How to Build a Church’s Faith, Pt. 1

The title may be a bit misleading.  You can’t collectively, all-at-once increase the corporate faith of a congregation.  So how do you increase the faith of a congregation?

One person at a time.  On purpose.old-books-bible-candle-widescreen-high-definition-wallpaper-download-old-book-images-free

in my last post we covered how we had to change our approach to discipling folks who choose to partner in ministry with Crosspointe.

I won’t rehash the previous post.  What I want to touch on is the five things we (and millions of others) have seen that grow a person’s faith.  In his book Deep & Wide, Andy Stanley points to these things as essentials.  He calls the “5 Faith Catalysts.” So what are they?

These are the ingredients to a recipe that builds a person’s faith.  By faith I mean the trust and belief God’s promises and who God is.  These five things are shared by every single person who has ever become a Christian.  We may not have noticed them, but they’re there!

I’m going to do a post on each of these because they are that important.  Each one happens and your faith grows.  Take one away, it may shrink.

Catalyst #1:  Practical Teaching

When a person talks about their conversion story, almost instantly they bring up the moment they experienced practical Bible teaching.  You remember, right?  It was that moment that probably wasn’t the first time you’d heard something taught from the Bible.  Instead, it was the first time you actually understood what was being taught.  More importantly, it was the first time you understood what to do with what was being taught.

The “AHA” moment where it ‘clicked’ and you realized the Bible wasn’t some antiquated book to be analyzed, but was directly applicable to your own life!   Most Christians can tell you where they were and who was speaking the first time someone made the Bible come alive for them.

When Jesus finishes the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us the crowd’s response:

“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matt. 7:28-29)

Here’s a hard truth: All teaching and preaching is NOT the same. 

This was a gnarly pill for me to swallow since I teach and preach for a living.  Here’s what we see:

The first-century teachers of the law of Moses were teaching the same Scriptures but there was something DIFFERENT in Jesus presentation style. They had the same source material, but arrived at two diverging places.  It’s clear Jesus had a passion and style their normal teachers did not.

More specifically, Jesus wasn’t satisfied to simply say what was true.  He wanted his audience to ACT on what they heard. Jesus closed the sermon with a specific call to action along with an emotionally charged promise and warning:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock…But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. “(Matt. 7:24, 26)

Jesus taught for a response.  He taught for life change.  He didn’t simply dispense information.  We rarely find him rebuking people for their lack of knowledge.  It was almost always their lack of faith evidenced by lack of application.  He wasn’t after just agreeing with facts and information.  Instead He was after active, living, do-the-right-thing-no-matter-what faith.

Remember how fascinating the Bible suddenly was?  That moment when you sat on the edge of your seat.  The time flew by.  You took notes. You underlined entire passages, then highlighted them. You wanted to know what kind of Bible the teacher or preacher was using so you could get one like it.  You couldn’t wait to come back for more! Something burst to life inside of you.

Then you did something really radical.  You went out and applied some of what you had heard.  And God honored your active faith.

Your faith collided with His faithfulness and your trust in God grew a little bit. 

Practical teaching that moves people to action is one of the primary things God uses to grow our faith.

Here’s where it changed what we did at Crosspointe.

First, I had to change.  It’s not easy to get a preacher to reevaluate what he does and how he does it.  We get into a groove and like to stay there.   Yet, in that rut, we miss a connection.

Here are a few things we do, most often without even thinking about it:

  • we  preach and teach in ways and on topics that only interest us.
  • We often put way too much information out there at one time.  We try to get folks to drink from a fire hydrant.
  • After we’ve sufficiently drowned our audience, we walk off stage without putting handles on it so they know what we said, why we said it, and how to put it into practice.

See the missing ingredients?

Practical application and relevant-to-the-listener-not-just-me teaching and preaching, and too much information.

SIDE NOTE: If you’re not a preacher or teacher in a church setting, you’ve got to understand something.  Those of us who do it get fired up about it!  We love to research, to study, the prayer, and we get truckloads of information that we believe is important to you.

Every little detail is important to us.  Why?  Because we are God’s mouthpiece for thirty-five minutes a week (+/-) and we’d better get it right! The safest way we know how to do that is to dispense a lot of information onto the audience. I had to come to a point where I realized pride was blocking me from actually doing what I needed to do – teach people how to follow Jesus.  So I had to repent and change my methods.

The hard part for me was (and is) developing an editing room where we cut out 90% of the extra information, though it may be important, to hone in on the practicality and application of the text.  That. is. hard. to. do. When you spend 20-30 hours a week studying, writing, praying, wrestling through a message or Bible class, it becomes your baby.  You don’t want to pair it down.  You don’t want to cut things. I get it! But hear me out:

YOU HAVE TO.

I have learned (and am still learning and fail quite often) that all that information is good…but if it doesn’t help me apply the Scriptures to my life…it doesn’t need to be there.

So I changed my preaching format from a who knows how many points a message to ONE POINT.  One idea I find in the text…and I craft the message entirely around that one point.  I don’t diverge.  I don’t get off track.  I build everything around that one point of application.  I turn that one point into what I call my main point, and repeat that main point many times throughout the sermon with various points of application.

Sometimes I will get to Saturday night and I haven’t got the main point yet…or I’ll have to reverse engineer everything I already prepared to make sure it wraps around and leads to the one point.  Why?

Because if I can’t remember the three points I spoke about just a week ago, how can I expect my audience to remember them?  I can’t. They won’t. I don’t. 

So, practical teaching builds a church’s faith by making God’s word accessible, applicable, and always the standard by which we live.

The same applies to all of our Bible class teachers, our Bible study formats, and even factors into designing and planning the worship service.  It all wraps around ONE POINT. A relevant, applicable, practical point.

Implementing this catalyst will exponentially help you and your congregation connect to the Word in deeper ways while growing your trust and confidence (faith) in God!  Give it a shot.  What have you go to lose?

In Christ,
Scott

 

 

Fear is a Liar

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As Crosspointe began to relaunch, several things were in our way.  First and foremost? Ourselves.  Second?  Fear. They are both connected, and they both have the power to cripple a group of people trying to accomplish a goal.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the church in America is not that we are lazy or stuck in our ways.  I think those bring problems in their own right.  I think the bigger problem is that we are so short-sighted.  We want what we want when we want it.  Now.  There is no waiting in our culture. We are the information overload generation.  We are the point and click civilization.  We have become sadly nearsighted.

One of the most important things I’ve learned, thus far, is that I am not here to make things about myself.  I am not here to accumulate three hundred conversions and then be carted off to the sweet by and by.  I often think I am.  I often stress and denigrate myself because I feel I’m not being effective.  However, Satan is a liar and an accuser.  Most of our congregations get caught in that rut and never get out.

How can we, when we measure ourselves based on the three “B’s?” You know what I’m talking about, and your congregation has its own versions:  Budget, bodies, baptisms. How much money are we bringing in?  How many people come to Sunday morning worship?  How many baptism have we had this year?

Don’t get me wrong – those are good indicators of body health.  They can show us symptoms.  Yet, we should be careful to realize that these things are NOT the standard God uses to measure success.  He measures transformed lives and we’ll talk about that next post.  Let it be enough for now to say that transformed lives happens in a believer’s life, and also in an unbeliever’s life.  And it’s always happening.

As a result of using the wrong measuring stick to gauge our congregation’s health, we often come out feeling like failures.  “Brother so-and-so baptized thirty people a year…but you’re not.”  No, I’m not.  It would be incredible, but that’s not me.  I relish in baptism.  It is the point at which someone is ransomed from the kingdom of death to the Kingdom of God.  However, that is not the end.  Baptism is just a means.  An important one, but not the goal.

For years our congregations have sought to immerse people in the water, but forgot to immerse them in the Word of God.  We’ve turned baptism into some superstitious ritual akin to the dreadful “Sinner’s Prayer,” and then we assume people will be ok.  Scripture tells us that when we are baptized we are reborn (John 3).  You wouldn’t leave a newborn on the side of the road to fend for themselves, would you?  All too often, however, we have done just that to baby Christians.  And they die spiritually.  Then we sit back, scratch our heads, and wonder “Where’d they go?  They were baptized!  They know the truth!  How could they turn away?

Because they didn’t know the truth because we didn’t teach them.  We sought to make a number out of them rather than a disciple.  God didn’t design it that way.

As a result, we make short-sighted goals and jump from this trend to that, or this study to that, or this church to that because we want to see the end result.  We want to see the good stuff.  We want to see success.

Let me suggest that all we have done is create the spiritual equivalent of an opioid addict.  We have let ourselves become so consumed with looking good, being successful and busy, that we lost sight of the goal.  As a result we live our spiritual lives devoid of any joy and longevity because we’re looking for that next “high.”

Congregations spend millions to erect new buildings and hire the most charismatic personalities, yet go into spiritual poverty.  All in the name of “success.” It’s because we’re using the wrong stick to measure with.

Fear is inextricably tied to this.  When we’re not being successful, then we feel we must do more.  As a result, we need more volunteers, we skip planning, and we hardly ever pray about what we SHOULD do.  Instead we try to force God to do what we WANT to do.  We stroke our egos and our lives, by manufacturing a false confidence that is not based on faith and God.  It’s based on ourselves.  No matter how many platitudes we throw out or how many times we say, “Thank you, Lord, ” what we’re really saying by our actions is, “God is good…but we got this.  We’ll call you when we need you.”

The Book of Judges would be a good place to look at how this sick-cycle carousel of spiritual addiction and self-aggrandizement works out.  It doesn’t.  Anybody can make a church seem successful, but only God can make a church grow.

Fear and short-sightedness leave us open to believe we CAN do this.  We can fix this. We can be better.  And then, through this even or that downfall, we realize, “No, we can’t.”

At Crosspointe, when we set out to reach the unchurched, and not just try to green up our pastures to tantalize low-hanging fruit listlessly drifting to one congregation after another, it was terrifying.

It meant that some sacred cows were going to get butchered.  It meant rethinking everything.  It meant that every ministry that wasn’t reaching the unchurched was going to be buried with honors in the back field of our property. It meant we were going to change.  Change is perhaps the curse-word of the church.  Nobody likes it.  It’s awful.  It can hurt.  But, change ,must happen.

Fear is the liar that keeps us chained to the “we can fix this” model and away from reckless trust in God.  Fear keeps us spinning in neutral until we run out of gas.  Fear keeps us burning our volunteers and staff and an alarming rate.  Fear keeps us from liberating the captives who are being held prisoner by Satan and death.  Fear keeps us from moving ahead because we’re always looking back at the “Good old days.”

Fear is a liar.

At Crosspointe, we decided to kick fear out.  We decided to let God define what the goal and the rubric of success were.  He has not disappointed.  That’s where we’ll pick up next time.

Jesus loves you more than I ever could,

Scott

 

Missed Target

pexels-photo-242494Crosspointe Church of Christ is a congregation in transition.
We’re in the middle of a re-launch. It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been fun – all the time. We’ve overcome some significant challenges, and discovered many others. As I said in my previous post, I’m not sure what the end result will be, but we’re trusting God for that.
 
We were a church in stagnation. We were a people without a vision. We were on the downward spiral. A lot of congregations accept this fate and continue the slow decent to death over a few more decades. We decided that wasn’t an option. At all.
 
As we listened to the results of our congregational meetings, we begin to notice a trend. We were a very inward-focused church. It wasn’t on purpose. It wasn’t supposed to be. It wasn’t in the plan. Yet, here we were. We are in our third building. The church prayed, sacrificed, grew, and gave for twenty years. That dream became reality twelve years ago.
 
From my understanding (because I wasn’t here, yet), we were at 400 members on “opening day.” They pace kept up for a few years. Research shows that new construction leads to new members. But about three years in; this is where the problems started.
 
In our previous facility there was no room. The church had two services, and classroom space was very limited. Moving out to our present facility, there was a whole lot of room. Over the course of time, people did what people do: separated into groups. The groups became ministries, and then they became isolated.
 
In-fighting, communication breakdowns, lack of cohesion, and a loss of morale. The congregation was still doing a lot of “stuff,” but they weren’t reaching a lot of people. Here’s what we discovered last summer:
 

We built a church, but we didn’t build the Church.

 
That is one tough pill to swallow. Hadn’t God blessed us with everything we had? Hadn’t God brought us here for “such a time as this?” Didn’t God orchestrate everything. The answer is a resounding, “yes!” We prayed, God answered. We gave, God multiplied. But here we were in 2016, with fewer people than ever, a lot of discouragement, and a lot of confusion.
 
We took the notes from the congregational meetings and we read them, compiled them, and re-read. We prayed, read Scripture, and wracked our brain for answers. When the answers didn’t come, we got frustrated.
 
I remember sitting at my kitchen table one night. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t pray. I was beyond frustrated and angry. As I watched the laptop cursor blink, as I stared into the white screen, I gave up. I quit. I stopped. I walked out.
 
I went out onto the back porch and looked at the sky and begin talking to God. I told Him how tired I was. I told Him how discouraged and angry I had become. I told Him that I was sick of it. I told him I quit. And then I told Him that if He had any ideas, I’d love to know. And then I hit a watershed moment in my life. I said, “God, you’ve got to show up or Crosspointe isn’t going to make it. She’s your body. You created her. You know what you have in store for us. We give up. I give up. Please, give me your vision.”
 
I stood there in the silence for a few minutes. And then it happened. God put something into my heart and brain that ignited a fire in my bones. He let my thoughts stumble upon the one thing that seemed so obvious. The one thing all churches say they’re doing but might not be. The one thing that actually mattered.
 

We were trying to reach the wrong people!

 
We had built our congregation, our ministries, our programs, all around church people! We were a congregation designed by church people for church people.
 
Most congregations are trying to get sheep from other congregations to come join. We’re stuck on a cycle of shuffling members from one congregation to another. One congregation does great for a while and everybody goes there. It plateaus, and people begin to leave. Another body rises up, and people flock to it. It’s a vicious cycle, but we do it. Why? Because we’re not reaching the right people!
 
I went back in and typed out what was on my heart. I stayed up until late into the night. I took my thoughts to the elders and it was a “AHA!” moment! And so we took all our information, we took a look at every program, ministry and dollar. And we asked, “Who are we trying to reach?” Who has God put us here to speak life to? What is the Holy Spirit waiting to do through us? How can we stop focusing on ourselves and instead focus on our neighbors?
 
Who was our new audience? The unchurched. If you’re reading, you’re thinking, “duh, Scott,” but let me challenge you to think what that means? It doesn’t mean people who don’t go to your congregation? It means people who haven’t heard the Gospel. It is people with zero religious affiliation. It is the outcast, the homeless, the hooker, and the middle-class family. It is 63% of our county. It is the reason the church exists: to bind up the broken-hearted, to set the captives free, to bless the world.
 
The church is not here to cater to herself. We don’t exist to make ourselves feel good. We aren’t here to make ourselves comfortable. We’re here to “
 
 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”                                                                 – Jesus, Matthew 28:19-20
 
So we changed our focus, which changed the entire structure of Crosspointe. And we rolled up our sleeves and got busy.  
We decided to become a church for the unchurched.  A place that people who weren’t/aren’t Christians would feel comfortable coming.  We sought to become a refuge in the middle of all the chaos.  We sought the very heart of God, and He delivered.
 
We’ll pick up there, next time!

Re-Lit

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Author’s Note: I’ve decided that I’m going to use this blog as an experiment of sorts. We’re going through a lot of changes in our congregation. I thought that someone out there may be struggling with the same things and looking for guidance.  If you know a discouraged church leader who could use a starting point, please direct them here. Although, there is ones caveat:
 
We don’t know what we’re doing, and we’re not sure it’s going to work.  It may not help at all.  It may move us to a place where God restores.  It may move us to a place where God has other plans.  I don’t know. Yet.  But I do know that God is good and His Spirit will lead us right where He wants us to be.
 
I want to invite you to follow along with the Crosspointe story.  I want to invite you to follow the progress, for good or bad, so that I can show you that you are not alone.  God is working among you.
 
Last July (2016) leadership came together and did something most churches won’t ever do:  admit things aren’t good. Not that things weren’t going well, but that the body was ill and dying.
 
After much prayer, fasting, and discussion that had began to not to plateau, but to decline.  When we moved into our current facility in 2005, we were averaging around 400 on Sunday.  For our area…that’s BIG.  Shortly after moving in, things begin to decline.  
 
When I began serving here in 2012, we were down to about 250…and until about this time last year, we continued to decline.  About 138 was our average. We realized we had to do something. We came up with a three-fold approach to present this to the congregation.
 
Through prayer, we saw that we had three (3) options before us as a church:   Relaunch, Resist, or Retire
 
We presented it to the entire congregation.  We’re facing significant difficulties on many fronts that need changes in our approach.  We made it know that we understood our church was not healthy. The body was sick…and so we presented that we could either relaunch, resist, or retire.  
 
Relaunching would mean redefining why God has put us here, who we are, and how we will live that out. A complete rebuild of the culture/DNA of our congregation from the ground up. Getting specific and intentional.
 
Retire/Die with dignity would mean to pass our blessings on to an agreed church and/or organization. We would dissolve while passing on what God has blessed us with for another group to use.
 
Resist/Do nothing. We could pretend the ship wasn’t sinking.  We could continue slow-dancing in the burning room. We could die a slow, gasping, painful, angry death by refusing to change and seek the help we needed.  
 
The elders decided retiring and resisting were not options.  At all. I asked the question that no one wants to ever ask in a church. I asked:  Are you willing to do whatever we need to do to partner with God to turn this around?
 
It was a resounding yes, and so we took it to the congregation – they would decide where we went. 
 
Through a series of congregational meetings, we started the process of moving forward. These meetings were fraught with anger, sadness, and maliciousness, but we listened.  
 
We didn’t respond when attacked.  We didn’t rise up to defend ourselves.  We didn’t fight back.  We listened.  We absorbed. We took video.  We watched it.  We took notes. We prayed. We gave everyone an open mic. We combined everything said, and we decided that we needed to relaunch
 
What did we hear?  That people were hurting.  That there was division.  That communication wasn’t happening between ministries.  That people didn’t even know what was going on 99% of the time.  That people are burnt-out from over-serving.  That morale was at an all-time low.  That people wanted to see us change. They wanted to worship God.  They wanted to serve.  They felt helpless and hopeless.
 
The most overwhelming this we stared down was a point that every single one of us often overlooks:
 
People wanted to be heard.  
 
They weren’t looking for us to solve the problems…they weren’t looking for instant answers…they just wanted to know that we heard them.  That we heard their frustrations, desires, dreams, and questions.  That we understood the confusion at the ground-floor.  
 
They wanted to be heard.
 
After much prayer, fasting, discussion, God provided the vision and the direction. We begin the process of relaunching Crosspointe Church of Christ. We faced the old adage:
 
“It’s easier to give birth than it is to resurrect the dead.”
 
We also went into this knowing that most churches do not survive this process.
 
So, with mission/vision from God in hand. With God guiding us. With our minds overwhelmed and our hearts terrified – we stuck our big toe in the water.
 
After more prayer, fasting, and discussion God provided the vision and the direction. We began the process of relaunching Crosspointe Church of Christ.  We begin letting God define what we were all about. We begin letting Jesus lead His church again.
 
Some members wanted to (and still want to) go back to Egypt – the good ‘ole days. But, we saw that the good ‘ole days weren’t all that good. The good ‘ole days set in place toxic systems and structures that brought us to this juncture. But here we were, “For such a time as this…” Some folks jumped ship.  Some folks fought. Some folks sat down.
 
So what did we do?
What did we encounter?
What’s the progress?
Stay tuned to see.
And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:3, ESV) 
I love you, but Jesus loves you more,
Scott
 

How to Hurt Your Church

It’s been awhile…and I’m breaking with my blog purpose here, but I feel like I need to post.  I’ve been in full-time ministry for over a decade now.  I’m still very much a rookie.  Most days I have no idea what I’m doing.  I’ve done a lot of things wrong.  By God’s grace, I’ve learned and He’s helped me get a lot of things right.

Through it all, I’ve picked up on some things that I have seen hurt local congregations. I’d like to say what follows are things that are done unintentionally.  However, I also know that Satan is often more than ready to throw his schtick into the mix and lead us to treat one another in ways that aren’t Christlike.

The first is:  Refusing to participate in something new.

Nobody likes change.  I absolutely despise it.  I like routine.  I like comfort.  I like stability.  I don’t like when that gets chucked out the window on any given day.

I get it.  Something that you’re not familiar with comes along and it feels like everything holy and sacred is getting ripped away.  It can make you feel like a stranger in your own congregation.  We long to go back to safer times; to the ‘good ‘old days,’ when things were better.

If we’re honest…the good old days weren’t that good.  We just remember them with fondness because we block out the bad things.  Getting real and being honest, however, we know that we’re just grasping for some kind of familiar stability.  Perhaps that’s why Solomon writes:

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.                                                                                                                                                                              (Ecc. 7:10)

Being upset and refusing to move forward only hinders what God is doing.  It doesn’t help.  It isn’t going to convince everybody else of your point.  It isn’t going to change hearts and methods (which is what we’re usually trying to avoid anyway. Ironic).  So don’t refuse to do something new.  Whether it’s small groups, a new service opportunity, participating with people you aren’t familiar with, or singing new songs.  Whatever it is, I can guarantee it isn’t worth dividing the body of Christ over.

Remember:  It’s not about you. It’s not about me.  It’s about Jesus and reaching people with the Good news that Jesus is Lord!  Whatever that takes, whatever method or change needs to happen that brings that goal to fruition, you need to be 100% all-in behind your leaders.

The next way you can hurt your church is this:  Not Submitting to the Authority of the Shepherds.

Jesus saw fit to appoint elders in every congregation to oversee what went on in His church.  These men are chosen to lead because they are already doing so.  They guide and direct the congregation.  They lead.  They shepherd.

By refusing to submit to go where they are being led by God, you are actually disobeying Christ. The writer of Hebrews instructs us with these words:

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.                  (Hebrews 13:17)

If you are publicly disparaging, criticizing or critiquing your leaders, you are hurting your church.  It really is that simple.  If you refuse to go in the direction God has asked them to lead, you are sowing discord and stifling unity.

Don’t make it a burden…don’t complain and criticize. Partner with God on what He’s doing, and support it fully.  Get excited.  Get involved.  Don’t pout in the corner or launch out on a PR campaign to smear and malign.  That’s what Satan does.  Are you on his side or God’s?  That’s what I thought.

The next thing you can do that will hurt your church:  Refusing to participate at all.

The church does not exist to benefit you and me.  It exists because it was bought at a great cost:  Jesus’ blood.  It exists to bring glory to God by partnering with Him in restoring Creation.

If I refuse to participate or make time for all that God is doing, I’m only hurting the church.  If you’re not involved in something, I challenge you to find your place in God’s story and what He’s doing in your local church.  How has He gifted you to serve others?  When you find it, I promise it’ll change your life.  Why?  Because when you’re serving others you don’t have time to worry about anything else.  You’ll be living life on purpose.

Another way you can hurt the church:  Boycotting Classes and Refusing to Come

I really don’t understand this one.  It literally boggles my mind, makes me sad, and hurts my head all at once.  How in the world can you claim to follow the risen Messiah and refuse to sit at the feet of the ones He appointed to teach?  How can you possibly say you belong to a church that you despise and refuse to attend.

Do you think you’re making a point?  Do you think it’s making everyone else rethink their lives?  Do you think it’s going to help bring unity to the church and spread the Gospel?  Nope.

What it DOES do is show an incredible lack of spiritual maturity.  If we take our ball and go home when we don’t get our way, we are not being a Christian…we are being babies.  Seriously.  Knock it off.  You are working for the Enemy.  You’re not helping God one iota.  You are simply giving an unbelieving world another reason to not listen to what Jesus has to say.

The final way you can hurt your church is this:  Not Making Church a Priority.

I understand work, life, health, and all kinds of other things will mess up getting to worship and other things.  Things happen, right?

However, missing because you’re tired…or it’s a nice day so you want to chill at home…or it being your only day off.

I hear you.

Here is where this leads:  Why isn’t my family growing spiritually?  Why don’t my kids seem interested in Youth Group?  Why do I feel so disconnected from my church family?

All of these stem from being unengaged.  It isn’t the church’s fault.  It isn’t the Youth Minister’s fault.  It isn’t the elder’s fault.  It rests squarely on your shoulders.  Pretty soon you’ll be church hopping, looking for that “perfect” church, and weary because you’ll never find it.  The grass is green where you water it.  If you’re not making engagement in your local congregation a priority…then you can’t blame anyone else.

If you find yourself saying, “I don’t go because I don’t get anything out of it,” or “It’s boring,” that is a symptom that you don’t really prioritize your relationship with God.

If church becomes one of many options, it will cease to be an option at all.  The more you miss, the easier it becomes to never go back.  The less engaged you are, the more likely you are to do the things listed above in my other points.

I don’t write this to guilt-trip anyone.  I don’t write it to shame you.  I write it that we may once again feel the urgency of the Gospel.  That we might stop putting ourselves and our comfort first, and that we would lay down our lives for others.

I pray that my congregation will truly learn to become “all things to all people” that we may reach some.  The stakes are too high. The price is too great.  The excuses won’t hold up. I pray that your congregation will have the same.

I plead with you that if you are doing anything I’ve brought up, that you would earnestly pray and repent.  I pray that you will stop doing it, because you are literally choking the Body of Christ.  We’ve got to come together.  We’ve got to stop working against God and move with the Spirit.  It’s our calling.  What a beautiful calling it is.

In Love,
Scott

 

 

 

Imago Dei

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on theimagodei earth.”27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them                                                                                         – Genesis 1:26-27, ESV

We talked about Elohim last time, but today we’re skipping the creation of birds, plants, animals and going straight to the creation of mankind.

The doctrine of Imago Dei, the Image of God is brought forth.  Out of all the creating that God does, something special happens here.  Only humans are given the moniker “made in God’s image and likeness.”

That puts us at a pretty special place in Creation.

The five other days of creation end with God saying, “It is good.”  The sixth day, the day humanity is created, God says this:

2And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 
– Genesis 1:28-31, ESV

Not just good.  Very good.

Here’s where people often start raising the issue, “Well isn’t my dog special, or what about my marmot? Are they less special?

Everything in creation displays God’s creative brilliance.  His majesty is hewn into every life form (Except the  Japanese Giant Hornet. That thing is just a jerk. Pure evil.  Why?  It’s the size of your thumb and it can spray flesh-melting poison. Google it).  I digress.

Everything has the signature of the divine.  But humanity is different.  Man and Woman are the apex of creation.  Something is added to them that doesn’t go into anything else What?  Let’s go to chapter two and see:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.
– Genesis 2:5-8, ESV

Time Out!

Isn’t this contradictory?  Didn’t it just say in chapter one that everything else was created, then man?  So why now is saying differently?

Nice observation.  Did it say those things?  Yes.  Does that mean it contradicts?  Not even close.  

Chapter one is a giant overview of Creation (thus, why it isn’t a scientific treatise). Chapter 2 zooms in to the creation of us. All things have been created, but things hadn’t fully “sprouted” if you will.  Doesn’t mean there weren’t any trees or animals or anything else, but more contextually, there was no agricultural growth. Yet.

Man would farm, but he’s not there yet.

Man is created by God from dirt and then God breathes into his nostrils

This is so awesome!  The divine spark.   Nothing else is given this “breath of life” in the contextual sense.  Sure, there are many incredible creatures that God has created…but none of them are on par or equal to any human being.

We are not equal to the rest of the creative order.  Only human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (1:26-27).  We have been given by God a moral, spiritual, and intellectual compass that the rest of creation DOES NOT possess.

Side note: This doesn’t give us the right to be brutal or cruel, or to destroy and wreck, but it is mankind alone that has been give dominion over creation(1:26). We are God’s viceroys of Creation.  Stewards of His created.

 We’re talking about God giving you and me the thing that sets us apart:  a soul.

The soul is the eternal part of us that puts us above all other things.

So this Imago Dei, this Image and Likeness of God, this breath of Life…its something special…and it extends to every single person. Ever.  You, me, your great-great grandpa. Everybody. Every body.

This is going to be a HUGE piece in understanding everything that comes after this in the Bible.  This soul thing.  When it happens.  Why it’s there.  What we’ve done to it.  Why we’re here.

For now, ponder this:  If I am made in the Image and Likeness of Godhow am I honoring that incredible gift?

See you next time.

Brooding Over the Chaos

C.S. Lewis, in the book The Magician’s Nephew, invites us into an incredible scene. The creation of Narnia smacks of Genesis, but also helps us read deeper. One could call it speculation. I choose to call it imagination. Lewis writes:

“Then two wonders happened at the same moment. One was that the voice was suddenly joined by other voices; more voices than you could possibly count. They were in harmony with it, but far higher up the scale: cold, tingling, silvery voices. The second wonder was that the blackness overhead, all at once, was blazing with stars. They didn’t come out gently one by one, as they do on a summer evening. One moment there had been nothing but darkness; next moment a thousand, thousand points of light leaped out – single stars, constellations, and planets, brighter and bigger than any in our world. There were no clouds. The new stars and the new voices began at exactly the same time. If you had seen and heard it, as Digory did, you would have felt quite certain that it was the stars themselves which were singing, and that it was the First Voice, the deep one, which had made them appear and made them sing.”

This is one of my favorite excerpts from the Chronicles of Narnia. It pulls me into a world of undiluted wonder and deep mystery. It helps me see Scripture. It opens my mind’s eye. What do I mean?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.                                                                    – Genesis 1:1-2, NIV

Who would think that so much could be loaded into two sentences? As if the opening sentence wasn’t a staggering start, right? I mean, we’re dealing with a beginning of something from nothing. We’re bringing God into it. We’re asserting that He created the universe and the earth.

That’s quite an abridged introduction to the creation of everything ever! Aren’t there more details? Shouldn’t we have a bit more?

That’s the beauty of it – the writer isn’t concerned. The bigness of God eclipses the minutiae of biological process. Like Narnia, the description is there, but the source of the scene is the hero of the story. The “First Voice,” the “deep one,” which made them [the stars] appear and sing.”

All that matters is God. Creating.

The second sentence is no less complex. The “earth was formless and empty” – a wasteland and desolate ruin.

Chaos.

Elohim of Genesis is different from various Near Eastern creation stories. Like the one in which Marduk (or some other god) creates through defeating a monster of chaos and disorder. Genesis has chaos, yes, but one that bows down in no contest to God. This chaos and emptiness do not oppose God – they can’t – they kneel in reverence to Him.

“…darkness was over the face of the deep…

This empty, desolate sphere was devoid of all light – the blackest darkness – was above the “face of the deep.” This is a poetic term for water massive quantities of it. Surging water, actually. The ocean during a hurricane. Surging. Foaming. Writhing. Churning. Smashing.

There’s separation –  the universe, and then this sphere. Another separation there – sky and water. Nothing but this dark, watery sphere of chaos has entered into being.

Time Out.

Isn’t this how you feel when chaos seems to win out in the world? Don’t we understand this bit about “formless and void” with “darkness hovering above…” us?

When you lost your job?

When you made the stupid choice that cost your family?

When the addiction was more than self-control could bear?

When betrayal comes from a close friend?

When wars ravage nations and children fall victim to the crossfire? When death claims yet another victim through senseless violence?

Yes. We get the “darkness hovering over” bit. We know that. We live it. Yet, the text makes something crystal clear:

Hope is not lost. Keep reading.

“…The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

There He is. He’s right there. The Spirit of God is hovering. Gesinius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon says the word here means, “to be moved, affected. Especially with a tender love.” The imagery here better translates, “brooding.”

The Hebrew word used here has a double meaning. It is the entrance of the Spirit into the primordial chaos. Formless, objectless, immeasurable space. The Spirit creates stirring , an energizing, a setting in motion. A mother-bird brooding over her nest, hatching her eggs, and nurturing her young.

The Spirit of Elohim, God Himself, is creating. Birthing. Bringing about something from nothing in an act of love. Crafting with care and protecting from chaos.

It’s no wonder that we find David later writing:

He [God] will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. – Psalm 91:4, NIV

The surging waters of life are all around. The boat is about to go under. The tempest rages at deafening volumes.

The disciples felt the same way. Chaos was overtaking them. Death was imminent, or at least a very wet, cold night. And Jesus…He’s asleep through it all:

“A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”                                        – Mark 4:38-41, NIV

“Quiet! Be Still!”

Brooding. Love. Protection. Speaking Words that alter the very universal laws of nature. Jesus is right there in the thick of it. Taming the chaos. Subduing the darkness.

The Apostle John gives a throwback to a time before time. The Genesis of the Universe. This is what he tells us about the “words” of God; the Logos that existed before existence:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.                                                         – John 1:1-5, ESV

Darkness doesn’t win. Chaos doesn’t reign. Death is not our Sovereign. God is. The Creator of worlds. The Tamer of chaos. The brooding protector of His creation.

No matter hard chaos and darkness may try, they do not get the victory.  They are tamed and subdued by God.  There is no other like Him.  There is no equal.  There is no problem in your life that He cannot tame.  The question, though, is this:

 

Do you know Him?

Begin

Genesis.  Beginnings.  Origin.  Start. Source. Outset. Creation.
I’ve blogged over at Ransomed Beggar for well over a decade. But, a lot has changed in my life. It’s fitting then, to transition to a new site and format.
I often had a lot of wrong motives with my other blog. I wanted to add my voice to the world on topics already discussed and debated. I wanted people to see what I thought and agree. My motives were wrong. I didn’t realize it happening. I sought recognition and popularity. I was wrong.
I’m returning to my passion: the Word of God. I’m hitting the restart and moving back to the beginning. I’m not a theologian or scholar by any means.
So, if you’re looking for a fresh take, opinion on a topic, or the latest
scholarship, then keep looking. If you’re looking for a “Ten Things to______” list, that’s not me.
What I’ll do (or try my best to do) is make God’s word accessible. That doesn’t mean I’m going to “dumb” it down. It means I pray I will give you a better understanding through context.
That’s it.
You may not agree to the conclusions I come to, and that’s fine. My goal is not to convince you I’m right, but to get you back to reading the Scriptures for yourself. I’ll let God do His thing. I’ll stop getting in the way.
Let’s get started at the beginning.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1, ESV)
“In the beginning…”
The first phrase in the Hebrew text of 1:1 is bereshith (“In [the] beginning), which is also the title of the book. We like beginnings. That’s why prequels are so popular, right? We like the origin of something. We want to know where it came from.
The Hebrew understanding of this text was as a poetic summary. It shows the entire creation beginning and completion in the opening sentence.
When was the beginning? The writer isn’t worried about that. It’s a time before time. If that’s hard to wrap your brain around, welcome to the club. We understand beginnings and endings. Birth and death. We operate in linear time. Things are made, things expire.  We don’t understand “before” time – eternity.
One thing to think about here, and it’s where most of us get off track is this:
The book of Genesis is not a scientific textbook. In its true form, Genesis is a statement, but it’s not a scientific book. Sure, there are answers in Genesis. Sure, we can observe a lot about God and His creative work. Yet Genesis was never intended to be a scientific explanation of God. It is not a textbook or blueprint. It is a statement. What is the fact?
God created.
The writer doesn’t elaborate on the “why’s” and “how’s.” The writer tells us that no matter how it looked, God was the one behind it. Nothing else needs explained.
Before time, at the beginning of what we know as “the beginning,” we read:

“…God…”
God. Elohim. No other word meets such controversy. God.
Different from other pagan origin stories, there is no explanation for God here. It’s assumed. There’s no other possibility about God’s existence. He’s there. He’s real. He’s powerful.
Some things in other religious traditions (about origin stories) are not found here. There is no mystical speculation of God’s nature. There is no definition of God. God here, is not a nebulous, ethereal concept, but a concrete, tangible
The word “Elohim” is plural. For the beginning of a monotheistic religion, it seems weird. Yet, the term Elohim is rarely used in the ancient world with the plural – and it’s used here on purpose. It speaks to the “bigness” and the “transcendence” of God over the creation. He’s not bound to it. He is sovereign over it.
“…created…
This word and its Hebrew stem (b-r-‘) are only found in exclusive reference to God’s divine creativity. What does that mean? That the creation sits unmatched, and that it depends soley on God. It goes beyond all humanity – it won’t be re-created or replicated by humankind. Again, not a science piece. It refers to the ; not the materials used to get there. It gets even more mind-bending.
The theological term is creatio ex nihilo. Created from nothing. No inert matter is present pre-God’s creation. The fact that it isn’t mentioned is a big deal. In other creation accounts of neighboring religions, its a different story. There is something that the god uses to create. The selected deity builds on something that was already present. Not happening here. The writer rules out all possibility of preëxisting matter. It is creation from nothing. It has no equal. It isn’t repeatable. We cannot take nothing and make something. It goes beyond our logic and understanding.
“…the heavens and earth.”
The Hebrew definite article here (the) specifies what is observable. Creating “heaven and earth” are a contrast used to show completion and totality. Also, heavens could be seen as “sky” and earth as “dry land.” These are tangible things. We’re not told how God did it, but we see that God created. The writer isn’t concerned with “how.”
The point is this: God is a Being outside of nature and who is ruler over space and time.
The structure of the text is mind-blowing here. The move from chaos to universe happens in an orderly way through a series of six successive and equal units of time. The order happens in two parallel groups. Each of the six days has four creative acts. These four acts are further divided into two groups. Each group moves from heaven to earth’s waters, and to dry land. Even cooler is how the text is arranged. Each creation in the first “group” provides resources used by the creäture in the second group.
The writer progresses from inorganic matter to created life. These “forms” have four groups: fish and birds, reptiles, higher mammals, and humankind.
The writer tells us this happens in six days. The writer uses seven total, but six where God is doing “stuff.” The number seven is pretty important in the Bible. There are seven words in the opening words of Genesis. “Chaos” (“without form and void,” vs 2), use seven words twice. The text’s seven literary units show a formula (God says>something created> it was good) seven times. Finally, the text reaches wraps up the narrative on the seventh day.
Centuries later, the writer of Hebrews will say:
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3, ESV)
God speaks. Creation happens. It. Is. Good.
The “how” and the “why” don’t matter. What matters is that God created. He created by His word. By his voice the deafening silence of nothingness is shattered and a new thing begins.
Genesis.  Beginnings.  Origin.  Start. Source. Outset. Creation.