Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Jan
23

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It’s not unusual nowadays to hear about congregations having to close their doors. We don’t like to talk about it but churches die. Jesus promised in Matthew 16:18 that his church would never die. In that passage, Jesus was speaking of the global church. This means that his church will always exist somewhere and we know this to be true. While churches struggle to survive in Europe and North America, Christianity is exploding in Africa and Asia. Sadly, having to wrestle with when and how to close a church is a reality more and more have had to face in the United States.

No one wants to see a church die. People want to belong to thriving congregations. They want to know there will be a church for their children and grandchildren to attend. The key to saving a church from dying is recognizing the signs of decline before it is too late. Too often, members of a congregation will wait until the church has reached a tipping point before they act. In our day and age, we cannot wait that long. Swift action is required if a declining church is to be saved.

Here are five signs to look for and address so your church doesn’t reach a tipping point.

No Youth – If your congregation doesn’t have any youth, then it doesn’t have a future. Part of God’s plan is for us to instill faith in other generations (2 Tim. 2:2). We are to teach our children to love the Lord (Deut. 6:5-7). Not every child will grow up to be a faithful follower of God, but if an entire church loses its youth, then something has gone wrong. It could be the youth were neglected. It could be the church did not present a healthy Christ-honoring environment for children to be raised. If children grow up in a church that spends more time fighting and bickering than loving and serving, then we shouldn’t be surprised when they walk away. It could be they were never converted to Christ. Sometimes churches will focus all their energy on petty issues and fail to preach Christ crucified. A healthy congregation will welcome children and their parents. They will love them and do everything they can to instill a love for God in them.

No Leaders – The church needs someone to lead them whether it be a group of elders who love the church or a minister who is dedicated to seeing it grow. Without leaders, churches falter and eventually die. If a church has no leaders, it has no direction. A lack of leadership presents an opportunity for toxic individuals to step in and do damage. The void that is left from not having leaders is often filled by an individual or individuals who have no business leading a church. If a church cannot find healthy leaders to guide her and shepherd her, then it should consider other options. Look for another congregation nearby to join. Don’t get caught up in material things or nostalgia. The church is not a building. Buildings are nice, but our mission is not to maintain a building. You will best serve the church under a healthy eldership and if that means leaving a building, then so be it. Churches need to be preparing now for the future. They need to be identifying potential leaders and training them so that one day the church will not be left without good leaders.

No Workers – A church without workers cannot carry out the mission of the church. We are called to go into the world and proclaim the gospel. This means we are called to go into our neighborhoods and community and share the good news. We are called to serve people in need and to be a light to the people around us. A church without workers cannot do these things and is therefore a dying church. There are various reasons why people within a church might refuse to work. Maybe they think they have paid their dues and it is time for someone else to step up. Although retirement is something ingrained in our culture, it is not an idea we find in Scripture. We do not retire from the work of the Lord. We work until he calls us home. It could be that members do not feel called to the work of the church or they are letting other allegiances distract them from the mission of God. Whatever it is, a church without workers will not survive.

No Givers – In Romans 12:8, Paul lists giving among other gifts. The money that a church collects is to be used for the work of the church. The church does not take up a collection to save it or spend it on exuberant items. The church uses these funds to help the poor and spread the gospel. Without generous givers, it makes it more difficult to do the work of the church. It is not impossible, but it will limit what a church can do. God envisioned giving as being a part of the church, so much so that it is listed as a spiritual gift in Romans 12. This does not mean that every church needs wealthy donors. It does mean that every member should be willing to make sacrifices to see the mission of God accomplished. A church that is unwilling to give is a church in danger of dying.

No Growth – The church’s mission is to share the gospel with others. A church that is committed to the mission of God will hopefully welcome new Christians into the fold on a regular basis. Churches who take the mission of God seriously will be attentive to visitors. They will talk to their friends and neighbors about God. They will invite people to worship. Not every church will experience an equal amount of growth, but a church that is not committed to the mission of God will not experience any growth and a church that is not growing is either just maintaining or dying.

Jan
15

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“But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” (Galatians 2:3)

It would be easy for a modern reader to skip over a verse like this one. Circumcision is not a religious issue today. This seems to be a particular problem among 1st-century churches. Why should modern readers care about a 2,000-year-old controversy? Actually, there are some very good reasons why we should care about such an issue.

Bible study at times takes some work. Upon a first reading of the text, it may not be clear why we should care about a circumcision controversy among the churches of Galatia. It seems foreign to us, but after further study, it should become clear that such an issue is quite relevant to our circumstances.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul is opposing a false teaching that said one must be circumcised to be saved. This same issue was addressed at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15. The book of Galatians is about salvation. How is one saved? Are we saved by works of the law (e.g. circumcision), or are we saved faith in Jesus Christ? Paul adamantly denies that a person can be saved by works of the law. He says to teach such would mean that “Christ died for no purpose” (Gal. 2:21).

So then, if we are not saved by works of the law, we should not be circumcised. Not so fast. Titus was not circumcised because he did not need to be circumcised to be saved, but we learn in Acts 16:3 that Paul has Timothy circumcised. The issue is not circumcision. The issue is what one teaches about circumcision. What Paul opposes is anyone who teaches that circumcision is necessary for salvation.

Immediately after Galatians 2:3 which says Titus “was not forced to be circumcised” Paul mentions “our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus.” As long as a person understands that circumcision has nothing to do with salvation, then we have the freedom to be circumcised or not to be circumcised. This same principle applies to many other issues as well. It applies to other aspects of the law. It applies to holidays. We have freedom in Christ!

Most people understand nowadays that the Mosaic law is no longer binding upon us. This is not a salvation issue in any modern church that I am aware of. But, what if someone wanted to follow an aspect of the law without binding it upon fellow believers? What if an individual wanted to follow the dietary laws? What if a congregation wanted to observe a Passover meal? Some Christians might say you can’t do that because we are no longer under that law. Although the law is no longer binding, according to Paul in Galatians, we have the freedom to follow it or not follow it as we please.

The freedom in Christ principle would apply to other issues as well. I cannot say that a person must celebrate Easter to be saved, but neither can a person say it is wrong to celebrate Easter and people should not do it. Our salvation is in Jesus Christ, not in whether we celebrate a religious holiday or not. This idea was certainly shocking to some Jewish Christians in the first century. It is equally shocking to some Christians today because it means our lives and our congregations might look a little different because of this freedom. However, we should not fear this freedom. We should welcome it and always be thankful that Jesus came to give us such freedom.

Jan
09

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The Bible is God’s revelation. This means that God reveals himself and his will in this written word that has been passed down to us. If we want to know God better, then we need to spend time in his word.

People can find the Bible challenging. When reading Scripture, we sometimes encounter words, names, and places that are unfamiliar to us. If you find yourself confused by a passage, know you are not alone. There are things you can do to make your Bible reading more meaningful. Here are a few.

Keep reading – Don’t give up. Press on even if you don’t fully understand what you are reading. Another book or passage might shed some light on the passage you didn’t fully comprehend.

Read it again – Many people don’t grasp the meaning of a passage the first time they read it. They have to read it multiple times before it becomes clear. Try this. Read the passage over and over again.

Read the context – The context can be the first few verses before or after the passage. It can also be the chapter or book it comes from. Context brings clarity. The more you know about the verses near the passage, the better you will be able to understand it.

Use a dictionary – If you are unfamiliar with words in the passage, then don’t be afraid to look them up. If you are struggling with people and places, then invest in a Bible dictionary. Understanding the meaning of a word might make all the difference.

Ask someone who knows – In Acts 8, when Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch if he understood what he was reading he said: “How can I unless someone guides me?” Sometimes we need someone skilled in Bible knowledge to guide us. A conversation with a preacher or teacher might be the boost in your Bible study that you are looking for.

Jan
07

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Refusing to adapt to your surroundings – We live in a rapidly changing society. A neighborhood can drastically change in as little as ten years. If a congregation was established fifty years ago, it is certain the area it serves is quite different from when it was established. This is inevitable and congregations must decide whether they will adapt or die. Will a congregation that was first established to serve upper middle class people adapt to serve the poor and homeless as the area they are located changes? Questions like these must be considered if congregations want to survive.

Allowing the walls of your church to become a fortress – Buildings are nice but they can also be the death of a congregation. A church can become so consumed with its own members that it fails to reach out to its neighbors. The vision of an inward focused church is all about what happens inside the church building. Churches with this mindset can do well for many years, but eventually they will experience the graying of the flock. As the congregation grows older, it will be more difficult to reach out to singles and young families. Decisions made years earlier will lead to the decline of the congregation.

Making it difficult on seekers – An important discussion takes place in Acts 15 regarding what to do about Gentiles who are converting to Christianity. One of the most significant conclusions comes in verse 19 when James says, “we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” All churches need to heed this advice. If churches are not careful, they can create unspoken rules that turn people away. We never want to send the impression that you have to dress a certain way or belong to a certain social class in order to feel welcome at a congregation. We need to make sure we are not requiring more than God requires when it comes to becoming a Christian.

Becoming comfortable with the status quo – Some churches shrink because they get comfortable. Perhaps, many of the members have been Christians for years. They show up to worship and that is it. They don’t want anything to change. They don’t want anyone to disrupt their routine. They like things how they are and they will do whatever they can to protect it. They don’t want to be challenged. They don’t want to start a new ministry. They are a dying church. They just don’t know it yet.

Lack of passion – Life is hard and sometimes people are simply tired and weary. They have tried evangelism before. They have volunteered for more VBS’s than the number of years you have been alive. They have been a part of numerous food programs and friend’s days. It’s all been done before and the drive is all gone. They wouldn’t mind seeing the church grow but there is no passion. We can all understand the challenges life brings, but we must not grow weary in doing the Lord’s work. 

Lead by fear rather than faith – A church will only grow if its leaders lead by faith. Leading by fear will quickly kill a church. Fear cripples. Inaction is often the result of fear. Leaders refuse to do anything or try anything because they are afraid. They may be afraid of failure. They may be afraid of new members and the changes they bring. Growth always creates challenges. Faithful leaders will embrace the challenges. Fearful leaders will find ways to sabotage growth. 

Thinking people will find you – If your growth plan is waiting on people to find you, then you need a new growth plan. Not only is it a terrible plan, it is not the model we find in Scripture. We are called to go. We must reach out to people. We must be proactive. We cannot expect people to find us.

Caring more about traditions than people – Every church has traditions. There is nothing wrong with traditions. In fact, it is impossible to be a church without them. What Jesus condemns in Scripture is our attitude towards traditions. When we value traditions more than people, we are doomed. Sometimes it is necessary to alter a tradition or even get rid of it in order to better reach the people around us. This is not easy because we grow fond of our traditions, but it is an essential attitude for Christians. People are always to be valued over traditions.

Dec
09

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Likely, you have never heard of Franz Jagerstatter. This unfamiliarity with the central character is where the newest film by Terrence Malick gets its name. It is taken from a quote by George Eliot.

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

For anyone familiar with the films of Terrence Malick, the style of A Hidden Life will be quite familiar. It is a film with spectacular cinematography and sparse dialogue. Like some of his other films, it is a work of beauty that demands careful attention from the viewer.

A Hidden Life presents the story of Franz Jagerstatter an Austrian citizen who opposed World War II and refused to take the Hitler Oath. The reason for his opposition was religious and this is made clear in the film. Stories like Jagerstatter’s are incredible, but they are not unique. There are others like his. People view these stories in different ways. If a major studio in Hollywood was given this script, it would likely become the next Hacksaw Ridge. This is because stories of heroism are wildly popular. Thankfully, Malick resists the urge to sell lots of tickets and chooses instead to reflect on why someone would choose to become a martyr.

Rather than heroism, the focus of A Hidden Life is on faithfulness. Because of this, it is one of the most Christian films one will see. Like the writings of Bonhoeffer, whose life had several things in common with Jagerstatter, it asks us to count the cost of discipleship. Although the dialogue is sparse, it is purposeful. Every sentence is packed with meaning. This is clear in one line from the film reflecting on the status of Christians. “We create admirers. We don’t create followers.” The dialogue in A Hidden Life is not there just to fill space. It is there to penetrate hearts and minds and cause people to reflect on their own lives.

For some, A Hidden Life may be a challenge to take in since it is unlike most films. It is long. It is not filled with action or dialogue. It is not designed for people with short attention spans. Instead, it is a work of art that must be contemplated. It is not just the content of the film that is counter-cultural, it is the film itself. In a busy world that seeks to distract us every second, A Hidden Life invites us to turn off our phones and pay attention to the beauty that is right in front of us.

 

Oct
28

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Your response to Kanye West’s new album says more about you than it does about Kanye.

It is not as surprising as people think that Kanye has made an explicitly Christian album. Hip hop probably includes more references to God, Jesus, and Christianity than any other modern genre of music. Kanye has rapped about his faith in the past.

Kanye has undergone a major transformation within the last year. This is evident in the interviews he has done and in the lyrics of his new album. What happened? In a way, Kanye’s life mirrors the lives of many others. He had no problem talking about Jesus before but his life did not reflect that of a Christian. He was saying one thing and doing another. Now, he is all in. Jesus has taken hold of him. This is the danger of living in a “Christian nation.” Some of us embrace a cultural Jesus that is powerless and has no effect on our lives. We are not truly saved/transformed until we encounter the risen Christ.

There are so many great lines from the album, but here is one we should pay attention to. Kanye is one of the biggest artists in the world and he has announced he is going to do nothing but Christian music from now on. One would anticipate the world being very critical of this decision just as they were when Bob Dylan did a similar thing in the 1970’s, but Kanye is not worried about what the world thinks. He is worried about what Christians think. He correctly anticipates that some Christians will not take his conversion seriously and judge him for it. What does this say about us? Whenever someone does something like what Kanye has done, we should be the first to rejoice.

Said I’m finna do a gospel album
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me
Told people God was my mission
What have you been hearin’ from the Christians?
They’ll be the first one to judge me
Make it feel like nobody love me

Kanye takes on the culture of our day in Closed on Sunday. The poets were prophets and Kanye is offering a prophetic word to the masses. I everyone is listening.

Closed on Sunday, you’re my Chick-fil-A
Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A
Hold the selfies, put the ‘Gram away
Get your family, y’all hold hands and pray
When you got daughters, always keep ’em safe
Watch out for vipers, don’t let them indoctrinate
Closed on Sunday, you my Chick-fil-A
You’re my number one, with the lemonade
Raise our sons, train them in the faith
Through temptations, make sure they’re wide awake
Follow Jesus, listen and obey
No more livin’ for the culture, we nobody’s slave

Included in one song is a prayer. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to learn of people from all over the world praying this prayer?

Jesus, flow through us
Jesus, heal the bruises
Jesus, clean the music
Jesus, please use us
Jesus, please help
Jesus, please heal
Jesus, please forgive
Jesus, please reveal
Jesus, give us strength
Jesus, make us well
Jesus, help us live
Jesus, give us wealth
Jesus is our safe
Jesus is our rock
Jesus, give us grace
Jesus, keep us safe

There are many dark and evil things in our culture. Kanye’s album is a light. It is something to be celebrated. I hope and pray it will point people to the true King of kings and lives will be transformed, not because of Kanye, but because of Jesus.

Oct
22

Spring Plant Sale-2

Oct
10

As Christians, we must have a working knowledge of the story of God. It is essential to questions of identity. We must know who we are and where we fit in the story. It is equally important that we be able to explain why the world is the way it is and what God is going to do about it. Knowing the story of God gives us hope. We long for the next chapter in the story. We also need to possess this knowledge so we can tell others. The story of God is good news, and everyone needs to hear it.

Although the Bible is a big book comprised of many smaller books and letters, the story of God can be summed up rather simply. There are six movements we should be able to identify. It begins with CREATION. God created and everything was good. After creation, the humans that were placed in the garden of Eden sinned. We refer to this as THE FALL. The introduction of sin into the world explains why the world is the way it is today. Next, God calls Abraham and promises to make a great nation from his descendant. This is the story of ISRAEL. God has a plan to address the sin problem that is wreaking havoc on the world. Through Israel, comes the Messiah, JESUS. He is the Son of God and dies on the cross for the sins of the world and then overcomes death by being raised from the grave three days later. Jesus begins a new community of people called the CHURCH. These followers of Jesus are to continue his ministry on earth. Finally, Jesus will return one day to right all wrongs and the people of God will dwell with God in the NEW HEAVENS AND NEW EARTH. There will be no sin, death, sickness, etc. Everything will be as it should be. This is the story of God!

May we commit this story to heart so that we may be encouraged by it and share it with others. May it fill us with hope as we anticipate the return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Oct
09

How to Leave-2

Sep
30

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