The Difficulty in Obedience

In the past month, our student ministry has studied the first three Psalms. We went a little out of order by studying Psalm 3 before the first two, but often I’ve found that God uses His Word and the randomness of my mind to go through some awesome studies with our students. In conjunction with our pastor teaching through the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” study, the first three psalms have been an awesome springboard into equipping our students for taking the gospel to their friends. I’m so grateful for God’s Word and His providence in so many different ways in our lives. All three psalms contain such a similar focus that encourages us to look to God for our all. The choice is presented clearly for us to make, the result of choosing unwisely is described, and the encouragement to seek refuge in our Almighty God is exemplified by David.

We are constantly surrounded by choices, all day er’day, as some of my students like to say (and I have been known to mutter). Psalm 1 presents us with two choices that we have to make. Psalm 2 shows us how nations and leaders tend to think when God is removed from the guiding hand. Psalm 3 shows a king running for his life from his own son’s desire for power. In all three psalms, the choice was available to go with what is easy (Psalm 1), accepted culturally (Psalm 2), and to completely shut down in fear (Psalm 3). Being obedient means making the really frustratingly tough choice sometimes, and in each of these first three psalms the choice seems pretty clear to make. The fact of the matter though, is that the choice can be incredibly hard. We’ll look at why each choice is hard to make, and where we can find encouragement in the midst of the decision making process.

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father.[/cryout-pullquote]When it comes to our day to day choices, nothing gets us more discouraged than when our choices may mean we might lose some friends. Peer pressure in the form of losing compadres has been, in my experience, the leading cause of students and even adults to fall back into a life of disobedience. Let me clarify again that obedience to God is not obeying to avoid punishment to the Christian. Jesus doesn’t stress us following a checklist to stay out of hell, He stresses a relationship with a loving, heavenly Father. In Psalm 1, we see the result of choosing the temporary, easy way of living. When we live this way and forgo following Jesus, we cannot claim allegiance to Him. James addresses this very topic in James 3:9-12. In the study of “Becoming a Contagious Christian,” the statement of our lives being a sermon to the world brought about a change in perspective for me. Was/Am I preaching a consistent and authentic sermon with my life? Are the words that I speak matching up to the actions that I take part in? This is where the difficulty comes in for the personal choice, is the sacrifice worth the reward? In my life, I’ve found that the reward is more than worth the sacrifice that may come as a result of that choice. This is because I have the hope and joy in Christ because of my relationship with Jesus. Without that relationship, the struggle can, and usually  will, be almost impossible to make. When I see my students and peers struggling with what choice to make, I try to encourage them to spend time in prayer and seek Godly counsel and wisdom before making a choice. Sometimes that advice is heeded, others it is not. My constant prayer is that our students, peers, and I will make a decision to honor God over self.

Psalm 2 addresses the nations and leaders dishonoring God and basically saying He is “cramping their style.” We see the result of this as well, and it is not pretty. We also see that our nation, along with many other nations are taking a cultural road away from God’s design. God laid out what His expectations for life were, and our world has deemed it to be a restrictive way to live and shunned the wisdom behind those standards. The result of this has been, from the beginning of humanity, death and destruction. Our desire to be our own god has led to nothing but misery. There may be temporary happiness and satisfaction tied into living for ourselves, but there is no true joy present. The feeling of satisfaction doesn’t happen until we’ve relinquished control of our lives and chosen obedience to Jesus. Until leaders of a nation turn back to Christ for guidance, there will be no return to morality in a government. Before leaders of a nation turn back to God for guidance, the people in that nation need to get on their knees and seek God on behalf of those leaders. Not that we will change their minds, but that the Holy Spirit will work on the hearts of those who are in authority over us. No matter how much we don’t like a political party or individual, we are subject to their leadership because our fellow citizens elected them, and that leadership needs to be bathed in prayer! So many of my fellow Christians spend so much time criticizing and bashing the leaders they “don’t approve of” that they seem to forget that these men and women are in need of a Savior just as much as they themselves are. There are certainly stinkers in every single political party and corner of national leadership, and that should motivate us to pray for them instead of attacking them! Take heart, friends, the Lord can do amazing works in and through anyone! Even if our country doesn’t turn back to God for guidance, we still retain that hope and certainty that our relationship with Jesus brings!

Psalm 3 addresses David fleeing from his own son! Some of us have been betrayed, and it is an absolutely heart and gut wrenching feeling. How many of us, though, can say that our lives were legitimately threatened by our own flesh and blood? Some can certainly say that, but the majority of us, I’m guessing, cannot. In the face of absolute terror from his own son, David didn’t turn to alcohol, women, gambling or any of these other distractions that humans tend to turn to when we are scared, he turned to God. He turned to the One who he knew could and would take care of him. He obeyed what he knew to be true in his own life, that his God would deliver him. Having this faith, akin to the faith that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had in Daniel 3, that no matter what the outcome of the situation was, his true hope was in the salvation he had through his relationship with God. When we pursue that relationship, we have the hope and knowledge that we can live in confidence of our eternity.

The difficulty in obedience comes when we worry about the outcome of life. But I’ll leave you with a passage that continually encourages me in the midst of the storm of this life. Jesus is giving the disciples a heads up as to what is to come in John 16, and has told them that He will soon be gone and that the Holy Spirit will be coming. His final words in this chapter are so powerful, and evoke such a joy in my heart.

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:29-33

 

6 things that keep me up at night in ministry…

I’ve had the privilege of working with middle school and high school students since mid-2009. There are so many different things that I get to experience that make me wonder why God saw fit to choose me for this particular calling, but I try to never complain about His decision to do so. That being said, among all the rewards for being in vocational ministry, there are still some things that keep me up at night and I figure I might as well share some of them with you. My prayer is that this is an encouragement where needed, and that maybe you’re in ministry too and you lose sleep on occasion because of some of the same things I do but felt like you were alone in that.

sleepless

6. Am I teaching these students in a way that they grasp the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
I know that when I study for a lesson I try my best to put what I learned from studying into words that will illuminate what it means to grasp the Gospel of Jesus. The hardest part for me to remember isthat nothing I can say will change a life if the Holy Spirit isn’t the inspiration for the words. I also have to remember that sometimes words just don’t have the capacity to describe what the Gospel is, and that’s tough for me. I’m a fixer and I hate when I can’t fix something.

5. Do I have the faith to quit trying to fix things and let the Holy Spirit work?
Sometimes I have to sit back and realize that I’m not the best at something. Although this point has been driven home many times in many different ways, the realization of it being true is difficult to accept. This is an issue that stems from my personal life as well. So many times I’ve tried to figure out how to fix a situation before praying and asking guidance from God. So many times when we look at Paul in scripture, he is seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit. Not only is he seeking guidance, but he is also encouraging and advising others to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 8:26 being one such instance)

4. Am I doing enough to encourage these students in their walk with Jesus?
In looking back at my youth, I see so many of my peers who have walked away from even thinking about attending church. I’ve seen several who felt called to ministry who gave up on that calling soon after surrendering to it. I don’t want the students I’m charged with teaching, mentoring and ministering to being the next wave of students who walk away to never look back. My desire is to see them be a difference for God’s kingdom in their generation. For that to happen though, I have to first be faithful to the calling I’ve been given. Secondly, I have to stop trying to coddle them and let them grow some legs and stand on them. I can’t make these students do what I think they ought to, I have to have faith they’ll follow the calling God has placed in their lives.

3. Am I setting the example of being a servant before being a leader?
This is the question that gets some of the most play in my head during the day and night. I see so many guys writing books on being the best leader, the most effective leader, the greatest leader. A good deal of these guys are writing about how to be the best CEO of their ministry. I was looking at a conference to go to that was geared specifically for youth pastors this fall, and every single speaker that was attending the conference was a CEO or something similar to that position in a wildly successful secular company. Now, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those who are business-minded and organized and super driven, they keep the wheels turning. The problem I see with this is that too many ministers are worrying about being a CEO and not the janitor of the ministry. If we aren’t willing to serve those around us, can we be effective in ministry? I don’t want students to ever ask me if they’re getting paid to do work on mission projects. I say that in jest, but I’ve been asked that before and it really got me to thinking. We eventually had to cancel those projects because students didn’t want to participate if they weren’t being paid. The realization that I came to was that I wasn’t focusing enough on the characteristics of Jesus, who came to serve and not be served.My goal is to find ways to promote this mindset and encourage serving our fellow man/woman/boy/girl in an effort to walk as Jesus. Unfortunately, I don’t think having a CEO mindset is one of the ways we can do that because we are called to a relationship with Jesus and therefore we are called to a relationship with other followers of Jesus.

2. Am I ministering to my family at home as much as I am ministering to my family at church?
I have the opportunity to be the youth pastor at the church where I am currently employed. Along with that, I get the privilege of leading the musical portion of our worship services on Sunday mornings. This is an area where God is stretching me to my limits. Prior to being called to our current church, I was a volunteer as the youth pastor and filled in on occasion for my father-in-law on Sunday mornings when he was out of town or sick. My level of responsibility went up a few notches when we were called here, and I’m incredibly blessed to have this opportunity. Along with that though, I’m having to adjust how I manage myself around the time that I have during the day. One of the most difficult has been to make sure that I still spend time at home with my lovely bride and our 3 crazy awesome kids. I have found myself at times focusing more on what was going on at the church and in my office than what I had going on at home. I have to make intentional efforts to spend more time focusing on ministering to my own kids and wife than I have, and that can be tough for me because I am not a multi-tasker.

1. Am I practicing what I preach?
This is the thought that haunts me every night. Like everyone else, I sin. If I said I didn’t, I  would be called a liar. Am I being consistent with what I’m teaching my students? Am I loving everyone as Christ teaches us to? Are my words edifying and encouraging to everyone I talk to? Are my words indicative of my relationship with Jesus? Is my life a reflection of the one who took my sins and gave me a chance to spend eternity with God the Father? Unfortunately, I can’t always answer those questions with “yes.” The beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins though, is that I have an advocate to speak for me when I repent of those sins. This doesn’t give me license to act like an idiot, but it does give me the chance for redemption upon repentance.

What are some things that keep you up at night?

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

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