Tag Archives: fellowship

No More Conforming, Be Authentic

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Him (Christ) with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle.  That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelivable.”  –Brennan Manning

Everytime I hear that quote, I shudder.  The thought that Christians, such as myself could be the greatest cause of atheism just breaks my heart.  That means that science, natural disasters, tragedy and other things we think cause people to turn from God are but a glimmer compared to the effect we have as Christians.  That’s not to say that people’s lives aren’t being changed and saved by the Holy Spirit as a result of us sharing with them and setting a Godly example, but there are many instances where we cause people to wander away from faith or just not consider faith at all.  When I sit back and think about how a statement like this could have an validity, I am brought to Romans 12:1-2, which says

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve of what God’s will is-His good, pleasing, and perfect will.”

We are called to live a life of excellence, and the pattern we are called to follow is the one set for us by Christ, not the one(s) that our culture and society tell us we should follow.  Sometimes we fall into the thought that we have to fit into a certain mold to be a “real” or “good” Christian.  The world has created that thought, and we end up believing it if we aren’t careful.  Some of these molds are:

  • We have to go to church every Sunday
  • We have to wear the right clothes
  • We have to say the right words
  • We have to smile the whole time
  • We have to act like nothing is wrong

When I delivered this sermon, I came to church and made sure to do something that I don’t normally do.  That was to be dressed in a suit with a tie and slacks, keep in mind, my normal Sunday morning attire is jeans and either a polo shirt, or a button-up shirt, so you can imagine the comments that ensued.  Many compliments about my dress, and of course, several questions about a funeral.  Here is a picture of my pre-sermon getup.

I will admit, it was quite nice getting the compliments from my fellow church members.  I actually fit into the mold that our churches have expected the preacherman to be wearing up in the pulpit, as opposed to how I wanted to dress, which was in my blue jeans and polo.  Now, there is nothing wrong with dressing up nicely, especially to bring the Word of God, so please don’t take me as meaning that you should never dress up nice, I think it’s a matter of preference personally.  But I dressed up this way to be the visual aid part of my sermon, more on that a bit later.

Back to before…we weren’t created to fit into some kind of mold in order to be a Christian, but the world sure does want us to fit a mold.  So, we feel like we have to fit into it, but what were we created for?

We were created for worship, more specifically, we were created to worship God.  We were also created for fellowship, to share the love of Christ with those around us all the time, not just occasionally on Sundays.  In the passage prior to Romans 12:1-2, we are given a look into what Paul was writing to the Roman church about.  I will give you a quick Philliphrase version of that passage.

  • God is all-knowing!
  • God is beyond our comprehension!
  • None of us know His thoughts!
  • He doesn’t owe us anything!
  • He created all, He gives all, and we owe Him all of our love, passion and commitment!

How does this fit into our lives?  Knowing what the passage says about God, we are urged to give Him everything.  Our lives are to be spent, presented, offered, and freely given completely to God for His use and glory.  By doing this, we are living a lifestyle of worship.  In this passage in Romans, the end goal is to know the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.  In order to do this, we have to do a few things.

First of all, we have to have that relationship with the Father.  Meaning, we have to acknowledge we are sinners and that Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave as a sacrifice for those sins.  After that, and let’s work backwards from what our end goal is, and examine what Paul described we have to do.

We need to experience a renewal of mind.  What does renewal mean?  Well, according to Google, to renew means:

  1. Resume (an activity) after an interruption
  2. Reestablish (a relationship)

Why do we need a renewal of our minds?  Just like we need a vacation sometimes to refresh our bodies and restart, our minds need a renewal from the old thoughts and focus we have before we experience Christ.  We can’t earn our way to Heaven, but our thought process before we know Christ is that the nicer we are to people or the more money we give to charitable causes.  This mindset is contrary to what scripture teaches, more specifically what Ephesians 2:8-10 tells us.  In a time where our culture feels as though not believing in God and believing in science means we are living in an age of reason, a renewal of mind sometimes seems unfathomable because of the social repercussions.  When the Holy Spirit beckons us, and we respond, our minds become renewed by faith.  By trying to figure out God with worldly reason, we completely avoid the aspect of the faith we are saved by, and called to live by.  When we try to live without faith, we begin to conform to the world around us.  Instead of conforming, we are to be transformed.  Which brings us to our next topic, transformation.

According to Google, to transform means-

  1. Make a thorough or dramatic change in the form, appearance, or character of.

When Paul writes the word transformed, he is referring to how our lives are to be changed to be completely different than before.  In order to do this, we have to fight the innate and selfish nature we are born with, and instead rely on the renewal of mind that we have upon receiving salvation.  The transformation comes when we recognize who God is, and give up all of the control we desire to have over our lives.  When we make the thorough and dramatic change in the form, appearance and character of our heart and soul, we have transformed from being selfish and ungrateful.  When that change comes, our new attributes are appreciative and redeemed.  Think about what Optimus Prime looked like before he would transform into a superhero robot.  Before we can call ourselves transformed, we have to look and live differently than we did before salvation comes.  This transformation is made possible only because God loves us, and He has given us the opportunity to be renewed and transformed.  In order for us to be transformed and renewed, we cannot conform any longer to what the world says is acceptable.

In order to know how not to conform, we should first understand what the word conform means.

  1. Comply with rules, standards, or laws.
  2. (of a person) Behave according to socially acceptable conventions or standards: “the pressure to conform”

When we are living and striving not to conform, we strive to live against how the world lives.  This can be anything from what we watch on TV, what we listen to on the radio, how we speak, treat others, and the list goes on and on.  Sometimes when we are striving the live a life that isn’t conformed, the world labels and categorizes Christians in ways that are sometimes fair, sometimes not.  Some of these categories are that we are all judgmental, we are all fake, or we are all hypocrites.  When we get put into one of these categories, we have a choice in the way we respond.  We can either be completely offended and fight back in a way that doesn’t represent Christ, or we can do as I’ve had to learn the hard way to do, and sit back and examine how I am perceived and why.  Some questions I have found useful are:

  • Do I exemplify Christ by the way I treat people?
  • Does my attitude reflect the love of Christ, or does it tear people down?
  • Do I act one way at church on Sunday and Wednesday, and when I’m not at church, do I act a different way?
  • Do I worry about the speck of sawdust more than I worry about my plank?

In the sermon on the mount, Christ taught the attitudes we ought to have to live a life that exudes that we are his followers.  Meekness, gentleness, compassion, mercifulness, peacemaking, and righteousness are all some of those characteristics.  Do we live these everyday?  Or do we just act like we have it all together and continue on with our lives, unchanged?  When we act like we have it all together, we have a tendency to put on a front, or a cover that looks great.  Underneath it, we can be so tumultuous, confused, and disgruntled we can lose our focus on Christ.  When this happens, we keep the front up and begin to conform to what is expected of us, and we forget what the transformation and renewal of mind felt like when we experienced Christ.  This can lead to the pressures of our society taking over, and we begin to marginalize things that would never have been an issue before, and our life becomes an unauthentic mess.  God knows what’s beneath that cover, He sees the mess that is covered by that shell of smiles.  We can’t hide our ragged insides from God, and it won’t be long before other people start noticing something is wrong with us, and then we hide.  Are we transparent, or are we hiding behind something fake?

When I got all the compliments yesterday morning about my suit, it drove home the point to me that even though I was dressed nice and looked very confident, I was still scared to death about preaching.  But, the best part about the suit was that it was just a facade.  My intention with wearing the suit was to cover up what was underneath.

Now, I know I’m cheesing in this picture, that was mostly because I had the intention of sending this picture to my mom to get a reaction from her.  The suit jacket covered up my cut up, sleeveless shirt and tattoo that became exposed when I took my jacket off.  How many times do we cover up our mess with something fake so people won’t think badly of us?  When we do this, we tend to act in ways that we wouldn’t if we were being authentic.  When we have turmoil in our lives, we have to look to Christ for that comfort and for that guidance through the murk and hopelessness that can come up when we are fighting spiritual warfare.  My encouragement to you and to myself, is to shed the desire to throw up that front and try to do everything on our own, and instead come to our family of believers for support and give everything to God.  I’ll leave you with this passage as an encouragement and reminder about what we’re supposed to be when we give it all to Christ.

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”            2 Corinthians 5:17-21

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Put All Your Eggs In!!

 

In September, I quit my job after almost 7 years of employment.  I had great benefits, pretty decent pay, and tons of opportunity to share the gospel of Christ with co-workers.  I also have 3 kids, a mortgage, at the time we had 2 car payments and the everyday costs associated with being a family man with a home and two vehicles.  So why did I quit working somewhere so stable and consistent?  God told me to.

It tends to sound either so cliché, or so crazy to people sometimes when I tell them that God told me to quit my job.  But it’s completely and honestly the truth!  My wife and I had been praying for between 6-9 months about what direction God was leading us in ministry, and the answer came through an unforeseeable avenue.  You see, my wife is an amazingly talented photographer, and has been building our business for the past 4 years.  She has done this, all while caring for myself and our 3 kiddos, and keeping our house from caving in on top of itself.  God has blessed her with a talent that many go to college to hone.  He also gave her an incredible mind for business and absorbing knowledge that just overwhelms me.  So after months of prayer, and seeking what we were supposed to do, God told me to quit my job and join my wife at home to run our business as a team.  Along with running the business, we felt very lead to begin home schooling our children.  Wowsers!

How do I know He told me to quit?  Here’s the really cool part of the entire deal.  When we seek His desires over our own, He will bless us beyond measure.  Where does this come from?

Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely.

Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.”

                                -Psalm 37:3-4 (HCSB)

In the past 7 years of marriage, my wife and I have been through many different trials.  Some have been financial, some have been emotional, some have dealt with past sins, some have dealt with sins that carried in from the past, and some have dealt with preferences as fickle as which way to hang the clothes in the closet.  The times that we have been caught not seeking to honor Christ with our marriage have resulted in some of the most chaotic seasons in our lives.  The times that we have sought to honor Him through all of our being, first individually and second, as a couple, He has blessed us beyond measure.  The decision for me to quit my job wasn’t an easy one to come to, but because I had been disobedient before and knew what the outcome was going to be, I decided to follow where He was leading us.  Our heart’s desires during the chaotic times, were for our selfish desires to be fulfilled.  When we were seeking Him, our heart’s desires were those that He gave us.  In order for us to know what His desire for us was, we had to follow what the next verses in that passage in Psalm say:

Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act,

 making your righteousness shine like the dawn, your justice like the noonday.”

                                                -Psalm 37:5-6  (HCSB)

You see, we can’t expect to fulfill God’s calling in our lives if we’re not seeking what He has for us to seek.  If we are chasing the “American Dream” of making a ton of money and living to glorify ourselves and give ourselves credit, we honestly cannot expect God to bless that!  I’ve been volunteering as the youth pastor at the church we attend for the past almost 3 years, and I love it!  However, I haven’t felt as though I’ve been serving in the capacity I’m called to because I was seeking to “make enough money” to sustain our household.  God made clear through the ever increasing antsyness of myself at my job, as well as the increasing busyness of our photography business, that I needed to leave my job.  As a result of taking that step, I have been able to focus more on that ministry at the church, and I have been able to focus on teaching and loving on our students more.  Along with that, there is time I have gained by being home with my kids and wife, and have had the absolute privilege of getting to know them so much more!  God’s blessings have been spiritual, emotional, physical, and yes, financial, and have been all but limitless!

Now, some of you may be asking “So basically I need to quit working at my job and God will make me rich?”  NO!!!  I’m not saying that at all!!  First of all, we aren’t rich, far from it.  We are, however, being blessed with His provision that all of our needs are being met and we are working toward becoming debt free.  God may be calling you to take the step of faith He called us to take, and He may be asking you to sacrifice something smaller in your life so that you will follow Him closer, and make your desires the ones that are His instead.

First of all, we must commit our ways to Him, never forsaking His grace and mercy on us, and understanding that He will never give us a scorpion instead of an egg (Luke 11:12).  Secondly, we have to rely fully on His providence and put all of our eggs in the basket of faith that He will provide!  If we put some eggs in the basket of faith, and put some others aside “in the off chance” that things don’t pan out as we hope, can we really say that we are following Him fully?  So to answer the question about what I’ve learned from being self-employed, I’ve learned that I can’t even begin to depend on my own ingenuity, provision, or most-especially, my own wisdom.  Everything must come from God.  I have to rely fully on Him, not putting some faith forward and saving some hope for just in case.  So basically, quit being selfish and faithless, and put all your eggs in God’s basket!

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Worship: Part I

Worship.  The context of the word varies greatly from culture to culture, religion to religion, and generation to generation.  I took the liberty of looking up the definition of worship on the Merriam-Webster website, and this is what it had to say worship meant:

As a noun-

1

chiefly British : a person of importance —used as a title for various officials (as magistrates and some mayors)

2
: reverence offered a divine being or supernatural power; also : an act of expressing such reverence
3
: a form of religious practice with its creed and ritual
4
: extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem <worship of the dollar>
As a verb-
1
: to honor or reverence as a divine being or supernatural power
2
: to regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion <a celebrity worshipped by her fans>
I find it incredibly interesting that in both forms of the word, the examples the dictionary used were for very surface level things.  One was worship of the dollar, and the other of a celebrity.  Kinda points to the foremost thoughts of our culture as Americans, doesn’t it?  This series will probably get some of you to raise an eyebrow and wonder “what in the world is this guy talking about,” and for others it may be an opportunity to see things through the eyes of a guy who was raised in church and has seen the good, the bad, and the horror of this thing we call religion.  Some of you who may read this may be familiar with how we have seriously mangled what worship is intended to be, and some may not have even thought about it before.  My intentions with anything I type in here are, as always, not intended to create dissent or to bash on the church, they are simply to help me and others to grow and learn.  I realize that some of my prior posts haven’t been the most positive things to read, but I do try to keep an honest and objective point-of-view, especially since I know that I’m nowhere near the perfect example of what a Christian is supposed to look like, sound like, behave like, and just be like in general.  With all that mess in mind, let’s begin!
Worship, to many, is the attention we give the object(s) of our desire and focus in life.  One needs not to look long at the corporate sector of our country to see that the dollar is an object of affection for many.  Another example, would be the attention we give to celebrities and dignitaries.  The main thing I can see pointing people in the direction of materialistic worship, is  the lack of Christ in culture and life.  The current president of our country made a comment that “We no longer consider ourselves a Christian nation…”  As much as has been made of this quote by the president, I think he inadvertently hit the proverbial nail on the head with this statement.  He meant the comment to promote religious diversity in our country, which there definitely is, but I agree that we can no longer consider ourselves as a Christian nation.  If you take a step back and look, at what our nation’s focus is on, you cannot honestly say we are a Christian nation.  When the majority of our nation makes the dollar, celebrities who live in and promote a sinful lifestyle the focus, we cannot say that Christ is the center of our nation.  The very label “Christian” implies that one is a follower of Christ, a “little-Christ” if you will.  There are areas and groups of people in our country that are definitely focused on following Christ, and that rebuke those who claim Christ but live directly and intentionally in darkness.  What does this paragraph have to do with worship?  Keep reading…
The only reason I used the president’s quote was to give a litmus of our nation’s status, not to begin a political firestorm, as I’ve really begun to separate myself from politics as much as I possibly can.  To determine what worship is, what it’s supposed to look like, what it’s supposed to sound like, we have to go to scripture.  All throughout the Old Testament, people worshiped God through sacrifice for sins, through praising Him for provision, protection, wisdom, etc.  This, with the exception of sacrifice of animals, still held true throughout the New Testament.  Worship in Biblical times was a lifestyle lived out through giving praise to God and to Christ for our salvation and His grace and mercy.  Too often we have substituted that lifestyle for just Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday night programs and corporate fellowship.  The church has become a club that we attend so we can be counted on the roll and noted as “being there,” as opposed to the intention of a gathering of believers to praise THE Almighty God in recognition of the grace we have in our lives because of His great love for us.  I really have to think that if Paul came to any one of our churches nowadays, he would be like Christ in the temple, tossing over tables and saying “What are you guys doing?!?!?!?!”  Since when does praising our creator get limited to learning about the stories in scripture by coloring pictures and gluing animals to a paper ark, and then going to “big church?”  When we get to “big church,” we sit for a few minutes, maybe make some rounds saying our howdy’s and shaking a few hands.  Then, we have the introduction and announcements, followed by some hymns/contemporary songs that we either sing or don’t sing, based on our preferences on music, then we have a pastor come and deliver the Words that have been laid on his heart by the Lord.  After that, we have an invitation/alter call where people can come down and pray with the pastor or at the steps in front of the stage about things God has spoken to them about.  Then, we all shake hands, say a prayer and go eat lunch and take a nap.  Where in here is worship?
I’ve been a born again Christian for almost 20 years now, and I can almost count on two hands the times that I have truly felt the Spirit of God in worship on Sunday mornings.  How sad is that?  Some will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so, to the lack of focus on my part to be included in the Spirit moving.  Others will attribute this, and sometimes rightfully so as well, to the lack of focus on those who are leading the body of believers in corporate worship.  The example of worship that we are to follow is lined out for us in Romans 12:1.
“Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.”
We don’t attend church to “get something out” of the message brought by the pastor, the Bible is not for our benefit.  That’s right, you read correctly.  Our pastor made this statement several months ago, and it really got me to thinking about how I had always looked at scripture.  To be honest, it really brought about a totally different perspective on how I need to be reading scripture.  The Bible is not for our benefit, it is for the Glorification of God!  What does this mean?
It doesn’t matter how much music we play or sing, how many programs or activities we organize, how great our choir sounds, how many people we attract because we have such a cool “worship experience,” if our hearts are not tuned into where God is leading us, it is all for naught. If we are not seeking to bring glory to the One who has created us and given us life through His son’s sacrifice, we are nothing but noisy busy-bodies.  I will be taking apart different aspects of our culture’s view of worship as churches and as a society throughout this series.  I have no idea how long it will go on, but I hope you’ll join me for the duration, as well as adding some feedback and opinions along the way.  I always invite any differing opinions on things I say, as it provides a way for me to learn more, and possibly have my perspective changed.  Thanks, and I look forward to continuing this series!
Phillip
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The Exciting Finale to the 3 Deadly C’s of Today’s Church

In this post, we will be utilizing the imagination sector of your brains as we look at the Corporate mindset of today’s church, so flip the switch on for just a few minutes…thanks!

Imagine this, one Sunday morning you are heading to visit a church you’ve heard some amazing things about from friends at work and just around in general.  As you pull up to the campus, you see an HD Marquee announcing two new worship experience times, immaculate landscaping, gorgeous aquatic features (fountains), and an incredible building complex.  You’ve heard that the entire thing cost in the double digit millions to build, so half of what you came to see was just the structures themselves.  As you walk inside, some guys pull open the doors for you and immediately you are greeted with some information requesting propaganda, and directed to turn it into the offering box as you get a chance.  As you peruse the expansive lobby, you see a bookstore with some of the lead pastor’s books displayed.  After you snoop around there a minute, you walk a little further down and come across the church coffee shop and decide to get a little perk before the service.  As you head into the worship center, you see smoke and lights emanating from the stage area as the band takes the stage to perform a welcome song.  Through the music time, the fog machines continue to run and the band disappears from the stage as the lead pastor enters.  The teaching from the pastor is good, and the band re-enters the stage to some more fog and lights and you leave feeling a little unsatisfied, unchallenged, and unchanged.  Why could this be?  The church has all the elements that we think a church should have to provide an experience worthy of a life to be changed for God.  What’s the problem here?  The problem, in my personal observation and opinion, is that we have exchanged intimacy with Christ, humility in ministry, and the real need for evangelism with the need to entertain a generation.  With the need for being “relevant” to the modern culture, comes the lack of humility in ministry and a loss of the need for evangelism.  Some churches like to disguise the fancy stage and concert atmosphere as evangelism.  I know it sounds an awful lot like I’m pointing my finger at certain churches within this post, but I know the church where I serve is missing on many aspects of effective ministry as well.  Sometimes we let the fact that our churches are experiencing massive growth, which isn’t a bad thing, overshadow the fact that the Gospel and message of Christ isn’t being shared as it needs to be.  Christ never put on a show as He was teaching, the closest thing to a show that He put on was the “Triumphal Entry,” and even that was more about the children praising God and His humble appearance as He arrived into town on a donkey.

Where does this leave the church?  Are we so worried about being portrayed as “cool,” or “awesome,” or “off the hook” that we miss the fact that worship isn’t the band playing music, and everybody having a good ‘ol time at church?  The time at church is for teaching, for fellowship, and for getting deeper into the Word with other believers.  Worship isn’t just an “experience” as some churches have advertised, it is a lifestyle, an everyday ongoing occurrence of our lives to glorify God through our lives.  I think the intentions of these churches that have the bands and stages and elaborate facilities may have started out in the right place.  Francis Chan once said that (and this is a paraquote) if Jesus or Paul started a church in the town where he was, his church would probably be bigger than theirs.  He says this not in a bragging way, but in a way to show that the truth of the Gospel is something that is hard to swallow sometimes, because it is always life-altering and convicting, and we don’t like that.  To be honest, that is all there really is to that conversation.  If Christ were here starting a church in America, would it be this magnificent building with a ton of all the newest stuff?  I feel as though the money that would be used for those things, would be used to help others in the surrounding community.  When we have these extravagant things, even if we do help those around us, we give off the impression that we are in fact worried about the aesthetics as opposed to the ministry of the Gospel.  My encouragement to myself, as well as everyone, is to focus on sharing the Gospel no matter where you are, because a building is just a building that will decay and wither one day.  Christ will not wither, He will not fall away, He is always there when you submit yourself to His will.

We cannot run a church as a business, because it is a ministry.  There can be structure to the fellowship, but rigidity has a tendency to stifle effectiveness due to the lack of flexibility.  On the other hand, if the church is run as though it is and entertainment group, the ministry is put aside then as well amongst the efforts of the church to fit in with the world around it.  There is no perfect church, except the one which all believers and followers of Christ will attend on that Glorious Day, but there is a lot we can do to strive toward the church Christ intended us to be a part of.

This is has been a 3 part series that I’ve been pondering for a while, and I am pleased that many of you have read the posts and some have even followed them.  Please let me know what you think, I am always open to discussion about anything I post. I will not disrespect you or your opinion(s), so don’t worry about all that, thanks for reading!

Read Part 2 HERE.

Read Part 1 HERE.

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE CD GIVEAWAY CONTEST! RULES ARE STATED IN THE PRIOR POST, SO GET BUSY!

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