Why THAT church is better than your church

The conversation was going well with my pastor friend until the topic shifted to another church in his area. Apparently, talking about THAT church hit a nerve. Before I knew it, I was hearing an in depth analysis about THAT church and its pastor and how they are stealing people from all the other churches in the community. Stealing? Well maybe not "stealing" he admitted, but courting them with flashy worship and big events and the "cool factor" that other churches like his own couldn't pull off. And did you know, he asked, that they don't even preach the Bible there? In fact, in their worship services they play "secular" music. The substance in THAT church is about an inch deep and a mile wide, he told me.

I wasn't sure how to respond to such a scathing critique about this sister church. Probing a little deeper I found that my friend had never actually been in that church to observe these heretical phenomena nor did he personally know the pastor or any of the staff. But, he had heard enough from others to convince him that what was occurring in THAT church was no more than a spiritual sleight of hand. "Aren't many men and women coming to faith in Christ because of that church's ministry? Isn't this pastor using the church's resources for the greater good of the community so that the name of Jesus is getting out there?" I asked. Unable to honestly answer these questions without revealing his obvious bias and ignorance on the subject, my friend quickly delved deeper into character assassination. It was at this point that I excused myself so that I could go to the bathroom and vomit.

Now before you start scouring my social media friend lists to see who this guy was, I have to tell you that this actual conversation never happened. Rather, it is based upon a compilation of comments and complaints I have been hearing from other pastors and churchgoers who have expressed the exact same sentiments and opinions that I have typed above. It seems that when another church begins to flourish many of us feel threatened by their "success." As a result, we seek to get our hands on any information that we can that might detract from the work that God is doing through this particular ministry, whether it's being critical of the pastor's style of preaching, accusing them of being unbiblical, suggesting that they don't even preach the Bible, to claiming that all of their rapid growth is due to gimmicks and spiritual smoke and mirrors.

Are there churches and ministries that are not being faithful to the word of God? Yes! We see from time to time where a pastor (or his wife or other staff member) will say and do things that are obviously contrary to the teachings of Scripture, and in those instances we must stand up and declare what is true while calling these men and women to repentance. (Note: This is usually what we DON'T do because it is so much easier to post incriminating reports on social media and engage in blog-bashing as opposed to lovingly correcting our brothers and sisters when they are in the wrong)

More often than not when we see other churches growing and attracting people, we feel the need to compete rather than compliment, to be jealous rather than joyful. So many times we start our conversations about other churches with the words, "Yeah, they are really growing, but did you know..." We resort to finding critiques as to why they are growing instead of rejoicing that God is using them to bring men and women into His kingdom.

And do you truly want to know what is going on beneath the surface when we choose to pronounce judgment rather than proclaim praise for other church ministries? We are indicating how we see and feel about ourselves and our own ministries. When you don't feel good about yourself, it's easy to pull others down to your level. Oh, we do so in the name of biblical integrity and trying to "protect" others, but the truth of the matter is that if we were more concerned with seeing Jesus made famous in the lives of the men and women God has placed around us, we wouldn't have to wonder why God is using THAT church and not our own.  

John the Baptist said it best in John 3:30 when he said about Jesus, "He must increase, but I must decrease." As long as you are focusing on what you don't have and critiquing what others do, then you are seeking to increase yourself at the expense of Jesus. But when you raise Jesus to the preeminent place in your church and ministries that is reserved for Him alone, then you will find that you aren't so concerned or consumed with what God is doing in THAT church because you will be too busy with all that God is doing through YOUR church. 

What we learn about ourselves from others' failures

There has been a firestorm over the recent posting of a video in which Victoria Osteen literally opens the Pandora's box that all of her and her husband's critics have been anxiously waiting for. Don't get me wrong - what she said from the stage was nauseating and thoroughly unbiblical, yet the glee expressed from the Osteen's opponents was no less horrific.

As a conservative evangelical Christian, I get it. Joel Osteen and his wife have been less than forward with the truth of the gospel and have chosen instead to proclaim the merits of living a life where all God wants for you to be is happy. Their ministry is watched and heard by millions of people who in turn simply adore Joel and his wife, hanging on every word that they say. They make people feel important and special and valued by God. And indeed people are. But when any man or woman who claims to be God's mouthpiece speaks for God words that are not found in His word, then Houston, we've got a problem.

God does not simply desire our happiness. Nowhere in the Bible will you find God saying, "My supreme delight is that you be happy!" Instead, Scripture teaches that God desires for us to be holy (Leviticus 11:44-45 & 1 Peter 1:16). If it were not for God's grace poured out on us through Jesus Christ then we would have no hope of ever standing before Him. Yet because of the cross, we are declared righteous before God and He takes delight in us as His children (Romans 5:1-11).

You see, what Victoria Osteen said on stage was both biblically and doctrinally wrong. It simply was not true. We do not exist to "do good for our own self, not God." That is humanism to the core. Did she mean what she said? I honestly don't know because, truth be told, I do not follow the Osteen's ministry like many others do. Sure, I've heard about how "awful" they are, of the many heresies they utter, and how they are peddlers of the prosperity gospel. And if these are indeed true, I find it shameful and disgusting to the kingdom of God. Truth is truth, and you cannot spin it any way you want with feel good preaching.

That being said, my other thought about the whole Osteen incident is this - has anyone reached out to  correct them in a constructive way? Perhaps someone has. My hope is that any church leader in their position has plenty of others who are allowed to speak truth into their lives. Is there anything more dangerous than a leader who has no accountability?

So yes, my hope is that there is room for redemption for the Osteen's regarding their erroneous doctrine. I would love to see them confess the errors in their teaching and to commit to be ambassadors for God's truth. After all, they enjoy an enormous platform which carries with it the holy obligation to proclaim the truth of God. And I also hope that my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who wait in the wings to attack at the first sniff of error will strive to lean more on the grace and redemption side than the judgment and hell fire side.

I'm not so sure which is more disgusting, a preacher who perverts the word of God publicly or fellow Christians perched in ivory towers who ignore grace and mercy altogether. It's all pretty gross to me.

Don't cheer for Jesus. Follow Him.

The most significant time of the year has arrived: College Football season. Just in case you doubt that claim, consider these facts for a moment:
  • For the 2013 College Football season, the average attendance for FBS games was 45,815 per game. That's more people than live in 98% of towns in America (I don't know if that percentage is actually true, but it sounds pretty good).
  • Almost 50,000,000 people attend College Football games each year. That's 50 million. That doesn't even come close to the number of people who watch the games on TV. 
  • The University of Michigan football stadium has a capacity of 110,000 but you can cram 115,000 in it if you want to. That makes this stadium the 236th largest city in America.
Numbers don't lie. Americans love their college football and follow their teams with a passion. Fans will drive long distances to sit on horribly uncomfortable bleachers in horrific weather to shout themselves hoarse for college players who they will never meet in hopes that they can push a piece of leather across a white stripe more than the other team's eleven players. That's just nuts, but we love our college football.

Did you know that each year after the Auburn/Alabama football game there is at least one homicide attributed directly to the outcome of that game? Usually it's a fan of the winning team that gets shot or stabbed as a result of being a little too obnoxious about his team's big victory, but nonetheless that's pretty nuts too. Some teams' followers are just so hardcore.

And then there are followers of Jesus. You can count them every Sunday morning as pull into the parking lots of churches across America and file into their regular seats in the worship center. No car flags or fanfare, although many of them dress a little bit nicer for the occasion and will refrain from any unwholesome language during the hour or so during which the service takes place. At many churches you might get called a name like "brother" and usually side hugs abound. On any given Sunday morning it's not too hard to spot someone who looks to be a follower of Jesus.

Sad thing is, it's getting harder to identify followers of Jesus on Monday through Saturday.

I can't tell you how many college football fans I see on a daily basis, and I don't even live in SEC country where it's against the law to NOT cheer for your team. Whether it's car flags, bumper stickers or car magnets, logo t-shirts, or just the constant verbal bravado that I hear, it's not hard to spot a college football fan.

Yet every day I see Christians who look and act just like everyone else, myself included. Our style and choice of dress doesn't set us apart and our words don't give away the fact that we know Jesus at all.

There's nothing quite like the thrill of being at a college football game. The anticipation at kickoff, the choreographed cheers from thousands of people, the euphoria of a touchdown. And then you can't help but talk about the game for several days after, recounting every score and big play that you saw. Man, that game literally changed your life!

The church service was great this past Sunday - the music was worshipful, the fellowship sweet, and the message challenging. But for some reason, you don't seem to have much interest in talking about your experience on Monday with your friends and co-workers. Jesus, the object of your Sunday worship, doesn't seem to be much of game changer for you the rest of the week..

Why is it so easy for us to follow our favorite sports team and cheer for them as if our lives depended on it, yet we can't seem to maintain enough spiritual momentum after Sunday to even acknowledge that we know Jesus? Jesus could care less if you are a fan of His. He's looking for followers.

Sorry if this assessment seems harsh, but then again I'm not sorry. When it comes to matters of faith, many Christians have gotten their lives so out of balance that their relationship with Jesus looks more like a casual acquaintance on Facebook as opposed to the life-saving, soul-changing gift from God that it is.

To quote Kyle Idleman: We have settled on becoming mere fans of Jesus instead of being truly committed followers of Him. And that's not okay. People are so afraid of having to give up stuff or miss out on something that they simply stop trying. Sure, they wear the title of "follower of Christ" but that's about it. Jesus didn't come and die to make you happy. He came and died to give you life. That's worth following.

Who's got your back?

As I have gotten older I have grown to truly appreciate history. Not that I didn't enjoy history when I was in school, it's just th...