Category Archives: Church Community

Jesus and ‘Merica

Independence Day, the 4th of July:  American flags, BBQs, fireworks and lots of patriotic displays.  You’ll see the American flag on bathing suits, beach towels, cooking aprons, paper plates and napkins, tattoos, you name it.

But nothing is greater than when churches remind us that Jesus did not exist before America, and that Jesus is himself an American who loves America.  And he loves ‘Merica the most.

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I’ll bet you didn’t know that Jesus carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence to the Liberty Bell (don’t worry, it was just a copy not the original).  Jesus wept but he could not repair the crack.

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This photoshop job goes double ‘Merica on us:  Jesus wrapped in an American flag inside another American flag.

 

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Churches like using “F” words

A little known historical fact in church history involves the day a church came up with the ingenious marketing scheme to advertise events.  You have to use “F” words.  You know what I’m talking about:  food, fun and fellowship.  Let me set the scene for you…

No one knows for sure, it’s all just legend and oral tradition.  But I like to picture a small country church in Savannah, Georgia during a women’s ministry planning meeting sometime in the early part of the 20th century.  The ladies of First Church of Savannah were having trouble attracting people to attend their Bible study.  They always served such delicious snacks, desserts and sweet tea.  But still only a handful showed up.  Something had to be done.  They decided they needed more than just food.  They needed…something.

They brainstormed on the chalkboard of the Sunday School classroom for almost an hour before Sarah spoke up.

“Fun.  We have to offer fun.”

Mildred was confused.  “Fun?  What exactly does that mean?  What type of fun:  games, music, activities?”  Sarah replied, “I don’t know, just fun.  If we say it will be fun, maybe people will show up.”

Grace perked up from across the table.  “Yes, fun.  That’s what we need.  It doesn’t matter if we actually do anything as long as we advertise that it will be fun.”

Still, Mildred wasn’t fully convinced.  “What if people ask too many questions?  Such as ‘Where is the fun you promised?’ or ‘What type of activities are your idea of fun?’”

That’s when the magic happened.  Barbara had been quiet all night until she received inspiration from the Holy Spirit and shouted out “Fellowship!”

The room fell silent for a moment, then erupted in agreement.  Still, Mildred wanted to clarify things.

“What exactly is the difference,” Mildred asked, “between what we’ve been doing at our Bible studies and ‘fellowship?’”

The room of sweaty and tired women – wanting to go home and end this meeting – peered at Mildred with disdain.  “Fellowship will make it sound more spiritual than just hanging around,” Grace said.  Plus it’s alliteration.  Using alliteration in church is always awesome.”

So it began.  Ever since the meeting of the minds that fateful night, churches everywhere have followed suit by promising food, fun and fellowship at events.  Want to raise the bar of excitement for your Bible study where people sit in a circle and talk?  Offer food, fun and fellowship.  Is your Men’s prayer breakfast not drawing the numbers?  You’ve got the food, you’re missing the fun and fellowship.  Is the monthly budget meeting boring everyone to tears?  Get some donuts and B.Y.O.F.F! (Bring your own fun and fellowship).

Because it doesn’t matter what the event is.  It makes no difference if it actually is fun or any real fellowship occurs.  If it’s happening in a church you’re going to have food, fun and fellowship.  You may find some truly daring churches that add a fourth “F” word.  It could be faith, forgiveness, family; the sky is the limit…as long as it begins with the letter “F!”  (Except that word, get your mind out of the gutter).  ;)

Here are some examples of churches advertising the three F’s:

This church matched a cute graphic icon with each word:

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The men of First Baptist know how to do it.  A chef’s hat, meat, music, crosses, an angled closeup photo of a Bible so you know that this BBQ with live music will not be without scripture!

 

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This youth group took the concept and added Rock-em Sock-em robots.  Look closely:  they’ve got food but their fun is “crazy fun,” they offer games and a “Fellowship Night.”  Notice the hours of this fellowship “night” are 4pm-7pm but hey, it’s gonna be crazy fun so who cares?

 

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This ad left out the fellowship but included another “F” word, fire.  And of course the Bible.  Nothing goes with games, music and food over a  giant blazing bonfire like carrying around your Bible.

 

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Come for the food, fun and fellowship.  Stay for the lion taming act.

 

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This church just straight up went “F’ing” crazy:

 

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Scaring the hell out of the world

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Well-meaning Christians often use terminology that to non-believers sounds like extremism or radical fundamentalism.  You may have heard any of the following words or phrases in your church-going experience:

“Turn the world upside down”

“World-changers, Planet-shakers”

Military metaphors like “Take the world from the enemy” or

“Enlist in God’s army”

“Set the world on fire”

These things sound like chaos, destruction, warfare or religious and can make people actually concerned.  Religion is already associated enough with war, control, greed, the crusades, terrorism and other things that terms like the above can elicit in those we are trying to reach.

I know people mean well when they say things like this.  When they talk about being radical, they mean to be counter-culture with things like love, forgiveness and grace.   Christians may want to “set the world on fire” with the loving message of God’s saving grace.  We may intend to “turn the world upside down” by seeing people turn from sin and live for God.  But that may not be how people hear it.  May I suggest that the world needs to hear the church talk more about hope, healing, encouragement, love and grace.  Perhaps we could talk more about reaching the poor, hurting and lonely people who need some positivity.  Just a thought.

When Jesus spoke in the synagogue for the first time as an adult (Luke 4:16-19) he read from Isaiah 61.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Now let’s look at the words and phrases Jesus used to change the world:

Spirit

good news

freedom

recovery

set the oppressed free

favor

People need to hear a message of positivity, love, encouragement, healing and forgiveness.  They need The Good News.  The world suffers enough from natural disasters, disease, tragedy, wars, terrorism, poverty, social injustice and a host of other problems.  In my opinion, there’s enough chaos.  We could try to change our words and actions to bring healing, love and hope.

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The most AMAZING blog post ever! You don’t want to miss this, it’s going to be EPIC!!!

Ah, Christian superlatives. 

Churches LOVE to hype up and over sell any and every aspect of their church.  At some churches, everything is marketed as being awesome, amazing, epic, off the charts, off the chain, off the hook, and other over the top phrases. 

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A church will advertise itself as being unique, edgy or not like any other church you’ve been to.  Then you visit and find out it’s just like every other non-denominational “contemporary” church.

 My favorite is when a church advertises “if you only attend one service this year, you cannot miss this Sunday!” and then say the same thing repeatedly throughout the year about other Sundays.   What message could be so important to that degree that hasn’t already been heard?  THE greatest message a Christian church can preach has been the same for over 2,000 years and is the central tenet of our faith.  Having said that, hopefully every message is rooted in God’s Word and you can simply advertise that the message will be impactful, encouraging, inspiring, thought-provoking, challenging or other descriptors. 

Churches will advertise just about anything as being awesome or amazing, from a Sunday School class to a basic potluck.  It’s natural to want to promote events and attract people to attend but the more you use superlatives, the less effective they become. 

 Let’s try to dial it down and set realistic, yet still enthusiastic expectations.  And using a thesaurus wouldn’t hurt either.


The simple path to God.

You would think more Christians would be fulfilled and content in their faith now than in the past.

 We have more information, resources, material, access and connectivity than ever and we are well past the point of information overload.  We have great buildings, excellent leaders and large congregations full of talent and commitment.  We have thousands of books, websites, blogs, seminars and conferences.  We have rich tradition and heritage, modern mega church campuses, online streaming services and charismatic pastors and leaders.  And there are also a lot more of us than in the first century.

 Yet in each generation, we still find ourselves searching for God and trying to find fulfillment.  It’s not for lack of the afore-mentioned things that our spiritual lives suffer, nor is there anything wrong with them in and of themselves.  But sometimes we over complicate things.

 Jesus liked to boil things down to some simple points.  Love  God, love others.  Forgive people.  How many times do you forgive them?  Too many to count, you just forgive. 

 Serve others.  If someone is hungry, give them food.  If thirsty, a drink of water.  If they’re cold, offer them your coat.  You don’t need a complex theological model with charts and graphs to tell you how to help someone in need.

 I think sometimes we make approaching God and growing our faith more complex than it needs to be.  What I’ve found is that it’s hard enough to get the simple things right.  We are sinners that fall short every day but we can keep striving for better. 

 Just take time out of your week to pray to God.  And when you pray, try not to make it all about yourself and asking for things.  Crack open the Bible more often than you used to.  Attend church and try to focus and not be distracted.  Sing along with the hymns and songs and try to mean it.  Turn off the media and quiet yourself and get some perspective and think about God, and sense His presence.  Get through your week doing more good than bad and try to be a good example of Christ to others.  Try harder at showing people love and mercy than trying to be right or win the argument.

 If we do better at those simple things, we might catch a glimpse of the Divine.  Our differences in theology and the name on the church sign might not matter so much.  Non-believers might be more open to a faith they see lived out honestly and genuinely.  Remember the acronym KISS:  Keep it simple, stupid.  If you had to apply that spiritually:  pray, read the Bible, go to church, get involved, love others.  And mean it

 That last part could change the world.


“Jesus never said He was the Son of God.”

There is a popular argument made by some skeptics that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.  They say He was a good teacher and that only generations later did the Church make up that He was divine.

First we have to realize that the earliest available manuscripts of the New Testament have not been edited and changed over time as some claim.  While there have been various translations of those manuscripts, the documents in the ancient languages themselves have not been altered.   But if the only source we have documenting Jesus’ moral teaching are the Gospels, we need to consider the other content of those Gospels.

Jesus declared himself in John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  The skeptics say this statement by Jesus refers to his example of living a good life; as in following His way, His truth and his sacrificial life as the path to God.

However when Jesus famously asked his disciples who they think He is, Peter spoke up and said that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.  Jesus didn’t correct him, He affirmed him:  (Matthew 16:17) “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”

When put on trial with the threat of death, Jesus did not deny this claim to save himself.  Mark 14:61-62:

“Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”

“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Not good enough?  The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about Jesus and His followers in his “Jewish Antiquities”:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named for him, are not extinct at this day.”

When you also consider that Jesus’ followers suffered and died for their belief in Jesus being the Christ, the claim doesn’t make sense:  they made up those facts about Jesus’ divinity so they could be put to death?  That doesn’t hold up.

The message of Jesus has endured generations of attacks, skepticism, controversy and claims that it’s false.  And yet, He endures.

John wrote in his first letter to address early claims of falsehood.  1 John 1:1 states:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”


What did Jesus really say about judging others?

There are a few Bible stories or passages that just about everyone seems to know, whether they are religious or not.  And whenever the subject of morality comes up, you’ll hear people note that Jesus said not to judge others.  They even know where it is, in Matthew chapter 7.  This is everyone’s favorite Bible verse when any attention is given to something they are doing wrong.  Some might say phrases like “Jesus didn’t judge” or “Jesus said not to judge others.”  Others point out the difference between accepting people for who they are, and letting them stay that way.  They say Jesus held people to a moral standard and told them “go and sin no more.”

Often with issues like this, people tend to fall into extremes:  too accepting or too hypocritical. But how should we handle moral behavior?  Should there be any accountability?  Should we really sit back and let people do what they want so no one can accuse us of judging?

What did Jesus really say about judging others?  The verse people most often reference comes from Matthew 7:1-5:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

First, it’s important to realize the setting and context:  Jesus was speaking to a mostly Jewish crowd who knew the laws of their religion very well.  He wasn’t speaking to non-religious people.  The people were often under the oppression of pious religious leaders who seemed to be more focused on recording wrongs instead of changing hearts; handing out guilt instead of grace.  Sadly, this happens in any religious organization in any generation.  Many scholars and commentaries discuss this as an issue of having compassion on others and realizing that we all sin.  Not that we excuse or allow sin, but that we not treat people harshly for their sin because if we look at our own lives we will find our own sin to deal with.

Second, Jesus actually does tell us to hold other believers accountable.  Let’s look at Matthew 18:15-17.  Here, Jesus tells us what to do when someone is in sin:

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Jesus tells us how to confront a brother or sister in sin to hold them accountable.  And when you look at the context, in both passages Jesus was talking about dealing with fellow religious people.  We need to realize that people who are not Christians, who have not had their hearts changed by an encounter with Jesus, shouldn’t be expected to follow Biblical morality.  We only make ourselves look like jerks and hypocrites when we point fingers and judge people outside the Church.  Why should they be expected to follow any moral code they don’t believe in?  Our job is to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and when people find God’s grace He will then begin to change their hearts.  We also need to be focused on removing the plank from our own eyes before we harp on the splinter in someone else’s eye.

God shows us mercy and grace every day.  The Bible says that we are all sinners, and even the great Apostle Paul realized his need to die daily to his sin.  It is with that measure of receiving grace that we should package our dealings with others.  Those outside the church, we can’t throw fiery darts at them about their behavior.  We need to show them the love and grace of God.  Those in the church, we do need to hold accountable but our hearts need to be ruled by love, mercy and forgiveness.  With the same measure we’re judged by God, that is how we should judge others.  Stop and think for a moment how God treats us despite all of our sins and shortcomings.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I can’t see very well; I have a few planks to remove from my eye.


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