Sunday, April 24, 2016

What the Heck Did I Just Do?

Are you an "Evangelical"? In a recent article, Christianity Today provided four defining characteristics to help you to know. Today I’d like to focus on the second defining characteristic.  Number two states:

"It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior."

Based on that one, I might be in trouble!

Truthfully, that one scares me a bit, but not in the way you'd expect. I am not afraid to tell anyone about Jesus. That's actually pretty easy...and often completely ineffective and in my view, mostly pointless in today's post-Christian culture.

When I was a "church guy”, one of the things we were often challenged to do was to “share” our faith. That basically meant, get out there and ask people, "If you died today, where would you spend eternity?" This was followed up with a bit of "You're a sinner", "You're going die and go to Hell", and finished with, "Now, pray this prayer and ask Jesus into your heart so you won't split Hell wide open"...and it NEVER really produced any real fruit.

Oh yeah, I had a few "lucky"souls pray that prayer, but looking back, I wonder what in the world were we really doing? Honestly, I have to believe anyone we "reached for Jesus" had to be left with a large dose of "What the heck did I just do?"

So, what do you think?  Is that really what it means to “encourage non-Christians” with the Gospel?  I just don’t think that was ever our Lord’s plan.

It all reminds me of some kind of twisted arranged marriage.  “Okay my daughter, we’ve decided we know what’s best for you, so here’s the boy you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.  The wedding is Saturday…congrats!"

I’m just not convinced that’s a recipe for life-long marital bliss.  Where’s the romance?

Indeed, I’d say the same thing of our approach to “winning” people to Jesus…what about the romance?

I don’t care how many or few steps your particular method of evangelism uses, if there’s no romance, there’s no love!  No love…no relationship…no relationship…NO ANYTHING!

At the end of the day, what does it really mean to be a child of God?  For me it means knowing Him, and better yet, knowing that He knows me!  Sure, I’m a card carrying “get out of Hell free” club member, but that’s NOT what holds me steady when life turns upside down and inside out.  Only His love can do that, and if all people ever experience is a cold, “Here’s Jesus, now pray to Him so you don’t burn in Hell” presentation, they will completely miss the heart of the Gospel!

Isn’t it about time we quit “encouraging non-Christians to trust Jesus as their Savior”, and instead started sharing with them His unfathomable grace and love?

Friends, the world is gagging on the "religion" of Christianity, and they’re weary of our loveless, “chalk up another one for Jesus” approach.

Bottom line:  True evangelism starts with love, ends with love, and always shares the joy of knowing the one who loves the unlovable.

So, am I an “evangelical”?  I guess that would depend on who you’re asking, Christianity Today…or Jesus.

What about you?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Eating Mud Pies with Mr. Hyde!

Disclaimer: I am a man on a journey, a journey to walk with the King who called me to be His child, and I often lose my way. You may disagree with some or all of what I'm about to share, but that's okay. I am where I am, but...

So are you

I have no doubt; every Christian on the planet, including me, deeply desires to do the "right thing". We thirst to be the "good guys" of this world, lights shining in a dark place! In fact, it's in our reborn DNA to be holy and faithful, and yet, we all fail each and every day. Yes, the old "dirt skirt" aka. flesh is always working overtime to drag us through the mud of life, and more often than not, we are quite glad to oblige!

I have ministered to crowds of people with a genuine heart on Sunday, and then like some kind of twisted "Jekyll and Hyde", turned around and sinned my heart out on Monday. I know, that was very "hypocritical" of me, and indeed, this up and down, back and forth courtship with sin continues to drive me completely insane! Why? Why am I so easily swayed by certain sins? Why can't I just break free?

Ever been there? I'm figuring your answer is yes.

For years, I listened to sincere brothers stand behind pulpits challenging me and others to "rise up" and "defeat sin". "Do not sin!" Seems so obvious and simple sitting there in the pew, but once you're out the front door, it can be a bit "challenging".

I'm going to say something here a bit controversial, but I really believe it's true.

Honestly, I just don't think being "sinless" this side of Heaven is possible for us. I do believe we are fully accepted/forgiven, but sin is of this world, and for now we are stuck here in bodies that crave the stuff. If you disagree, I would challenge you to find someone other than our Lord that has ever lived a sinless life. Of course, you will not, and therefore I must assume I am correct. Still, does that mean we are doomed to be enslaved to our sin nature? I don't think so.

As I've searched the scriptures for a "fix", a final solution to defeat this thing called "sin" in my life, I have found only this to be true: The closer I get to Jesus, the less I sin. The less I sin, the happier I am. In fact, I have found when I am truly focusing on my Savior, I rarely even consider sin. I do still fail, but I'm able to move on quickly in light of His grace and strength.

No, I did not quote a scripture there, but there are plenty in the Book that will back those statements up.

I say all that to say this: I know sin is terrible. I hate it, and I'm certainly not condoning it in any way, BUT I know Christ Jesus has set us free from its power over us. We sin, but He is always there to set us aright with grace and mercy. Of course, we absolutely do not deserve it, but that's what makes Him so incredible! In fact, I just don't think Jesus is keeping score in regards to our failures, but I believe He hurts to see His kids struggle, and wants us free.

Can we sin less? Yes indeed! Like I said, focusing on Jesus makes that possible, but the key (at least for me) is that when we do fail, we know we will still be accepted and loved, and can walk in the freedom of knowing He does not condemn us. I know...makes no sense to me either.

Is that a free pass to sin? Well, in a way, we are completely free to sin, but if you are a believer, you know it will only bring torment, denying you of any peace or happiness. So yeah, we can eat the mud pies all we want, but they will never taste good!

Bottom line (at least for me this morning): When I sin (and I do all the time), I must continue to cling to the one who clings to me knowing I am loved and cared for despite my failings. My guilt and shame demands that I run and hide. Jesus beckons me to come to Him, and I know that is the only place of healing.

So will I sin today? Unfortunately, I think it is likely. The question is, then what? My only answer to you and to myself...put down that mud pie, and run to Jesus!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

If you find grammatical errors, do not point them out lest you become cursed with "the fever"...and DIE!  

You have been warned!

“So Ken, you still serving the Devil and laying out of church?”

Well, I haven’t exactly joined the dark side or anything, but yeah, I’m still kicking it with the slackers.

In fact, it’s been almost five years since I walked away from the institution many call “church” and believe it or not, I feel fine.  Still it hasn’t been all roses and sunshine, not by a long shot!  In fact, there have been more than a few moments that I felt as if I had somehow really screwed up!

Honestly, when I first made the decision to “walk away” I was scared, really scared.  I definitely remember feeling a little like Alice in Wonderland.  “Down the rabbit hole” I went, into the unknown with a heck of a lot more questions than answers.

The first year was pretty easy, I spent a lot of time searching for a better way, of “doing church”.  After all, it only made since (at least to me) that God obviously had brought me out of the chaos in order to find a fix.  Yes, I would somehow chart a new course for God’s children, I would find a “magical” new way of doing things, and this time…it would work splendidly!  I read books, listened to endless “on the edge” podcasts, and prayed spectacular prayers in which I assured God I knew exactly what I was doing.  All of this only to end up with a boat load of frustration and anger.  Back to square one and back down the rabbit hole I slid!

Yes, feel free to laugh, because despite my grandiose visions of grandeur, “fixing” church was obviously not God’s plan for me. 

Round 2

When I finally came to terms with the fact that God was probably not calling me to be a new and improved version of Moses, I decided maybe my calling was to wickedly bash and with a little luck, destroy the institution of church.  If I couldn’t fix the mess, I would work hard to indoctrinate others with my “church sucks and here’s why” message.  “Oh Yes”, I thought.  That would do nicely.  DESTROY church!  What a fantastic idea! (sarcasm).  Of course, we all know how edifying to one’s soul it can be when bitterness and slander are allowed to saturate the human heart…(more sarcasm).  Oh yes indeed…more pain…more sorrow.  By the way, before you pick up the nearest stone to let me have it for this treachery, consider this:  Wounded people sometimes do crazy stuff in an attempt to ease their pain.  Just a thought.

Don’t die of surprise here, but I soon found out that few people if any actually gave a rip about my “let’s burn all the churches” message, and for the most part, I was nothing more than a sad annoyance to be pitied and disregarded. 

Many of my former “church friends” declared me “bitter” and “backslidden”.  I was branded a turncoat traitor by some and a blasphemous heretic by others.  All in all, it was a really good time for me (again…sarcasm).  At the end of my little stint as the Devil’s wingman, I again found myself full of hurt, anger, and confusion.  Truly I was ready to throw in the towel with this God who claimed to love me, and yet for some unknown reason, decided to drop me off in the desert without a drop to drink.  I was tired.  I was weary, and I was worn out with this messy thing called Christianity…and before I knew what was happening, I felt that old familiar feeling, back to my old digs.  You guessed it…”the rabbit hole”…joy!

So there I sat, and sat, and sat some more.  I’m not quite sure when it hit me, but at some point I started to consider this question:  What if God, the God who made me, the God who knows me better than I know myself, what if this God who called me to be His kid knows what He’s doing, and actually wants me in “the rabbit hole”.  Maybe like Martha, I needed to slow down a minute and just….b-r-e-a-t-h-e.
Now I’m not going to lie here.  It’s not like the sun broke through the clouds or anything and angels began to sing, but slowly, I started to get it…at least a little.

Today, I have come to terms ( least most days) with the whole idea that God is in charge and He alone plots our course in this life.  Sometimes we’re walking on the mountain top, sometimes we’re “chillin” in a “rabbit hole”.  Either way, “Daddy God” (religious people get ticked when you talk about God that way) always gets to decide when and where we’ll stop the car to pee and there’s not a whole lot a kid can do from the backseat….but that’s okay.  “Just enjoy the ride son”, oh yes, I can hear Him say it even now.

My focus?  Folks, I’m just trying to relax in the greater joy of simply trusting that the Father has a plan and I don’t have to understand it.  Of course I do get frustrated at times, but more and more I am beginning to accept the idea that being clueless is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the one calling the shots likes you a lot.

With that, I wanted to share 5 quick insights with you regarding what one can expect if and when God calls you out into the wild lands of the unknown (aka. walking away from church).

1.        If you quit going to “church”, the Church will probably not get it.  In fact, some may accuse you of many wonderful things such as being overcome with anger, bitterness, or just wanting a free pass to sin your little heart out.  Everything you say will be refuted, so do not waste your time trying to explain your position…they won’t get it…but that’s okay.  Your Father does.  All that matters is that you are sure God has called you out, and if that’s so, you can rest in the knowledge that He has a plan for you.  So, let ‘em talk all they want!  Like Abraham, sometimes you just have to follow God into the unknown regardless of the naysayers!

2.       Once you leave, do not expect to get a lot of phone calls or letters of encouragement.  Bottom line:  You left, you obviously have problems, and nobody has time to fool with…a fool, or at the very least a heretic.  “Get your crap together, repent, and then you can come back!”  Otherwise, prepare to snuggle up with Mr. Lonely for a while you dirty, dirty sinner.  Sound bad?  Not so much.  The good news is that God will lead you to people who will really love and care for you regardless of where you may be in your journey.  That may take a little time, but that’s okay.  Besides, those folks you used to warm pews with probably never really liked you much anyway, so no worries!

3.       Don’t freak out if things get really, really quiet.  The fact of the matter is this; the process of “dechurchification” (my term…and I love it!) can take quite a while.  It might feel incredibly strange to all of the sudden have zero to do, but God knows what He’s doing.  One of the problems with the whole “let’s stay busy for the glory of God” spill is that it leaves you with little time to just sit, soak, and listen.  If you have spent any time at all in the old “church spin cycle”, you know, run till you die, it will likely take the Holy Spirit some time to untangle the mess.  So, learn to chill out and know that God is working amidst the silence!

4.       This one is a tough, especially if you’ve been hurt by “church” and or “church” people.  DO NOT HIT BACK!  I know, many of you may view this very posting as kind of a shot across the church bow, but honestly it’s not.  The reason you likely see it that way is you are seeing it from a different perspective than those who have chosen to step away from what you view as being super awesome, i.e., church.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am not a fan of the programs, committees, meetings, counsels, boards, services, and other nonsense that goes on in some “churches”, but those of “the Church” that choose to engage in this stuff are still family, and we gotta love the family.  So, if they say you’re a nut…or worse, don’t hit back.  If God called you out and you know that deep in your heart, that is enough.  If there’s any “tail whippin” to be done (Yep...I’m Southern), He can handle it.  Again, let ‘em talk!

5.         I could go one, but I’ll stop with this.  If God has indeed called you to leave “church”, you’ll likely feel some degree of fear, so remember this.  If the God of the universe who made you, me, and every tree (hey…that rhymes!) was capable of calling you into a relationship with Him when you were a lost jerk head, He is more than capable to sustain a vibrant and living relationship with you regardless of where you are on the journey.  Bottom line:  He will not abandon you, nor do you have to fear losing even a smidgen of His love and grace just because you are now traveling a different path.  There were times I feared that very much.  “What if all this is indeed just me being difficult?”  “What if I lose my way?”  Questions like that assaulted my mind for a long time, but then I realized He is faithful.  If He said it, He will do it.  If He spoke it, He will bring it to pass.  At the end of the day friend, this journey, your journey, is really His journey.  Do not be afraid.  The one who called you is your Father and He knows the way…

Even if that takes you…“down the rabbit hole”.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Turn or Burn You Dirty Sinner!

If you want to keep a guy from jumping off a bridge, please don’t try to stop him by just telling him it will hurt if he jumps.  Also, I doubt saying, “Go ahead and jump, but you’ll die a HORRIBLE death sucker” is going to help much either!  In other words, stating the obvious, especially in a rather mean spirited manner isn’t much of a deterrent to a desperate soul who is likely just seeking help.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to convince the jumper of all the incredible reasons he has to live?  Speak life…not death!

I’m not going to drone on and on about the subject I have chosen to speak on today, but know this:  Jesus loves people and expects His kids to show love to others.  I do not recall the Lord ever saying,
“Do all you can to shame those sorry, dirty sinners into repentance.  If that doesn’t work, just scare the bejeebers out of them with some mean-spirited clich├ęs slapped across your church signs”

Two times this week, I’ve driven by local Dalton churches that somehow decided it was a great idea to share the following message on their sign:

“How do you like your eternity?  Smoking or non-smoking?”

Honestly, I felt like throwing up! Are you kidding me?  I find it to be incredibly nauseating knowing that any group of believers would stoop to that level of manipulation and so mindlessly paint such a villainous picture of “the Church” and Christianity.

I can hear people now, “Yeah Ken, but that’s true!  If they don’t turn…they’re gonna burn!”

I will not deny it.  That is true, BUT good grief people, is that the “good news” message of the Gospel Jesus called us all to share?

“Hey guys, listen up.  I’ve got some good news for you.  If you don’t turn from your rotten sin, you’re going to Hell and will burn forever!”

THAT…is NOT good news.  THAT, is only part of the story, and NOT the best part at all!   
The problem with the “Hell’s waiting for you sucker” message conveyed on these signs is it only speaks of the end result of dying in one’s sin, and NOTHING of God’s grace, love, or His amazing remedy for our sin condition through His son.  Not only that, it absolutely gives off a “We Christians are good, but you suck” attitude.

Jesus came to set the captives free!  His coming was nothing less than a rescue mission put into motion by a merciful Father that wants no one to perish!  In fact, let’s just look at one of the fundamental scriptures used throughout history in conveying the “good news” of the Gospel to the world.

Jesus said it this way in the book of John, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”

Now THAT is good news!  Thank God indeed that Jesus didn’t approach the lost with the same insensitivity that we do!  Read the book folks!  The lost loved the guy!  He was awesome and they wanted to be around him!  These sinners knew He cared.  They felt a genuine sense of love and compassion emanating from him and THAT SINCERITY OPENS DOORS EVERY TIME!

And what about our, “Hey buddy, go ahead and jump cause no one cares” message?

All I can say is this:

One day we will all give an account for our words, attitudes, and actions.  My fear is that many of us will be shocked to find out much of what we considered to be “evangelistic” was in reality nothing more than. . . .


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Discipleship: Hey, How The Heck Does This Thing Work?

A man wanders off into the desert and soon becomes lost.  For days, he travels in the direction he is sure will lead him back home.  Unfortunately, each additional step only brings about the certainty that he is hopelessly lost with no clue of how to escape his dilemma. 

The outlook is grim.  No water, no food, no shelter, and no idea what to do next.  A terrible sense of despair begins to consume the man as he realizes without help, he will likely succumb to this harsh environment in the not too distant future.

Just when all hope seems to be lost, a figure appears in the distance.  The figure is walking in his direction.  Could it be?  Are his eyes playing tricks on him?  Eventually the person makes his way to the man and announces he has come to help.  Overjoyed, the man grabs hold of the ragged figure and hugs him tight.  Finally, rescue has come.  Soon the man will be home with his family again.

“So, which way do we go to get out of this horrible desert”, the man asks. 
The stranger replies, “Oh no dear friend, you must discover that for yourself”.
The man, now very confused responds, “But, I thought you were here to help?”
“Oh I am, indeed help is what I bring”.  Slowly the stranger pulls out a small bag.  “Inside this bag is a machine that will give you everything you need to survive in this desert.” 
“But why can’t I just follow you out of this desert?” The man replies. 
“Oh, I have no time for such things.  I must be on my way.  More lost souls, more machines to give out”.  The stranger hands the man the bag and before he can utter a single word in objection, the stranger disappears.

“Well, at least I have this wondrous machine” declares the man.  Slowly he pulls the strange looking device from the bag.  Immediately he realizes he has no clue how the machine works.  The man peers into the bag, but to his dismay, it is empty.  No instructions, no guide, nothing.

For several hours, the man works feverishly, trying to discern how the machine functions.  He pushes buttons, turns levers, and flips switches.  Over and over again, the man tries every possible idea he can think of, but to no avail.  Frustrated and completely defeated, the man throws the machine to the ground and cries out in a loud voice, “WHY?  WHY EVEN BOTHER GIVING ME THIS GIFT IF I CAN’T GET IT TO WORK?  WHY?”

Days turn into weeks, and weeks become months. 

In time, a ragged figure appears in the desert.  And there by a pile of sand worn bones he finds…a machine. 

“Pitiful fool, if only had used the machine”.  The stranger quietly walks away wondering how many others failed to use his miraculous gift.

Matthew 28:19 "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"

Teach and man to fish and he’ll eat a lifetime.  Give the man a pole, tackle, and then walk away.

He’ll likely starve...or something like that.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want to Teach? Hope You Have Big Feet!

If you’re a teacher, you’ll get this.  If you’re the parent of a student, you need to know the facts. 

Question:  If you moved to another country as a young child, and did not speak the language, what chance would you have of passing a standardized test in that country, even if you could understand the basics of that language?  You sit in class all year, the teacher works hard to help you, but he/she has a room full of students that must be taught "the standards".  You're intelligent, you do your best to pay attention, but the language barrier is just overwhelming and as you’d probably expect, you fail.
Surprised?  Of course not.  Not many educated adults could achieve success in this type of setting.
Now, pretend you are teacher here in America.  Let's say you have several students in your class that struggle with English.  Most can get by conversationally, but all struggle with context and meaning at some level.  Even though these barriers exist, these students are expected to achieve the same level of success as your native English speaking students using the exact same writing and content standards.  If they do not, you dear teacher have somehow failed.  Your "scores" prove your failure and may be used to make "decisions" regarding you and your school.  Not only did you fail, your school risks being judged as not being "adequate". 

Now slip back into the shoes of a child that does not completely grasp the language being used to instruct students in class.  Do you deem it to be reasonable or fair that you are being held to the exact same standards and expectations as your classmates? 

Do you believe your teacher is somehow to blame because you did not achieve success? 

Is it possible for a teacher with 30 students to overcome the hurdles of broken homes, poverty, language barriers, special needs, and still somehow ensure each and every student is able to meet "standards" that are one size fits all?  No problem…if you’re Jesus.  I’m afraid the rest of us have feet that are far too small to fill those enormous shoes!

Bottom line:  I am an educated man.  I "get" most things presented to me, but if you put me in a classroom  where everything is being presented in French, Spanish, German, or any language other than English, I can guarantee you I would fail miserably regardless of what the teacher does to help me. 

Houston, we have a problem.  It is not a local problem, nor can it be “fixed” at the local level.  If it was, you can bet we could and would fix it.  The problem finds its root at the state and more importantly federal level.  Our educational system in this country is wounded and bleeding and the Feds are handing out Band-Aids to deal with cut arteries.  The state takes the Band-Aids because they want the goodies that come with the Band-Aids, you know money.  And what about local school systems you ask? Ah yes, well they are handed the Band-Aids (with less and less of "the money") and told "make this work and by the way, good luck"!

I've illustrated only one of the many challenges local school systems and educators face in this country.  A country where legislators are hell bent on standardizing every aspect of our educational system under a national umbrella that is held in the iron tight grip of…the federal government.  Surprise, Surprise!

Over the next few weeks, I will be addressing the results of what this nationalistic approach to education is doing “to” and “for” the students of this country.

So, hang on tight…it’s going to be a bumpy ride!