What if I told you we were doing it all wrong?

We see changes in our culture and it is freaking us out

It has been written and said that we are living in a post-Christian culture. A post-Christian culture can be defined as “a culture where the Christian faith and worldview no longer has a dominant influence in society.” Many of us were brought up in a world where there was common ground when it comes to absolute truth and morality. That is definitely not the case any more. The problem is the way in which Christians are responding to the changing culture. Out of fear and insecurity about the loss we are experiencing we have become angry and have begun to fight a culture war.

We need to understand what is going on beneath the surface in the hearts and minds of the people all around us

What we need to do is stop and realize that the arguments we are having are, for the most part, symptoms of something much deeper. Let’s take sexuality for example. Many Christians are shocked regarding how our culture’s view of sexuality has changed. So, what do we do? We will argue with people (very rarely in person) about the issue of sexuality. What we normally find is that our arguments have very little power to change anyone’s mind. Why do you think that is true?

The reason that it is true is due to the fact that their world views have completely changed. Our culture’s view of truth, gender, and morality have changed massively over the years. Think of it this way, we are arguing with people about the software when the real problem is the hardware. It might just be possible that our “conversations” are having little impact because they are not going deep enough.

We need to go beyond throwing truth grenades and look to build relationships

So what do we do? One main idea that I keep expressing time and time again is that we need to build actual relationships. We have to give up the idea that the hard hitting meme we post or the political rant is going to make any difference. All that it is going to do is push people away and make it less likely that they will ever come to know the Truth personally.

Imagine this for a moment. Christians, working hard to build old-fashioned relationships with people who are very different from them. Listening. Showing genuine empathy. Asking lots of questions. Being open to the idea that we can learn from others who come from very different backgrounds. It is in the context of a relationship that we can go beyond the surface and talk about the basis, or the foundation, for what we say we believe. The online post or rant is easy, and if we are honest, it feels good to throw out an occasional truth grenade and pretend that we actually accomplished something positive. To go deeper in relationship will come about only when we love people more than we love winning an argument. But the question we are faced with is this, will we take the time, get out of our comfort zone, and actually build relationships with people very different from us?

Church, we must seize this pandemic moment!

I just participated in an online meeting where JD Greear and Andy Crouch were talking about “Ministry During and After a Crisis.” The meeting led me to this thought, it would be a catastrophe for Christians to fail to embrace the truth that God is at work during this pandemic. I say that because I am concerned that we are tempted to coast through this pandemic by binging on TV, wine, and food. More than coasting or even worse, numbing or escaping from the realities of life, certainly God desires to transform his people and prepare them for a new season of ministry.

As we think about the book of Acts (and church history in general) we find that God uses persecution to light a fire in his church and for the spread of the gospel. Is it possible that God wants to use Covid-19 to do a new work in our lives, churches, country, and world? I will be bold enough to say that the answer is yes! With that said, I would like to give us 8 things that we should be doing now and that that will empower us to come out of this pandemic ready to make a positive difference in this world.

  1. Spend time in God’s Word. Here at New Life Church I am excited to say that we are going to begin a church-wide campaign that encourages people to be reading and studying God’s Word. We can’t expect to grow spiritually, or to be ready to see how God wants to be at work in us, if we are not digging into God’s Word. Are you immersing your heart and mind in the Word?
  2. Spend time in prayer.  Are you using this time to ask God light a fire in your life? Are you asking God to use this time to create a spiritual hunger in the lives of people in your everyday life? This Sunday, May 3rd, we are working with a number of other local churches to have a community time of prayer online. Pray, pray and pray some more. We simply can not expect to see the Spirit work if we are not faithful in prayer.
  3. Ask and answer the question, what work does God want to do in your life? Are there some strongholds or idols in your life that God wants to surgically remove? Are there any life long habits that have caused you more pain than anything else? Addictions, anger, bitterness, apathy, legalism,  materialism, lust? God has given you this unique time in order to shape you into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ.
  4. Don’t give into fear and anger. During this pandemic we have acted as if people are the enemy. I don’t know if this behavior is really new, perhaps it is just heightened during the past few weeks. We have been acting like the enemy is people who disagree with our opinions regarding Covid-19. The bible can not be more clear that people ARE THE MISSION, not the enemy! Even now during the pandemic, let’s use words that heal. Consider the possibility that your “well-researched” conspiracy theory is really just nonsense. Speak and live in such a way that draws people closer to Jesus. Don’t burn relational bridges during this pandemic.
  5. Be praying specifically for “Who’s Your One?” Here at New Life Church we have asked people to identify one person in their everyday life that needs to know Jesus personally. So let me ask you, who’s your one? Keep praying. Reach out to them via cell phone or Zoom. We don’t need to go off mission because of the trials we are going through.
  6. Maybe the best thing you can do is truly unplug, get away from distractions, and find rest in Christ. There have been times when I have thought, why in the world (pastors might be the worst at this) are we trying so hard to keep ourselves busy? Maybe it’s God who is working overtime to get us to slow down so that we will focus more on him. A.W. Tozer writes this, “Unquestionably, part of our failure today is religious activity that is not preceded by aloneness, by inactivity. I mean getting alone with God and waiting in silence and quietness until we are charged with God’s Spirit.”
  7. Leave behind the idea of a being a lone ranger Christian. This pandemic has revealed to us that we need to be in relationship with other people. Community in the church is the green house for discipleship to flourish. Let’s stop with the idea that it’s “just me and Jesus.” When things get loosened up, when it is OK to gather together again, get involved in a Life Group or whatever your church calls it.
  8. Be determined to come out of this pandemic and leave behind consumer Christianity. If this pandemic is over and you are still sitting at home on Sunday morning looking for the best worship experience then you need to know that you have moved away from following Jesus and into a lifestyle of consumerism. Make a commitment NOW that when the pandemic is over to be more involved than ever in your local church.

Perhaps this can become a theme song for us…

Most Important Dating Advice

I recently went on a walk with my daughter Audra. We talked about dating and what to look for in the person she dates or marries. She amazes me with her maturity at such a young age. That conversation led me to write this brief post.

Ready for the dating advice? Ready or not, here is is…

Date and marry someone who passionately loves Jesus AND the church.

That’s it. Here is why that simple advice is so important; nothing else will make a bigger impact on your marriage, family, and your spiritual growth. Maybe you are a little uncertain about the person you are interested in. Maybe they say the right things, but something seems/feels a little off.

Here are some warning signs to watch out for when it comes to the person you are interested in:

  • They have a hard time articulating the gospel and describing how they came to know Jesus personally. The reason might be that they have confused religion with being in love with Christ.
  • They say some of the right things about Christianity and the church but their life does not really line up with their words.
  • They only go to church when you put pressure on them.
  • They don’t have Christian friends.
  • They don’t have a hunger to know God through the Word and prayer.
  • Their presence in your life does not inspire and motivate you to seek after God with all of your heart.
  • You don’t ask mature, Christian friends (and parents) what they REALLY think about the relationship. Inwardly you fear what they might say.

15 Things I Would Tell My 15 Year Old Self

  1. You are going to come face to face with the pleasures of partying and hedonism. It Michael High Schoolwill come very close to killing you and it won’t satisfy the deepest cravings of your heart. It’s a very seductive lie.
  2. Relax! Don’t worry so much about what people think of you.
  3. Plan now for what you are going to do when you are done with High School. It seems like a million years a way but it’s not.
  4. Girls are good. But they are not the sole meaning and purpose of life.
  5. Make sure that you are really drawing closer to Jesus rather than just going through the preacher kid motions.
  6. Try your best to keep perspective. You will be strongly tempted to think that these teen years are all that matter. Which will lead to way too much drama and inner turmoil. Truth be told, your best days are ahead of you!
  7. You and your family don’t have much money, its OK. Again, don’t worry so much about the car you drive or the clothes you wear.
  8. Don’t drop out of High School (which I did). Study hard.
  9. Take some chances (don’t worry about looking like an idiot) and try to make the basketball or football team.
  10. You do have some good friends at church. Open up, tell them how much are struggling at school. Don’t deal with it all by yourself.
  11. Don’t be so terrified of the cafeteria and the fact that you do not know anyone. Find one person to sit with and talk to. You can do this.
  12. You are not as smart and wise as you think you are, talk to your mom and dad more.
  13. The friend with the maroon Camaro is going to get you in trouble. Walk away.
  14. You will grow up and love to read. Why aren’t you reading now? Read!
  15. Those skin tight jeans are not nearly as cool as you think they are.

It’s crazy, as I started compiling this list I began to realize how much of a hold fear had on me during my teen years. Fear of man. Fear of fitting in. It’s probably why songs like THIS still resonate with me. Confidence in who I am and how God has made me would be one thing I would want to change about my 15 year old self.

What would your list look like?

 

Week 1: Ask Pastor Michael-Why Does God Allow Suffering?

Covid-19 has made it challenging to gather as a church family. Partly, in response to the isolation we are facing, I decided to do “Ask Pastor Michael.” I am asking people in my church to email me any questions they have about the Word of God. Then on Sunday nights at 6:00 pm I am streaming my answer on Facebook.  One of the first questions I received was, why does God allow suffering? Of course I would love to hear your thoughts, ideas, and questions.

Review Of Movie, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified”

In Christ alone! – who took on flesh,
Fullness of God in helpless babe.
This gift of love and righteousness,
Scorned by the ones He came to save
Till on that cross as Jesus died,
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
(From the song, “In Christ Alone”)

This past Sunday night, here at New Life Church, we watched the movie, “American Gospel: Christ Crucified.” Here is the trailer for the movie:

The week following the movie I received questions from a number of people asking me what the main point of the movie was. I could definitely sense that there was some confusion regarding the movie and this brief article is an attempt to clear things up.

THE MAIN ARGUMENT THAT THE MOVIE IS TRYING TO MAKE

The main argument that the movie is trying to make is that penal substitution is a biblical concept taught in the Word of God.  Professor Jarvis J. Williams defines penal substitution like this:

“Jesus died a violent, substitutionary death to be a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of Jews and Gentiles. By this death, Jesus took upon himself God’s righteous judgment and wrath against the sins of those for whom he died. By dying as their penal substitute, Jesus paid the penalty for their sins, and he therefore both propitiated God’s wrath against their sins and expiated their sins so that the sins of Jews and Gentiles would be forgiven and so that they would be justified by faith, forgiven of their sins, reconciled to God, reconciled to each other, participate in the future resurrection, and saved from God’s wrath.”

WHAT ARE SOME PASSAGES THAT SUPPORT PENAL SUBSTITUTION?

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. -Isaiah 53:5-6

Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. -Romans 3:25-26

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Corinthians 5:21

IS PENAL SUBSTITUTION A RECENT DEVELOPMENT WITHIN THE CHURCH?

The short answer is no. In 150 AD we find this in the writings of Diognetus:

“For what else was able to cover our sins except the righteousness of that one? In whom was it possible for us, the lawless and ungodly to be justified except in the Son of God alone? O the sweet exchange, O the inscrutable work (of God), O the unexpected benefits (of God), that the lawlessness of many might be hidden in one righteous man, while the righteousness of one might justify many lawless men.” (Diognetus. 9.3–5).

IS THERE SOME REASON WHY THIS MOVIE IS CONFUSING?

I believe that too many churches have spent a great deal of time talking about the love of God and have failed to talk about his holiness. (HERE is an article I wrote about the holy love of God.) Too often teachers and churches dodge topics about God’s judgment and wrath. The result is that we honestly don’t know what penal substitution even means or just how important it is.

YEAH, BUT WHY MAKE SUCH A BIG DEAL ABOUT IT? WHY GO TO THE TROUBLE OF MAKING OR WATCHING A MOVIE ABOUT PENAL SUBSTITUTION?

There are some people who are writing and teaching against penal substitution. Steve Chalke writes this, “…a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: “God is love”.

One of my personal mottos is, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” But when it comes to the importance of the gospel we must be willing to take a bold stand because if we don’t get this right then we failed at the very point by which a person enters into a personal relationship with God the Father.

 

5 Ways A Disciple-Making Attitude Changes Everyday Life

At New Life Church we highlight the fact that our main mission as followers of Jesus Christ is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Our mission is to make disciples who make disciples. What would it look like in everyday life if we were seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ? How would it impact the way we live if we took the Great Commission seriously? Here are 5 ways a disciple making attitude changes everyday life. 

  1. When you attend Sunday morning worship (or other church events) you have your spiritual eyes open for how you can connect with other people relationally and help them grow in their faith. For example, as you gather with your church to worship you are not there just for your own spiritual good. You make it a habit to reach out to others and show them the love that Jesus Christ has shown to you. You begin going to retreats, socials, events so that you can be a blessing to others. It is more about others than it is about you. “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:3
  2. You no longer see the workplace as a secular environment, or something that is outside of your Christian calling. Jesus is Lord over everything and that includes where you work and go to school. It does not mean that you are walking around thumping people on the head with your Bible. Instead it means you are open to the idea that God wants to bring people into your life at work so that you can build a relationship with them and point them to Christ.
  3. You understand that God has called you to your neighborhood to be a disciple maker. The one thing your neighbor needs more than anything else is to know the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Do we think it is a mere coincidence that we live where we live? We are there (our home address) first and foremost as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
  4. You are less bored with everyday life in general because you realize that God is calling you to follow him in the middle of it. When everyday life becomes your mission field you realize that God is always at work and he is calling you to join him in the work that he is doing.
  5. You will have an friends who are not Christians. On another blog post I wrote this line, “I think the greatest weakness in the American church today is that we are not good at being a friend to sinners.” You can find that post HERE. It is so easy for us (I am including myself in this) to become isolated from those who are lost and need to know Christ. One way to measure how much we are motivated by the Great Commission is to think about how many friendships we have we people who do not yet know Christ.

If we took the Great Commission seriously it would have a powerful impact on the way we live everyday life. If you can think of other ways a disciple-making attitude would change a person’s life I would love to hear from you.

How To Take Sermon Notes

“The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ; and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it. No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching.” -Charles Spurgeon

I recently purchased the “Sermon Notebook” by matthiasmedia. After reviewing it for a bit I can definitely recommend it as a wonderful resource. Of course, being a pastor, there were a few things I wanted to change or tweak. We (New Life Church) will begin having copies of these notes available at the Welcome Desk in the church foyer.

WEEKLY SERMON NOTES

  • Find out what the passage is ahead of time and spend some time reading it during the week. Write down any questions that you might have about the text.
  • Date: _________________________
  • Passage: ______________________
  • Topic/sermon title: _______________________
  • What is the general outline of this sermon?
    • ___________________________________________
    • ___________________________________________
    • ___________________________________________
    • ___________________________________________
    • ___________________________________________
  • How does this sermon point me to Jesus?
  • In one sentence, what is the main idea of this sermon?
  • What is God saying to me through this sermon?
  • What will my response be to what God is saying to me?
  • Look back over your sermon notes once during the week. Pray and ask God to use his Word to spiritually transform you into the image of his Son.