What Does That Even Mean??

Do you ever wonder why pastors and professing Christians have a great need to say really obscure things to sound spiritual??  Even though we can sometimes figure out what people are saying when they use these words and phrases, when you take a step back and look at what people are really saying, it is really quite bizarre.  Why the need to always try to be relevant, “nuanced”, or say such abstract things.

Incarnational, Missional, Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Discipline, Social Justice, Speaking Prophetically, Beauty, Sacramental, Sacred, Speaking Life, Spiritual Rhythms, Journey, and Presence are just a very few of the trendy phrases of the day.  They are merely crafty formulations by people to describe some idea or topic.  But get this, even though many try to define these things as being Biblical, the concepts are actually often far from it.

I often hear about how absurd things like these are from other believers.  Instead of trying to have some “deep” meaning, why not just be clear and teach what the Bible actually says??  No need for some clever term or catch phrase; just explain the Word from the text.  I guess that doesn’t sell books, provide invitations to speak at conferences, grow churches, or get the most followers.  But I digress.

As believers we should expect so much more from those who are leading us in the Lord.

Let’s be clear.  Just because someone may be a good wordsmith, can speak in a way that may connect with people, and can even sound Biblical, doesn’t mean they are to be admired.  They may even say some Biblical things at times, but in the end, it truly makes them that much more dangerous.

The constant drivel of nonsense is nauseating.  What does Incarnational even mean??  How about Missional??  Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Discipline, Social Justice??  Speaking Prophetically??  What about Beauty, Sacramental, Sacred??  Speaking Life over people and culture??  Or how about Spiritual Rhythms, Journey, or Presence??

I don’t want to have to hear someone lecture in order to find out some hidden meaning or how they are defining some new term.  If the average believer can’t conclude these things, even from a cursory reading of the Bible, why do people think they need to invent or re-invent some phrase to capture what they are trying to say??

We have gotten so far away from pointing people to reading and studying the Bible that most today would rather hear what man has to say rather than God.  What we really need is to be teaching people Biblical discernment so that they might recognize true Biblical preaching and teaching versus the false teaching and false teachers that are truly all around us; even those who are in our local churches.

Biblical discernment starts with us.  We must be reading and studying the Bible enough to know the difference between truth and error and truth and opinion.  It isn’t enough that we just take some guy from the pulpit, someone speaking at a conference, an author who wrote a book, a blog, or some post on social media as the Truth, but spend the time to see who they really are and what they actually believe.  The reality is that it might truly surprise us what we will find out.

We must stop with the cute lines and hold those as pastors, leaders, authors, and even other professing believers to the same standard.  It all boils down to clearly declaring the Truth.

That means that sermons need to really be going through a book of the Bible systematically (without the constant jumping around to other passages), without an agenda or the modern day “sermon series”, and start explaining the Biblical text, as well as the real context, so people can understand what is written. (Nehemiah 8:8)  Enough with the acronyms, fill in the blanks, the 3 “R’s” of some topic, or the however many keys, ways, signs, marks, strategies, or steps to whatever.  Enough with filling sermons, books, and making pictures with spiritual sounding quotes from people.  None of that means anything.  Let me say that again.  None of that means anything.  Yes, it may be popular today, but please, please, can we all just return to actually preaching and teaching the Word.

This also means stopping the blogs, social media posts, and books on obscure trendy issues.  I really don’t want to read a book called, “Jesus Swagger” or “Swipe Right”.  These things again may be appealing to the masses, but this is absolutely ridiculous and needs to stop.

The sad reality is that these things will continue.  The sadder part is that most of the pastors you see partnering with one another at conferences and interacting on with each other on social media, promote these things and go around gushing over one another.  The same seems to be happening even among professing believers.  And these aren’t just isolated instances.  Chances are, a striking number of the pastors, leaders, authors, and even those in your own churches, are guilty of doing these things.  Don’t believe me, check out their social media feeds, the books they promote, and the things they are talking about and pursuing.

We can, and we must do better than this.  We are far past the time of tolerating this nonsense in the Church.  Why would we waste our time with those that continually feel the need to be focused on such ambiguous and random things by dragging Jesus’ name through the mud.

For the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of truly making disciples, we must return to the simplicity of clearly proclaiming the Bible.

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Take Some Responsibility

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”——Matthew 7:3

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We live in a world where people continually see themselves as a victim.  Something happens and all you hear about is how it is someone else’s fault.  This mentality of victimhood has taken over much of today’s thinking to the point where hardly anyone takes any responsibility for their own actions.

Growing up, my mom would always tell me to, “take some responsibility”.  It was her way of not letting me pit the blame on others when I clearly needed to evaluate my part in things.

Personal responsibility starts with reflecting on our own lives.  When you always look outward, you never see where you have failed, not done as you should, or even seen the sin in our own lives.  This introspection is critical, not just for the world, but especially for anyone to put their faith in Jesus.

This victim mentality has also taken root in churches.  Instead of boldly confronting sin, many have focused on simply comforting people.  They say things like, “we all sin”, or “life is just messy”.  This sounds more like an excuse for sin rather than understanding the Gospel.

My dad once told me about a pastor that talked about how people go to church after being so beat up during the week that all he wanted to do was just to show people love.  Although we can all acknowledge that people are hurting and going through very difficult circumstances, without confronting sin, people will never realize that their true need is repentance and faith in the Lord.  God’s love is not devoid of recognizing our utter sinfulness just because people are so “beat up”.

Taking personal responsibility requires us to see ourselves as the perpetrator.

When we go against God’s Way and sin against Him, ourselves, and others, we are not the victim, but the one who is truly guilty.  We are the true offender.  It is our offense against a Holy God that deserves God’s wrath and punishment.  Our sin has separated us from fellowship with God and the just sentence is eternal punishment in Hell.

A growing number today don’t want to hear the bad news about sin.  Even a growing number of pastors and leaders don’t like the “atonement theory” about Jesus dying on the cross as punishment and substitute in our place.  They would rather redefine the atonement to something that better suits their idea of non-violence and Jesus’ victory over a violent world.

The reality is that when anyone begins to redefine foundational doctrines of the faith, it changes faith completely.  When we don’t understand that we are the ones that are guilty and deserving God’s punishment for our sin, we are no different than seeing ourselves as merely victims in some cruel game.

This isn’t to say that awful things don’t happen and that we can actually be the casualty of evil at times.  There are times when sin and sinful actions are done against us.  But to always be looking to blame others for the reasons for broken relationships, lost jobs, lying, cheating, or the myriad of other things we may have done, is to miss the point completely.

Personal responsibly requires great humility.

Pride is the opposite of humility.  Pride says that I am better and more deserving of beneficial treatment.  When things go bad, a life of pride points out the faults in others, but doesn’t look at the sin in one’s self.

Humility, on the other hand, truly understands that the only thing each of us deserves is God’s punishment for our sin.  Humility takes an honest look at how we have gone our own way against God.  Humility doesn’t downplay our guilt, but embraces our utter need for God’s grace and forgiveness.

Many reduce sin to simply “making mistakes”.  Sin is so much more than just “making mistakes”.  Sin is open rebellion against God’s Way.  Taking responsibility for our sin is to make it clear that we are the offenders.

So when we sin against God, ourselves, and others, we cannot look for excuses to blame others.  We must humbly accept our guilt and confess our sin to God and to those we have sinned against.

Seeking forgiveness is difficult for all of us.  It is difficult because we don’t know how the other party is going to respond.  Some even believe that they cannot go to God and find grace and forgiveness.  But if we know God is loving and desires us to confess and repent of sin, we should quickly go to Him knowing we will find mercy, hope, peace, and true forgiveness.

In seeking forgiveness from people, we often question if they will react in anger or even reject us.  But taking personal responsibility should not be based upon how others may respond, but rather about us owning up to our sin and the things we have done; it is doing what is right in spite of the outcome.

Taking responsibility is never easy, but it is absolutely necessary.  In a world that continually sees itself as the victim, we must walk in humility and examine our own lives.  As believers, it is even more important that we don’t fall into the victim mentality of the world, but live in a way that truly takes ownership of our sin.

As my mom always would say, may we each truly learn to, “take some responsibility.”

Shameless Self-Promotion

I realized that even before going into ministry that I was no where “cool” enough to be a pastor.  And I honestly don’t think that if I was to try to “get hired” as a pastor in most churches today, I would even get a second look.  I don’t have a seminary degree, I have never written a book, I don’t have the charisma to capture an audience, and I’m not up on all the hipster style or trends of the day.

Sure, I may be generalizing a bit, but as they say, “generalizations are generally true”.

A growing number of “pastors and leaders” tend to fit a common mold.  Instead of looking at the Biblical qualifications of books like Timothy and Titus in the Bible, many are chosen because of other worldly characteristics.  Even the qualifications for ordination in many denominations say they look to the Bible in examining pastors, elders, and deacons, but in reality they rely heavily upon man-made characteristics far more.

Because someone has a master’s degree, or even a doctorate in ministry, doesn’t make one the least bit qualified in themselves for ministry simply because they did the work.  If someone has planted, grown, and established churches, doesn’t mean in themselves they have the Biblical qualifications to lead a church.  And just because someone can gain an audience, write books, speak at conferences, or has the “look” of a pastor, doesn’t mean in themselves they are qualified.

But what we see is that these things often times take precedent.  Whereas, we used to have to read a person’s books or hear them speak over a period of time to find out what they actually believe, now a person’s beliefs and what is important to them can be found out quite easily without having to dive so deep.

Social media, for example, has been a blessing and curse in many ways.  Much more of a curse than a blessing for many, I believe.  Social media has led to the rise of people who would otherwise only be known in their remote parts of the world.  Now, in real-time, they can post, comment, and share their thoughts and beliefs like never before.  They gain followers and audiences, speaking to people who were hardly reachable even a decade or more ago.

With all of this, churches, pastors, leaders, authors, bloggers and the like have gained a platform to “reach the world” and their “communities”.  In order to remain relevant, they must be on the cutting edge of well…everything.

Where it used to be enough for pastors to lead their churches, knowing their people and ministering to them personally, now the pastor is so shielded from people except for on their terms.  The interaction is usually contained to self-preservation against critics or acknowledgement of praise by other leaders or their own followers.

Some of the most self-absorbed people are truly pastors.

Many who are leading churches today look far more like CEO’s than Biblical pastors, elders, and deacons.  They are masters at advertising, marketing, and keeping the “message” fresh and relevant.  Those leading these churches know how to appear authentic and relatable.  And while I honestly think some may start with good intentions for doing what they are doing, the results have proven to be a complete and utter failure.  If their followers were really disciples, wouldn’t their lives actually reflect a growing faith and obedience to the Lord??

Pride is at the root of being self-absorbed.  Give people a bit of success and pride is off to the races.  Give people more success, and it is a run away train.

While businesses have something to actually sell, many pastors have found a way to sell themselves.  There are many names in the Christian world we could name who have made a major profit from selling their materials.  But rather than focusing on the countless names, it more important to recognize that what they actually are selling is themselves.

It is true that these pastors and leaders are often very talented people.  They are usually very charming.  Tie that together with talking about God and Biblical sounding things, they catch undiscerning professing believers off guard.

If they can get a book deal, along with leading a growing church, rub elbows with the whose-who of the conference speaking circuit, they have essentially made it.  But the never-ending cycle of needing to keep up with and make new trends, keeps them pushing the limits.

In order to remain relevant, these pastors and leaders need to continue to reach a bigger audience.  They need to always have a new book deal in the wings.  They need to be working on not only growing their current church, with it’s expanding influence, but also reaching beyond with all sorts of new “ministries”.  Not only that, but these pastors and leaders also need to be speaking at events all over the place regularly.

The constant need to be in the lime light drives them to new heights.  But in the end, these pastors and leaders are merely a shell.  They may look spiritual, even sound Biblical at times, but they end up leaving a massive trail of casualties in their wake.

At this point, you may be asking, “Who are these people and how else can I recognize them??”  Great question.  The reality is that these pastors and leaders are not those way out there, but are in our midst.  They may even be in some of our own churches.  Most will think that “they aren’t in my church”.  And that may be the case.  But chances are that even if they don’t fit the mold described here, they may be promoting and endorsing those that do.

Think about that for a moment.

It is important to know what are churches are promoting in terms of books to read, conferences to go to, and many other things.  It is even more important to know who our pastors and leaders are being influenced by and those they are following.

It is true that there are pastors and leaders who may have begun with good intentions, but a growing number have lost sight of how self-absorbed they have truly become.  They have lost sight of the simple and practical concept of teaching people about the Way of the Lord and meeting with believers to actually be the Church.  They may say that ministry is not about them, but one can’t miss how everything they do is really about themselves.  These pastors and leaders love to talk a big game about “Jesus”, but when you take a step back, you can see their true agendas.

Many of these pastors and leaders also tend to think they are the experts on basically everything.  They even like to be known as a “pastor to pastors”.  And so they find ways to be the “go to” guy that shepherds people as well as other pastors and leaders.  To be known is to have influence.

One trend that has been going on this past while is posting pictures on social media of pastors and leaders own books.  They love to share photos of people reading their books in various locations.  They like passing on the new discounts of where to buy their books.  They love to take pictures praying over their books (Making it seem like their books are more important than the Bible).  And worse yet, taking pictures of themselves going into bookstores to show off and sign copies of their own books.  If this doesn’t scream of shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is.

Another troubling trend is the constant praise from one pastor or leader to another.  You see it constantly about liking, commenting, and applauding one another for how “awesome” one another is and the things they say.  One such example is how they love to post “flame emojis” on each other’s posts saying that what they say is on fire.  Again, if this isn’t going around in sheer arrogance, I don’t know what is.

I say all this because it is important to recognize the things going on today.  The average professing Christian has been taught to follow man rather than God.  So when they see these pastors and leaders with a big audience and a voice to reach people, most latch on to them and others like them, hanging on their every word.

As I said, and it’s worth repeating.  These pastors, leaders, authors, bloggers and the like are not in some far off place or simply on the margins.  They are truly in our midst and in a growing number of churches.  I see these things going on all around and we must do the work to look into what we are really being taught and what is being passed on as Truth.  It is not enough to bury our heads in the sand and deny that these things are actually taking place.  And it is also not enough to think that just because I may not have seen this going on personally, that these things aren’t true.

It is critical for us to examine these things and make sure we don’t find ourselves enamored with what man has to say rather than what God says in the Bible.  Who cares what conference people are speaking at, being excited for so and so’s new book, what “cute” catch phrase is quoted on social media, or whatever some trendy thing people are talking about.  Let’s boldly dismiss those who are shameless self-promoters and surround ourselves with true believers that are only concerned about growing in faith and obedience to the Lord and simply being the Church.