the meme all I could think about was how it was a good example of bliss in ignorance.
There are a lot of things that we find fun or enjoyable as children that become far less appealing as we grow older. It is a part of the maturing process to put away childish things as we become adults. That isn't to say that we should lose our sense of humor or our desire to have fun. It just means that what we find funny or enjoyable is probably going to change as we grow and mature.
One of the things that causes these changes in us, is knowledge. Of course a 4 year old girl would be very happy to receive a bouquet of dandelions. They don't know that those aren't actually a flower even if they do look pretty to the eye. Once that 4 year old is older and has the knowledge of what a dandelion really is, I doubt they would be thrilled to have their prom date give them a corsage made of dandelions. I imagine they would be rather upset, maybe even angry.
Knowledge gives us the ability to discern the difference between weeds and flowers, between the worthless and the priceless.
[Mat 13:44 NKJV] 44 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
It would be a shame, if we were so taken with spiritual dandelions that we missed the real treasure hidden in the field. A hidden treasure requires an effort to be found. You will need to dig down below the surface where the dandelions grow in order to find it.
So, this past weekend our church put on its annual Easter production. This was the fifth year that we have performed our original play titled "It Is Finished". This was also the first year that I had the privilege of portraying the role of Jesus in the production. It was a responsibility that I did not take lightly.
As we were ramping up production and going through practices, I began making a joke with some of the people in the cast about how I didn't want to be, "Fat Jesus". I know I shared a few blogs ago about how my wife and I have been dieting and exercising but I am still no where near my goal weight and knowing that I would be shirtless for part of the Easter Production had me feeling a little self conscious. The only time I go shirtless in public is when we go swimming at the YMCA and at least then most of me is under water!
There was just something about the thought of being "exposed", so to speak, that gave me a little more drive to keep losing weight. It also made me think about my own spiritual condition. Our Heavenly Father knows everything. There is nothing about us that He does not see. When I really meditated on that it caused me to examine my heart a little closer. Was there any spiritual fat there that still needed to be dealt with? Was there anything that I still needed to lose even if I had become used to it being there?
You see, I had started getting physically healthy a while back but life hit me rather hard, lol. I started slacking and before I knew it I had gotten back into some unhealthy habits. I didn't fall completely off the health bandwagon but I did gain back some of the weight I had worked so hard to lose.
Taking on on the role of Jesus made me wonder if I had done the same thing spiritually. Had I allowed myself to slip back into some bad habits in my Christian walk? After all, God hasn't called us to a sprint but a marathon. The race we run doesn't end just because we reach a certain goal. Our race is run until the day we stand before our Lord and Savior.
I just want want to encourage everyone to take some time and examine your heart. Let Holy Spirit reveal to you those trouble spots in your heart that still need to be dealt with. I think all of us would feel a whole lot better if we dropped another 10 spiritual pounds!
As for me, I feel as though I came out of our Easter production both physically and spiritually healthier than I went in. And, the Lord willing, I will become even healthier in the weeks and months to come.
if you have any tips or insights about staying spiritually or physically healthy let us know by commenting right here on the blog. I would love to hear from you!
As I was pondering what topic to discuss in this weeks blog, there was one idea that kept coming back to me over and over again.
The writings of AW Tozer have had the second greatest impact on my life, right behind the bible itself. His uncompromising view of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ spurs me on in a way that nothing else does. Whenever I read one of his books I find myself inspired to submit more fully to God and to seek after Him with greater passion. Because of the impact he has had on my life, I have decided to share a few quotes of his that I hope will impact you the same way.
1. "We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum."
- A. W. Tozer
I love this because it keeps me focused on our real purpose. We were not created by God to walk around trying to beg people to come to God. We are here under the full authority of Jesus Christ, to proclaim to the lost that there is a way to be saved form eternal damnation! God has never been interested in compromise. He didn't send His son to earth to die for just a part of us. Jesus didn't sacrifice just His hands so that our hands could be given to God. Jesus gave up himself in total so that He could redeem us totally to God!
2. "Salvation is from our side a choice, from the divine side it is a seizing upon, an apprehending, a conquest by the Most High God. Our "accepting" and "willing" are reactions rather than actions. The right of determination must always remain with God."
- A. W. Tozer
Time and time again God has found a way to put me in my place. To remind me that there is nothing that I have done that has been so unbelievably amazing or sacrificial that it has earned me anything from Him. I have never once put God in to debt towards me. God never has and never will owe me any favors or blessings. He alone is the starting place and source of all that I have in this life and the next.
3. “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”
- A.W. Tozer
This may be my all time favorite AW Tozer quote. The mental image that it gives me is such an inspiring reminder that religion is not life. Jesus is life. When God first made man, He breathed life into him. Today, we still need God to breathe on us and give us life both personally and corporately. If God does not first breathe on us then our gathering together on a Sunday morning is nothing more than a useless act.
I hope these quotes inspire you and if they have then please, go out and get an AW Tozer book!
Before I dive into this weeks blog, I would like to take just a moment to apologize. It was brought to my attention that there numerous spelling issues and errors in my last blog that I had to go back and fix. I have learned a very valuable lesson, NEVER write a blog at 12:30-1:00 in the morning! Wait and finish it when you aren't falling asleep at your keyboard! LOL
Now, let's get into this weeks topic.
[Rev 3:17 NKJV] "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--
My prayer time lately has been filled with cries for God to take me back to my first love and to keep my fire burning for Him. Fire is something that has to be tended to or else it goes out. It takes work to maintain. Staying on fire for God isn't something that just happens with no effort or work. When we are first saved, God graciously lights us on fire and we feel passionate about Him and His glory. For many of us that is the hottest we will ever burn for God. With time, we tend to grow complacent and take for granted all that God has done for us, unless we put in the effort to tend to that spiritual fire.
Jesus warns us in the book of Revelation that He does not want us to be lukewarm. In fact He says that if He finds us to be lukewarm, He will spit us out of His mouth! When we wallow in lukewarm Christianity we make God sick!
There are 5 words that Jesus used to describe the Loadicean Church's lukewarmness. Let's look at them below:
The first word Jesus used was "wretched". The greek word also means "enduring trouble". When you are enduring trouble you are sitting still doing nothing. You are simply hoping for the storm to pass before you take action. The bible tells us to rejoice in tribulation and that trials are God's way of building up our character. If you find that you are always sitting still waiting for things to get better but you never take action, you might be a lukewarm Christian.
The primary indicator that someone is miserable, is that they are unhappy. They have no joy. Without the joy of the Lord they have no strength. Wretched Christians are weak, unhappy people that are always trying to bring people down. If you find yourself always criticizing everything your church does but you don't lift a hand to help, You might be a lukewarm Christian.
More than simply not having money, the word "poor" that Jesus used also means to be needy and powerless to accomplish something. Poor Christians are always looking for a hand out, instead of a hand up. They spend most of their time sponging off of the stronger Christians around them. And, while the Bible tells us that the strong should bear the infirmities of the weak. It does not instruct us to allow spiritual free loaders to take advantage of our hospitality. If you are always asking and never giving, you might be a lukewarm Christian.
This word doesn't just refer to physical sight but to mental sight. A person that is operating blind has no idea where they are going. They have no vision for what God wants to do in their life. God's word is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path. He might not reveal all the steps but He will certainly show you the next one you are supposed to take. If you find yourself second guessing everything you think God is saying and never actually following through with anything, you might be a lukewarm Christian.
To be spiritually naked, is to be without a covering. You are out there just doing your own thing no matter what the church you attend is trying to accomplish. I have seen this type of person up close and personal. The church is moving in one direction and this person is trying to setup their own little thing and move in a totally different direction. God does not endorse Lone Ranger Christians. While He often sends out pioneers who blaze trails for others, these people are generally operating completely out on their own. If what you are doing could potentially split a church and is not breaking new ground, you might be a lukewarm Christian.
Like most of America this time of year my wife and I have been exercising. For a long time she refused to work out with me because of an unfortunate incident in a gym previously. I won't go into all the details but let me give you one piece of advice. NEVER agree to what someone says if you don't actually hear what they are saying. Seriously, it could get you into a very deep bucket of hot water. I am still dealing with some second degree emotional burns.
Okay, let's get this thing back on track here. We have been working out. I have really enjoyed being able to get healthy together with my wife even though it has required me to break out of my normal routine. Whenever I would start working out before, I had my go to routine. 20-30 minutes of cardio, usually a treadmill, then heavy weightlifting. That was my routine and I never really strayed away from it. My wife however, doesn't really like sticking to the same fitness routine for long. She enjoys shaking things up every couple days and doing something new.
Normally whatever we decided to do we would do it together but the other day she threw me a curve ball. When we were getting ready to do our cardio work she suggested one work out for me and another for her. We were still near each other but it was just another way for her to shake things up. I went along with it and let me tell you. Her workout kicked my butt!
She found this stair workout that involved stair steps, push-ups on the stairs, and squats. It was brutal! By the time I had finished my 15 minutes I was flat exhausted.
Now, this is the point where the blog takes a little turn. As we were catching our breath, I made a comment about how amazed I was at how hard taking a single step up could once you were physically wore out. My wife looked at me as we were both panting and trying to catch our breath and said "that is a word right there". I have been thinking about that ever since and I feel like it is something that someone needs to hear.
The Christian life is one of movement. We should always be growing and moving. As Paul said we are to "run the race". (Hebrews 12:1)
Sometimes though, we miss the signs telling us just where we are supposed to be running. We get so focused on moving forward that we exhaust ourselves and aren't able to take a step up when God calls us to come up higher. I see it like we are running around the mountain of God. Sure we are moving forward but we aren't actually getting any higher. We're just running in a circle! Meanwhile God is calling out to us saying, " I have so much more, come higher"! But, we have run in circles so hard for so long we can't take the step up.
I am reminded of when Moses and the Israelites came to the mountain. There was thunder and clouds. It freaked the people out to the point that they were satisfied camping out at the foot of the mountain. Moses saw the same things and was like, man I gotta get up there to the top and spend time with God! So, Moses goes up and while he is having an experience with God that many of us can only imagine, the ones that stayed behind decided to start partying and sinning.
You see, it isn't enough to camp out at the foot of the mountain. It isn't enough to run circles around it. You have to step it up and climb into the cloud of God's glory! In this season, I believe God is calling out to the ones who are ready, willing, and able to come up higher!
I hope this has spoken to you the way it has me over the last couple of days. If it has, please feel free to comment on this blog or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, this past week two of my children had birthdays. Me, being the big softy that I am, felt rather emotional about both of them. There is a part of me that wishes my kids didn't have to grow up at all. While I worry about what kind of world they will be living in once they reach adulthood. Mostly I know that there will come a day when they just don't need me the way that they do now and that scares me!
While I was happy and sad about both birthdays, there was one that hit me a whole lot harder than the other. Our oldest daughter, Nevaeh, just officially entered the double digits. She is officially the big 1 - 0!
Don't let the picture above fool you...I was not a happy dad. Not at all. Not even a little bit. Not even a smidgeon. Wait, is "Smidgeon" a word? My spell checker says it isn't but I don't always believe it.
Anyway, back to my point. My kids are growing up on us and I am not thrilled about it. But, I can't stop it either. Growing up is a part of life and I have to do my best to deal with it. Good thing for us, the bible let's us in on just exactly how we can do just that.
Proverbs 22:6 (NKJV) 6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
While our kids are still young, we can keep ourselves from sitting around worrying by getting busy training. Since everyone loves lists, just check the Internet, below is my list of 3 things we can do to train our children up in the way they should go.
Not only should we pray for our kids but we should teach them to pray for themselves. Every night before bed, we pray with our kids. We say the same prayer, it is one that I wrote myself. I included certain things that I wanted our kids to learn. My wife has also written a prayer of declaration, one for the girls and one for the boys, that she goes through with them every night.
2. Presence over Presents
My wife and I love to spoil our kids when we are able. We love them and want to give them things that we know they will enjoy. For example, our son Caleb loves legos. Because of that, I may have gone a wee bit overboard this past Christmas by getting him 4 large lego sets. As much as we enjoy doing that, what we love doing even more is spending time with them. We make a conscious effort every day to give each of our children some one on one time with each of us. It isn't always easy and we aren't always successful but we make the effort. Our children can always use more of us before they get more stuff.
3. Love them FULLY
We love our children with all of our hearts. Because we care about them so much, we discipline them. Being parents means that we must be more than our children's friends. It means that we have to go above and beyond mere friendship to ensure that they are ready for adulthood. Truly loving our kids means that at some point I have to bring discipline to them so they will understand healthy boundaries.
My wife and I have found those 3 things to be invaluable to training up our children in the way they should go. If you have any tips or ideas feel free to comment and let us know!
I recently saw a video where Mashable Watercooler recut the trailer to the movie "Dumb and Dumber" and managed to make it look like an Oscar contending drama. If you have ever seen the actual movie you know that it is actually a bit of a low brow comedy. Seeing the recut trailer made me laugh out loud! It really is something that you need to see for yourself to truly understand just how funny it is. So, go ahead and take a few minutes to watch the video below.
LOL! How funny is that! Really?!
As I watched the recut trailer for a second time, I was amazed at how just changing the music and a keen eye for cutting out the humorous parts made it seem like an entirely different film. It was such a dramatic difference in presentation.
Imagine watching that trailer and being convinced that you would love to see that movie. You share your excitement with a few of your close friends and can't wait to get out to the theater to see the film. The night finally arrives! You go to the local cinema, buy tickets and popcorn, then make your way into the theater to find your seat. The preview trailers play and then finally the moment has come, it is time for the feature presentation! Then the film starts playing and utter disappointment washes over you. Your heart had been set on seeing a dramatic and emotional love story but what you are getting is the farthest thing from that.
How often have we set up people for that kind of disappointment in the church?
With the best of intentions, we tweak our outward presentation to appeal to certain people but once they actually walk through the doors of our church they get something completely different than what we originally presented. It is truly important that we examine just what we are advertising to the world to make sure that it lines up both biblically and with what is actually happening in our churches. It is Gods plan to expand His kingdom here on earth through His church. We don't need to try and be anything more than what God has called us to be.
There is another danger lurking among churches that dresses itself up as one thing but is actually another.
Deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.
1 Timothy 4:1 says that the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons.
These two things work together hand in hand putting on display enticements that will draw away those who are already a part of God's church. We have to walk in discernment so that we can see past the glitter and lights. Because the heart of the spirits and doctrines are not Godly.
As we live out our faith let us be careful to not set up others for disappointment and to protect ourselves from being deceived! The only way we will accomplish either of those things is to be led by the Holy Spirit.
Our church devotion this week was all about how God created us to be involved in community. Community is built when a group of people come together and establish relationships with one another at various different levels. One of the key components in maintaining any healthy relationship at any level is communication. Good communication is built around a number of things but this post is going to be focused on just one. LISTENING.
We are horrible listeners. We just are. There are many reasons for this but most of them fall into one of two categories. the first being distractions around us and the second being distractions inside of us. The worst part about our horrible ability to listen, is that when we become distracted while others are speaking to us, we are essentially telling them that they are not important to us. Oh, I'd pay attention to you but you aren't more important than this text I just got. Or that person that's walking down the street behind you. Or the thought of what I'm going to do later today. Or what I'm going to say in response to what you just told me.
If we consistently communicate to others that what they say to us is not important, eventually they will just stop talking. When there is no communication, there is no realtionship. The scariest part of all of this, is that our poor listening often goes beyond just the relationships we have with the people around us to the relationship we have with God.
So, how can we become better listeners? I'm glad you asked!
One of the tools we can use is to start practicing what is called "mindful listening". Websters simple definition of the word mindful is to be aware of something that may be important. When we practice mindful listening we keep ourselves aware that what someone is saying may be imortant to us and we in turn pay full attention to their words. This isn't always easy since both outer and inner distractions seem to come at us a mile a minute. In order to better practice mindful listening here are a few tips that I found:
1. BE PRESENT
Focus on the person who is speaking. If there is too much going on around you then see if the two of you can move the conversation somewhere where there are less distractions.
2. CULTIVATE EMPATHY
Often when someone is speaking to us we are spending more time interpreting what they are saying through our own lens of experience so that we can form a response. We will listen better if we try and see what a person saying from their point of view. It doesn't mean we have to agree with them but we can acknowledge the other person's perspective.
3. RECOGNIZE OUR OWN "CUES"
Our cues are the thoughts, feelings and physical reactions we have when we feel anxious or angry, and they can block out ideas and perspectives that we're uncomfortable with. Essentially once someone says something that we don't agree with we tend to shut down/off. If we learn to recognize our cues we can choose to remain open minded as someone is talking so we can fully hear them out.
If reading these tips has helped you or maybe sparked an idea of your own on how to listen better feel free to comment and let us know!
Phillip Reed is the Associate Pastor of Faith Chapel Ministries. His passion is to reconcile the lost to their Heavenly Father.