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Priorities Askew

Broken-Family-Relationship-Picture

When I was a boy I had a hard time saving money for things. I would get a few dollars for some work I did, and it was like there was some strange, unseen force that compelled me to “need” everything I saw that cost less than the amount I had earned. Forget the magnificent toy I would need to save up for, my sights were on the quick, easy, immediate gratification prizes.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but that lack of ability to save for the future was a symptom of a greater cultural problem of my day that persists today as well.

What was the greater cultural problem? Skewed priorities.

I was putting my selfish need for immediate gratification above the needed experience of saving or even of giving to others. I was the most important person on the planet.

In many marriages today we see struggles and often divorce because of this skewed hierarchy of priorities. In many marriages today it seems that the kids come first, and everything else come somewhere behind the children. In many relationships, the husband/wife relationship is put somewhere far down on the list if there’s room.

No wonder there are so many struggling families today!

This doesn’t have to be the way of every marriage, however. You can have a happy, healthy marriage if you will, as a couple, decide to rearrange your priorities.

First priority needs to be your relationship with God. You claimed Jesus as “Lord” when you gave your life to Christ. Jesus said you need to seek his Kingdom first. When you focus on growing in your relationship with God and helping your spouse do the same many great things will happen. First, you will begin to change into the person God created you to be. Second, you will grow closer to your spouse as you pursue the Kingdom of God together. Third, you will lead our children by example in a way that will hopefully create a lasting legacy of faith in them.

The second priority in your marriage needs to be…wait for it…your marriage. No! The kids don’t come first!! As a husband or wife, your devotion is first to God and then to your spouse. When you focus on the kids before your mate you neglect the covenant you vowed to uphold at your wedding. You must find time for each other to rekindle the relationship that started your family. Do things you both love to do together. Show the children how to honor one another above yourself, and you will model for them the kind of relationship you hope they will have.

The third priority in your marriage is kids and everyone else. Yes, I lumped them all together. Your kids need to be raised by you, but they don’t need to be the sole focus of your life. They need to see you model interactions with others as you serve and communicate with other people. They need to see your devotion to God and your spouse. A society that focuses primarily on the children is a relatively new concept that really took flight once television was invented. When commercials started targeting children, the culture followed in its focus. You don’t have to make your children the center of your universe for them to be healthy, and doing so keeps you from being healthy in your relationship with God and your spouse.

When marriages rearrange their priorities in this way they see growth and change for the good. They become a stronger family. Thoughts of divorce fade away.

How are your priorities? Do you need to re-evaluate?


Dear Church


Dear Church,

On behalf of church leaders everywhere, I’m sorry.

The American church isn’t growing in most areas.  In some areas the growth that is happening is slow and often times fueled by births.  However, the death rate and rate of abandonment in churches is overcoming the birth rate and evangelism rate.

As I’ve been thinking about such a statistic, I’ve realized that this is largely our fault – the leaders in your churches. So, I’m sorry.

We teach weekly about the need for salvation for all.  We tell people what the scripture says about sharing their faith.  We show the theory behind the great commission, and yet we decline in numbers as a movement.

We evangelize.  We bring people to the churches.  We study with them in small groups and personal bible studies, and we even bring people to the Lord! But these conversions cannot overcome the rates of evacuation from deaths and people leaving the church.

As a teacher I should know better.  I have been taught the most effective way to train people.  Yet I fall into the same rut of the status-quo church expectations of mere teaching and preaching.  I try to lead by example, but this is done at a distance.  And, in effort to not offend anyone, I try not to put people on the spot as often as possible.

Yet I know that growth doesn’t come from mere information gathering or even casual observation but from intentional training.  Growth comes when I invite someone to walk with me and see, up close, what I do.  Growth comes when I begin to pass responsibilities on to the ones I’ve called to walk with me.  Growth comes when I stop talking and doing and let others take on roles in spreading the Gospel as I encourage, guide, and shepherd.

Jesus walked with his disciples for around three years.  How many preachers have taught the same people for over twenty years yet the churches are stagnant or in decline?

Jesus allowed his disciples to walk closely with him – watching him in his every movement and doing life with them that they may emulate him.  How many church leaders don’t involve church members in their everyday life?  How many church leaders are satisfied with their friends (many times often other church leaders), so the main part of the body wanders aimlessly with no physical examples?

Jesus gave responsibility and authority to his disciples a little at a time. This charge wasn’t by volunteer – they volunteered to follow Him.  This charge was a delegation, an encouraged expectancy hoping and watching for the disciple to grow through personal experience. How many churches are full of people, but it is expected that only a handful have the talents and abilities to continue the work of the church as it has always been done? How many church people have been turned away when they desired to volunteer because some leader wasn’t sure of their ability? How many church people have given up volunteering because of leaders that have to maintain control in spite of a lack of success or sometimes even effort?

Jesus eventually left his disciples in charge to make new disciples.  He didn’t stick around and micromanage them.  How many church leaders will only allow someone else to take over a ministry if it is done in the way THEY did it?  How many church people don’t feel empowered by the leadership?

Dear church, I’m sorry.

So what can we do to fix this?  How can we become a church that thrives and grows again?  We do so by following the example of Jesus beginning with our church leaderships.  We walk with people and invite them to join us in ministry.  We model for them.  We mentor them through encouraged involvement and responsibility.  When the time is right – before we are dead – we turn responsibility over to the next generation and/or encourage new activity and ministry within the church.  We actively seek to multiply the work God is doing through us by raising up disciples of Jesus who learn to walk in His ways by following the ways of His followers.

Learning can happen through listening, but learning and growing and maturing happens most often through modeling, mentoring and motivating.  These are actions.  The church is to be on the move, not stationary.  The people are to join in the work of God by actively seeking to spread the kingdom daily in their lives.

If you don’t feel that your church leadership is mentoring you in this way, ask them. Encourage them to take you under their wing. Watch what they do. If they follow Jesus, follow them. If not, look for a mentor who does. Then, as you grow in confidence in the Holy Spirit who lives in you, you go be the leader, the evangelist, the minister, the missionary, the disciple. 


Is Church Worth It?


Is church worth the time and effort?

No.

If you only attend once a week just to make sure you’ve done your Christianly duty, then it has no true benefit to you.  If you hear the sermon but never put what you heard into practice, then what’s the point of showing up? If, during communion, your mind is everywhere except on the sacrifice and grace of Christ and the family with which you are communing, then why participate?

So many people wonder why they don’t get anything out of their church experience.  They complain that the messages are boring.  They complain that the church members never visit when they’re in need, yet they aren’t around enough for people to get to know them and their needs.  They complain that there aren’t enough programs for their kids.  They jump from church to church never planting roots, and they wonder why church doesn’t bring any true benefit to their life.

Does this sound familiar?

Is the church worth the time and effort?

If you come to the assemblies to give (not just to get), then you find that you are blessed beyond measure, and your life will be changed.

If you spend more time than simply during the worship assembly once a week with your brothers and sisters in the church, then you will build relationships that allow for many great benefits in life – not the least of which is real family. So many people are questioning the necessity of Sunday and Wednesday evening gatherings.  I, too, have wondered about their relevance.  However, when people overlook those assemblies, they miss out on a much more intimate time of fellowship and discussion that brings relationship growth in the body of Christ.  Those who attend the peripheral gatherings (Sunday morning class, Sunday evening assembly, Wednesday evening classes and others) find much more fulfillment in their church membership. This is due to the relationships that are fostered in these gatherings and the discussion that happens which brings spiritual growth.

If you come to experience the presence of God through worship and a message from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God, you will find God, and He will bring healing to you.

If you come to commune with your savior and your family in Christ, you will find renewed salvation and unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you come to offer love to those you encounter, you will leave feeling loved by others and by your Father in Heaven.

If you come to fellowship, you will find relationships that help drive out loneliness and can even help heal depression. You will find connection to something bigger than yourself.

If you come to volunteer, you will find that there are ample opportunities to serve, and those programs you wished were there could be manned by your involvement.

If you come looking for ways to connect – not ways to simply exist – you will find that church is well worth the time and effort.

Are you finding fulfillment and spiritual growth through your involvement in a church gathering? If not, I would like to suggest you try two things in this order:

  1. Get involved.  The more involved you get, the more you will find yourself in the middle of the relationships in the church.  This will bring community and connection that will help foster purpose and fulfillment in your calling to be a disciple of Jesus. This will allow you to experience the love of the body of Christ.
  2. If you’ve gotten involved, or tried to get involved, but the church is obviously lacking in its ability to love, then talk to the leadership of the church about your experience.  Don’t be shy.  They need to know.  If they listen and change things, GREAT! If not, it may be time to find another gathering where you can attempt number 1 again.

Church shopping shouldn’t be a trend, yet it seems to be. Instead of jumping from place to place looking for the coolest worship or the hippest preachers or the most energetic children’s ministries, get involved where you are, and see if you can help the church where you’ve been planted grow into the church it should be.

One last thought: A church that isn’t loving is not a church that is of Jesus.  If the church doesn’t follow the greatest commands (love God and your neighbor), then finding a church that does love seems to be the only viable option.

I know a great church in Aztec, NM that loves one another and seeks to invite others into that love.  If that’s what you’re looking for, then come be a part of our family at Aztec church of Christ.  God bless you all.


Confession Time


If I were to ask you to tell of your sins, how would you respond? I would assume you would balk at the question and do everything in your power either to change the subject or physically leave my presence.

Confession is a lost art in Christianity today, and its absence is keeping us in bondage.

When we have sin that isn’t confessed, it eats away at us.  It keeps us from truly finding healthy intimacy in marriage and even friendship relationships. And it keeps us from finding healing from that sin since we aren’t willing to ask for help.

Confession brings freedom.

I know the excuses. I know you’re scared to let someone know the things that are ugly about you for fear they might use that knowledge to abuse you. You’ve experienced it before. Hurt people hurt people, and you don’t feel you can trust someone enough to confess your sins to them.

These are valid. Trust is easily broken and much harder to build.

However, if a sin you’re struggling with becomes public knowledge, it may hurt at first, but there is freedom from having to hide it once it is revealed. Then you’re free to work on that issue without restraint or secrecy.

We treat confession like it is optional. We confess when we feel like it to whom we feel like it, and sometimes (often times) we don’t confess at all. The scriptures are pretty clear about confession.

James 5:16
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Proverbs 28:13
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.

Psalms 32:5
I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Confession is essential to the growing godliness of the believer. Through confession we invite the accountability needed to actually stop sinning. It is possible to stop that sin you’re struggling with.

Confession is given first to God – not because he doesn’t know, but because you need to admit your problem.

Confession is given next to your brother or sister in Christ. If you’re married, start with your spouse. Beyond that, confession is better done with someone of the same gender. The purpose for this type of confession is to invite them into your struggle to pray with you, check on you, and walk with you as you grow beyond this temptation.

People in recovery programs understand the need for this kind of healing process. We shouldn’t think that because our sin doesn’t involve alcohol or drugs we don’t need the same process to overcome our sins.

If you’re struggling to confess, start small…confess the little things. Then you will see how they react and help. If you’re looking for someone to confess to, look to your minister and his wife or your elders and their wives. They would be honored to join with you in this journey of healing.

Remember, the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore, my sin stinks just like yours, so I have no right to look down on your struggle when I have my own.  If we all understood and behaved according to this fact, we would be much more eager to confess to one another.

May you find healing through confession, and by this, may the church become strong in unity and love.


The Trouble with Words


Have you ever known someone who said they would accomplish a task, but when things got tough they flaked out? Have you ever been this person? Are you this person? 

In our culture today it seems like this is acceptable. People of all ages are in the habit of volunteering for some duty and quitting before the duty is completed, or they volunteer for the duty and merely do enough to scrape by, grumbling the whole time about the job they have to do. When this happens, it affects everyone involved – not just you. 

To say you will accomplish a task and then proceed to do a half-hearted job is dishonest and lacking integrity. To quit on your responsibility before you have completed it is to put others in a bind and show that you are untrustworthy. 

When we behave in such a way we teach our children this is acceptable, and then we wonder why they don’t want to stick with that sport or this instrument or any such optional activity. 

When you make up your mind to take on a responsibility, integrity says you follow through to its completion. 

As a leader in different organizations who delegates so that the workload is lighter for all, I have experienced the flakiness of this generation for years. I have seen people volunteer for a task and never begin to do the work. I have seen people volunteer with gusto but wither away into oblivion before the completion of the job. This reflects on their personality as well as the leadership who trusted them with the responsibility. 

If I seem like this is a soapbox issue for me, it is because it is. 

I was raised to give my word and follow through. I was raised that to do less was dishonest and left lasting impressions on others concerning my integrity. I was taught that this was a reflection on my character as a son of God. 

Imagine if Jesus gave up before the cross. Imagine if Paul quit after the first scourging. Imagine if church leaders stopped leading. Imagine if parents stopped parenting. What would the world be like? It could be that it wouldn’t be much different than it currently is. 

Jesus spoke of the integrity that should be associated with our words when he said “let your yes be yes”. When you make a commitment, your word should be your bond. You should be the type of people others can rely on to follow through with their promises. 

The apostle Paul said this:

Colossians 3:23-24

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Would you quit if Jesus was there in the flesh? Would you halfheartedly work for him? Yet this passage says that’s exactly what we do when we don’t follow through with our word. 

I encourage you to volunteer with many different ministries and organizations – as much as you can juggle. However, be it a church ministry, community organization or relationship, work at it as working for the Lord.  If you realized it was a mistake to volunteer be honest and admit your error so others can finish what you started. But please work with integrity, leaving the job well done for the next person to follow in your steps. 

This is the way of the kingdom. 


Just for Men…ok, Women too


For nearly two thousand years, the church has struggled with the hierarchy of leadership. Bishops, priests, deacons, elders, pastors, preachers, cardinals (birds?), etc. We have worship leaders and prayer leaders and ministry leaders and youth leaders. Now there are arguments as to whether women can be leaders in these and other roles. I think we argue about  leadership roles because we have forgotten what true leadership looks like. 

Husbands, you are the head of your household, physically and spiritually. The scriptures say so. So you get to have your way, right? 

If your marriage is struggling, may I suggest it is because you have held a more worldly view of your headship in the home than a biblical view. 

The world says the head is in charge. That’s where the brains are. That’s where the mouthpiece is, and the rest of the body sustains the head. In families, men act like kings and unintentionally trample those they claim to love by their exercise of authority. 

Jesus is the head of the church. How does he lead? He sacrificed himself and daily intercedes for us.  

When you read of a husband’s leadership in Ephesians 5, you read terms like these:

  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ
  • Gave himself up for her
  • Sanctify her
  • Love her as your own body
  • Nourish and cherish her
  • Love her

Where’s the authoritarian attitude in this passage? It is non-existent. A godly husband is a voluntary servant for his family – loving them by sacrificing himself for them daily. 

Does this look like your experience as husband? What woman wouldn’t want a husband like this? 

In the church we encourage the men to take leadership roles, but those don’t look much different. A leader is a servant. He is not someone who is exercising his authority to get his way. He is sacrificing time and effort and even finances for the good of the church, the bride of Christ. 

Oh, and he’s not doing it for the praise of others. If that were the case, he would receive no reward from the Father. 

If the church functioned with the servant-mind of Christ, there wouldn’t be so many arguments about who can do what. We wouldn’t consider someone of higher prestige because of their particular title. We would encourage all to serve and be grateful for their service. 

If husbands functioned with the servant-mind of Christ, there wouldn’t be divorce. If you were serving, cherishing, loving, praying for, and nourishing your wife, she would be with you forever. If wives functioned with the servant-mind of Christ, there wouldn’t be so much resentment against husbands. 

Face it. No one deserves to be served by you. No one deserves your love and gifts of time and effort. But you don’t deserve that from Christ either, and he gladly, willingly, gave everything for you. So do likewise. 

“Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” -Jesus (John 13:12-15)

Lead by serving like Jesus, and watch the people around you blossom. 


Alternative Facts


We are coming to the end of an era in our generations called the “postmodern age”. This is a cultural response to the modern era which sought to solve the world’s problems through science and reasoning. During the modern era, great advancements were made in technology and medicine that will forever change the world, but the postmoderns saw that the philosophy of the physical sciences could not entirely solve problems like war, poverty, and even interpersonal relationships.

So the mindset shifted in a bit of a reaction to the ideals of the modern era to what we now call the postmodern era. In this reaction, truth became questionable and relative. No longer were there any absolutes. Now, all truth is relative and dependent on each individual’s perspective which is shaped by their cultural influences.

Does this frustrate you? To an extent it should.

Because of the shift of postmodern thinking we now have phrases like the one commonly being used by new sources all over: alternative facts.

Instead of calling something a half-truth or a whole lie, because of political correctness we now refer to misleading someone by using only the convenient facts as using “alternative facts”. Your truth is valid, and so is mine, and don’t you dare judge my truth with yours.

This is maddening in the political realm. It is exhausting in the spectrum of news sources available today. It is exactly what we teach our children not to do.

Maybe you were taught as I was: a half-truth is a whole lie.

Contrary to current thinking, there is truth that is not relative. Jesus is truth. The gospel is truth.  The consequences of sin is truth. The love of God is truth.

Even in society there still exists truth that is not relative. One needs merely to look for it.

In order to find truth in any circumstance, you must consider all sides of a situation – you must consider the context.

What we don’t want to admit is that the church has been functioning with partial truths for nearly the entirety of its existence. Even the concept of denominationalism is founded on the idea that you can read the bible through one lense and me another, and we can come to differing conclusions on the same topic.   When I focus on one set of scriptures concerning a topic, and you focus on another set concerning the same topic, we may disagree.

Our goal, then, as followers of Jesus, should not be to read the bible with a preconceived lense, rather we should read the entirety of scripture in context in order to derive our conclusions from the text instead of inserting them into it. When we insert our ideas and refuse to look at passages that don’t jive with our desired conclusion, we invite division and discord into the church.

I pray that the church doesn’t imitate our current culture in claiming “alternative facts”. I pray we are humble enough to accept correction where we have been ignorant. I pray that the church can lead the way in standing for truth as it is written in the Word of God. I pray that our desire for contextual understanding brings grace and unity rather an excuse to further divide.

What’s the upcoming generation going to be called? I don’t know – maybe the post-postmodern era. In any case, I pray it is a returning to truth that is NOT relative while maintaining spiritual fervor.


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