Ugly Church

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There’s about to be some construction around our church building. No, we aren’t getting a new gym. We’re not putting a pool on the roof. And we’re not putting in a gold plated parking space reserved just for the pastor complete with a conveyor belt that carries me directly to the pulpit. That’s in next year’s budget.

What we’re building won’t last very long. It will be up by the middle of June and, most likely, torn down by July 1.

We’re building a mountain.

In the sanctuary.

When I preach, I’ll probably have to find some other place to stand.

And it’s all for one simple reason.

Vacation Bible School.

I love the way that our church building looks when Vacation Bible School rolls around. The sanctuary always looks like a jungle or a beach or some other popular VBS theme. And every year, the person responsible for building it comes to me somewhat worried. The question is always the same.

“Is it alright if we put stuff on the stage for Vacation Bible School?”

The answer is always the same too.

“Yep.”

I don’t have an eye for design but I love this kind of thing. I love fake animals all over the stage. I love it when we have cartoon clouds hanging from the ceiling and a cardboard sun on the wall or, as will be the case this year, a gigantic mountain dominating the platform where I usually preach.

I love it because it reminds me that Jesus didn’t just die for adults. No, he gave his life for the salvation of kids too. And he doesn’t just like to hear adults sing about him. He loves it when children sing his praises, even if it’s done around a giant paper mountain with those sandpaper blocks you only find at Vacation Bible School. I know that one week every summer isn’t all that it takes to pass the faith down to the next generation. It takes parents and other believers sharing and living out that faith in everyday life (Deuteronomy 6:7). But Vacation Bible School can be a big part of that.

I’m sure that there are some who don’t share my affection for VBS decorations. It looks tacky, they say. It doesn’t show proper reverence for God’s house. It’s just ugly.

Here’s what’s ugly.

A church where everything is in place is ugly. A church where there are no crayon marks on the wall because there are no kids there to do such a thing is ugly. A church where everything on the stage always looks like a picture from Southern Living: The Church Edition because appearances are what matters most is ugly.

Jesus died for the Church.

He did not die for a church building.

I’m all for showing proper respect. But could it be that what we think is just good taste and decency is really just idol worship? Idols can be tiny little statues. They can be giant monuments. And they can be that communion table at the front of the church building that hasn’t been moved in 35 years because if it is, someone will die. Or at least get yelled at.

If the decorations around your church building look a bit childish this summer, put your sense of style to the side, at least for a week or so. The cartoon cut outs of silly looking animals stuck to the wall right next to the stained glass picture of John the Baptist standing with Jesus isn’t tacky. It could very well be a reminder that God is doing something good in your church.

Of course, you could make a big deal out of it all. You could tell all of the appropriate people how terrible they are for their wicked decorations. You could pass by laws that prohibit the hanging of any piece of art not made out of stained glass. You could share your disgust with others in hopes that they’ll agree with you and that momentum will shift in your direction and away from the silly kid art.

And you just might get your way next year.

No clouds hanging from the ceiling.

No cardboard sun stuck to the wall.

No mountain on the stage.

No kids.

And no genuine work of the Holy Spirit.

Just you and your sense of how church decorating should be done.

But that will be okay with you. Finally, your church will look the way a dignified church is supposed to look.

And then it really will be an ugly church.

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Praying.

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Praying.

Sometimes that word can be a source of great hope. Like when you post something online about a tragedy in your life and you come back 15 minutes later to see 30 comments with one simple word.

Praying.

Praying.

Praying.

It can make you feel good. But does it actually do any good? In a lot of cases, the answer is no. But that’s not because God doesn’t care or he doesn’t have the power to change something. It’s because sometimes the one true God who is in Sovereign control of the universe isn’t the one who is being prayed to.

Sometimes the god who exists only to meet our needs and to make us feel better about ourselves is being prayed to.

Dear friendly, nameless being,

Make my name great.

Do everything you can to promote my kingdom and to see that my will is done, both here and in eternity. My wish is your command.

Don’t just settle for giving me what I need today. Give me more than I need. Give me everything that I want. 

Forgive me for whatever generic, harmless sins that other people may have caused me to commit. And forgive those people if you want but I’m not going to. 

I can handle temptation on my own. I control my own destiny. Evil can’t touch me if I surround myself with enough positive and encouraging goodness. When it comes to evil, assuming that evil even exists, I’ve got this. Devote your energy to someone else because I’m good.

Sometimes it’s the fundamentalist god who only answers to lofty sounding religious lingo that is being prayed to.

Dearest father who dwelleth in the most high heavens,

I am praying this prayer now in hopes that people will see me making thou name sound great while at the same time adding a little popularity boost to mine.

May your kingdom advance against all of the other kingdoms of this world (except for my own) and may your will be done in my home as well as in Washington D.C. Who cares about the neighbors?

Givest thou me the daily portion that you see fit. I am your humble servant. Christian breath mints will suffice (not really but that’s what I want my prayer audience to think so feel free to give me a bunch of stuff). 

Forgive us for our many sins of which I will not be naming mine here in front of everyone in fear that such specificity might not make my name sound as great as I would like for it to. Also, forgive those who have failed to live up to my standards for them. Thank you that I am not like them.

Thank you that temptation isn’t a problem for me. I haven’t committed a serious sin in well over 20 years. But others haven’t gotten to where I am. Deliver them from evil.

And sometimes people are just praying to their buddy, homeboy or boyfriend.

Dear Invisible Peer,

Fix stuff, give me stuff and take bad stuff away. Also, help me to get married before the rapture happens.

Word.

There is another way. The Jesus way. He took the time to teach his disciples how to pray, not so that we would follow that prayer word for word every time we pray but so that we would have a clear picture of what prayer is really all about. Here’s a hint. It’s not as much about us as we’d like to think. Instead, it’s about a holy God who likes to hear from his people. Prayer isn’t a tool that spiritual people use in an attempt to get God to change his mind. Prayer is a discipline of spiritually broken people who want God to change their heart. Here’s what Jesus’ example looks like.

 

“Pray then like this:

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.'”Matthew 6:9-13 (ESV)

But Jesus didn’t leave us with just a guideline. He also gave us the Holy Spirit because, no matter how spiritual you are or how long you’ve been in church or how often you pray, you still really don’t know what you’re doing. Neither do I. But the Spirit is there to help.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26 (ESV)

What a picture. Our best efforts at prayer, just like our best efforts at most anything else, fall short. But the Spirit takes those broken prayers to the Father with passion and in a language too deep for us to understand. Prayer is far more powerful than you think.

Praying.

It’s good to know that people care enough to do that for you.

It’s even better when you know that they are praying to their Father in heaven with the assistance of the Holy Spirit instead of to some fake deity just so they can sound more spiritual.

The good news doesn’t stop there.

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t stop working on your behalf when he rose from the grave. He is still approaching the Father on your behalf. Christian, you are being prayed for and it is someone far more important than your parents or pastor who is doing the praying.

You may feel alone. It may seem as though no one cares. Perhaps God seems distant. But if you asked Jesus what he is doing for you right now, he would give you a one word answer.

Praying.

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The Government’s Guide To A Safe, Healthy and Educational Summer Break For Your Kids

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I got a call from The White House the other day.

It seems that the folks in D.C. have a new initiative to keep kids busy and out of trouble while school is shut down for the summer and they want me to help with getting the word out. They’re calling this new federal program Kids Growing Beyond (KGB) and they seem real excited about it. I figured, if the government is excited about it and it’s for the kids, it can’t be bad. So it is my honor to be the first person to publicize the government’s new guidelines for parents and kids this summer.

1. Safety first!

When you and I were growing up we spent our summers outside. We left the house after we woke up and we didn’t come back until the sun went down. That’s because we grew up all wrong and our parents had no idea what they were doing. Think about it. We could’ve been murdered.

Thankfully, the government’s new guidelines will help to keep that from happening.

From now on, all kids between the ages of 0 and 31 will not be allowed to leave the house unsupervised. Federally qualified supervisors include employees of Child Protective Services, a drone, and, as a last resort, the child’s mother. In dire circumstances, assuming that the proper paperwork and bloodwork is on file, the child’s father will be allowed to supervise for up to six minutes a day.

Also, children must not leave the house without a helmet and they must be in a car seat. Even if they aren’t in a car. Any sitting will have to be done in a car seat. The government’s new motto for this will be, “If you’re off your feet, get in a car seat.” John Legend is working on the commercial jingle for this.

2. Healthy eating first too!

During the summers of my childhood, I was fueled by a steady diet of fish sticks, tater tots ketchup sandwiches and Beanee Weenees. That diet falls well short of today’s high standards. Fish, in case you didn’t know, are people too. And the same goes for whatever animal that Beanee Weenees are made from. The government added ketchup sandwiches to their terrorist watch list in 2002.

In an effort to respect the fish and the Beanee Weenee animal while also getting away from the ketchup sandwich, we’re all going vegetarian. So make sure your kids are used to hamburgers made out of the grass that gets stuck up under the lawn mower when you cut the grass on a rainy day. Mmmmmm. Organic. Oh, and McDonald’s. McDonald’s is still cool as far as the government’s new vegetarian dietary standards go seeing as how they haven’t used any actual meat in their food in over 30 years.

For dessert, kids will be allowed one (1) peppermint per day. On special occasions, cake will be permitted. However, said cake will not be allowed if it is in celebration of a birthday or if it contains sugar and/or flour. The government’s new motto for this will be “Let them eat cake!”

3. Don’t forget the entertainment. That’s first as well!

Every summer has those days when you either can’t or just don’t want to go outside. That’s when television comes in. More specifically in my case, that was when it was time to watch CHiPs and Fat Albert reruns. CHiPs and Fat Albert were my best friends on rainy days. Where would we be without these shows? CHiPs taught us to respect the police. Even if those policemen still liked to compete in disco roller skating competitions. Fat Albert taught us what life was like for inner city kids who had to use things in the junkyard for band instruments. That band sounded pretty good. Way better than anything Rascal Flatts ever recorded. Life, as it seemed, was good in the inner city.

It turns out, we were taught wrong.

Ponch and John wouldn’t stand a chance today. Can you imagine two cops on roller skates trying to stop another one of those riots started by a bunch of rich college kids pretending to be communists at the local roller rink? And what about Fat Albert? Do you think that show would make it today? No way! Today Albert would be called Far Too Short For His Weight Albert and Dumb Donald would be Misunderstood By Every Teacher He’s Ever Had Donald. And there’s no way that Bill Cosby would be allowed to host. Ryan Seacrest would take his place. Far Too Short For His Weight Albert and the Seacrest Kids just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So we need a healthier alternative for our kids.

The View.

Each week, children will be forced to watch The View. Excuse me. Each week, children will be invited to enjoy The View. After that day’s episode, the child will write a short paper entitled Why Whoopie Is Right And Everyone Else Is Wrong. The music of Alanis Morissette is strongly suggested while your child writes. I’m sure that your second grader can sense the excitement already as he begins to grapple with his guilt for having the nerve to be born a male.

When it’s summer, you don’t have to sacrifice safety, healthy eating and education for fun. You can have it all. And the KGB is here to give it to you. Hopefully these guidelines will help you. Actually, these are just a few of the guidelines. The actual initiative is much longer but I didn’t have time to read it.

But hey, it’s from the government.

What’s the worse that could happen?

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Before You Take The #CharlieCharlieChallenge

Well, that's not good.

There’s a new sensation among teenagers and young adults. I just found out about it earlier this week so that means it’s probably not really all that new. Tip: When you’re over 30 and you read about some new sensation among teenagers and young adults, they’ve probably been partaking in whatever sensation it is for a year or two by the time you find out about it.

This sensation has nothing to do with some drug named after a girl or games that involve knocking out unsuspecting women and elderly people.

This one is much more dangerous.

It’s called the Charlie Charlie Challenge.

In this challenge, participants make a cross out of two pencils on a sheet of paper. They then record themselves asking a Mexican demon named Charlie if he is present. The words yes and no are written in the four squares on the paper. If the pencil moves to the yes, the words are erased and more questions are asked. With this being recorded and everything, all of the world gets to watch the participants get freaked out when Charlie answers.

Think of it as this generation’s ouija board.

A quick word to this generation. You want nothing to do with Charlie.

I’ve been in the ministry for 15 years. I’m hardly an expert but I’ve seen a few things. I’ve experienced things that can only be attributed to demonic activity. Such occasions have been extremely rare. They have also been extremely frightening.

There is a more common way that I have seen the demonic at work.

I have seen it at work as seemingly healthy marriages fall apart.

I have seen it at work in churches where people fight for personal gain like they were in the WWE’s Royal Rumble.

I have seen it at work in addicts who know that they are killing themselves but just can’t stop it.

I don’t know where the name Charlie came from. I just know that you don’t want to play with him. There is nothing fun about this. The end game is only death and destruction.

“But,” you might say, “I’m a Christian. Charlie has no power over me. I can make him go away whenever I want.”

Sure thing. Just tell that to Sceva and his seven sons. But try not to let the nudity bother you.

And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Acts 19:11-17 (ESV)

Charlie might jump out of the computer and master you so that you run away naked and wounded. But more likely, if you continue to play with Charlie, you’ll just walk away wounded.

A few nights ago I watched a documentary about a guy who lived with bears. It ended the way all documentaries about guys who live with bears ends. Spoiler alert. He died. The bears killed him. It’s tragic but it’s not a surprise.

The same will be true of you if you continue to take the Charlie Charlie Challenge. Whether physically or spiritually, you will die. It will be tragic. But it won’t be a surprise.

Bears kill and eat men who try to live with them.

Demons devour people who try to play with them.

It’s just what they do.

In Christ, Christians have power over Satan (Colossians 2:15). But that power does not give us license to play with fire. Instead, it gives us confidence to fight our own sin and love our neighbor as we seek to glorify Jesus.

Without Christ, you are a slave to Satan. He has blinded you from seeing the futility of your ways (2 Corinthians 4:4). On your own, he has complete power over you.

And you can be sure of this. Call him Charlie if you want but he is listening. And whatever questions you ask, you’re not going to like the answers.

So instead of taking the Charlie Charlie Challenge, take time to humble yourself before Jesus, the real Master, and ask him to protect you.

Challenge or no challenge, you’re going to need it.

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Doughnuts Are Good For You

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I don’t have a six-pack.

No one has ever referred to my arms as, “those guns.” At least not with a straight face.

Nobody at the gym has ever asked for my opinion on the best chest exercise. Once this lady asked me to get out of her way but that’s about as close as it ever got.

I’m okay with that. I don’t run everyday to look a certain way. I’ve got bigger goals when I exercise.

I run for doughnuts.

I didn’t run at all last week. I didn’t lift one single weight either. Instead, I spent almost every morning eating doughnuts with my wife and kids. Not organic, whole grain doughnuts either. White bread doughnuts. The kind that are filled with Fruit Loops or methamphetamine or whatever it is they put in those things.

It’s good to work out and eat right. God only gave you one body so it’s important to be a good manager of his gift. But being a good manager of the body God has given to you doesn’t mean that you have to be an Organic Pharisee, pronouncing judgments on thyself and all other pagans who partaketh of high fructose corn syrup. Sometimes it means eating a doughnut with your family.

That’s heresy in today’s food culture that’s determined to cure the childhood obesity epidemic, one bowl of organic grapes at a time. But feeding the kids from the Burger King Value Menu every night before bed isn’t the only way to ruin the way that they think about food. Constantly talking about calories or body mass index to your six-year-old will do the trick too.

Years from now my kids will not care about how big my arms were or how fast I ran a 5k. But they haven’t stopped talking about all of the mornings last week that we spent eating doughnuts and listening to old school country music.

So loosen up. Ladies, who cares if you can’t drop those last ten pounds. Men, stop beating yourself up for looking nothing like the guy on the Insanity commercial. We miss the  whole point of taking care of ourselves if we think that it’s all just about the way we look. Instead, we should work hard to have bodies that help us to fulfill our responsibilities for the glory of God.

Jason Peters is probably the best offensive lineman in the NFL. He’s 6′ 4″, 328 pounds and a perennial all-pro. For almost ten years some of the best defensive players in the NFL have had a hard time getting by him.

But Jason Peters would make a terrible wide receiver. He’s nearly 100 pounds overweight for that position and too slow. Peters isn’t built to be a wide receiver. He’s built for something else.

Jason Peters is good at what he does because he knows his job and works hard to do it well. Everything from the food that he eats to the weights that he lifts helps him to do his job well.

Most of us aren’t called to be on the cover of magazines, showing off our rock hard abs. If that is you, fine, stay away from the doughnuts. Most of us are called to be able to come home from a hard day of work and still have enough energy to play soccer with the kids or paint the guest bedroom. If we’re healthy enough to do that and bend over 575 times a day to pick up diapers, laundry and cereal, we should be content.

Maybe we would view ourselves differently if, instead of trying weird diets and exercises in an attempt to be someone we’re not, we prepared ourselves to excel at what we’re supposed to do. Sort of like Jason Peters.

Last week my four-year-old asked me a profound question. I could tell that it was weighing heavy on his mind.

“Dad, what is it that you have in the band if you want to play in Texas?”

“A fiddle. You got to have a fiddle in the band.”

He was relieved.

He got that question from listening to old school country music and eating doughnuts with his dad. Creamy, sugary doughnuts.

That’s why I exercise and try to eat right. So that, if God wills, I can be around for many more years to answer my son’s questions.

And I also exercise so that every now and then I can eat a doughnut with my sons and talk about whatever is troubling them.

Exercise is really good for you.

Every so often, a doughnut is too.

There’s A New Cult In Town

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There’s a new cult in town and you probably don’t even know about it. Even worse, you might even be a member of it.

Unlike most cults, this one doesn’t really have a charismatic leader with a funny name who preaches about the end of the world.

And while you can pay a small fortune as a devotee to this cult, you don’t necessarily have to.

Knocking on doors early on Saturday mornings and handing out promotional materials isn’t necessary either. In fact, that would be frowned upon. But you do have to talk about this new cult. Well, you don’t really have to. It’s not like you’ll get kicked out if you don’t. It’s just that people who belong to this cult usually do talk about it. A lot. Social media is the primary tool. You have friends on Facebook who are members of this cult. Hardcore members. And, like I said, you may even be a member too.

There isn’t one god at the center of this cult. There are many. But each member worships his own god. That god is your own body.

The required sacrifices have nothing to do with animal killing, feasts or fasts. All that is required is several hours a day appeasing your body in a gym or on a track, trail or road. These are the places where regular worship services are held.

Worship is a big part of this cult. But it doesn’t require music, standing, sitting, standing again and then sitting with heads bowed and eyes closed while someone with a guitar sings. The primary act of worship in this cult is the selfie. That isn’t to say that everyone who takes selfies is a member of The Body Cult. However, if you can’t workout without taking a few pictures or videos of yourself for all of the world to see, you just might be a member.

You might say that I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s just working out. And working out is just taking care of your body. And God only gives you one body. What’s so bad about that?

Nothing.

Working out is good.

Taking care of yourself is smart.

But only when those things are done as acts of worship to the Creator who gives and takes away as he pleases. Working out and taking care of yourself, just like a host of other good things, become dangerous when they become our life’s ultimate things. And for many people, nice abs and a 600 pound deadlift have become ultimate things.

I know. I know. You’re a Christian. You’re no cult member.

Got it.

But here’s a question.

When was the last time that you missed two solid weeks of working out because you were, “too busy?”

Another question.

When was the last time that you went two weeks without reading your Bible or going to church for the same reason?

The answer can be telling.

Not because reading your Bible regularly and going to church make you right with God. They don’t. The answer is telling because worship and commitment go hand in hand. They always do. You will always be committed to what you worship. And you are committed to what you love.

The Body Cult promises a nice, healthy body just in time for the all important beach selfie. Again, the nice healthy body isn’t the problem. A nice, healthy body is a good thing. It’s the heart that puts the one true God on the shelf while the false god of the body is appeased that is the real problem.

The promises of The Body Cult come with a higher price than a tweaked shoulder from last night’s bench press or sore knees from last weekend’s ultra marathon. When your body becomes your god, your body becomes your burden. And the body is a burden that is too heavy for even the fittest athlete to carry. You could always be stronger. There will always seem to be a little bit of fat around your obliques that you would love to get rid of. There is always someone at the gym who is stronger or at the beach who looks better. The false god of the body is never appeased.

Jesus came to free us from burdens like this one.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

Jesus spoke those words to a culture of people who were weighed down by the overbearing rules of religion. But his words apply just as much to a culture of people who are weighed down by the burdens of performance, perfection and appearance.

If you really care about taking care of yourself, don’t neglect the eternal importance of a heart that is right with God for the temporary pleasure of a body that wins the approval of people.

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)

Run in that race this weekend and try your hardest to win it. Work hard to reach your weightlifting goals. But do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). His love for you and approval of you is unlike anything else in the world. He doesn’t love you because you can still fit in to the jeans you wore in high school. He doesn’t approve of you because you’re so athletic for someone your age. His love and approval are based solely on his grace and the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

It’s not too late to renounce your membership in The Body Cult. Come to grips with the fact that you will never win this way. Open your eyes to the fact that the burdens of The Body Cult are more than you can carry.

For once, let someone else do the heavy lifting for you.

And go to sleep tonight with a body that is tired from a lot of lifting but a soul that is well rested from trusting in Jesus for your ultimate satisfaction, identity and approval.

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Is Your Bible Sort Of Like The American Flag?

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We’ve been taught to respect it from an early age.

I’ve seen older men sternly correct young men for not respecting it.

I’ve heard of people who have wept when it wasn’t handled properly.

Many fights have started when it was openly ridiculed.

Times have changed. But the message is still clear. Respect the American flag. That’s a good message for how we view the flag. It’s a terrible message for how we handle the Bible.

My fear is that many of us treat our Bible just like we do the American flag.

We respect it. After all, it’s what we put our hand on when we take an oath in court. We don’t go outside and throw it around. Once I thought that my mother was going to have a heart attack when she saw me put a glass of sweet tea on top of my Bible. In the south at least, respecting the Bible is serious business. Just like it is for the American flag.

Here’s an important question.

Can you remember the last time that you actually used the American flag?

Sure, you look at it. You pledge allegiance to it. You have a problem with the people who burn it and walk on it. But do you ever really use it?

Of course not.

Flags aren’t really meant to be used as much as they are to be looked at and respected.

The Bible is different.

Preachers preach sermons about how important the Bible is without ever even referencing it. Politicians fight to have excerpts of it hung in court houses without even knowing what those excerpts mean. And Christians like me can rattle off verse after verse without ever giving a second thought to how those verses should play out in our lives.

We are very good at respecting the Bible.

We like to talk about it.

We even know a little bit about it.

But that’s not what the Bible is for. That’s what flags are for. The Bible is not a flag.

It is a sword.

It is a sword for fighting against Satan’s schemes.

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:16-17 (ESV)

And it is a sword that exposes the phony faith that likes to take up residence in our hearts.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)

There is nothing sacred about the genuine bonded leather that forms the cover of your Bible. If you want to sit a glass of sweet tea down on it, that’s between you and my mother. Good luck.

The sacred part is the message. And that message does us no good when we admire it, respect it and talk about it from afar. We must allow it to slice us open, separating our cheap talk from genuine faith. We must use it daily to kill the sin that so easily deceives us.

Father, grant us the grace that we need to stop merely respecting your word.

Help us to actually live it.

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Maybe The Church Isn’t The Problem?

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In recent years there has been a lot of talk about young adults leaving the church. A lot of experts have given a lot of reasons why.

The church is known more for what it’s against than what it’s for.

The word baptist is in the name.

The music is boring.

The preaching is long.

So, in response, many churches have tried to change. They’ve started to look more like coffee shops or Apple stores than traditional church buildings. They’ve changed their name from Shadybrook Memorial Baptist Fellowship to The Journey at Crosspointe. They made their music sound more like U2. And then Coldplay when U2 got played out. And then Celtic hymns from the 1500s. And now back to U2. Finally, some churches abandoned the sermon for more of a conversation about Jesus.

Whatever it takes to keep that ever-important demographic from leaving.

But in all of our soul-searching and self-relfecting, which is really important, we’ve forgotten something. Maybe young adults leaving the church has nothing to do with the Church.

I get it. There are plenty of bad churches out there. There are places where pastors and other leaders fight to establish their own kingdoms. There are places where engaging the community means leaving a gospel tract and a dollar tip at Luby’s after church on Sunday morning. There are places that are two or three points below a funeral home on the scale of life and vibrancy.

No one should be a part of a church like that. But does one bad church justify nuking the entire institution? Does it make sense to give up on the very body for whom Jesus died because of a few bad experiences?

If we are truly committed to Christ, the answer should be no.

So what if the Church as a whole isn’t really the problem? What if at least some of the problem is with the people who are leaving the church? When you approach a church setting looking for only what you can get out of it, you will do what any other consumer would do when you are disappointed with the product. Find a new one. Or just quit all together.

And in an effort to stop the bleeding, maybe some churches have lost something. Something important.

If your church looks like an Apple store and smells like a coffee shop, great. Church sizes, layouts and appearances don’t matter that much. But many churches have, in an effort to reach people, abandoned the very thing that they are supposed to be reaching them with. The gospel.

The gospel makes people uncomfortable.

The gospel sometimes turns people away.

The gospel is offensive.

Every committed church member I know has been, in some way, hurt by the church. I have counseled people who have been hurt in ways that I never before would have imagined. And while they didn’t hesitate to leave a particular church setting, they still didn’t give up on the Church. That’s because they knew that commitment to Christ doesn’t make much sense apart from commitment to the body that he leads and died for.

Sitting around in your living room and watching Joel Osteen isn’t the answer to your problem. Neither is convincing yourself that you can do plenty of good on your own without a church.

Perseverance is.

And because every church is filled with sinners, you’re going to need grace to persevere in your commitment.

We all need that grace.

But no matter how bad a church has let you down, don’t give up on the Church as a whole.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be hurt, even killed, by people who claimed to love him. But he still loves his Church. He still loves his people. He doesn’t give up on us.

And we would all do well to follow that example.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

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