The Cure For “Post Christianity”

Below new research by the Barna group on the continued decline of Christianity in America. I was shocked and sobered to find that of the 100 cities listed every major area in New York ( save Binghampton) is in the top 21. My current city, Rochester New York, being at 21.

While I’m not that surprised as every church in my region seems to be in decline, it has strengthened my resolve to hold the line on the gospel.

Many respond to stats like this, and wonder what the church has to do to become relevant again. They lament at old church models, and point to new cooler ones as the answer to the question of our lost relevance. I want to assure you, that asking that question is in fact why we are where we are.

Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, who spoke creation into existence and formed Adam with his bare hands, who holds the church in His hands and upholds all things by the word of His power, will never lose relevance.

The church is in decline for a number of reasons, but the foremost being clear.  We as a church have worried too much about saying what people want to hear to keep them in the building, that we have forgotten to declare the needed relevance, though sometimes hard to swallow, truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The Gospel is offensive to the world. The Gospel is like putting iodine on an open wound. It hurts and stings like crazy, but it kills the infection and seals the wound for rapid healing.

For me as a pastor of a church is western New York, this only strengthens my resolve. We need to preach Christ! We need to live Christ! We need to declare Him in his present love and in His future return. My life must represent His message of tender love and meekness He showed to beggars and prostitutes, while flashing His tremendous zeal for righteousness that He expressed in the temple to the money changers. My life must represent the understanding and patience He showed to Nicodemus, and the willingness to lose everything for the sake of love and the message of the coming kingdom.

Give me 50 pastors in Western New York to run with, that are known in Heaven for the time spent on their knees. Who tenderly, with genuine love, are unashamed to declare the truth of the Gospel without compromise. Who would rather build a legacy in the next age through prayer and fasting then books and accolades in this life. Give me those men and I promise we will see a habitation of the Holy Spirit in this region that is so tangible that the hearts of many will return back to the Lord at neck breaking speed.

As for me and my house at New Hope Fellowship, this is what we are contending for.

God give us grace to contend for a historic revival of the lost in this region. And if it’s your will to tarry, then give us the grace to contend until we die. That our lives would be wasted for your glory, because we’ve have touched your glory, and it’s all we desire.

Advertisements

A Statement That Changed My Life

On February 18th 2002 I was going about my morning routine. Had a cup of coffee, some sort of reading material, my chair by the pool on the back deck with the Today show quietly chattering in the background. I was reading a book about the lifestyle of Christianity. In the book’s intro the author quoted the below paragraph.

I could barely finish reading it as a fell to the ground weeping. It was like reading the mission statement of my heart. It was that moment that I decided that no matter the cost or sacrifice I was going to spend my life on behalf of the gospel for better or worse. My only ambition was to love Jesus and preach his gospel until I was dead from preaching. Though I’m still on the journey of living that out, it’s my goal none the less.

To this day, I think back to this statement. It changed my life:

” I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power. My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop,
preach until all know, and work until He comes.

And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My banner will be clear! for “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes…” -author unknown

Share

Making the Wrong Things Right

Begging for change outside of a busy Barnes & Noble is where I found him. It was January 2006 and the temperature was having a hard time reaching 15 degrees. Large snowflakes began rapidly accumulating on top of his head, and adding to the pile growing around his feet. His name was Randy. Often I had dropped change in his bucket, and chatted with him on occasion. This day was much worse than any day I had found him. His hands were shaking, and his eyes were starring off into the distance. I observed from the warm shelter of the Barnes & Noble lobby where I was sipping my coffee. I watched as people passed by with disgruntled looks on their faces, annoyed at his slurred requests for change. One guy even bumped over his bucket and looked back and said, “Get a job drunk.” I began to wonder how this man ended up this way. Surely at one point in his life he was young with nothing but possibilities in his future. Now 40 years removed from that youthful optimism, he sat on a street corner as a product of his bad choices.

I spent about five minutes pondering this, until I decided I was tired of pondering. I felt like the Rabbi who crossed to the other side of the road and starred at the Samaritan in need of help but did nothing. Throwing my scarf over my neck and straightening my jacket I marched out into cold to do something about his situation. I took off my jacket and put it over him as I lead him back to my truck in the nearby parking garage. He said he was raising money to get his heat turned back on at the house his family rented. He had been shot in both legs earlier that year while being at the wrong place at the wrong time during a gang fight. He had since had a hard time finding a job as he never learned to read and only knew physical labor. His wife and their two kids had nothing left to eat, so I took him to the local grocery store on our way to his house. After nearly breaking my bank account at the store, I decided to empty it to get his heat turned back on. I dropped him off at his house and met his family. Their house was a mess. Liquor bottles littered the corners, cigarette butts lined the floors and his wife looked as if she hadn’t gotten off of the couch in about a year. It broke my heart.

I spent the next year visiting Randy and his family in their neighborhood. Eventually he agreed to start going to church with me. I would pick him up every Sunday evening, and get him groceries on the way home. He decided to give up drinking, he would call me when the shakes would get really bad and I’d go over and pray with him and encourage him that he could make it. I was teaching him how to read, helping him turn in job applications around the city. I along with my girlfriend (now wife ) would take him and his family out to dinner and remind them what laughter was like. However in the end, our help wasn’t enough. Randy started drinking again. Loan sharks, and other hustling low lifes started hanging around his house. He stopped calling, stopped showing up at our pick up spot, stopped wanting to talk to me. Months went by, and all I could do was pray. Finally I got a call, Randy was in trouble. He asked if I would come by that night, and I did. I pulled up to his house to find about 10 people hanging out on the front lawn. It was a drug dealer and his minions. I know this because of his offers to me as I made my way inside. Three of the girls were prostitutes that offered me their services, another lifted up his shirt to flash his gun at me as I walked inside. I knew whatever I was walking into was not going to be good.

Inside the smell of pot and urine filled the air. I felt like I was in a movie. More specifically I felt I was at that part in the movie where you are screaming at the main character, “Get out! Don’t stay in the house! Don’t be a moron!” Randy ran out from around the corner frantic. His was wife in her chair watching TV, and his kids under his arms as he ran up to me. I sat down on the couch which felt lumpy, until I removed the Hennessy bottles that had been stuffed under the cushions. Randy’s eyes had regained their cloudy redness, and now started to fill up with tears. Getting on his knees he began to beg me for money. He said he owed the guys outside money for drugs they had already used and they were coming for him if he didn’t give them something. He said he needed about $3,000. I felt helpless as I was $2900. Short of that. I offered to pray with him but it only made him mad. He began demanding I give him everything I had. Mustering up the courage to threaten me physically, pointed at me and demanded my wallet. I stopped him.

“Randy, don’t go there.” Feeling a rousing surge of Godley zeal, I exclaimed, “Don’t you DARE turn on me. You KNOW I love you, and would give anything to help if I could! Don’t you dare try to rob me! That is NOT who you are!” He fell to the floor weeping, not knowing what to do. I sat on the couch praying, also not knowing what to do. I offered the guys outside the hundred dollars I had to get them to leave for the time being, and they did. I laid my hand on Randy’s head praying for him, struck with the realization that he didn’t need my charity, he needed a savior. Telling him I loved him, I grabbed my keys and left. It was the last time I ever saw or heard from him again.

Randy had a lot of needs. He needed sobriety, money, physical health, family care, friends that helped him not hurt him, food, a job. But of his needs only one would have fixed the others; the Gospel. I have helped a lot of different people like Randy, and still do today. Time after time the result is always the same because the impact is always short sighted.

Humans are eternal beings. Whether dwelling in glory with the Father, or dwelling in the flames of His wrath, everyone dwells somewhere forever. The greatest problem Humanity faces, and the problem that causes all other problems is sin. When Paul addresses the churches in Rome, he doesn’t give them a layout of how to fix poverty or political issues. Instead He gives them the message of the Gospel and tells them not to be ashamed of it. The Gospel is the only solution to the Human dilemma of sin. It is the hope of salvation for our souls, for our hearts, our minds, our government, our circumstances, our pain, our shame, our stress, our culture. The Gospel is the literal righteousness and justice of God revealed in our hearts. It’s more than hope for us to grasp, it’s hope that overtakes us. It’s the knowledge that Jesus isn’t our emotional Santa Claus who brings us gifts once a year if we are good. Instead He’s a king and a savior coming down from Heaven to dwell on the Earth in human form and physically rule it in Righteousness. It’s the revelation that Jesus is going to destroy the wickedness of this world in his wrath that is stirred by His desire for you and me. It’s the hope for men like Randy that they don’t have to be the product of their bad choices, but can be re-born as the product of God’s good choices. God’s greatest vision for the poor of the Earth is not that they would have money, but be the image bearers of His righteousness and glory that they were created to be.

If there is to be any sort of social justice revolution in our time, it has to begin with the revelation of God’s justice in the Gospel. Jesus and the good news of His coming is the only way for the worng things to be made right. Without the Gospel as the center of that revolution we’ll end up like the church in Galatia more concerned with the practice of the faith then the faith itself. For our faith is not merely the practice of morality and ethics, but is the ability of God to embody the moral and ethical values He created for us.

I hope I get one more shot with Randy. I pray he’s still alive. I will probably still buy his family groceries, but I will labor and not quit until he grasps the truth and hope of the Gospel. As it’s the only thing able to save him. It’s true social justice.

Share

Thoughts on Sex and the decline and fall of society- pt. 1

Over the last couple of months I have been in expectation mode. I have a beautiful wife whose belly grows larger and larger every day. She is nauseous, sick, achy, excited, happy, and hopeful; She’s pregnant. As she and I embark on the journey of parenthood, we are mindful of the weighty responsibility and glorious entrustment that we’ve been given with this child. It’s something indescribable, it’s a feeling you can only feel when it actually happens to you.

As we start out we do all the usual things people do when expecting. Go to the doctor, talk with insurance companies, head to Babys -R-Us and gawk at the ocean of all things cute and adorable available for these little miracles. Once the euphoria of expecting subsides a bit you realize the status of those around you also expecting. You realize that parenting, family, and new life isn’t what it used to be.

Every doctor office we go into, greets us with surprised people to so elated find a married couple having a child. The insurance office first refers to me as “the boyfriend” until she looks down at my left hand and realizes we are married. The lady at CPC certifying our pregnancy is elated with joy that we are having the child within wedlock. No one assumes that we are married, they first assume we are coping with unfortunate but potentially exciting circumstances.

And why wouldn’t they? It makes sense. We live in such a sexually driven society, where the two most popular stores  among teens and young adults have just hired Porn Stars to model their clothing naked in XXX poses. (would post links but even the news articles were too racy for me to even read) American Apparel selling their tubes socks on a model completely naked in a position I had to repent from even seeing on the Billboard. Music, movies, TV shows, even Time magazine is talking about how shocking the sexuality of our culture is growing at such a rapid pace that monogamy is rare, and orgies are in vogue. It makes sense that the majority of pregnancies are found to be out of wedlock, and usually deemed “accidents”. It makes sense.

But is this shift the product of an ideological change? A sort of philosophical revolution bent on deconstructing the moral absolute of a previously Christian influenced culture? I submit that while the ideology is changing, it’s changing to cope with something greater; the absence of an active God.

It was René Descartes who started the ball roll’n in the 1600’s with: “I think, therefore I am”. Officially moving the culture from collective thinking to subjective thinking. Which has had many positive but also many negative effects. Fuerbach come along and said- yes you think, but so much so that God exists because of it, with his famous statement: “We made God”. Saying that sure God exists if you think he does, in other words he is a figment of ones imagination. Others then like Nietzsche and Freud applied these principles differently over time feeding into the birth of a new nation; The United States of America, declaring that all men are meant to be free to live, worship, think, act, and love however they please. This coupled Jean Jacques Rousseau’s theory that if you ‘love your self, and accept yourself for who you are, you are then therefore a good person’. Then leading us to modern day Abraham Maslow stating “your greatest need is self actualization”.

Humanity has found a way to rationalize away the existence and activity of a living God. Once you do this there is only one conclusion: “Do as thou wilt”.

If there is no governing objective moral truth, than the only other way to go is the way of moral relativism.

Sex has become the greatest stage to watch our society crumble into a moral relativistic ideal that is killing the human race. Why? because people deny, run from, and refuse to accept the ONE truth that has the ability to and desires to save them: The living and active God.

Because we (humanity)  have exalted individual rights and thoughts above that of the only sovereign and wise God we are reaping the wages of that sin. Let’s look at how “profitable” Sexual sin is to our world:

  • We have an entire continent (Africa) literally dying because of Aids. While Asia and South America closely following.
  • We have millions upon millions of children world wide being enslaved for the purpose of sex literally selling.
  • We have millions of people in this nation dependent on the government for money because they were born into situation where their parents chose themselves over there children.
  • We have television movies and video games that regularly promoting families that are so screwed up by sexual immorality that they require more attention than Abraham Maslow could’ve ever offered. Yet families pattern themselves after and end up like those being promoted.
  • We have a porn industry and escort (prostitution) industry making more money than this present economy, yet the life expectancy of a “porn star” or “escort” is about 40. Because of the lifestyle of Drugs required to cope with the pain of hundreds and thousands of sex partners. Many commit suicide.
  • We have 50 million human lives that never saw the light of day because they were killed by people who thought they might be to inconvenient to their lifestyle or situation.

We have a crisis in the land. Yet those turning from God scoff at God’s reality, and those accepting God generally only scoff at them. In this current state of crisis Christians have wasted so much time doing only as I have done above: pointing out the problem. Few have spent their energy promoting the solution. Therefore I digress:

THERE IS HOPE FOR YOU! THERE IS GOOD NEWS!- If only these were the calls the church was making in our society. If only we were the kind of believers that stood up amidst the dross of human sin and declared triumphantly, “God is Not Dead! Jesus lives! He is active! and He is coming to back to make the wrong things right! Turn from your sin, accept Him and he will give you freedom to overcome sin and shame! He will grant you strength to endure the trails of life because HE LOVES YOU, and desire that you be free, so that you can love Him and know His glory, So that when he splits the sky and returns to the Earth you can join with the redeemed and rejoice and not shrink back in Shame.

If only to the gays and the lesbians in San Fransisco we presented the solution instead of damnimg them over and over with the problem. Homosexuallity is a sin, instead of being “taddle tails” for Jesus, what if there was a church that had the boldness, and the compassion to say: “There is a way out of your shame!! There is a way that you can be free!”

If only there was a Faithful witness declaring to this nation: Jesus is God, he died for your sin, and we have a great hope in this, that He is returning to the Earth to make every wrong thing right, if you choose him there it is a blessed hope! If you deny him it will be terrible.

This post took a direction I hadn’t planned, but one I like. If we as believers did less bickering over theological disagreements and positioning our ministries to be the next big things, or new cool church model. And instead did more linking arms, rallying behind the absolute truths of the Bible that have given us life; maybe we would see the revival we long for.

Oh Lord, give us wisdom, and strength to be faithful witnesses of the gospel of your kingdom.