Monday, December 26, 2011

Lines in the Sand

Do you remember the story in the gospel of John where a "harlot" is brought before Jesus caught in the act of adultery? The people want to stone her, but pause long enough to ask Jesus what he thinks of the situation. If you remember, before Jesus speaks a single word, he begins to draw in the dirt with his finger. I don't know about you, but I've always wondered why Jesus would do such a strange thing. Some say it was a word or phrase that pertained to the situation, others figure he was just "doodling" while gathering his thoughts, but I have a different thought.

I believe He drew…a line.

Metaphorically speaking, to "draw a line in the sand" is to establish a point that shall not be crossed. It is a way of saying, "you may go no further". You see, I believe Jesus was drawing a line in the sand as if to say, "No more!" Jesus knew these people were stiff-necked folks full of religion, void of love, and empty of the life of God. I do believe that line said to all, "Today, this sort of nonsense comes to an end!"

Can I prove it? Heck no, but it's as good of a hypothesis as I've ever heard and I kind of like it!

Today, I too am drawing a line in the sand.

Back in September, I wrote a post entitled, "WARNING: Throwing Rocks Will Get You…Nowhere Good!" Please know that I meant every word of that post but honestly, I just didn't have the "whatever" to actually walk it out at the time. Today, I am reaffirming the commitment I made in that post. I am drawing my own line in the sand and declaring "no more"! By the way, if you are wondering just what I had to say in that post feel free to check it out. If not, cool beans!

Guys, I really wish the "stuff" that junks up our hearts and minds could be easily dealt with, but I suppose it just takes time, a lot of prayer, and a lot of Jesus. Jesus said that He came to set captives free. He did not say it happens instantaneously.

Over the past several weeks, I have come to see more clearly than ever that life is too short and too full of hurt and pain for anyone who names Christ as Savior to be "throwing logs on the fire". In other words, there's more than enough hell-fire strife in the world without me making things worse with hurtful words and mean spirited rhetoric. Honestly, I just don't want to continue to use any part of my life to make things worse for anyone when I could be using my energy and gifts to make things better. The bible says that our witness to the world is our love for each other. If that is the case, my witness has been a poor one at best. For that (and a host of many other things), I am very sorry. I am not your Holy Spirit friends and I do not possess the capacity nor have I been given the right to judge the motives of anyone. And the people said….amen.

With that, I would like to reaffirm my commitment to NEVER AGAIN write a blog post (or Facebook post) that attacks my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in ANY WAY!

Why? Because I have been completely persuaded by our gracious Lord that we have been called to love each other, support each other, and treat each other as He would love, support, and treat each of us. That means each and every person no strings attached, no conditions.

At the end of the day, we must all carry our hurts and pains to Jesus if we truly hope to be free. No amount of mudslinging will ever undo a bad experience or heal any wound. I should know. Only Jesus can restore us and fill our lives with purpose, hope, and meaning regardless of what anyone has said or done to us. If you are hurt, take it to Jesus. If you want justice, take it to Jesus. If you are angry, bitter, or full of unforgiveness (if that's really a word), take it to Jesus. Hit back, and you'll end up with a black eye every single time. Again, I should know!

He still sets captives free and only He has the strength to turn that key in the lock and open the prison door. Trust me; I'm speaking from experience here!

So for all of you who have been concerned, offended, or completely baffled by my posts over the past couple of years, please rejoice for I am finished being "ugly"! I will continue to write (if God allows), but I will only write that which will edify my church family. Anything past that is indeed pointless.

_______________________(MY LINE IN THE SAND)_____________________

Sunday, December 11, 2011

“Satan” Claus? Well…He Does Wear A Red Suit!

For years now, I've heard many of my Christian brothers and ……well mainly just the brothers rattle on and on about the "evils" of allowing children to believe in Santa. In an article called "Christians and Santa Claus", Pastor Andrew B. Ray shares the following with us:

"If we agree that Santa Claus is a made up character and that for years we have been spreading the lie to children that he is real and we believe that Satan is the father of this lie then it kind of makes you wonder if it really is a coincidence or not. Bible students have known and proven that Satan is the greatest counterfeit of the Lord Jesus Christ, so it would only make sense for Satan to create such a character to do his work."

He goes on to say the following:

"We have the fact that Santa Claus is not real.   I know that most adults realize this but adults have told children that Santa is real. It is a Lie!

Oh you devilish "Satan" Claus devotees! Feeling a little….guilty yet? Nah, me either.

Look, I know Santa Claus probably isn't real (notice I said probably…..you never know), and yes technically we are telling our children a lie, but dog gone it, I like Santa! He's nice, does good stuff, and cares a lot about people. Of course I do realize he is portrayed in many various ways (some of which are less than benevolent), but that's not his fault! In the end, we would all have to agree that at the core of his character he is really good fellow real or not so real!

Still, there are plenty of upstanding folks out there that do not like the idea of having Santa around at Christmas.

I do wonder if people like Pastor Ray have ever exchanged a shiny new quarter for one of their kid's teeth courtesy of the Tooth Fairy. How about telling a kid that their recently deceased pet is now frolicking through the golden fields of Heaven, isn't that a lie? Can you biblically prove that statement as being factual? Then of course there are those "other" situations like when Uncle Joe dies and we tell the kids he's in Heaven, but in reality we know Uncle Joe was a real creepo and only mentioned the name of Jesus when he was honked off at someone. Is that a lie? What about Christmas? Is it wrong to celebrate the pagan holiday known as Christmas?

"Pagan" you say? Indeed, I say!

You see whether you want to deal with it or not, we all in some way or another take part in "stuff" that is rooted in good old-fashioned heresy and deception. Unfortunately, that would include the wonderful holiday known as Christmas.

With that, I would like to share with you (at least for those "Pastor Ray" types), the truth behind the origins of the Christmas holiday.

For starters, let's take a peek at how Christmas came to be. It all began when Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25.  During this period, Roman courts were closed, and Roman law dictated that no one could be punished for damaging property or injuring people during the weeklong celebration.  The festival began when Roman authorities chose "an enemy of the Roman people" to represent the "Lord of Misrule."  Each Roman community selected a victim whom they forced to indulge in food and other physical pleasures throughout the week.  At the festival's conclusion, December 25th, Roman authorities believed they were destroying the forces of darkness by brutally murdering this innocent man or woman. The ancient Greek writer poet and historian Lucian (in his dialogue entitled Saturnalia) describes the festival's observance with the following:

"In addition to human sacrifice, he mentions these customs: widespread intoxication; going from house to house while singing naked (that sounds fun!); rape and other sexual license; and consuming human-shaped biscuits." (Which by the way are still produced in some English and most German bakeries during the Christmas season).

In the 4th century CE, Christianity imported the Saturnalia festival hoping to take the pagan masses in with it.  Christian leaders succeeded in converting to Christianity large numbers of pagans by promising them that they could continue to celebrate the Saturnalia as Christians.  The problem was that there was nothing very "Christian" about Saturnalia. To remedy this, these Christian leaders named Saturnalia's concluding day, December 25th, to be Jesus' birthday and "VOILA!" Christmas is born.

And it doesn't end there! How about Christmas trees?

Well, just as early Christians recruited Roman pagans by associating Christmas with the Saturnalia, so too worshippers of the "Asheira" cult and its offshoots were recruited when the Church sanctioned the use of "Christmas Trees". Pagans had long worshipped trees in the forest, or brought them into their homes and decorated them, and this observance was adopted and painted with a nice little touch of "Christian veneer" by the Church.

Christmas presents?

In pre-Christian Rome, the emperors compelled their most despised citizens to bring offerings and gifts during the Saturnalia (in December) and Kalends (in January).  Later, this ritual expanded to include gift-giving among the people.  The Catholic Church gave this custom a "Christian flavor" by giving it a makeover and touted it as being a supposed gift-giving act of Saint Nicholas.

I could go on, but I think you most likely get my point. The truth is that we all are guilty of promoting the "lie of Christmas" in one way or another. Even our annual church Christmas plays are chock full of half-truths and misconstrued facts (i.e., the wise men). Yet, rarely does anyone dare question these heinous forms of deception. Why? Well, I suppose the reasons are many, but it could be that most of us just don't see any of this as being a big deal. We know we love God, we love His precious son, and we believe that honoring God in our hearts is far more important than picking apart historical facts and forgotten traditions of long lost cultures.

Frankly, I just couldn't care less about all that stuff and I'd guess most of you don't either! In 1st Samuel 16, God tells us that "man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart", and that's good enough for me!

So, to all you "Pastor Ray types" out there, I would implore you to give it a rest. Yes, you got it right on one point, but you missed the bigger picture. That of course being that our gracious God most likely isn't offended by our pagan trees, presents, and Christmas plays full of deplorable fallacies. No, I'd dare say His heart simply looks for other hearts that long to love, worship and adore all that He is and appreciate all that He has done in our lives.

So rock on Sata…..I mean Santa Claus! And when you fly over the abode of the good "Pastor Ray", try not to think poorly of him. After all, I'd say being on the naughty list for writing "mean stuff"…is punishment enough!

PS – If perhaps you awaken Christmas Eve to find a guy in a red suit poking around your house, try not to panic, unless of course he happens to be carrying a pitch fork!

Peace to you all and may you all have a very Merry Christmas!


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

20 Percent…And I Feel Fine!

The following is a list of a few popular Christian charities and how they spend their money. By the way, the administrative category would include all staff salaries.

Angel Tree Prison Ministries:

Programs: 67%  Fund Raising: 20%  Administrative: 13%

Compassion International:

Programs: 82%  Fund Raising: 10%  Administrative: 8% 

HOPE International:

Programs: 79%  Fund Raising: 14%  Administrative: 7%

Salvation Army:

Programs: 84%  Fund Raising: 1%  Administrative: 15% 

Samaritans Purse:

Programs: 89%  Fund Raising: 6%  Administrative: 5% 


 

Looks pretty good right? Most of these organizations spend the majority of their budgets on helping people. Some obviously do a little better job than others, but all are doing a great job.

With that in mind, consider the following:

A recent survey conducted by "Christianity Today", found that the average church spends less than 20% of its total budget on ministry that directly assists others. The survey was based on the responses of almost 1200 churches of various denominations. The overwhelmingly largest portion of these churches' budgets went towards paying the salaries of their staff with the pastors' salaries comprising most of that category.

In fact over 70% of most churches' budgets are allocated to cover staff "compensation" and facilities costs. Typically, most charities spend between 5 and 13% of their total expenditure on salaries.
Throw in supplies, denominational "fees", and the all-important "other" category and you will burn up another 12 to 15 percent of the total budget.
What's left over? Not much.

I find that to be….disturbing. Actually, shouldn't we all find that a little bit disturbing?

Would we be quite so "charitable" to any other organization knowing full well that so little of what we give goes to actually helping others? I don't think so.

I can hear it now, "Ken it's different with church. That money goes to provide for the needs of our pastor and staff!" Well, I can assure you that were it the CEO of any charity out there receiving almost half the total budget as a salary, there would be an uproar of monumental proportions. Yet, for some strange reason we are more than willing to embrace such a mindset within the body of Christ. Why? Because that's what "church" is. That's how it works! You give the money, you trust the "leaders" to allocate the dough correctly, and all is well.

Here's a thought: Maybe "church" and how we "do" it…needs an overhaul!

Maybe we need to "rethink" what it means to be salt and light in the world and how that is actually "fleshed out" in the lives of those around us.

By the way, please don't say it's all about reaching "the lost" for Christ. We all know that the research proves that the majority of new church membership comes from "the sheep" shifting pens! It does not come from new conversions. That is an illusion.

In closing, I would like to say that I do know of a church and a pastor in the Dalton area that is truly managing God's money in a God honoring way. This particular church uses almost 100% of its budget to help people. This pastor takes nothing and wants nothing in the way of compensation. He works just like the rest of us. How can he do that? The "members" of that church understand what it really means to be the body of Christ. You know, more than 20% doing the work!

Hey, there's that number again….strange!

By the way, if your church is doing better, God bless ya!

At the end of the day, we can all "do better", but that will only happen when we get real about who we are and what we're doing, or not doing…me included!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hula Hoops and Pharisees

I do not like hula hoops. They are evil things! They require movements that border on being risqué and present a high likelihood of painful hip dislocation! Still, as bad as these foul contraptions are they aren't nearly as bad as "religious" hoops. Those are the worst hoops of all! Unlike the hula hoop which has been conquered by a proud few, "religious" hoops cannot be mastered! Oh one may try, but no amount of jumping can ever suffice for there are always more hoops waiting to thwart your best efforts. They come in many varieties, but most seem to find their beginnings as twisted bits of scripture taken out of context. For example, I have ALWAYS struggled with the following scriptures from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John:

Verse 15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

Verse 21 "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me."

Verse 23 "Jesus answered him, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words."

Am I the only one? Please tell me I'm not the only one who struggles with this!

These scriptures seem to indicate that our love for Jesus is based on our ability to keep His commandments. Keep them, and you obviously love Jesus. Fail to keep them, and you my friend…are a loser! Not only are you a loser, but you are a loser who does not love Jesus which of course is the worst kind!

Every single time I fail Jesus (which is ALL THE TIME); I am reminded of my lack of love for Him. It's just not fun folks! It's like a riding some sadistic rollercoaster. Up and down, over and over, and I WANT TO GET OFF!

So, I am left to deal with the following conclusions:

I fail God constantly. If I fail to keep His commands, I obviously just don't love Jesus. If I don't love Jesus, how can He really be pleased with me or any part of my life? Therefore, how can I ever call myself a Christian which means "follower of Christ" if I don't love Him? I can't!

BUT, I WANT TO!!!!

I really do want to keep His commandments. I just cannot seem to pull it off. No matter how hard I try, I fail, everyday, all the time! It is this idea of having to do something that I know I cannot that DRIVES ME NUTS! Not only does it drive me crazy, but it keeps me in a continual state of defeat.

When I first came to Jesus, it was "just as I am". Now, it seems to be more along the lines of "do this, or else"!

What happened?

Well, I think several things are at work here.

Number one would probably have a lot to do with my personality. Honestly, I think I need medication! I obsess over EVERYTHING! My wife would give a hearty AMEN to that. Nothing is ever a small deal for me and I constantly analyze and pick apart every aspect of life. So, feel free to feel sorry for your poor tormented brother!

Secondly, I think I have heard far too many sermons about how much we all suck (excuse me, but it seemed appropriate) and we never "do" enough "for Jesus". I'm honestly not bashing anyone here. Heck, I've preached more than a few guilt laden "tongue lashers" myself. I think sometimes we forget that the guy standing up on the platform is still just…"a guy". I realize he's doing the best he can, but we shouldn't dismiss the fact that many of his own views were formed by listening to other "guys". That doesn't mean we should avoid "guys", but I do think we need to be very careful especially when we assume "our guy's" words are coming straight from the throne room of Heaven.

Last, but not least would have to be a misreading of scripture and taking verses out of context. This is certainly at the core of all "religious hoop jumping". When you look at the totality of scripture, it seems quite clear that God is completely aware of our inability to do anything good! We NEVER get it right and when we do, it's not us, it's Him. We would have to admit that it is God living in us that enables good things to happen. It is never "us", because it is impossible for humans to "be good" or"do right"! Even Paul made it clear in Romans 7 that he was completely incapable of "doing right".

So, what's up with the above mentioned scriptures? Is Jesus really saying, "Jump through the hoops to prove your love for me suckas"?

I just don't think so. If we look at these verses in light of what all scripture teaches, I believe we will see a different message.

Notice verse 15 says, "If you love me, you will…." Could it be that Christ is saying that our focus should be on loving Him and not on keeping commandments? Could it be that loving Jesus is the key to keeping His commandments, not the opposite? IF you love me, THEN you will be able to keep my commandments. After all, isn't that what most of the book of Galatians is talking about?

If my focus is on getting to know and love Jesus, maybe I will not have to worry about keeping His commandments. It is no longer me trying to "pull off" the Christian life, but rather it is Jesus doing everything through me because I'm in Him and He's in me. In fact, in the very next chapter of that same book (chap. 15), Jesus lets us know that, "Apart from me, you can do NOTHING"! Absolutely NOTHING! And friends, surely that would have to include keeping His commandments!

You see, if keeping commands satisfies God and proves our love for Him, then every Pharisee ought to have had it in the bag! They knew God's commands and were quite zealous in keeping them. Still, Jesus called them a, "brood of vipers" and "white-washed tombs". And let's not forget about Saul (later to become Paul). He was certainly someone who took God's commands very serious. Yet on a certain road to Damascus, Jesus let Him know He was not "okay" with him at all!

By the way, you should know that thinking this way REALLY scares me! The little Pharisee in me is constantly prodding me to work hard to please Jesus. Grace…is for lazy, sin loving "wannabes"! For me, embracing such truths goes against every religious bone in my religious body….and it probably does yours also.

Why is this? Is it fear? The fear that God will "whack" us is very prominent in the body of Christ (and in the life of Ken Richmond). Still, I think it is more than that. I really think the root of performance based thinking is really just plain old pride! Yep, you heard me right, pride.

You see, in a very sick way, it is much easier to "try" your best at hoop jumping rather than trust in the goodness of a very great God. For years, I've tried to convince myself that I really do have some part to play in this whole Christianity deal, but truthfully it just doesn't work out that way. As soon as I get involved, it all goes wrong. Not only that, but having to rely on God's goodness causes me to have to deal with the reality of what my relationship with him looks like…and many times that tends to be a little more than I'm looking for. It's far easier to attempt to do the stuff, fail, and then ask for forgiveness than to simply give Him my heart and trust him for everything including my right standing with Him. Unfortunately, I don't "do" trust very well. Besides, relationships are messy, scary things. They take effort, time, and are full of unknowns. Not only that, but you actually have to listen and at times walk by faith and who wants to do all that? Religious hoop jumping is far more convenient and allows us to at least fool ourselves into believing we are somewhat "in control".

News flash for Ken (that's me): You are not "in control", nor will you ever be!

I suppose for me it all boils down to one of two lines of thought. Either we are expected to live this impossible thing called the Christian life or Jesus has to do it through and for us. All I know is that I'm 42 years old and I have never lived a single day without thinking, saying, or doing something ungodly….and I probably never will. If God doesn't love me today "just as I am", then I doubt He ever will. At the end of the day, I know that the hoops will never go away unless I begin to truly embrace what God has clearly and lovingly shown me in His word. That of course being, that He does indeed love me "just as I am" and He promises to never leave me or forsake me...regardless of my endless list of failures! By the way, if you are His kid, that would apply to you also!

Apart from that, I suppose we are all toast!

So, if you get to Heaven and realize I'm not there, you can assume that I had this whole business of just trusting Him wrong. Tell all the "hula hoopers" and Pharisees I said hi and try not to gloat too much!

Just kidding…..sort of!


 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thanks To All My Kairos Prayer Partners!

My wife gave me a sweet card Friday morning that said,

"I think this Kairos is probably the most challenging ministry you've ever been involved with".

I wholeheartedly agree!

I told one of the workers that I have never encountered such intense spiritual warfare as I do when I'm involved with a Kairos weekend. It is hard! Still, it is a ministry in which you see unimaginable miracles happening all around you and that is no small thing to experience.

Obviously, it would be impossible to share everything that occurred this weekend. I can tell you that I watched in awe as God moved upon a group of very confused, angry, and hard-hearted individuals and changed them in ways I just can't describe.

One particularly intimidating (at least in my sissy opinion) fellow seated near me could not stop crying. Literally, it was like watching someone being taken apart piece by piece and slowly being "reformed". I can't explain it really, but it was honestly amazing to watch God take a lifetime of hurt, anger, and unforgiveness and wash it away in just three short days. Only God could do such a work and I am grateful to have witnessed it.

Again, I can't share everything, but I do believe you will be blessed by this story. Sunday morning, I got into a conversation with a man named Tim. Tim was obviously a Christian and very sharp. As we conversed, he began to tell me about what God had done for him through Kairos. Tim was serving time for rape and kidnapping. Although he had indeed given his heart to Christ, he still carried around a crushing sense of guilt and shame for his crimes. He told me of how he longed to tell his victim how sorry he was for his crime and that he had truly changed, but knew it was impossible. To do so would be considered a crime and he knew it could never happen. Tim said it was that inability to ask for this young woman's forgiveness which haunted him the most.

It was this burden that led Tim to seek counsel from one of the team members sitting at his table. By the way, during the weekend the men sit at what we call family tables. These families are made up of six inmates and three team members. As the men conversed, the team member eventually shared that his wife had been raped as a teenager. Tim asked this man to please tell his wife how sorry he was that this had happened to her and that he begged for forgiveness on behalf of her attacker. Later that night the man shared Tim's plea with his wife and through tears she not only accepted his apology, but also offered to forgive him on behalf of his own victim. Needless to say, God had matched up perfectly the exact people that needed to be together at that table. As a result, two people found freedom from years of pain, guilt and shame! Only God could orchestrate events such as these friends.

So with that let me say thank you so very much for your prayers and support. I realize that most of you could not physically be there, but your love and concern was felt throughout the weekend and I am so very grateful! God heard your prayers and through them changed the hearts and lives of many men. Thanks again and may God bless you!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

WARNING: Throwing Rocks Will Get You…Nowhere Good!

Over the past several months, I have written many blogs.

Most have been completely about me.

What I mean by that statement is that rarely have my blogs been motivated by a genuine love for others or even a true concern for God's holy church. Instead, most of my ramblings have been about my desire to be heard by others for my own glory. God has shown me this and I know it to be true.

You see, when you are in the ministry spotlight it just feels good. People pat you on the rump (figuratively….most of the time) and tell you how awesome you are on a regular basis. Such things can lead one to have a very inflated view of oneself and unfortunately it all can be very addictive. There's nothing wrong with affirmation, but "my-oh-my" it can really go to your head!

So what do you do when the ride comes to an end? Anything you can to keep the spotlight on yourself.

And that….is what I did with my blog.

Now it's not that I don't believe the things I wrote about because I certainly do. I suppose much of what I have shared over the past several months needed to be said, but not from someone who had no heart for God's people (that'd be me).

The truth is somewhere along the way, I lost "my way". Religion has a way of doing that to us. It leads us farther and farther away from His presence and deeper into ourselves. Still as much fun as it would be to blame "religion" for all of my baggage, I just can't. Honestly, most of the blame falls squarely on my own shoulders.

Ministry was always a mixed bag of motivations for me. Did I truly want to see people change and experience God's love, healing, and grace? Absolutely, but I also would have to admit that I enjoyed the power, prestige, and sadly…the money. As a matter of fact, I am quite sure that the motivation behind more than a few of my ministry pursuits was mainly about a paycheck at least more than it should have been. Again, it's not that I didn't care because I did. Still, God makes it very clear that no one can serve two masters at the same time, and I certainly found that out the hard way. Doing it for the money will leave you with an empty tank every single time!

People often ask me if my blogs are in response to some deep hurt I have experienced. Most of the time I respond no, but I can't say that is completely true. I have been hurt many times, and the scars run deep. Christians are great at putting on a loving countenance and welcoming you with the firm handshake of "Christian" fellowship. BUT, most will not hesitate to drive a knife in your back if deemed "necessary" for the "greater good".

How do I know? Well, I've certainly felt the pain from betrayal and unjust attacks more than once. Still, lest I over play the "poor little me" card, I should note that my own little religious blade is stained with the blood of more than a few wicked "thrusts" of my own.

Indeed, you will find no clean hands here. I've been a killer of my brothers and sisters as much as anyone out there and that saddens me more than I can say.

With that you might care to ask "now what"? What does one do with such revelations?

Well, for me the only choice has been to take it all to Jesus. All the deceit, half-truths, and mixed motives must be dealt with and only Jesus is big enough and strong enough to handle it.

The result: I'm finished.

I absolutely have NO desire to even pick up a rock much less throw it at anyone in my church family (that'd be all of you). All that's left is a desire to follow Christ and pray that He would be so gracious as to allow me to love on others along this journey. By the way, I say that with fear and trembling realizing my own capacity for stupidity and foolishness! Truly I realize that apart from Him, I can do squat!

I pray (by God's grace), that I never again write anything for my own glory, "shock value", or especially out of bitterness, hurt, or pride.

If I do, you should be so kind as to call me out on it!

If it doesn't come out of a heart of love and a sincere desire to help my brothers and sisters, I will not type the first letter. Now, that does not mean I will not write something you may disagree with, but I can assure you it will not happen unless I am convinced it is bathed in love and has been covered with prayer.

Again, I am finished with my little "sack of rocks". It is quite heavy and not at all stylish for a man of God to carry!

So, what about this little blog of mine and all my past jargon? Well, I started to delete the whole thing and just be done with it, but I'm still pondering that possibility. Part of me wants to leave it up as a reminder to me of what I don't want to be and of all that God has taught me. Again, it's not that I disagree with most of what I shared, it's just that so little of it was written in love and that disturbs me.

So if you have any wisdom to share with me regarding this decision, I'd be grateful to hear your opinion.

With that, I am simply waiting. Waiting to hear from God and praying for the courage to follow His leading. As of now, I have no desire to seek out a church. This is not due to any unresolved inner conflict. Rather, it is just that I really feel that my family and I are where we are supposed to be. That's not to say that I am not open to change. I have submitted to God that I will gladly lock arms with anyone out there He chooses to partner us with. So for now I simply wait, listening and hoping that He who began this good work in me will indeed bring it to completion.

Thanks for taking the time to read this and it is my hope that you will remember my family in your times of prayer.

And if you don't, I will throw a rock at you! (joke)

Ken

Monday, August 1, 2011

WARNING: Quiet Times Can Lead to Extreme….Quiet.

I became a believer (aka Christian) at the tender age of 21. For me, this was no small thing. In fact, it was a very huge thing for sure. I remember a friend of mine relating to me that he almost wrecked his car when he saw me tooling down the road with a flashy "Know Jesus?" tag decorating the front bumper of my '92 Chevy truck. Needless to say, the change in my life was radical and nothing less than completely miraculous.

Now you should know that my salvation experience was completely God led. In other words, I did not enjoy the fine luxury of having someone say, "Ken, pray this prayer." Nope! It was just Ken and Jesus sitting on the back pew of my granny's church doing "business" while the other 12 people in the church (all 60 and older) were doing what good Pentecostal folks do down front (if you don't know what that is, I won't tell you!) Why am I sharing this? Well, I think it is important that I make it clear that I had no "mentors" as I began this journey with the Lord other than the Lord Himself.

Over the course of the next couple of years, Jesus and I got to be pretty good friends. We went everywhere together and shared our days in wonderful fellowship. Yes, I was the guy that looked like he was talking to himself driving down the road, but YOU know better….don't you. Honestly, it was amazing.

A few years after meeting Jesus, I met the gal that would one day become my wife. It was at a Grove Level (a local church) single adult's dinner/listen to Ken sing his songs "thingy". The group had asked me to come and share and I was glad to do so. That same night, my future bride who was in attendance invited me to join a mission trip she was going on to an Indian reservation in Arizona. Apparently, they needed a guitar player and she figured I'd do nicely. What I did not know at the time was that this seemingly innocent invitation from "my lovey" was actually all part of a devious scheme to rope herself a hunky guitar playing man (yes I know I will pay for that one!)

ANYWAY….

Just a few weeks later I found myself in Chinle, Arizona smack in the middle of the Navajo Indian reservation. The camp itself was made up of several tents, a brush arbor type meeting area, and a small building that was used as a kitchen for preparing meals. All of this was located in a grove of trees which provided some wonderful shade (which is very uncommon in that part of the country). The place was really wonderful!

Unfortunately, it was here that I learned something that would drastically impact my relationship with Christ in a very negative way! Let me explain.

Not long after waking up that first morning, we grabbed some breakfast and then received some very unusual instructions (at least to me). We were told that team members should now find a spot somewhere to have our "quiet time".

I thought, "quiet time"? What the heck is a "quiet time"? Now it is at this point I am sure you're thinking, "Ken, don't be dumb dude! You know what a quiet time is!" Sure I do now, but at that time….not a clue!

As a matter of fact, I recall asking someone (possibly my girl) what a "quiet time" was. Unfortunately, this person was gracious enough to explain this great mystery to me. Why did I say "unfortunately"? Well, "unfortunately" this thing we call a "quiet time" really screwed me up! What had up to this time been a great relationship with Jesus quickly turned into a hoop jumping checklist of religious jargon!

You see all of the sudden I actually began to believe that I had been "doing it" all wrong. Here I had been walking and talking, and sharing my life with Jesus throughout every part of my day when actually I was supposed to be setting aside a "special time" for Jesus! I mean after all, these were seasoned Christians who knew their stuff. I had only been a Christian a few short years. They had sat under real pastors and heard real sermons and stuff. Me? I was going to a wee little Pentecostal church with a handful of elderly people who obviously didn't know jack about "real" Christianity. No, I had not "arrived", but I was definitely on my way….YAY!!!!!

I know it is sad to think that I would be sooooooo clueless, but alas it was so. Thus began my practice of limiting my time spent with Jesus to this all so very blessed "quiet time". Actually, it really made sense! After all, He probably didn't have time to fool with me all day long anyway. There were lots of people out there and He was probably a very busy God! The great part was that this was only the beginning for me! Soon I learned many other valuable "aspects" (aka rules) of living a "real" Christian life such as the importance of never missing "church", tithing a strict ten percent (regardless of my ability to pay up), being devoted to Sunday School, and possibly most important of all, attending Tuesday night visitation!

Yes sir, over time I began to understand why we had a "quiet time". Why with all these other fine activities, who actually had any "extra time" to talk with Jesus? Not me! From there, it got even better! I began teaching classes I wasn't qualified to teach, serving on committees I didn't understand or enjoy, and doing everything the pastor guy guilted.…I mean "encouraged" me to participate in. I even enjoyed the all so special "you can drive the church van" privilege!

Oh yes, I was quickly shaping up to be one heck of a religious guy and to think it all started with learning about the treasure of having a "quiet time". Lucky me!

Oh and by the way, it didn't take me too long to figure out why they're called "quiet times". Whoever said, "silence is golden", needs a good slapping!

(End sarcasm)

My point:

Look, I know lots of you out there participate in these activities and do so with pure intentions. I too set aside special times with God. Please know that I am only relating how having a wrong focus impacted MY own life.

So, is it wrong to set aside a special time with God? Absolutely not! Again, I do so myself. We all live busy lives and I understand we all are doing the best we can, BUT consider this:

Should we really believe that the God of the universe who created us for fellowship and gave us His precious Spirit is content with being a part of just a portion of our lives? Also, do we honestly use that same approach with the other relationships we hold dear in our lives such as those with our spouses, our children, and our friends?

I think not. I can't imagine my wife would be okay with such an "arrangement". My wife wants to share life with me (at least I think she does) not just a portion of it, all of it. And I have to believe God, is no different!

Jesus came that we might have life, His life. Apart from that life, we just exist. To engage in fellowship with Him partially is to only partially live. I don't know about you, but living life as some kind of spiritual zombie (you know sort of alive, but not really) is not my idea of living!

The bottom line is this: No religious activity in the world can do anything to change you or give you life.

Religious activity only has value if it is an expression of the overflow of God's love and presence in our lives. If it is being utilized to give us a sense of significance or even worse as a cheap substitute for a true relationship with God, it is worthless!

It's really the whole "cart before the horse" scenario". For me, setting my focus on the cart (aka the religious stuff) caused me to lose sight of who was really making this whole deal work and move forward in my life. And as you know, carts were never designed to pull horses. They are fully dependent upon the horse before their true value can be realized. Confused yet? Yes, I suppose I'm being wee bit too metaphorical at this point. Still, I hope you get what I'm really saying here. Doing stuff for and in the name of God can never replace having a relationship with Him. We start with Him, let Him lead, and trust that the "stuff" we "do" is the result of our love for Him and more importantly His for us.

So, go ahead and have your "quiet time" with God, just don't ever lose sight of the fact that He is always with you and wants very much

To be a part

Of every part

Of your life!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The First Shall Be First and the Last Shall Be…Who Cares!

As many of you know, I used to be one half of the ministry team known as “Heart’s Desire”. For over nine years Scotty man and I traveled around the southeast singing our little hearts out and performing drama for lots and lots of folks. Throughout those years, I watched God work in amazing ways (despite my involvement) and met some really incredible (and a few not so incredible) people. Most of what we participated in was fairly okay in my book. After all, we did do our best to not bring shame on the name of Jesus or ourselves, and that’s a good thing! So, after it was all said and done, I can honestly say I was happy with what was accomplished. Indeed, I don’t think there were many things we participated in that would cause me to shutter with embarrassment, but there were a few!

Here’s a fine example:

One particularly horrific aspect of big conference youth ministry (for us it was “Super Wow”) occurs at the beginning of the first night. It is the opening “let’s get fired up for Jesus” time! Yes, even now the cold chills of shame and disgust run down my back just thinking about it.
The foul ritual went something like this:

Out walks some member of the conference team (usually some “cool” college kid that was obnoxiously loud, with few inhibitions) arms waving, and jumping up and down. He would then proceed to issue a challenge:

“Alright guys, we’re gonna see who loves Jesus in this place tonight! On the count of three, I’m gonna ask this side of coliseum to SCREAM as loud as you can, WE LOVE JESUS YES WE DO, WE LOVE JESUS HOW BOUT YOU!!! Then, I want the other side to see if you can SCREAM that same phrase LOUDER in return!!! We’ll find out WHO REALLY LOVES JEEEEESSSSUUUUSSSS!!!!”

And then, it would start. Back and forth, louder and louder until the heavens themselves reverberated with the passionate cries of thousands of youth, shouting out their great love and devotion for the Lord.

And I...wanted to puke.

Why? Well you see, it wasn’t so much what the kids were doing that made me “sickly”, but rather it was more about the message we were instilling in the hearts and minds of these kids.

That message of course being, Christianity is in many ways one big competition complete with winners and losers. Who are the winners? Those who can “out do” the “other guys”! Out praise, out sing, out evangelize, out love, etc. The good news is (sarcasm) the spirit of competition isn’t just limited to youth events. Nope, actually it can pretty much be found in every nook and cranny of the modern American church.

The result: We have generations of children (and older folks) being inundated (unintentionally I think) with this, “bigger is better” mentality about serving God. In the end it’s not hard to see why this mindset so permeates the Christian church today. It’s been going on for a long time with no end in sight. Bigger buildings, more programs, better preacher, all of which lead us to believe that we are somehow achieving success. And, if we can show up the guys down the street, even better!

It is at this point I would expect to hear replies (especially from the professionals) such as, “Our church isn’t like that!”, or “Our church is just about Jesus! We don’t play such games!” (One word: bologna!), or even “You can’t say that about us, we’re small!”

My reply: Sure I can!

Ask any “pastor guy” out there what question is asked most often (or close to it) at local and regional “pastor guy” meetings. If they’re honest, they’ll have to admit that it is the question, “So, how many you running?” You know, like cattle. “How many heads you got?” In other words, “Hey, do you have more people warming the pews at your place than I do?”

And just why do they ask this? The answer is simple!

They want to know how they’re doing in comparison with the “other guys”. Are they “winning” or “losing”?

You see, if you’re lucky enough to be “running” the most, YOU are “the man” and your “church is successful! If not, you know it’s time to go back and crack that evangelization whip on the rears of “your” flock. Could be, you need a fancy new building, or you might want to include a flashier "contemporary" service to reach the masses...for Jesus.

"Yeah, then we would look just like the "other guys" and we might take the pole position!"

Now would any of these guys admit to such shenanigans? Probably not, to do so would be completely “unspiritual” and we can’t have that! Don’t like the sound of this? Too bad, because I know it’s true. How you ask? I will reply with eight little words:

Over twenty years of being in “professional” ministry.

When you’ve “ministered” in as many churches and performed at as many “Christian” events as I have, it doesn’t take too many conversations with the good folks you meet to realize the truth. That being, that there is a dark thread of competition that runs deep in almost every “ministry” out there.

I know it’s hard to hear such things, but it’s true. Unfortunately, that is the very nature of competition. It is a fight for first place and bragging rights. The winners get to boast of their victory, or at least want to. While the losers, are left licking their wounds vowing to “get ‘em” next time around!

That may be fine if you’re taking part in some sporting event, but folks it’s not very Christian.

The fact is you just don’t hear that kind of talk in the bible. What you will find are many admonitions for unity. Yep, like it or not we Christian folk all play for the same coach and are on the same team. It’s no wonder the church is so ridiculed by the world. Why would anyone want to be a part of such dysfunction? We can’t even get along with and support each other?

“Not true Ken! We love our fellow Baptists!” “We love and support our denomination and pray for each other without ceasing!”

Really?

Well what about those wild and crazy Pentecostals down the street? Wanna have a joint service with them once a month? Heck no you don’t! Why? Because, they have “questionable” doctrine (at least that is the perception of many Baptists). By the way, the opposite of that would also be true (so don’t get the big head just yet my “charismatic” friends!)

I suppose I should say it would be the same for any other denomination out there. Methodists, “Whiskeypalians”…I mean Episcopalians, etc. We all think the “other guys” have...issues.

You may say you love other churches, but don’t pretend you want to be the church that’s lost all its members to the sister “we’ve got bigger and better stuff” church down the way. In my town that’d be Rock Bridge. I’ve heard more negative talk from more folks about that church than I’d care to admit and mostly from “pastor guys” and “church leaders”. Why? Well I’d say it is because they are perceived as being more “successful” than most other “churches” in our little town, and competitively speaking, that stinks! Now that doesn’t mean I am for them anymore than any other joint out there, but it does prove my point. If you deny such talk goes on in your own congregation, you are either living under a rock, or just enjoy lying to yourself and others!

1 Corinthians 1:10 says it quite plainly.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Notice the word doesn’t say, “a little healthy competition never hurts”. No it makes it very clear that the Lord desires that there “be no divisions” in His body. And unfortunately, competition has a way of dividing folks.

“But Ken isn’t that just a little bit unrealistic?” Sure it is! The whole bible is “unrealistic” if you expect “people” to pull this stuff off. It takes the Holy Spirit to do any of this. I suppose that is why the word states, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.” And also, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

Heck if you think that’s unrealistic, try these on for size!

Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”

Matthew 20:26 “…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”

I don’t know about you, but that stuff sounds way unrealistic and quite difficult to me! So how do we accomplish such feats?

We don’t, He does!

Nope, you just don’t hear about “healthy competition” in the book. Again, what you do see is God calling us to do what we can to help our brothers and sisters move ahead even if we are left behind. By the way, that would include those of other denominations and doctrinal beliefs. Loving on people and supporting them does not mean you have to agree with everything they believe. It does mean you rejoice when they are successful and do what you can to support them. Why? Because, we Christian folk are ALL are parts of the same body!

Bottom line: Competition is not healthy for “the body” folks. It is detrimental to the work of God in the world and does squat to show His love at work in our lives.

So, if you find yourself in a big, big room being challenged to shout something louder than your buddy across the way, may I suggest you quietly excuse yourself...

And head to the potty!

Your time will be far better spent!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Spiritual Vomiting and Heart Flavored Popsicles

For the past 18 months, I have lived in the place of "nothingness". And what is that you ask? Well if you didn't catch my post regarding this joyous destination, I will summarize it for you by using an excerpt from that very entry.


 

"Nothingness" is a time and place in our walk with God in which He sets us in a place of isolation and waiting. It is a place in which all past experiences are of no value. It is a time of such stillness that it can disturb the most faithful if we do not understand that He is the one who has brought us to this place for only a season. It is as if God has placed a wall around us. No new opportunities - simple inactivity."


 

Now, just because one finds himself living in "Nothingville" doesn't mean that all activity has ceased. No, I have been busy indeed. Why with glorious activities such as slamming organized religion, and bashing the religious status quo in American churches every chance I can, who could ever perceive me as having idle hands?

Actually, for someone who found much of his own significance and self-worth wrapped up in various ministries and positions, it has been a tough time (more like a slow death...fun). In fact, this time in "the desert" has befuddled my best attempts to understand why I am even here. Honestly, I worked hard for years and did all the right "stuff" only to end up here? Give me a break! Yes, it has been quite perplexing!

That is until yesterday.

I realize that many of you enjoy (or endure, sometimes it's like that) a daily time with God. For me, I like to hang out with Jesus in the late afternoons. This is particularly true during the lazy days of summer. And so was the case yesterday, I decided to go for a long bike ride with Jesus and just hang for a while. Not far into my ride, the Lord began to take me through the various stages of being afflicted with a sick stomach…at least in my mind. At first, I found this to be very strange, and then after a while it hit me. The Holy Spirit wasn't trying to gross me out, but rather he was finally revealing to me why I've been living in this detestable place of "nothingness".

You see, when you've eaten crud you shouldn't, your body begins to do everything in its power to get rid of that which is making it sick. It is only natural because your body desires to be healthy. Part of this indescribable joy typically involves the process of throwing up the goo that is making you sick. You see, you have eaten something that you should not have and your body wants it gone! Sometimes this process is quick, other times not so quick. Still the end goal is the same. The body wants to get rid of that which should not be in your system.

By the way, you should know that you will probably be doing a whole lot of "nothing" while you are recovering. Why? Because, you've been emptied out! You're weak and it takes time for you to be able to accept anything, even the good stuff you need to be strong again. Yes good food is good for you, but unfortunately it takes time for your body to be able handle it. You have to start very slowly with the good. Go to fast and you'll be hugging the porcelain once again!

The "good" news is that soon, you'll be back on your feet, busy as a bee!

Looking back on my own bouts of stomach sickness throughout the years, I can safely say that one of my least favorite parts (other than puking of course) was the terrible boredom of being too weak to have fun. Sure, I'd have loved to have been up and moving, but unfortunately I just didn't have the strength. I had to wait for my strength to return, and that can be a pain.

(Now, back to "nothingness")

In much the same way, it would seem that over the past many years, I have taken in some unhealthy spiritual "goo" that was having a very negative effect on my heart. As a matter of fact, it left me with a very cold, hard heart. Cold and hard is great if you're a "popsicle", but not so much for the human heart. So, in His kindness the Lord brought me to the place of "nothingness". It is in this place of inactivity that God has given me time to vomit up all the crud that has kept me feeling icky for so long. And of course, it is here He will keep me till all the "goo" is out of my system and I am once again able to take in "good food".

You see, just like stomach sickness, heart sickness leaves you weak and messed up. The good news is that God loves us and wants to make us whole. The bad news is we generally don't always enjoy His methods or His time table!

Regardless, out of love the Holy Spirit begins the process of healing us of all the unhealthy junk that's keeping us sick. Sometimes the process is quick, other times…not so quick.

For me, it has been 18 months and counting. Yet even so, I am glad. Better to be here than to spend additional years playing my sad game of pretending I was okay when truly I was not.

So with that, let me end this by sharing the following: If you also have been dropped off in the wonderful (sarcasm) place of "nothingness", fear not. Not only is it part of God's plan for the healing of your poor ole gummed up heart, but you might even find (someday) that it was the very place you found out what it means to be…..His.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Things That Make You Go "hmmmm"

In chapter 5 of the book of Mark, we read about Jesus and his encounter with a demon possessed man. According to the text, Jesus delivers the man from a horde of "nasties", yet refuses to allow this now sane person to follow him.

Go over to chapter 10 of that same book and you'll find the story of Jesus and the rich man. After sharing his commitment to all the commandments, Jesus challenges this fellow to sale all his possessions and then come and follow him.

My question is this: Why did Jesus encourage one to follow him and discourage the other?

What was the determining factor in the mind of our Lord? Obviously one had nothing to lose, but everything to gain. The other seemingly had plenty to lose with the added bonus of an unknown future. One was desperately thankful, the other just despaired. One had his eyes set firmly on Jesus while the other couldn't take them off his stuff.

So, what was it? What was it that prompted our Lord to invite one to join him, yet refuse the other's request?

Got a comment? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

I...am here

This is from an online devotional I have received for many years now. I read the title and immediately thought, "yep, this one's for me!" I found it to be very encouraging, so I'm posting it with the hope that someone else out there might find it helpful.


The Place of Nothingness
TGIF Today God Is First Volume 2, by Os Hillman
05-25-2011

"Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10) .

Do you find yourself in a place of nothingness? There is a time and place in our walk with God in which He sets us in a place of isolation and waiting. It is a place in which all past experiences are of no value. It is a time of such stillness that it can disturb the most faithful if we do not understand that He is the one who has brought us to this place for only a season. It is as if God has placed a wall around us. No new opportunities - simply inactivity.

During these times, God is calling us aside to fashion something new in us. It is a place of nothingness designed to call us to deeper roots of prayer and faith. It is not a comfortable place, especially for a task-driven workplace believer. Our nature cries out, "You must do something" while God is saying, "Be still and know that I am God." You know the signs that you have been brought into this place when He has removed many things from your life and you can't seem to change anything. Perhaps you are unemployed. Perhaps you are laid up with an illness.

Many people live a very planned and orchestrated life where they know almost everything that will happen. But for people in whom God is performing a deeper work, He brings them into a time of quietness that seems almost eerie. They cannot see what God is doing. They just know that He is doing a work that cannot be explained to themselves or to others.

Has God brought you to a place of nothingness? Be still and know that He really is God. When this happens, your nothingness will be turned into something you will value for the rest of your life.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rob Bell: To Hell, or Not To Hell...That is the Question.

The other day, I viewed a video trailer for Rob Bell’s new book; “Love Wins” (see the trailer at the bottom of this post). In the video, Rob shares with the viewer his struggle with the idea that a loving God would actually “send people to hell for all eternity?” In the book, he suggests that a God who would allow people to go to hell is not a great God. "Love Wins" is his attempt to set the story straight about Heaven, Hell, and man's eternal destination. Unfortunately, while Rob's take on God and Hell may cause many folks to breathe a sigh of relief, it presents a doctrine that not only blurs the lines of biblical truth, but erases them completely. So, with all the “hoopla” going on over this controversial book, I want to share an earlier blog entry of mine in which I try to shed some light on God, his view of sin, and why some people will indeed have to enter this terrible place known as Hell. Here's the post.

Before I begin let me make it clear that I realize I’m certainly no theologian, nor do I care to be. I may not have a “Dr.” decorating the front of my name plate, but amazingly…..I can read the bible for myself! God has given us His Holy Spirit to “bring us into all truth” and that’s good enough for me. I realize that the following post is most likely riddled with gaping holes, but I do feel it is a good opening to what can be a very complex issue. So, if you dare, read on! Hopefully, you will find it of some benefit! The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. John H. Gerstner entitled “Does God Love the Sinner and Hate Only His Sin?” “Repent or Perish” forces people to ponder seriously the popular slogan, “God hates the sin and loves the sinner.” Is a necessary repentance consistent with “God loves the sinner?” If God loves the sinner while he is alive, it is strange that God sends him to hell as soon as he dies. God loves the sinner to death? Loves him to everlasting torment? There is something wrong here. Either God loves the sinner and will not send him into the furnace of His eternal wrath; or He sends him into His eternal wrath and does not love him. Either “you are going to hell unless” because God hates you, as you are. Or, God loves you and “you are going to hell unless” is false. Dr. Gerstner goes on to say, “God has no complacent love for the sinner at all. He has a perfect hatred of him”. If what the good doctor says is indeed true, it would seem we would need to blot John 3:16 from the scriptures. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” The word clearly states that God “so loved the world”. Notice it does not say He “so loved the nice people”, or “the religious people”, or even “the God fearing people”. No, it says “the world”. A world chock full of mean, ugly, selfish, sin ridden people. A world that for the most part, didn’t give nor does it now give a rip about God or His son. Yet even so, our gracious God sent His most precious gift to “the world” to save it. Why? Because He “so loved” it. If God truly “hates” people, then why not just do away with us? Don’t send your son. Send a few angels down and torch the place! Why waste your time trying to save what you hate? Yet, we know that is not the case. God loves people, all people. We also know that it doesn’t take a genius to see that the whole “God hates you and wants to smash your dirty sinner face” is just not biblical. All one needs to do is look to Jesus and his treatment of “the lost”. Jesus said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father”. I’m going to offer an analogy that is far from perfect, but might possibly help to put this whole idea of God’s punishment of sin into perspective. As I understand, American policy dictates that when planes are hijacked with the intent to use them as a weapon of destruction, the president will call upon fighter jets to take the planes down. Such was the case during the 911 tragedy. After coming to grips with the enormity of the situation, President Bush knew he had to act to ensure the safety of innocent civilians. This was certainly no easy decision to make. Yes, these hijacked planes had to be stopped, but what about the innocent people on board the planes? To destroy the plane was certainly a decision to end the lives of many passengers. Unfortunately, the people could not be separated from the plane. The destiny of the plane and the people where inseparably intertwined. Though the president was terribly grieved at having to make such a decision, he knew the plane could not be allowed to continue on possibly endangering even more innocent people. By the way, in the case of the 911 tragedy, the jets were spared their morbid duty due to some very heroic civilians on the plane. As I said, it is a flawed analogy, but it does possibly provide a glimpse of the dilemma faced by God.in dealing with our sin problem. How? Let me explain. As you already know, you and I are born sinners. No fun, but it’s reality. Unfortunately, this goes far beyond just our thoughts and actions. Sin is literally a part of the very fabric of our being even down to the very DNA that is the blueprint of who we are. Trying to separate us from sin would be like trying to separate light from the sun. Humanly, it is an impossible task. Again, sin isn’t just something we do or think, but rather it is an integral part of who and what we are. In short, it is a part of every part of our being, and it’s not easily dealt with. As a matter of fact, nothing short of a miracle could ever do the job. Now we all know the bible teaches us that God hates sin. That is clearly seen throughout the scriptures. Yet, we also see how much He loves mankind. So much in fact, that He indeed sent His only son to free us from sin and its power over our lives. Receiving pardon for one’s sin is a gift. The bible tells us to call on the name of the Lord that we might be saved. I’m not going to get into a huge discussion here on how that whole process takes place due to the various thoughts on the subject. Still, I think most would have to agree that if you want to be saved, you can be, but it is only through Jesus that sin can be forgiven and its power broken. The flip side of that is the fact that you are free to refuse God’s free gift of forgiveness and salvation. I know you’ve probably seen or heard the saying “Know Jesus. Know peace. No Jesus. No peace”. This is true, but may I add to that line of thinking, “No Jesus. No forgiveness, salvation, or separation from sin. “Know Jesus. Know forgiveness, salvation, and separation from sin!” As I stated earlier, the problem of sin can only be rectified through a miracle. The good news is that God has provided that miracle through the great sacrifice of His only begotten son. A decision to refuse that gift is a decision to keep one’s sin and experience the full wrath of God against sin. You see, God has made it clear “No sin shall enter in to Heaven”. Yet, if a person refuses God’s cure for sin (Jesus), that person’s fate is intertwined with that of sin. Sin will be done away with and unfortunately we are one with sin. Are you starting to see the problem? Just like the president could do nothing to separate those passengers from the hijacked plane, so also God can do nothing to separate a person from sin if he or she does not desire to be seperated. The result: death, judgment, and eternal damnation. Why? Is it that God hates these people? Of course not! We know he loves people. The bible says He himself knit us together in our mother’s womb. But, sin must be dealt with and as long as a person is inseparably intertwined with sin, he or she will face the same fate as the sin that clings to their being. God wants “all” to be saved, but he has given us a freedom to choose or refuse His love, grace, and provision. Bottom line: God hates sin and must deal with it, but unfortunately that same fate will include the souls of all that refuse to be separated from their sins. With that said, there is one thought that has always troubled me. It is the idea that a person is doomed to an eternity in Hell. Not just 10, 100, or even 1,000 years, but eternity. For years I have considered the punishment to far exceed the crime. I mean can’t God just at some point say “okay, they get it!” It just seems that “eternal” punishment seems a bit much for 100 years or less of sin. Why would a loving God deem it necessary to leave these souls in such a place “forever”? Again, we have to understand the nature of sin in mankind. Remember, sin isn’t just an act, thought, or a series of bad decisions. It is a part of every part of our being. Once a person enters eternity, the window of opportunity to receive pardon from God through Jesus is shut forever. Is it that God gives up and washes His hands of these “dirty sinners”? No! Unfortunately, these souls have moved beyond their ability to receive pardon. I will offer a very inadequate illustration, but it may help. If a person is diagnosed with a disease, it is important to act quickly and seek out treatment for the disease as soon as possible. Most doctors would agree that in most cases “catching” a disease early in its progression is usually very beneficial in terms of experiencing a full recovery. Such is the case with many types of cancer. To ignore the disease and pretend it’s not there is to doom oneself to a sure death. At some point in the disease process, you will pass the point of no return. It is at this point that no amount of medicine can help. The disease has taken over and the cure is without benefit to the patient. When a person enters eternity, they pass the point of no return. They have entered a realm where sin cannot be “cured”. If “no sin” can enter into Heaven, a person is left with only one destination to spend eternity. That of course being Hell. Sin is of this world and its cure must also be received in this world. That’s why Jesus entered this life as a man and was sacrificed in this life as a man. Sin had to be dealt with in “this life” because it is “this life” in which sin came into being due to man’s rebellion. It is a product of those who dwell in this world and can only be “cured” while in this world. So, does God have a mean streak and seek revenge against those who refuse Him? Not at all, rather He mourns the loss of even one soul to Hell. He has done all He can possibly do to separate the human soul from sin. It is left to us to receive or refuse His cure for sin through His son Jesus. Again, you can check out the video just below this post. If you have trouble, just check it out on "You Tube".
video

Friday, April 22, 2011

Easter: A Time for Clean Toilets

Before you read this, you should know that I AM NOT talking about every church out there. I am only speaking of those that use the celebration of Easter for their own selfish purposes. If your church isn't one of those that participate in such practices, you should not be offended.

Hey everyone, it's EASTER and you know what that means? All our "heathen" friends and family will once again awaken from their yearlong "stay the heck away from church" sabbatical to tank up on a heaping load of good ole Americanized religion. But fear not, the churches are ready! Yes sir the good news is that many churches are more than ready to make the most of every "opportunity", and nothing spells "opportunity" like an American holiday.

With that, I'd like to share an excerpt from an interview with the Senior Pastor (you know like it talks about in the bible) of ZOE Christian Fellowship in California. In this interview, the good pastor shares with us his church's "strategy" to win the lost….to church.

"On Sunday morning nothing compares to Easter service," he said. "We prepare for it. We think strategically about how to prepare for it. We go to great lengths to do that. We recruit more ushers, we hire a person to clean the restrooms every 30 minutes, we use more greeters to greet people as they arrive, and we put ads in the newspaper to invite people out to our Easter play.

"We do email blasts, mass mailings and tell the congregation to invite people," he said. "We go out into the malls and the community to invite people. We have special presentations: a large mass choir, a big drama presentation." Smith said the church uses members as actors in the drama presentations, and they are encouraged to invite family and friends out to see the production. Those involved include small kids, high schools students and adults.

"As a church we do what we call a comeback program, because we want them to have a reason to return. We tell them about events that are coming up. That's a unique marketing opportunity for us. It's a major opportunity."

Okay…so let me get this straight. You do the following to prepare for Easter:

  • You think "strategically" about how to get people to attend the show
  • You "recruit" extra folks to help with the show
  • You hire an outsider to clean your toilets (guess he'll miss the show)
  • Advertise the show
  • Email, mass mail, and invite people to your building for the show
  • Create a "production" for people to see (that's the show)
  • You tell them about upcoming "events"
  • And finally, call the whole thing a "unique marketing opportunity".

So my dear pastor guy, that's Easter? There for a minute, I thought we might be talking about a concert or maybe a Broadway show.

Is that your advice on how we should "prepare" to celebrate the sacrifice and victorious resurrection of the Lord of the universe?

Don't get me wrong, I love a good clean toilet and all, but honestly, that's your selling point? That's actually part of your "comeback program"? Geesh!

By the way, who or what do you want them to "come back" to, because I didn't hear one word about Jesus.

Now I realize this poor pastor guy and his "flock" are only doing what they believe to be right. Still, let's be honest here shall we? For Zoe Christian Fellowship, it seems obvious (at least to me) that Easter has become more about growing their corporation and less about souls and a Savior.

Corporation you say? Sure, you know a business. I mean that's what it sounds like to me. Sorry, but if you don't want people to assume it's a corporation then stop using business terms. Words convey meaning and much of what I read sounded more like a business plan than the gospel.

Disagree? Well, if you can find anything about creating a "unique marketing opportunity" in the bible, please let me know. Besides, the good pastor admits himself, this "major opportunity" is "for us".

I realize not all churches are involved in such shenanigans, but honestly many are especially during times of perceived "opportunity". Just this week in my own hometown, I've seen countless church marquees advertising "awesome" egg hunts, and special "activities" for the kiddies. You can be sure that behind every one of those signs is a church staff working hard to make their Easter seem….more attractive than the other guys. Why? Because, they want more……well you know.

By the way, if it's not about numbers then why do institutions such as the Southern Baptist Convention put out an annual listing of churches ranked according to the number of "baptisms" they've achieved and other "important" data? If you say it is to celebrate, you are obviously quite naïve.

Honestly, I wish these places would just come clean and put on their signs, "We want you to come because huge numbers make us feel successful". Of course, some might need to say, "We want your money, so come here and we'll make your kids giggle!"

Again, disagree if you so desire, but you know that to some degree I am speaking the truth.

Now before I drop my hefty basket of throwing stones, let me say this. My decision to part ways with these buildings some call churches does not in any way guarantee that my stay home version of Easter will be any more spiritually significant or worshipful. In the end, it is up to each individual to intentionally celebrate the goodness of our Lord. The decision to ignore him can take place from the couch just as easily as it can the pew. So there, I threw a rock at myself.

Still, I can safely say that I don't foresee having to use a "marketing strategy" to coerce my children into attending our family bible study at the dining room table. The cinnamon rolls do that!

The very idea that God's holy church feels the need to resort to such tactics is a sad indication of just how disconnected we really are from the truths presented in scripture. I suppose it's no longer enough to just share Jesus. No, now we must "seal the deal" with fancy programs and hyped up jargon that only works to confuse the world even more about the one who died and resurrected for a lost world.

Heck, if I were a lost guy I might begin thinking this Jesus fellow must have problems if churches have to work so hard to sell him.

So with that I'll end this blessed post. Have a great Easter and for those of you lucky enough, enjoy those clean toilets!


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sit Down, Shut Up, and Drink Your Milk!

I recently read the following statement on a church website:

“At Galilean church no one ever graduates from Sunday School.”

Really? No one?

I mean, can you imagine using that same line of thinking with the public school system?

“At __________ School no one ever graduates.

WHAT? Break out the pitchforks and torches! Can you imagine such a thing? There would be an uproar like you wouldn’t believe! Not only would parents be enraged, but I have to think kids would be less than “enthused” about attending such a fine institution.

With that, I would love to ask Galilean Church this question: If no one has graduated. Who is teaching your Sunday school classes?

You see, there’s one big difference between a student and a graduate. Students are still under the “tutelage” of a teacher. Graduates move on to become the teacher. They no longer need the classroom.

So, if no one ever graduates, who teaches?

Yes, I can hear it now, “Ken, we are all lifelong learners. No one has arrived.” Yeah, I know all that, but if I’m sitting in some class burning time listening to someone “teach”, I’d like to think they are qualified and actually know what they’re talking about. Not only that, but I’d also like to think that at some point I could complete my own “learning” and…move on.

If no one gets to graduate, what’s the point? How does anyone else ever become a teacher?

Well the truth is, despite the claims of our friends at Galilean Church, today’s modern “churches” do indeed have “graduates”. Although, one might need to question their…qualifications.

So who exactly could be considered a “graduate” at “church”? Sunday school teachers? Deacons? Elders? Surely the pastor guy is a graduate! If these folks do indeed represent the “graduates”, how did they achieve such a grand thing? What rite of passage did they complete to arrive at such an esteemed position?
Well, I’ve been out of the establishment for a while, but if my memory serves me right I think it goes as follows:

To graduate to the position of pastor, many prepare by attending some type of Bible College (you know, like it talks about in the bible…?). But, the real qualification for pastor “graduation” is….getting hired!

Yep, if you really want to graduate to the position of pastor dude, all you really need is to be hired by some “church” that thinks you have what it takes. You know, like you have a decent resume, you preach a good sermon, you seem godly by the way you talk, that kind of stuff. At that point, you’re a pastor! See, wasn’t graduation easy!

By the way, many say they were “called”. Newsflash: We all are called.

When it comes to elders or deacons, in most cases meeting the requirements for graduation is generally just a matter of getting appointed or being voted on. So, if you are liked, well respected, or in some instances just have lots of money, you too can graduate to the position of elder, or deacon. Rarely will job description be based on the bible, but rather on your church’s bylaws or covenant. The good news is that after you gain “graduate power” you can work to have it changed if you don’t particularly like it.

Now the requirements for graduation to the position of Sunday school teacher are quite varied. In some “churches” it may involve a vote, being appointed, or just a matter of volunteering (those are the real saints…no sarcasm at all!). Yet overwhelmingly, it has been my joyous experience to observe these folks being “guilted” through the graduation line! That means that most likely one of the above mentioned graduates will come to some poor victim…I mean valued member and badger them to the point that they finally cave and agree to “graduate”. Persuasive arguments such as “You’d be perfect”, or “We really need you”, or my favorite “God wants to use you” can change a student to a full-fledged graduate in no time!

Yes, God's path to graduation looks far different than our own.

Still within the "church", that only accounts for a very small percentage of the congregation at a “church”. What about the rest of the folks? Well here’s the good news, most of you will never graduate!

Yes, apparently our dear Galilean Church from above had it at least partially right after all. No, everyone else is expected to “listen” and glean from the more qualified folks that have actually “graduated”. The good news is some people might possibly get to graduate at some point, but that will be for your fellow students and of course the graduates to decide.

So, you just get comfy on that pew or chair, because you’re probably going to be there for a while!

Now, I know I’m being a major smart butt, BUT in a lot of ways you know that what I’ve written about this whole silly process is basically true. The real problem with this political mess is this: It’s not in the bible, nor does it remotely represent God’s heart for His kids.

What does the bible say? I’m glad you asked!

Hebrews puts it this way. “You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.”

Nowhere in the bible does God convey that He expects ANY of His kids to sit on a pew for 60 years or more getting spoon fed baby food. What He does challenge us to do is grow up and “move on”!

Along that same line, Paul states in the following passages God’s desire for us to become mature (that means graduate):

Ephesians 4:13
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:15
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Colossians 1:28
He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

There is a season in every believer’s life that milk is necessary, but at some point we all need to push away the bottle, grab a fork and knife, and dig in to the solid stuff! God wants each one of His kids to “become mature” in the faith and eventually “graduate”. Again, that does not mean we ever stop learning, but surely we would all agree that at some point those who have been “discipled” must become the disciple makers. Otherwise, it would seem the charge of our Lord to “make disciples of all nations” was given to us in vain!

With that, I’ll end on this (If you are a “churchy” person you probably won’t like this part).

The truth is many of our “graduate” leaders do not really expect or want you to graduate. Why? Because if you did, they’d be out of a job. I know that sounds tough, but it’s true. Most of the people who give me heck about the things I write are “clergy”. Why? Well, I’d say it is likely because I threaten their security with such talk. The danger is a few of you might listen and who knows what that could lead to!

I KNOW this kind of talk will offend many “graduates”, but if you’ll really get honest with yourself, you know it’s true. As a “graduate”, I loved being looked at as “the guy”. It was a real “pride stroker” having others rely on me. It gives you a wonderful sense of self importance. The problem is if everyone’s “relying” on us, when do they ever learn to rely on Jesus? I’m not saying that most of our leaders don’t love or care for the people, but at the end of the day “most” enjoy being “the graduate” and having others see them as such.

Still others worry that such talk might empower rebellion and upset the “God ordained” hierarchy and chain of authority that exists within our churches. If people started growing up in the faith, what would our “churches” begin to look like? Before long, people might actually begin taking responsibility for their own relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t everything change?

Yes, hopefully everything would indeed change and my guess is we’d probably look quite different than we do now. Who knows, we might even start looking like...

The church

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ken, I Really Wish You’d Just Stop! Okay, I Think I Will!

The following blog post is most likely full of grammatical errors. Feel free to ignore them.


 

Leaving the establishment is tough in so many ways. All of the sudden, you are no longer a part of the "in crowd". Most people assume you are either "backslidden", hurt, or just plain off your rocker! You hear comments such as, "He used to be such a godly man", and "He obviously just doesn't understand God's word". Ah the joy!

Well, it's been about 16 months since I physically left organized religion (you might call it "church") and I have to say overall, I'm so glad I left. I say physically because honestly, my heart had checked out years prior to my body's decision to walk away. The truth is it has been a bumpy road, very good, but very bumpy. Of course, I should confess the bumps I endured were generally of my own creation.

Truly, I do not miss anything about the "services", or "sermons", and I especially don't miss all the standing up and sitting down (which I never understood). Most of that stuff was just traditional man contrived nonsense and for me traditional is just another word for boring! I did enjoy the people and those rare moments when someone would dare to be transparent, but I still have that for the most part, so overall I'm satisfied.

As I stated above, it's hard on your pride to find out you are no longer as "loved" and respected by many who used to sing your praises. Of course in reality, having you pride slammed is good thing. Sadly, my pride loved it when people patted me on the back and shared what a "blessing" I was to them. That's especially true when you've enjoyed some degree of true notoriety (at least the good kind). Truly, if you can sing, or do "big stuff" for Jesus, you're often exalted by your fellow "church" members and trust me it feels sooooo good! Yes, affirmation is indeed addictive, but unfortunately it can also be quite destructive to the prideful soul (that'd be me), and in that…lies the problem.

How does one go about defending very unpopular decisions without allowing pride to dominate the "discussion"? Heck, everyone wants to be right…right? How do you explain that you no longer believe in an ideology that most would consider a hill worth dying on? Even more challenging, how do you do it without pointing out the folly of believing in that ideology? It can get really….complicated.

So, after many, many bouts of trying defend myself and my beliefs, I have decided you simply stop.

Stop what you ask? Stop defending my position, beliefs, and convictions, and stop trying to convince others I might actually…have a leg to stand on. Why? Because it is POINTLESS!

Not only is it pointless, it destroys your own ability to simply enjoy where you are with Jesus…and that…is stinko!

Instead of growing closer to the Lord in the rich, fertile soil of freedom he has planted me in, I wither with concerns and the emotional baggage of dealing with those who are fat and happy in the system I so despise. Now, if you shutter at my use of such a strong word, I am sorry. Still, that is the reality of how I feel. Honestly, in my heart of hearts I believe that the modern system of religion many (not all)Christians call "church" is absolutely detrimental to the spiritual health and well-being of a child of God. If you disagree, I really just feel sorry for you. I realize that sounds demeaning, but I don't mean it to. I know so many of you love this thing you call "church", but in most cases(not all)I see it as a no more than a sad business that tries desperately to emulate life only to fail and eventually bring pain and destruction to those who dare embrace it. I realize I may be wrong in my thinking, but as of yet the Lord has not shown me differently despite my pleas (not fleas). By the way, if you feel I am way off base or even a little screwed up and He's told you so, ask Him to tell me (honestly, I'd love that). Who knows, you may have a better connection than I do.

On that same note, you might be surprised to know that I have submitted to the Lord my will regarding "church". I can tell you now that if the Lord told me to go back to the institutional church, I would go….with hesitation of course, but I would go. Of course, I am sincerely hoping against that.

So with that, I shall stop. If you share something with me on Face Book about how I need to change, or repent, or let go of my…whatever (which doesn't exist), I shall simply have to ignore it. Why? Because I just cannot continue to fight a battle that has no end and no winner. If you are a Christian, you and I are family and I simply will not continue to fight, argue, banter (whatever) with my family.

So, disagree with me, pray for my backslidden self, love me, support me or just ignore me. Whatever option you choose, I shall honor it. In the end, I need to go on with Jesus.

I will continue to write my blogs and post them. If they bless you and help you, I am thankful. If they tick you off and disgust you…..I am thankful.

So, as a former pastor dude I once served with used to say, peace on your heads! Feel free to comment…or not. Either way, I'm good!

Ken