Worship: Part I

Worship.  The context of the word varies greatly from culture to culture, religion to religion, and generation to generation.  I took the liberty of looking up the definition of worship on the Merriam-Webster website, and this is what it had to say worship meant:

As a noun-

1

chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)

2
: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3
: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4
: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>
As a verb-
1
: to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2
: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion <a celebrity worshipped by her fans>
I find it incredibly interesting that in both forms of the word, the examples the dictionary used were for very surface level things.  One was worship of the dollar, and the other of a celebrity.  Kinda points to the foremost thoughts of our culture as Americans, doesn’t it?  This series will probably get some of you to raise an eyebrow and wonder “what in the world is this guy talking about,” and for others it may be an opportunity to see things through the eyes of a guy who was raised in church and has seen the good, the bad, and the horror of this thing we call religion.  Some of you who may read this may be familiar with how we have seriously mangled what worship is intended to be, and some may not have even thought about it before.  My intentions with anything I type in here are, as always, not intended to create dissent or to bash on the church, they are simply to help me and others to grow and learn.  I realize that some of my prior posts haven’t been the most positive things to read, but I do try to keep an honest and objective point-of-view, especially since I know that I’m nowhere near the perfect example of what a Christian is supposed to look like, sound like, behave like, and just be like in general.  With all that mess in mind, let’s begin!
Worship, to many, is the attention we give the object(s) of our desire and focus in life.  One needs not to look long at the corporate sector of our country to see that the dollar is an object of affection for many.  Another example, would be the attention we give to celebrities and dignitaries.  The main thing I can see pointing people in the direction of materialistic worship, is  the lack of Christ in culture and life.  The current president of our country made a comment that “We no longer consider ourselves a Christian nation…”  As much as has been made of this quote by the president, I think he inadvertently hit the proverbial nail on the head with this statement.  He meant the comment to promote religious diversity in our country, which there definitely is, but I agree that we can no longer consider ourselves as a Christian nation.  If you take a step back and look, at what our nation’s focus is on, you cannot honestly say we are a Christian nation.  When the majority of our nation makes the dollar, celebrities who live in and promote a sinful lifestyle the focus, we cannot say that Christ is the center of our nation.  The very label “Christian” implies that one is a follower of Christ, a “little-Christ” if you will.  There are areas and groups of people in our country that are definitely focused on following Christ, and that rebuke those who claim Christ but live directly and intentionally in darkness.  What does this paragraph have to do with worship?  Keep reading…
The only reason I used the president’s quote was to give a litmus of our nation’s status, not to begin a political firestorm, as I’ve really begun to separate myself from politics as much as I possibly can.  To determine what worship is, what it’s supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to sound like, we have to go to scripture.  All throughout the Old Testament, people worshiped God through sacrifice for sins, through praising Him for provision, protection, wisdom, etc.  This, with the exception of sacrifice of animals, still held true throughout the New Testament.  Worship in Biblical times was a lifestyle lived out through giving praise to God and to Christ for our salvation and His grace and mercy.  Too often we have substituted that lifestyle for just Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night programs and corporate fellowship.  The church has become a club that we attend so we can be counted on the roll and noted as “being there,” as opposed to the intention of a gathering of believers to praise THE Almighty God in recognition of the grace we have in our lives because of His great love for us.  I really have to think that if Paul came to any one of our churches nowadays, he would be like Christ in the temple, tossing over tables and saying “What are you guys doing?!?!?!?!”  Since when does praising our creator get limited to learning about the stories in scripture by coloring pictures and gluing animals to a paper ark, and then going to “big church?”  When we get to “big church,” we sit for a few minutes, maybe make some rounds saying our howdy’s and shaking a few hands.  Then, we have the introduction and announcements, followed by some hymns/contemporary songs that we either sing or don’t sing, based on our preferences on music, then we have a pastor come and deliver the Words that have been laid on his heart by the Lord.  After that, we have an invitation/alter call where people can come down and pray with the pastor or at the steps in front of the stage about things God has spoken to them about.  Then, we all shake hands, say a prayer and go eat lunch and take a nap.  Where in here is worship?
I’ve been a born again Christian for almost 20 years now, and I can almost count on two hands the times that I have truly felt the Spirit of God in worship on Sunday mornings.  How sad is that?  Some will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so, to the lack of focus on my part to be included in the Spirit moving.  Others will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so as well, to the lack of focus on those who are leading the body of believers in corporate worship.  The example of worship that we are to follow is lined out for us in Romans 12:1.
“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
We don’t attend church to “get something out” of the message brought by the pastor, the Bible is not for our benefit.  That’s right, you read correctly.  Our pastor made this statement several months ago, and it really got me to thinking about how I had always looked at scripture.  To be honest, it really brought about a totally different perspective on how I need to be reading scripture.  The Bible is not for our benefit, it is for the Glorification of God!  What does this mean?
It doesn’t matter how much music we play or sing, how many programs or activities we organize, how great our choir sounds, how many people we attract because we have such a cool “worship experience,” if our hearts are not tuned into where God is leading us, it is all for naught. If we are not seeking to bring glory to the One who has created us and given us life through His son’s sacrifice, we are nothing but noisy busy-bodies.  I will be taking apart different aspects of our culture’s view of worship as churches and as a society throughout this series.  I have no idea how long it will go on, but I hope you’ll join me for the duration, as well as adding some feedback and opinions along the way.  I always invite any differing opinions on things I say, as it provides a way for me to learn more, and possibly have my perspective changed.  Thanks, and I look forward to continuing this series!
Phillip

The Exciting Finale to the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

In this post, we will be utilizing the imagination sector of your brains as we look at the Corporate mindset of today’s church, so flip the switch on for just a few minutes…thanks!

Imagine this, one Sunday morning you are heading to visit a church you’ve heard some amazing things about from friends at work and just around in general.  As you pull up to the campus, you see an HD Marquee announcing two new worship experience times, immaculate landscaping, gorgeous aquatic features (fountains), and an incredible building complex.  You’ve heard that the entire thing cost in the double digit millions to build, so half of what you came to see was just the structures themselves.  As you walk inside, some guys pull open the doors for you and immediately you are greeted with some information requesting propaganda, and directed to turn it into the offering box as you get a chance.  As you peruse the expansive lobby, you see a bookstore with some of the lead pastor’s books displayed.  After you snoop around there a minute, you walk a little further down and come across the church coffee shop and decide to get a little perk before the service.  As you head into the worship center, you see smoke and lights emanating from the stage area as the band takes the stage to perform a welcome song.  Through the music time, the fog machines continue to run and the band disappears from the stage as the lead pastor enters.  The teaching from the pastor is good, and the band re-enters the stage to some more fog and lights and you leave feeling a little unsatisfied, unchallenged, and unchanged.  Why could this be?  The church has all the elements that we think a church should have to provide an experience worthy of a life to be changed for God.  What’s the problem here?  The problem, in my personal observation and opinion, is that we have exchanged intimacy with Christ, humility in ministry, and the real need for evangelism with the need to entertain a generation.  With the need for being “relevant” to the modern culture, comes the lack of humility in ministry and a loss of the need for evangelism.  Some churches like to disguise the fancy stage and concert atmosphere as evangelism.  I know it sounds an awful lot like I’m pointing my finger at certain churches within this post, but I know the church where I serve is missing on many aspects of effective ministry as well.  Sometimes we let the fact that our churches are experiencing massive growth, which isn’t a bad thing, overshadow the fact that the Gospel and message of Christ isn’t being shared as it needs to be.  Christ never put on a show as He was teaching, the closest thing to a show that He put on was the “Triumphal Entry,” and even that was more about the children praising God and His humble appearance as He arrived into town on a donkey.

Where does this leave the church?  Are we so worried about being portrayed as “cool,” or “awesome,” or “off the hook” that we miss the fact that worship isn’t the band playing music, and everybody having a good ‘ol time at church?  The time at church is for teaching, for fellowship, and for getting deeper into the Word with other believers.  Worship isn’t just an “experience” as some churches have advertised, it is a lifestyle, an everyday ongoing occurrence of our lives to glorify God through our lives.  I think the intentions of these churches that have the bands and stages and elaborate facilities may have started out in the right place.  Francis Chan once said that (and this is a paraquote) if Jesus or Paul started a church in the town where he was, his church would probably be bigger than theirs.  He says this not in a bragging way, but in a way to show that the truth of the Gospel is something that is hard to swallow sometimes, because it is always life-altering and convicting, and we don’t like that.  To be honest, that is all there really is to that conversation.  If Christ were here starting a church in America, would it be this magnificent building with a ton of all the newest stuff?  I feel as though the money that would be used for those things, would be used to help others in the surrounding community.  When we have these extravagant things, even if we do help those around us, we give off the impression that we are in fact worried about the aesthetics as opposed to the ministry of the Gospel.  My encouragement to myself, as well as everyone, is to focus on sharing the Gospel no matter where you are, because a building is just a building that will decay and wither one day.  Christ will not wither, He will not fall away, He is always there when you submit yourself to His will.

We cannot run a church as a business, because it is a ministry.  There can be structure to the fellowship, but rigidity has a tendency to stifle effectiveness due to the lack of flexibility.  On the other hand, if the church is run as though it is and entertainment group, the ministry is put aside then as well amongst the efforts of the church to fit in with the world around it.  There is no perfect church, except the one which all believers and followers of Christ will attend on that Glorious Day, but there is a lot we can do to strive toward the church Christ intended us to be a part of.

This is has been a 3 part series that I’ve been pondering for a while, and I am pleased that many of you have read the posts and some have even followed them.  Please let me know what you think, I am always open to discussion about anything I post. I will not disrespect you or your opinion(s), so don’t worry about all that, thanks for reading!

Read Part 2 HERE.

Read Part 1 HERE.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE CD GIVEAWAY CONTEST! RULES ARE STATED IN THE PRIOR POST, SO GET BUSY!

Part Deux of the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

So the next segment of this series is all about compassion, and where it fits into our lives and churches. Now, I know that compassion isn’t deadly, but the lack of it is, so that’s what I’ll be talking about. As I’m finishing up studying for this evening’s Bible study time with our youth, compassion is something that is irreplaceable in ministry as well as everyday life. Here’s my heart, try not to stab it, hehe.

Compassion is something that I struggle with in my life, both as a believer and as a husband and daddy. I sometimes have this thought that my kids (4,2,6m) should automatically know what’s right and wrong. I have this mindset that the youth I teach and counsel will listen to my “wisdom” from life experiences and avoid doing the things they are doing and walk away from destructive life decisions. Along with those perspectives, I also sometimes think that my amazing wife should just know what I am thinking and expecting without voicing anything. These expectations, when not met, very often create a mentality of no compassion inside my heart when things end up badly. Christ lived a life of compassion, He knew that people were sinners, knew that some would not come to know the saving knowledge of His existence and purpose, and that people would deny Him after they said they loved Him. How did He respond to these things? With grace, mercy, and incredible compassion. One of the key things in my life that I need to improve on is compassion, especially because Christ set the example and standard of compassion. People always pray for patience and things like that, but you can’t have patience without compassion. If you are compassionate with your kids, then the times they go crazy, your patience will be heightened and increased because you understand they are just kids. If I am compassionate with my youth at the church, then my ability to minister to them is increased because I remember that they are still learning, and that I didn’t really apply what I was taught at church until after I was out of high school. As for my wife, well, that’s always going to be a work in progress, especially because I’m usually the offender in that area, I often miss subtle and non-subtle hints, and I pay for them in the end.

As a minister, we are called to be compassionate to those in our congregation and to those in our community around us, irregardless of what they may have done, said, or thought about us. Paul writes about the requirements for ministers in his first letter to Timothy. Among the requirements for overseers(pastors), is the ability to be temperate, self-controlled, respectable. So many times we find ministers who don’t have those characteristics, I believe it is due to a lack of our ability to have compassion on others. Pride is another factor that I have seen that drives congregates away from churches. A pastor or youth minister who is constantly bragging about himself or his accomplishments stands a great chance as being labeled arrogant, and arrogance pushes people away from the church. Christ set the example of humility that we should follow, no matter our position in church, whether every Sunday morning attendees or lead pastor at a church of 900 members. If we are not able to think of ourselves as no better than those who come to be taught, we have no right to be doing the teaching. The very first requirement that Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 3, is that the overseer must be above reproach. Compassion is a necessary characteristic of ministers and followers of Christ, because it comes out of humility, which is a key characteristic of Christ. All that being said, I realize daily that I have a looong way to go to get where I need to be in terms of being an effective minister.

So, to commemorate some compassion I will be giving away a free copy of Shane and Shane’s newest album, called “The One You Need.” I will not lie when I tell you that this album has changed my mindset and perception of my role as a father, and when used in conjunction with the movie “Courageous,” the two will bring you to tears…not even joking.

So here are the rules to the game:

You will have the ability to gain 2 entries.

1) Comment on Part 1, 2, or 3 of the “3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church” series and tell me what you think. (Part 3 will be posted next week.)

2) Post this link by copying and pasting the following text to your Facebook or Twitter account and then leaving a comment telling me that you have shared it: Behindthecross is giving away Shane & Shane’s new album, “The One You Need”. Check it out here! http://wp.me/p1KLvl-H

The deadline for the contest will be next Thursday(Nov.16th) at 11:59pm. The winner will be chosen on Friday by random.org and the winner will be posted on Saturday, the 18th. Comments will be numbered in the order that they are posted, beginning with Part 1 of the series, with the comments on Part 3, being the highest numbers.

I look forward to seeing who wins!

Thanks and God Bless!

Phillip

Part 1 of the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

It has been a bit of time since I’ve updated the blog, seems everytime I get it updated and get ready to post again, life gets itself into a huge busy mess and the blog takes a backseat to the aforementioned life.  So, naturally, since it’s been over a month, there is a lot to update and share.  This is the start of a 3 part series that will have my point of view about conformity, compassion and the corporate mindset of the modern church.  So sit down and buckle in as I spend some time with some things that have been on my heart for a good while.

The first issue I would like to discuss is about conformity.  Everywhere we look in our modern day culture we see the effects of conformity.  From federal laws to entertainment, from school policies to church structure and operation.  Throughout scripture, we are given the example of how to live, how to love, and how to fellowship as a body of believers.  So many times people in our country want to tell the church how to exist, what to say, and what is ok to preach.  The sad thing is, that many churches are falling into the mindset that the only way to get people in the door is to fall in line and just make everyone happy by preaching and teaching what I call “fluffy bunnies and butterfly theology.”  We conform to the point of telling people that Hell is a figurative place, and that a loving God would never send people to a place of screaming, fire, and pure misery.  Well, they are partially right about that, as it’s been said before, God doesn’t send people to Hell, people send people to Hell.  You may be asking what on earth am I talking about.  God created us to worship and glorify Him, but we were also given free will to choose how we will live our lives.  When we choose sin, as Adam and Eve did in the garden, we choose a punishment of death.  Hell is a very real place, people who think that it is not are misleading and misinforming.  It is an unsettling and unfortunate trend to see how many churches are turning toward that mindset.  The only way to avoid this punishment is to believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Christ is Lord and that He was raised from the dead.  Period.  No exceptions.  You can’t be good enough as Jehova’s Witnesses and Mormon’s would have you believe, you can’t have salvation because you were baptized as a baby, and salvation doesn’t come just because you were baptized.  “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift, of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9, these verses spell it out exactly.  When churches won’t even speak the name of Jesus, but instead want to preach about how coming to church and singing songs and having a dandy time are what saves you, we have conformed.  These are the churches who experience exponential growth in short periods.  Joel Osteen is an example of a pastor at a church who has said that Christ is not the only way to Heaven, and in his sermons has said that if you are a christian, you were not meant to live a hard life.  This is what we call the gospel of prosperity, and he has a following of about 6000 members in his church as well as several book deals and televised services each week.  Now, if his ministry was founded on Christ being the only way to heaven, do you think he would be as successful as he is now?  I believe that he would not, and let me explain why I feel this way.  The gospel of Christ will turn some away.  Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 1:18-19, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'”

The thing that these ministries overlook is a pretty big thing; the teachings of Christ.  They like to point out that Christ was compassionate, but they overlook the fact that Christ also kept those who followed Him and believed in Him accountable.  Accountability is something that I see a huge lack of in many of today’s mega-churches.  These churches a lot of times will have small groups that meet throughout the week, but I see the facebook status updates and pictures of those people who were at their small groups on Tuesday, out bar hoppin’ on Thursday and Saturday nights.  Now, before you all start saying “Phillip, are you casting stones?,” let me say that I have no right to judge, but I do have a responsibility to hold those who claim to be believers accountable as Christ did, and I expect no different from those who are believers to hold me accountable when they see me living contrary to the Gospel I proclaim.  The conformity we see now is that of our culture’s norms.  We are urged by Paul, as was the Roman church, to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.  This means to die for the glory of God every day, everywhere, and in everything.  The next part of that verse is to consider that Paul says not to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  What does it mean to be transformed by the renewing of our minds?  We are born with a sin nature, anyone who has kids can tell you that we are born sinful.  Our minds are not focused on what God has for us and we are not trained to look for His guidance in our lives from the time we are born.  We have to be shown, or led to the knowledge of who Christ is, and only when we give ourselves to Him and choose to believe and know that He died for our sins. Once that happens, our minds can be renewed, and then and only then we can discern what His good, pleasing, and perfect will is for our lives.  So, in summation, when we have true salvation in Christ, we will not conform to what our culture says is ok, we will choose to look to the cross for our guidance and wisdom instead of that which comes from our peers.

I know this is a potentially controversial topic in many areas, but the fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t be.  Scripture is very clear about how we are to live our lives, when we decide we don’t like what scripture says, or that we want to pick and choose scripture that meets our needs for each different situation, we are putting God in a box and trying to make Him our pet.  God is God, He is all-powerful, almighty, and we will have no idea what His plans are for our lives unless we seek Him continually and wholeheartedly.

I will be releasing the last two segments of this series within the next week to two weeks, and be sure to be reading because there will be a CD giveaway contained in one of the posts.  Thanks, and God Bless!

Phillip

“Staying true to self” and all the dangers within this mindset

So the last time I updated this was two weeks ago, and as usual, a ton has happened in two weeks.  My baby sister, and twin cousins of triplet birth have started college in San Angelo, Texas, the local 6-man football team has started its season off well, and looks to go 3-0 this Friday night.  My amazing wife, who also happens to be an extremely talented and gifted photographer, has seen a pretty drastic upswing in business, and that accounts for the lack of blog updating as my fingers are too clumsy and wide to update via the iphone app I have.  Our 4-month old son, Levi just had his 4 month checkup today, and is 16lbs 4oz and 26″, pretty much growing a lot, and has broken two teeth through on his bottom gum.  So therefore, I am behind on updating this thing.  The last blog I wrote was on a subject that is fast approaching becoming one of the top foci of the ministry we are involved in at the church we attend.  The topic I will be blogging about today, is a direct descendant of the lack of discipleship in the family and is a product of our sin-filled culture.  So here we go!

“Just be true to yourself, and don’t care about what anyone else has to say or think!” “Imma do me, and dat’s dat!”  “As long as you stay who you are, it doesn’t matter.”  These are some of the phrases I hear a lot from the members of my generation as well as members of the generation after me, with regards to how to live their lives in adverse situations.  Every time I hear these statements and those similar to it, I cringe from the glaring lack of wisdom contained in such commonly adhered-to advice.  If we measure these up to the standards of scripture, we see where they were, and are destined to fail when put into practice.  An example begins in Romans 3:10 where Paul writes “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;” the next part that follows that is 3:23 of Romans “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin is the separation of us from God, He cannot look at sin, and definitely cannot have sin with Him in heaven.  When we have the salvation of Christ’s sacrifice and His blood to intercede for us, our sin becomes forgiven, therefore giving us access to the Father.  With that said, we are born sinful, no one is born without being capable of sin, nor is there anyone who will be able to live without sin in their lives.  So many times I hear people asking “Well, what does your heart tell you?”  Keep in mind Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  When we put our trust into our hearts, and into trying to be true to ourselves, what are we putting our faith in?  Something that is born to do what is opposite of God’s will.  When we are true to ourselves, we are true to our sin.  When we trust what our heart is saying, it’s like saying we’re enjoying the show on a TV screen with nothing but white static and fuzzy noise.  Chaos seems to be a general way of life for so many people because of this, and impulsive decisions made because of this guidance, end up leading to further confusion, and a lot of times end with an individual asking God “Why?”  The first thing to note here, is that if a person is a true believer, there will be no need for them to try and be true to themselves, or seek wisdom from his or her heart, a believer seeks wisdom through prayer.  The chaos that a person feels won’t generally be on the outside, a great deal of the time, this person has things together from the outward appearance.  Nice house, nice cars, good job, good family, pretty much the American Dream syndrome.  While having those things isn’t a bad thing, or even a sin, the condition of that person’s spiritual life may be a huge battlefield, trying to decide whose side to fight on, God’s or the world’s.  Lately, by the standards of our culture and the fruits of the “christians” in our culture, it seems as though Satan may have the upper hand in our country.  I see so many people claim Christ, but are living that lie that John talks about in 1 John ch. 1-2.  We seem to have such a love of what the world has to offer because it is either easier, or makes us feel better when we have tons of stuff.  This is contradictory to 1 John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or anything in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world.  The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  This scripture isn’t saying that we will live on this earth forever, but that our lives, when we live for our heavenly Father, we will live eternally with Him after our time here is done.  The lack of believers to live against the ways of the world has led to this lifestyle.  There is another common theme that I’m seeing more and more every day, and that is the thought that “love wins, and we’ll all go to heaven because God wouldn’t send people to a place like Hell.”  This scares me the most, as there are more and more churches starting to conform to the ways that our society thinks they should be.  Granted, our churches should never turn someone away from coming into the doors to hear about God and His love for us, but when we water the Gospel down to say that everyone will go to heaven, despite their religious beliefs, their sexual orientation, their desire to live in as much sin as possible, we are sending them to Hell with a house-warming gift.  Our society believes that teaching the Gospel of Christ, the standards of God’s Word, are hate crimes, and our churches just shrug their collective shoulders and say “well, I guess we just won’t teach that anymore.”  That is where we have gone wrong, because we have let our society dictate which part of the Gospel is shared, and which standards are upheld, based on the opinions of what the world thinks are acceptable.  Christ loves sinners, hung out with them throughout scripture, but not once did He say it was okay to continue to live in sin, especially to continue to knowingly pursue selfish fleshly desires.  When the world doesn’t like the standards outlined in scripture, and tries to pick and choose what they like to support their views, scripture gets skewed and misunderstood.  This is happening more than people ever want to admit, and is not profitable to the sharing of the Gospel of Christ.  One area that I personally have had to step away from in my life, is politics.  I used to listen to talk radio every day on the way to and from work, watch all the political tickers, catch political shows, and thought I had it all figured out.  When I stepped back and thought about it, the world does not have the interests of God in mind when they make decisions, even many of those who say they are running on their “faith.”  This fact, combined with the attitude that politics bring on, has led me to step back and away from that particular arena.  Maybe one day I’ll find a good balance in things, but as of now, not so much.

In summation, if we truly want to live as Christ did, we have to love, encourage, and share the Gospel of Christ.  When we pursue our heart’s desire, we become led astray as a sheep to the slaughter.  My encouragement to anyone who reads this, is to sit down and read 1 John, and understand the difference between darkness and light in the spiritual sense, and determine where God is leading you by spending time in prayer and seeking Godly counsel.

Where are we failing this generation?

Well, I know that my last blog was put in a long time ago, and that I said it would be over “Being true to myself,” but in the past couple of weeks a lot has happened, and I’d like to share some thoughts on some stuff.

First of all, our vacation at the coast was pretty stinkin awesome!  The whole weekend was great, as we got to visit with friends and family both, gator tail was eaten, and the kids were really great on the the trips to and from Rockport.  The only real meltdowns we had involved apple juice at starbucks, and us not bringing a real dolphin home for Mady.  On our way home, we stopped off in Burnet to see off my sister and triplet cousins for college.  I’m extremely proud of those girls, and am prayerful they’ll have an awesome experience at school, and will succeed in their goals, which I have no doubt they’ll be able to do.  Now, on to what this post is really about…

My wife and I had a discussion on our way down to the coast about something she had heard on the radio.  The radio broadcast was about a study done on the reasons why high school students stopped going to church after they graduated.  There is a documentary on the matter at www.dividedthemovie.com, which you can watch for free, that is one young man’s investigation into this statement.  The numbers that several independent polls and research projects came up with are startling.  43% of students leave church or lose any faith in church between grade school and jr. high.  45% of students lose this by high school, and 10% by college.  Another statistic that was concluded by another study was that 88% of children raised in “evangelical” homes, left the church by the age of 18, never to return.  Where is the disconnect?  This disconnect is the result of a lack of true discipleship of the family by the church body.  So often, we experience great numbers with our children and youth groups in our Wednesday night programs, but when it comes to the parents of these kids and teens, there is no real fellowship.  In the town where I serve right now, we have the problem of what I like to call “The Great Summer Dropoff.”  We will routinely go from 25-30 youth on Wednesday nights to none until about the third week of school.  The catalyst for the numbers to start building back up is usually attributed to the 5th quarters we do after the home football games on Friday nights.  Now, that’s all fine and good when our kids all come back and remember that we’re “open” as one student put it, but consistency is lacking in the attendance department.  Where does this lack of consistency come from?  I used to wonder if I was implementing the right programs at the right times, or if I was chasing the kids off somehow, either by something I’d done or said.  The stigma with church, in our town at least, is that church has become a place for youth to come hang out during the school year and a place to come drop the kids off for an hour or two and get fed for free and stay out of trouble.  Which we are totally glad to be able to provide a place for that, but in the grand scheme of life, we have to understand that the parents of these kids and teens are not being reached.  We have a Monday night evangelism team that goes out twice a month, but that team consists of maybe 3 or 4 people each time we go out.  As one of our deacons, who is a very godly man, said last night “We can change our programs, Sunday School structure, and targets, but if our hearts aren’t changed, these programs will end in the same result as they are now.”  Which is so true, how often do we sit around and wonder where the people are on Sunday mornings?  How about Wednesday nights?  We invited them during the week to come to church with us, but they didn’t come.  What is the reason behind that?  Our churches today have become so focused on the entertainment value of church and have lost sight of the fact that the Gospel of Christ is where the real meat is and where the focus should be.  Until we decide, as a church, that we truly care about people’s salvation, our programs will generate big numbers and small results.

It has to start at home

The above statement is more true than we realize.  A pastor can be the leader of the world’s largest congregation, a youth pastor can be the most effective at his calling, a children’s minister can be the most innovative planner we’ve ever seen, but as great as they are, they cannot replace the most influential person in a child’s life.  Their parents.  Statistics show that if the head of the household, the father, comes to know Christ, the rest of the family will follow.  Why is this?  The father is the designated leader of the family, not in a tyrannical way, but in the example we are given in 1Timothy 3, the overseer of the church is called to manage his family well so his children will obey him (Philliphrased version), as well as other passages in Ephesians that speak of the wife submitting to the husband.  Now, this is not to say that the woman should be subdued and like a dog that’s been beaten as some would like to take that scripture as saying.  In any healthy family dynamic, there will be compromise and discussion of course, but the husband is called to lead that family.  The only way a father can lead a family appropriately is if he is grounded in Christ, and is continuously growing in that walk.  We have to be able to reach these fathers, and help them to guide and lead their families.  In order for that to happen, there has to be mentoring from the older men in the church family.  It is a trickle-down effect of biblical proportions!  To get that started, a lot of times our hearts have to be changed first, then we can move to guiding our programming and structure in a direction of functionality.  I brought this up last night at our business meeting, and all of those who were in attendance seemed to agree with this, and that excites me.  We go out tonight for some evangelism and visitation, and I am prayerful that we will have more than the 3 or 4 there tonight.

The blog on “being true to myself” is coming soon, I may have to make this blog an every Monday thing instead of daily, but I would like it to be more frequent than once a week, but we shall see!  Until next time, have a great week, and seek the Lord in all you do!

Here is the trailer for the “Divided” documentary

Am I missing the wedding banquet?

Howdy!  As I’ve been in the thinking-mode for the past several months, there is something that’s stuck out in my mind as being an incredibly scary thought.  How many of our friends, family, fellow church-goers, and people in general, who claim to know Christ don’t really know Him?  One of the illustrations that Christ used to show this, even back when He was in the flesh, was the Parable of the Wedding Banquet.

Found in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 22, Christ gives the Pharisees, priests, and church-goers an example of what many of them were doing in their lives.  His description of a king preparing a huge wedding banquet and sending out his servants to deliver the invitations, brings to mind the invitation of God for us to join Him in His kingdom, eternally.  The description that follows that is also eerily similar to the rejection of God throughout scripture and our culture.  So many times in history, the prophets sent by God were killed, persecuted, and tortured because of the message they brought forth.  The intended audiences rejected the words of the prophet, many times because of the lack of desire to be accountable for the lifestyles being lived.  As we continue on, we see the king sending servants out again to invite more guests, but again, the invitation is rejected, and the servants killed, tortured, and captured.  At this point, the king then sent his army and destroyed the murderers and destroyed their city.  I can’t help but draw a comparison to the same scenario that occurred with Noah in Genesis chapter 6.  Man had become corrupt, sinful, and in general disregard for God and His commands.  Noah, instructed by God, built the ark and God wiped out all mankind, with the exception of Noah and his family.  Crazy huh?  The next part of the parable has the servants of the king going out to every street corner and inviting anyone who they found to come to the banquet for his son’s wedding, both good and bad people.  When the king entered the hall, he saw a man who was not dressed appropriately for the event, and asked him “how did you get in here without wedding clothes?”  The man had no response, and the king had him bound and thrown into the darkness where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The point of this story is summed up in the final verse of the parable “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What’s the explanation?  Well, to begin with, the invitation to the wedding banquet symbolizes the invitation to salvation through Christ alone.  Everyone has an invitation to the banquet, good, bad, nice, mean, everyone has the invitation.  When we accept the invitation, there are a few things we have to do.  One thing is to let our lives be representative of Christ in our hearts, this is symbolized by the wedding clothes.  When we truly submit to Christ as our savior, we change our lives completely.  There is no remnant of our old lives, and our lives exemplify Christ in all that we do.  Does this mean we will be without sin?  Certainly not, but we will strive to change those things about us that cause us to sin, and cause others to sin as well.  There are so many people who claim to be a christian, but their lives reflect nothing of Christ.  I would like to think that everyone I go to church with is going to be dressed for the banquet, but the sad fact of this, is that there will be at least one or a few that thought they were dressed, but weren’t.  I would like to think that everyone in my family is going to be dressed for the banquet with me, again, I have family who doesn’t know the Lord from the guy down the street.  When Christ says “for many are invited, but few are chosen,” he is not speaking of people being called to ministry, as this verse has been misquoted as meaning so many times, or as the “elect” as it is also used.  It means that there will be people at the gates of Heaven who thought they were saved, thought they were christians, but weren’t dressed for the banquet.  They prayed a prayer, but never made the change in their lives, and never lived the example of Christ.  My encouragement, to anyone who reads this, is evaluate where you are, have you truly surrendered to His will for your life?  Feel free to inbox me after you read this with questions, comments, etc, and any feedback on the blog itself is also encouraged.

The official, unabridged first blog post

Ok, well here I go, starting my own blog that there will likely be very few people reading.  The great thing about this, is that I can post pretty much whatever I want to that is on my mind, and there will be few enough followers and/or readers that it won’t really matter what I put up here, lol.

I guess the first thing I want to talk about on here is the origin behind the name of my blog.  “Behind the Cross” comes from the place where we belong as followers of Christ.  I had an amazing Sunday School teacher as an upperclassman in high school by the name of Joce Dunagan.  One of the things that struck me that she always said during prayer was “Lord, please hide us behind the cross so that they will see you through us.”  From that time on, I decided that was going to be my motto as a believer, to show Christ through the way I lived.  Now, that’s definitely not to say that I’ve shown otherwise in my life, but those words have stuck in my mind since that time.  As we go through this life, our calling is to share the Gospel of Christ and to love and encourage those around us who haven’t experience His grace and mercy firsthand.  The passage of scripture that has stuck with me for a long time is Hebrews 10:23-25, a passage calling us to continue in fellowship with other believers as well as going out and fellowshipping with non-believers so that they may know the grace and mercy of Christ.  I’ll end by posting that passage here:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,  not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”                                Hebrews 10:23-25 NIV

The main purpose of this blog is really to share my heart on things that are near and dear to me.  The majority of them will be about my kids and about ministry and church related topics.  There will, of course, be some politically related conversations here and there (those of you that know me know that I can’t resist that kind of thing).