Category Archives: Culture

Normal Christianity is Weird

If you talk to new comers to Christianity, you have to admit with them that Christians do some weird things. Jon Acuff has made us all laugh as he has  chronicled these with his Stuff Christians Like blog and book. But it seems that normal and weird change over time and what is normal to us would probably look weird to a New Testament Christian church.

Thinking of conversations I’ve had with “normal” Christians over the last ten years along with assessing my own views, here’s what it appears NORMAL has come to look like for Christianity in America:

  • It’s about me and my comfort. How can we read the New Testament and come away with statements like, “My Church doesn’t meet my needs” or “I’m just not getting fed.” The New Testament compels us to a faith filled with personal sacrifice, going deep with God, and others centered living (Philippians 2:3-4, Colossians 3:1-2). Jesus said what comes out of our mouth is in our hearts. Are your words saying, “It’s all about me” in relation to your Christian faith?
  • Jesus informs my decisions. The bumper sticker is true for Western Christians, “Jesus is my Co-Pilot.” And we’ll refer to him if needed, but otherwise, I’ve got it under control for now. Instead of knowing Jesus as Lord, who directs and guides, commands and leads, we know him as one option on our reference shelf for life’s directions.
  • Intention = Actions. Intentions matter a lot to us. And the right intentions are important, but intentions deceive us into thinking we’re something we’re not. The New Testament test of faith is action (Matthew 12:15, Ephesians 2:10, James 2:14-17). Not in order to get God’s favor, but that shows we have God’s favor. What’s inside will come out if it’s real. Just like the plants in my garden. They will tell me the label on the pack of seeds was correct when they bear their fruit.
  • Karma – I must be ok with God if everything is going so well. I’ve got a nice job with a raise coming this year, great house, my kids are doing well in sports, so God must be pleased with me. This is believing that we’re saved by the American dream instead of by Christ. And the god of nice job, nice house, upwardly mobile kids will eventually betray us. Our need for God is not based upon how well things are going, it’s based upon the universal need for an answer to our sin problem. This attitude is essentially animism. In the jungles of south Mexico when things go wrong, they make sacrifices to appease the gods. In America, when things go wrong, we get the family to church for a few weeks in a row.
  • Fellowship = friendship with people like me. As a church planter I know the reality of the leadership law, “You attract who you are, not who you want.” But I also know the great need for us to take the gospel to people, cultures, parts of town, not like us. One of the miracles of early Christianity that we miss in our homogeneous culture is that racial, social, economic, cultural, religious boundaries were destroyed by the power of the Gospel. Even among Jesus’ disciples was a tax collector who was seen as an enemy of Israel and a Jewish zealot who would have been committed to oppose him with terrorist like tactics. Roman soldiers and Jewish rabbis would have been together around the communion table. The gospel leads us into a dismissal of us vs. them. We see that in Christ, it’s just us.
  • You can change. Jesus might can help with that. Pop psychology says, “You can change, let’s talk tactics and possible options.” Unfortunately, sounds like some sermons I’ve preached and heard. The power of the gospel for salvation (Romans 1:16-17) has become one of many tactics or plans to get to the good life as the American dream defines it.
  • I’m ok if I keep most of the rules. “I’m a good person” or “My plus column is higher than my minus column” or “I go to church as often as I can.” Many are just grinning and bearing it as they check off a list of religious deeds on our way to a good time. Problem is, rules don’t have power to give life and rules don’t have power to give eternal life. Only a relationship with Christ does that. Jesus gave us a new rule: “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The rule is now, connect in relationship to Christ. And let Christ define normal for you.

What would you add to my list?

Tomorrow we’ll explore what NORMAL should look like, if we follow Christ.

What Does the Bible Say about MAINTAINING Marriage?

“Homosexuals have just as much right to be miserable as heterosexuals!” This is a quip I’ve seen a few places by proponents of gay marriage. It’s usually preceded by statements about how Christians should focus on having better marriages themselves instead of trying to keep others from marrying. Not trying to get into that debate here, but suffice it to say that the high failure rates in modern marriage has opened the door for our society to feel the freedom to redefine and reshape it. Marriage doesn’t have to be redefined to find a happy ending for society and for couples. Just like wisdom about defining and purposing marriage is found in the Bible (see yesterday’s post here), wisdom on MAINTAINING marriage can be found in the Bible as well. And I believe it will work every time it’s tried.

What does the Bible say about MAINTAINING Marriage? It’s actually a fool proof way of maintaing any relationship, but the Bible gives some greater clarity in relation to marriage. Basic principle:

Put the needs of the other ahead of your own.

As a principle for all relationships: Philippians 2:3-4 (NASB), “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do notmerely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

As a principle for close relationships: Ephesians 5:20 (NLT), “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

And as a principle in marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 (ESV), “Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them.”

What does this have to do with putting the needs of the other first? Dr. Emerson Eggerichs in his great book Love & Respect frames this verse like this. God’s commands for wives to submit and husbands to love are a command to them, but it speaks to a God given, primary need for the husband and wife. God created men to need respect, to lead, and to thrive when respect is given. God created women to need love, affection, and to be pursued and to thrive when loved sacrificially. Putting his needs first and her needs first simply means to live out your God-given role and put the others needs as your primary mission in life.

Next we’ll look at what this looks like according to Dr. Eggerich.

What does the Bible actually say about Marriage?

It’s open season on many traditional views today. Our culture and church culture are questioning and reshaping ideas on almost everything. Some of this rethinking and reshaping is healthy and needed and some not so good. I like it when I see new generations looking at tradition and saying, “What does the Bible actually say about…?” But many are just adding our cultures fancies on issues, creating new tradition that overlooks centuries and ignores divine voice.

Case in point: Marriage. We’ve ceased to asked the right questions about marriage (history? divine voice? nature?) and determined to redefine and reshape it to be something completely different.

This weekend, our church asked the healthy question: What does the Bible Actually Say? Here’s a bit of our discussion:

How should we think about marriage?  

Hebrews 13:4 (NIV)
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

  • Marriage should be honored
  • Marriage acts considered sacred
  • Judgement occurs when this doesn’t happen.

How should we define marriage? 

“…a man will leave his father and mother & be united to his wife, & they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24 (cf. Matthew 19:4-6)


  • Permanence, not disposability
  • Male/Female, not gender neutral
  • Jesus commended this definition in Matthew 19 in one of his few statements about marriage.

What was God’s Purposes for Marriage?

1) COMPANIONSHIP & SUPPORT – Genesis 2:18-25 – “it is not good that man should be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him.” Man was incomplete without a companion.

2) REPRODUCTION – Genesis 1:28 – God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” Marriage is the vehicle for the continuation of the human race.

3) SEXUAL PURITY – 1 Corinthians 7:2 (NIV) – “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” Marriage is the safe place for sexual expression.

4) A PICTURE OF SALVATION – Ephesians 5:21-33 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Marriage illustrates the union that is our salvation.

Today, marriage is seen as optional and disposable and redefinable. And part of the problem is the high FAILURE rates. Some estimate it over 60%. Some say that’s given us permission to redefine. But again, I think we need to go back to the right question: What does the Bible say about MAINTAINING Marriage? If maintained according to the creator of marriage, it can work to achieve his purpose.


Probing Questions for a Church in Decline

Reading through the recent State of the Church series by the Barna group which tracked 20 years of trends in faith and religion looking for national patterns. Everyone bemoans the church in decline in America and these #’s add weight to the evidence. Our local #’s did as well. Never know quite what to do with #’s like these, but as a strategist and a curious explorer type, I like to ask why and how. Barna explores that through published books, but just looking at the numbers we can make some observations and ask some probing questions. Here’s some trends:

  • Bible reading is down 5%. Is it because of new media and our society becoming less literate? Or has our emphasis on professional clergy and seminary education and the way those of us who have it talk about the Bible, taught people that they can’t understand the Bible apart from professionals? 
  • Volunteerism at church is down 8%. Is it because of more hired staff at churches and less opportunity for people to engage in religious service? Is there more emphasis on attending than participating today than before? Does the opportunities for involvement capture the hearts of post-modern people? Is there opportunities for every gifting, personality, skill set? 
  • Sunday School attendance is down 8%. Is it because less churches are using a Sunday School model? Has lecture format in Sunday school run its course? Is it because people are just too busy for a 2 hour commitment to Sunday School and church? 
  • Worship Attendance is down 9%. Are our worship services at optimal times for attendance? Has the emphasis on attendance as involvement (pay, pray, get out of the way) created a mindset in people that could not sustain them against other offerings in culture? Have we lost the battle to compete for market-share using consumer driven “come and see” approaches in the midst of worship wars? 
  • % of people who claim no affiliation went up 13% to now 37%. Is the church so irrelevant today that the halo effect doesn’t even drive people to at least verbally affiliate?  
  • People claiming to be born again is up 5%. Is this due to the rising popularity of political figures courting the evangelical movement? Is the word born-again becoming less of a problem for people? Or is our message really getting clearer to the masses and people are truly getting born-again? 
  • People believing that God is all-knowing, all-powerful and perfect Creator of the universe who still rules the world today is down 7% to 67% of the public. Are people seeing an all-powerful God at work through our churches?  
  • People believing that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches is down 8% to 38% of the public. Have people read the Bible and found it not accurate? or have they seen the lives of those of us claiming to live by its teachings and decided that it must be inaccurate at some points? 
  • Even among those claiming to be born-again Christians:
        • Sunday School attendance dropped 14%.
        • Volunteering at church dropped 12%.
        • Worship attendance dropped 7%.
        • Bible reading dropped 9%.
        • Claiming no affiliation increased 5% to 19%.

Barna points out that the “only behavior that did not experience any real change was the % of adults who attend a church of 600 or more people.” And for born again christians attending a large church increased by 8%. Is this simply because there are more big churches today than ever before? Are bigger churches effective at disciple making? Or are bigger churches more appealing to consumer mindset? Are there any co-relations to be made about declines in discipleship behavior and practice and bigger churches? 

AND, are we so absorbed with what’s going on “in here” (i.e. in MY church) that we don’t have time to think about those “out there” represented by these numbers? And these % represent people that need to know the God who is all-powerful who sent his Son that they may know eternal life as described in the book that they not sure is accurate.

What other questions should we be asking? Or do you have any answers to mine? Comment below or by email. :))>

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