Backscratchers or Heart Surgeons: The Difference between Sermons and Messages

I once got as a Christmas present the best backscratcher ever!  It is made of aluminum, it has a rubber handle, and best of all it is retractable!  Consequently, it takes up very little space in my desk, which is a big draw back with a lot of other backscratchers.  Most backscratchers are long and awkward, so people inevitably put them in out of the way places where they are usually forgotten and lost.  Consequently, many backs go unscratched, which is a problem since people love to have their backs scratched.  A lot of today’s pastors are in the business of back scratching.  Pastors are called to be heart surgeons, but regrettably, a lot of us have turned into backscratchers.  There are several reasons why pastors become backscratchers.  One of the main reasons is that some congregations won’t tolerate a pastor who is passionate and has conviction, so over time some pastors learn that they better start scratching backs or lose their “jobs.”  When this realization occurs some pastors simply keep their cushy jobs, while the good ones leave and find real ministries.  Some pastors are backscratchers because they like being liked, so it comes naturally to them.  Others are backscratchers because they think it’s their job to mesmerize and entertain their congregations.  These pastors are essentially showmen.  They aren’t really backscratchers per se, but rather they are ear ticklers.  Nevertheless, the impact of their sermons is functionally the same, hearts are not renewed and spiritual arteries remain clogged.

Many backscratchers appear to be very successful because their churches are often filled with a lot of “listeners.”  So the question is this: how can you tell the difference between a backscratcher and a pastor who knows God, understands His word, and applies it to our modern lives?  A good test is to look at their impact on the hearts of those who hear them.  In other words, are people convicted and are lives changed?  We can see this kind of impact from the messages of great preachers in the Bible.  Look at Jesus, he once preached a message that caused so much consternation that the audience in the synagogue grabbed him and led him to a cliff in order to demonstrate the effects of gravity (Luke 4.28-29).  Luke actually documented that Jesus’ audience was “filled with rage” by the things that Jesus had said to them.  In full disclosure I must confess that I’ve never preached a message that had that kind of impact, so I’m preaching to myself here as well.  I guess you can say that Jesus wasn’t much of a backscratcher.

Then there is Stephen, in his very last message he gave an exceptional survey of the entire Old Testament that ended with him proclaiming the truth that his very audience had crucified the very Messiah that they confessed to be anticipating.  And what did they do?  They promptly carried him out of that same meeting and stoned him.  I guess you could conclude that he didn’t tickle many ears that day.  The passage actually describes their dispositions as being “cut to the quick” (Acts 7.54).   A lot of people, however, don’t really know what that means; in today’s vernacular it would be like saying that they were “shot through the heart.”

And then there is Paul. He once gave a message where the audience was quiet and listened intently, they were hanging on his every word you could say—that is until he spoke of God’s mandate to share the gospel with Gentiles, it was at that point that a riot broke out (Acts 22.22-25).  The text states that after Paul told them about the great commission that those in attendance literally threw their coats down and started throwing dirt in the air.  Now I’ve preached people into comas, but I’ve never started a riot.  But not Paul, what he said pricked their hearts so much that they began acting like a bunch of crazed chimpanzees.  The Roman soldiers present were so stunned that they immediately began preparing Paul for a scourging.  I’m not convinced that they even fully understood why they were about to scourge Paul, they only knew that something bad had just happened and something had to be done about it.  So in typical Roman fashion someone had to be beaten since everyone knows that scourging a single person is a lot easier than beating an entire mob.  Again, I’ve never been threatened with a whipping for anything I have said in a pulpit.  Someone may have wanted to punch me, but I never knew about it, so who knows.  The point is that Paul wasn’t in the ministry so that he could scratch backs and tickle ears; he was gunning for hearts.

I bring up these 3 events not because they are good examples of well-groomed “sermons,” but because they are excellent examples of impactful “messages.”  And there is a difference between the two.  The difference is that same as the difference between Cicero and Demosthenes.  There is a famous quote concerning these two great ancient speakers, which loosely goes like this: “When Cicero had finished speaking, the people said, ‘How well he spoke.’  But when Demosthenes had finished speaking, they said, ‘Let us march!’”  And that is the point, isn’t it?  Are we supposed to be about sermons or messages?  A sermon is what a pastor prepares and then speaks to a listening audience.  A message is when spiritual shepherds have the guts to proclaim the truth about what Lord desires to do in the hearts of those who are actually “hearing” the word of God.  And if people hear God speaking to their hearts through your message, then people will be brought to a point of decision.  Sometimes they will weep, or repent, or worship, or be strengthened, and then they will serve; and if not, then they will begin picking up stones.  Either way, they will not have had their backs scratched or their ears tickled.  And isn’t that what the church needs?  The church doesn’t need more backscratchers, it needs more heart surgeons.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © April 10, 2018. The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Advertisements

Evangelism: It’s Not Just an Easter Thing

 “. . . do the work of an evangelist . . .”

This verse makes more sense to me now after 30 years of ministry than it ever has. In order to explain why I have deeper appreciation for it a brief but true story is necessary in order to provide some context. My father came to faith in Christ in a single day after being a committed atheist his entire adult life. It started when his third wife woke him up one Sunday morning and told him that he was going to church. His first question was “What are you talking about?” Her reason for going to church was that it was Easter. Next question, “But why!?” He was then informed that they were going because my step-siblings regularly went to church and that they should go with them at least once, and Easter was as good a day as any. Even more bewilder he asked “Church? What church?!” It was at that point that he learned that their kids went to a church that had a bus ministry, and since a bus drove right by their house they could catch a ride to church. The salient point is that they weren’t going to church because my dad was concerned for their spiritual development. So dad dutifully got up, got dressed, and then went out to his car where he and his third wife sat until the bus came by and picked up the kids. He didn’t even know where the church was so he had to follow the bus in order to find the church. Upon arrival he walked through the church doors and (as he puts it) became immediately aware that “there really is a God.” After listening to the music and the announcements the pastor began his sermon. Within 20 minutes my dad knew in no uncertain terms that there was a literal Hell and that he was most assuredly going there. He has often told me that he actually feared having a heart attack before the sermon ended, thereby sealing his fate. Fortunately he “survived” the sermon and at its close the pastor invited all who desired to receive Christ to come forward. So, as soon as the hymn of invitation began my dad was down the aisle and at the front of the sanctuary before the first stanza had finished. He was “gloriously saved” that very day, and ever since then he has been a changed man. In fact he now serves as a volunteer chaplain for a prison in central Missouri, where he regularly preaches on Sunday mornings to inmates.  My friends, my dad’s dramatic conversion was certainly the result of the “work of evangelism”; but really, when you think about it, it wasn’t hard work. Picking ripe fruit off the ground is never as strenuous as chiseling dry dense soil and planting seeds during times of drought.

In the late 60s and early 70s (which is when my dad came to Christ) a lot ministries were busy picking up ripe fruit. It is pretty interesting to listen to Christians talk about that period of revival because many of them have the impression that they “achieved” that great harvest because “they were doing it the right way.” Whenever I hear that I have to bite my tongue, and I have heard it a lot all over the country. An interesting fact about that period is that the Spirit moved in the hearts of many people through many different ministries irrespective of their denomination and theology. Baptist churches saw many come to faith in Christ (both independent and denominational), as did many other churches, such as Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, and Non-denominational (both charismatic and non-charismatic); and lest we forget, many para-church ministries also enjoyed that period of great harvest. The truth about periods such as that one is that when the Spirit moves in such a manner He enjoys being sloppy with his grace. As the old saying goes, “when it rains it pours.”  Well, the bottom line for this article is that we are no longer in a season in which the labor predominantly involves merely collecting ripe fruit. Today, the work seems hard, harder than it has ever been during my lifetime. We now appear to be called to fields that are dry and hard, and as a result there seems to be fewer and fewer people interested in doing the “work of evangelism.” Consequently, we need more workers, not better marketing methods.

Moreover, I am struck by the fact that the Spirit didn’t guide Paul to write “collect the fruit of the Spirit,” or “inform the elect of their regeneration,” or “get them to cry, come forward, and fill out a card,” or tell them “they can have their best life now.” No, Paul didn’t emphasize either the audience to be evangelized, or the end result of evangelistic efforts, he emphasized being faithful about doing the labor that evangelism requires. Paul spoke of labor, not manipulation. And what exactly is that labor? It is the constant and clear articulation of the gospel, which is “that there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved!” It is regularly calling people to “repent and be saved from this wicked and perverse generation!” It’s not being “ashamed of the gospel; for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes!” And lastly, it’s offering the gospel to anyone and everyone simply because “whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved!”   It is the norm rather than the exception that the work of an evangelist requires significant personal effort, spiritual sweat if you will.  This labor is not about slick entertainment, or ensuring that audiences are comfortable, or about self-adulation. It requires faithful workers committed to “laboring” in dry and dusty fields if for no other reason than they share their Master’s passion. So, if you value “tolerance,” “sensitivity,” and “teachable moments,” then it’s not likely that during these difficult days that you will be inundated with opportunities to “do the work of an evangelist.” Nevertheless, one irreducible fact still remains: the more we communicate the gospel—in season and out—the more people will make decisions for Christ. Or as Paul put it, “How shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Monte Shanks, Copyright © March 21, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Public Schools and a Christian Call to Action

If you knew of a place where your kids would:

  1. be bullied on a daily basis;
  2. be constantly exposed to alcohol and/or addictive drugs;
  3. be told that believing in God was ridiculous because it isn’t “scientific”; therefore, doing so is an irrational superstition that is based solely on ancient myths;
  4. be encouraged to explore sexual experimentation, while also being trained for sexual activity;
  5. be told that they were in control of their own bodies and if they wanted to get an abortion then they shouldn’t have to consult you;
  6. be told that even though their DNA and anatomy dictated that they were a specific gender, that they have the right and freedom to act like the opposite gender;
  7. be told that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that all truths are relative and morally equivalent;
  8. be told that love for our country was wrong because our country is oppressive, founded upon injustice, and run through an inefficient and unequal governmental system;
  9. have your family values regularly undermined while being constantly brainwashed into thinking that only a centralized government can meet their needs and solve their problems;
  10. 10. be protected from the negative impact of their failures and be deceived into feeling that failure is acceptable and of little consequence;
  11. 11. be trained to feel that it is everyone else’s responsibility to help satisfy their needs;
  12. be surrounded by peers that laughed at them for honoring, respecting, and obeying you;
  13. and finally but most importantly, at any moment and for no apparent reason they could be sexually assaulted, stabbed, or shot!

Would you want to fund such a place with your taxes, and more importantly, would you allow your children to go there?  Well there is such a place, and it’s called the America’s public school system.

Before going any further and in full disclosure, I’m a product of the public school, and I’m married to a public school teacher, and she is an exceptional teacher.  Additionally, my children have attended both public and private schools.  Moreover, several of our extended family members have served in public school systems, and our public schools across this country are filled with quality and gifted educators.  Nevertheless, the problem is not with the individual instructors in the classroom, but with the federal and state governments that have created the danger zone that is now our public school systems.  Part of the reason they have become dangerous instead of productive is that the government has mandated that all children be accepted into our public schools.  They are received in spite of the fact that many have absolutely no interest in being taught; moreover, they enjoy being an impediment to education of others.  Furthermore, the government requires that others be accepted whose parents who have no interest or willingness to control their children’s behavior, while also not tolerating disciplinarian efforts of others.  And lastly, within in our federal, state, and local governments, and even within many classrooms there are teachers that feel it is their mission and responsibility to eradicate your parental influence by indoctrinating your children with their secular cultural and political values.  Values that are inherently incompatible with Christian values and beliefs.  To borrow an old line, “This is not your father’s public school system.”  The fact that we are actually discussing the training and arming of teachers and administrators, or the stationing on-duty police officers within our schools should tell us that America’s public school system has become a “danger zone.”  Public schools are now a place where no sane parent would consider sending their neighbor’s children, much less their own.

Of course, there is the other end of the spectrum, which is private schools that function as simply cheap baby-sitting centers, of which the end product is also not acceptable.  They are graduating students that are ill prepared for the academic and political-cultural challenges of today’s colleges, as well as not able compete for trades in current economy, much less act like as responsible adults.  Some of these schools even employ “teachers” that have no actual training on how to effectively educate anyone.  Regrettably, many of today’s schools, whether public or private, have become cheap government subsidized “day care” providers.

Many of you reading this may be thinking “But if my kids don’t go to public schools then they will miss out on so many fun activities.”  If you are thinking this then you are tragically misguided.  The function of a school is to train your children with thinking skills, educating them in the academic fundamentals, and preparing them for adulthood; that is the primary function of a school.  All else is secondary and ancillary.  Furthermore, many private schools do a fine job in providing these same activities that you so dearly value.  “But what about participating in athletics, and the possible scholarships they may provide?”  Again, if you are thinking this then you are not really well informed about the spectrum of organized sports available to you.  The fact is that most athletes that receive collegiate scholarships regularly participate in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) or other non-public sports clubs and leagues, and many of today’s scholarship athletes are the products of private schools.  For example, if you research the top 5 high school basketball prospects for 2018, 4 of the 5 currently attend private schools.  And the one that is attending a public school actually attends a school in my county.  The fact of the matter is that he also could have attended private school tuition free if his parents wished.  Private prep schools regularly recruit top student athletes knowing that some day those that become professional will inevitably return to financially reward their school’s investment in them.  For example, the top athletes emerging in the public schools in the greater Louisville area are regularly recruited away to private schools that subsidize the cost of their education as they play sports for them.  The bottom line is this, if you value the athletic programs and social activities that are found at public schools, then you should know that those same activities can be found in many private schools.  Of course the one exception is that of Christian clubs, such clubs are systematically being ignored, marginalized, and banned from our public schools.  For example, the school system where I live has historically and proactively found ways of keeping Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life clubs from forming in the schools in our county.  And while I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet, I expect this kind of secular bias will increasingly become the norm rather than the exception.

As America’s greater culture becomes militantly secular so will our public schools—it is simply unavoidable.  The current dominant culture in America is fast becoming militantly secular and displays no interest in protecting Christian values and sensitivities. Case in point, if Joy Behar, while on the air, can call our country’s sitting vice president mentally ill because of his Christian faith and still keep her job, then how can anyone possibly prove me wrong?

So what is the solution?  Hard work and sacrifice.  Proverbs 23:23 tells us “Buy truth, and do not sell it, get wisdom and instruction and understanding”; while Proverbs 9:10 states that the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Consequently, Christians must stop being lazy and make the necessary sacrifices required to create respectable, professionally trained and well equipped Christian schools, schools that will commit to goals such as:

  1. training parents and students alike in the fundamentals of the biblical worldview, as well as providing a basic knowledge of the Bible and instilling a value for it.
  2. training students to think as critically, so that they may become well prepared functional adults.
  3. preparing students for engaging both the Modern and Post-Modern societies that are becoming increasingly Humanistic in their orientation.
  4. training students so that they will be well equipped in the major academic disciplines that they will be required to engage in if they chose to attend college.
  5. introducing students to different high-demand trades that can provide them with fulfilling and productive careers if they chose to not pursue a college degree.

And lastly, but most importantly;

  1. training our children in such a manner that they will become fully devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

If we have learned anything from America’s home-schooling community it is this, anything is possible with hard work and sacrifice.  Some of our country’s most admired and productive people were successfully home-schooled at some point in their life, people such as Francis Collins, Tim Tebow, Bode Miller, and Reid W. Baron.  Many parents, however, either are not adequately trained or do not feel adequately equipped to home-school their children.  Consequently, only 3 options remain:

 

  1. enroll your children in a respectable private school;
  2. begin creating a private Christian school that will embrace goals similarly to those listed above.

Or lastly,

  1. continue sending the children you claim to love to the cultural cesspool and potential death traps that America’s public schools have become.

Choices 1 and 2 will certainly require a great effort and financial sacrifice, which if made will produce rewarding benefits both for you and your children.  The last option, however, means that you are willing to run the risk of allowing your children to be intellectually brainwashed against Christianity, emotionally handicapped with respect to dealing with failure, or even physically assaulted.  The choice is only yours to make.  However, if I were starting my family all over again, then I would no longer consider today’s public schools as a viable option; moreover, my career choices would have their education as a primary consideration.  Right now, the future of our public school systems looks dark, and it is growing dimmer by the day.  Consequently, if you love your children and want a brighter future for them, then you will find an alternative to the danger zones that become our nation’s public schools.

Monte Shanks. Copyright © March 5, 2018. The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

An American Idol or a Pastor?

Regrettably, American Idol is slated to return to an ABC channel near you this March.  I did my best to avoid the show when it was running several years ago.  I did so simply because I found its title and concept rather revolting. The problem is, however, that many of the contestants were extremely talented—they were entertaining to say the least. Nonetheless, I found the show “revolting” because it fed upon the superficiality of America’s pop culture. But even though the show was incredibly superficial, there were seasons in which the person with the most natural or God given talent won, instead of the one that was the most attractive or that had the most flair. Generally speaking, however, it was the exception rather than the rule that the most deserving and talented person won.

Regrettably a similar thing is happening to today’s pastors. Pastors seem more concerned with their image rather than conforming to the model given by Jesus or his immediate followers. Furthermore, churches unwittingly encourage their pastors to act more like celebrities instead of spiritual shepherds. The bottom line for today’s congregations is do they like “listening” to their pastors, as opposed to hearing the word of God taught to them. Similarly, pastors are more worried about how they are perceived, and whether they are being seen with the right people rather than personally investing in and training a new generation for service to the Lord and his gospel.

How do I know this to be true? It’s pretty simple, just look at the average pastor’s job description. It usually involves a set amount of hours in sermon prep, and then in hospital visits, and then in business meetings, and then in staff meetings, and then in etc., etc. (you get the point); all of which requires generating written reports. I would venture to say that in about 80% of the job descriptions for lead pastors for the average church there is no reference to “discipleship.” Moreover, in the minority in which it is referenced, it is bundled among dozens of other activities that comprise a sort of “other things to do bucket,” that is if time permits. All of which can only be vaguely measured, and for which no pastor can realistically be held accountable—given the many demands of the “more important” responsibilities. To put it plainly, discipleship is ancillary rather than essential to how most of American pastors function today.

The question is, however, is this what Jesus modeled? If one simply weighs the amount of time that Jesus spent in investing, teaching, and training his personal disciples compared to all of his other endeavors, then it is clear that discipleship was the most important component of his entire earthly ministry. Let me say that again: discipleship was the most important component of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry. And the same value for discipleship can be observed in Paul’s ministry as well (2 Tim 2.1-2). The importance and significance of effective discipleship to enduring ministry is obvious. The only thing of consequence that Jesus did by himself was to die for the sins of the world—which was something his disciples were unable to do for themselves, let alone for anyone else. The fact is that Jesus’ earthly ministry began with modeling discipleship (Mk 1.17-20) and then ended with his command to his disciples to go and make other disciples all around the world (Matt 28.18-20).

But are today’s churches looking for disciple makers? Apparently not, instead they are looking for “Christian Idols” (who by the way no longer need to be men). They want individuals who are young, good looking, have it together, and most importantly—they must “sound” good. People must like listening to them. So much for hearing from God about the offense of sin, his provision for it through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the way of the cross. So, if you are wondering what kind of pastor your church has, start observing how much time he spends discipling others for the purpose of serving the Lord through evangelism and training for ministry. If you don’t see it happening with regularity or if you don’t even hear about it, then your pastor is presenting an “image” rather than following Jesus’ model of ministry.  Your pastor may look and sound good, but the impact of his personal devotion to the Lord and his commitment to Lord’s method of ministry will disappear about the same time grass starts appearing on his grave.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © February 20, 2018. The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

Bedtime Christians VS Disciples of Jesus

One of my fondest memories of being a dad was telling my sons made up stories at bedtime.  Of course we would also tell them some of the old time favorites, as well as about the great events documented in the Bible.  However, while they were very young, sometimes I would just make up stories out of thin air.  I did this by first allowing them to create their own “characters,” and once they described them I would incorporate them into extemporaneous stories.  It was always a lot of fun.  However, my sons are all grown up now. Consequently, they don’t ask me to tell them bedtime stories anymore.  They are mature young men now, so thank heaven for the Lord’s grace.  However, recently I saw an article about the importance of preaching from a “Christian narrative” in order reach a “post-literature” generation.  In other words, if we want to effectively reach “the next generation” we have to do so through “stories” rather than teaching audiences the declarative statements found in throughout Scriptures.  There are several problems with this assertion.  However, the greatest is that it ignores the reality that Holy Spirit supernaturally honors God’s word whenever it is publically proclaimed.  It is through God’s proclaimed word (i.e., preaching) that he affects change in the hearts and minds of those listening—both sinners and saints. Consequently, it is the scriptures, and not stories about Christians, that are what the Holy Spirit primarily uses to reach people with the gospel.

The reality is, however, that there is nothing new about this assertion.  I heard this same old line two decades ago while I was involved in collegiate ministry.  The problem with relying upon “stories” to reach people with the gospel is that it tends to produce what I refer to as “bedtime Christians.”  What are bedtime Christians you ask?  Well, they’re kind of an oxymoron; more specifically, they refer to themselves in one manner, but the way they live and what they believe actually contradicts their professions about themselves. In other words, they call themselves Christians, but the fact is that they don’t follow the Lord Jesus Christ at all.  Below are some telltale characteristics of bedtime Christians.

 

  • Bedtime Christians have Bibles but never read them or take them to church in order to learn what the Spirit of God is trying to say to them through the scriptures.
  • Bedtime Christians think the Bible is full of myths, legends, and stories that didn’t really happen.
  • Bedtime Christians think that the Bible has been translated too many times for it to be an accurate record of what originally happened or what was originally written.
  • Bedtime Christians think the Bible is full of ancient stories and events; consequently it’s not really relevant to the modern world.
  • Bedtime Christians never effectively learn how to use the scriptures in order to communicate the gospel.
  • Bedtime Christians aren’t interested in Sunday school, home Bible study groups, or discipleship training.
  • Bedtime Christians only read the Bible to make themselves feel better instead of learning the truth about God, the universal redemption that he has provided, and the human condition.
  • Bedtime Christians think the Bible is basically an old book that provides a few good basic moral values.

Nevertheless, Paul encouraged Timothy, who lived in a largely oral and illiterate culture, that “Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (1 Timothy 4.13).  And in his last letter before he was executed for the cause of Christ, he also wrote to his beloved disciple, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15).  And lest we forget, the context in which Paul and Timothy ministered in was entirely pagan and largely a world that depended upon word of mouth for the dissemination of information.  In other words, in that day people mainly depended upon “sound bites” for the news—sound familiar?  It seems that Paul’s exhortation about how to carry out ministry and how to effectively witness for Christ aptly applies to the world in which we now live.  It seems that Paul’s admonition to Timothy was to educate others as to what God actually said in the scriptures, rather than dumbing them down by using “entertaining” summarized stories from God’s word.  Paul didn’t recommend that Timothy develop his own “Cliff Notes” about the Bible, but to boldly and faithfully read, teach, and explain the scriptures to those who would listen.  Moreover, this type of instructional focus was Paul’s primary ministry to the church.  In his letter to the Colossians he wrote that “We proclaim him (i.e., Christ), admonishing every one and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we might present everyone mature in Christ. To this end, I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Col 1.28-29).  Did you get that? Paul wrote that instructional teaching was not ancillary in his ministry, but rather that it was primary, systemic, and essential, in order to bring others to a comprehensive knowledge of the Lord and dynamic relationship with him.  And it was this type of focus in Paul’s ministry that the Lord energized and blessed.  The reason that the church has become ineffective in reaching people for Christ and producing mature believers is not that society has change. Instead it’s because we have abandoned a major focus that the Lord has ordained for proclaiming the gospel and bringing believers to maturity in him. The bottom line is that our churches are currently overrun with bedtime Christians because too many pastors and leaders have been giving them a steady diet of Christian-like “stories” instead of faithfully reading, teaching, and preaching the entire council of God’s holy word.

Copyright © February 7, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

Is Your Church Flying Blind?

Several years ago I took a flight out of O’Hare bound for Hartford. I was pleasantly surprised when we actually pulled away from the gate on time. However, after rolling out toward the runway we moved off to the side where, oddly enough, we began watching plane after plane roll right past us on to the runway and then take off. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before people started getting irritated. After a while the captain informed us that even though we should be in the air we couldn’t take off because the plane’s compass had “gone dark.” He went on to explain that if we did take off it would mean that we would be flying “blind.” I quickly thought to myself, “I’d rather walk.”

Regrettably this is the condition of a lot of churches today. They have lost their direction and are flying blind. If you were to ask the average church member or lay leader what was their church’s purpose, you would probably get dozens of different and unrelated answers, and maybe a few glazed-over looks. Often when a church senses that maybe it’s off course or floundering the leaders call in church consultants. They see these hired guns as “experts” who will help get them on the “right track.” One could legitimately ask, however, that if these people are really experts, then why aren’t they out in the trenches leading vibrant churches? Churches pay these groups a lot of money, and the routine is often the same. Generally speaking, they first request that you gather up some data for them, which usually involves gathering up the demographics of your church and surrounding community, and also a list of your current programs, your leadership structure, and lastly your financial situation. After a while they eventually roll in and lead a seminar or two, make a few suggestions, help you launch a few new programs, then suggest a few aesthetic changes, and lastly they take your money. Usually it isn’t long before you gain some new people (usually refugees from other churches), and then you also lose a few others (those that don’t like the new changes or atmosphere). But when it is all said and done, after about 2 years no one can identify whether or not any really meaningful changes have occurred, and many still don’t know what your church is all about.

Well, here’s a free “church consult”; however, it is not without cost—it will cost you both time and a great deal of risk. It starts by gathering your entire church leadership together for a mandatory meeting, maybe even a retreat. That means gathering all the elders, deacons and deaconesses, the pastoral and support staff, the Sunday school teachers, and the youth and children workers. Gather yourselves altogether in one room and ask yourselves three simple questions. First ask yourselves, “Do you love one another?” I don’t mean do you “like” or tolerate each other, but do you sincerely love one another in the same manner as the Lord loves all those around you. Jesus said that if we truly love one another with the same affection that he loves us, then the world would know that we are truly his followers (John 13.34-35). And make sure you don’t marginalize Jesus’ standard of love. Loving like Jesus means that you are willing to sacrifice for those that partner with you in ministry, that you are willing to forgive them when they offend you or let you down. It means being willing to invest in their success and openly encourage them. Just know that Jesus lavishly loves everyone surrounding you, and he is messy with his love, extending grace at every opportunity for those who will trust, believe, and risk in his name. If the answer is either no, you’re not sure, or that you’re not willing to make the kind of sacrifices necessary to create that kind of ministry culture, then stop reading right now, do a web search and call some group of “experts,” start gathering the necessary data, and lastly give them the Lord’s money. Then after 2 years let me know if anything they suggested has made any lasting and meaningful impact upon your fellowship and its extended ministries.

The next question is this, “Do you love God’s word?” More specifically, “Do you trust and believe in it, both individually and as a group?” The easiest way to answer this question is to simply examine your church or denomination’s statement of faith while you are altogether. Go over it line by line and discuss what is says, ask what it means and what it doesn’t mean, and then ask is there any biblical support for each tenant and sub-point. And also ask whether it truly focuses on what Jesus and the apostles taught that the church should focus upon, as well as what believers should regularly live out and proclaim. And lastly, ask if it leaves out anything that is essential to authentic biblical Christianity?  If you sincerely engage in this test then you will probably discover one of three things. First, you will find out who really believes and is passionate about the word of God, who is not sure about it, and doubts it altogether—but be forewarned, you may not like what you see. Or two, you will discover that it’s you who should be looking for a new church home. This is assuming that you discover that your current “fellowship” has no intention of conforming their practices to biblical standards. Or three, your church will discover anew what it supposed to be emphasizing and doing. In other words, maybe the Holy Spirit will light a fire within the leaders of your fellowship. It’s just that simple. Jesus stated that those who are truly his disciples “abide” in his word, and the result is that they would experientially know truth and freedom—freedom in their walk with him and freedom from the passions of this world (John 8.31-32). In a similar manner, Paul exhorted Titus to teach that which was consistent with “sound doctrine” (Titus 2.1); and he told Timothy to remain faithful to the “sound teaching” that he had received from him (2 Tim 1.13). The point is that spiritually healthy pastors, elders, deacons, and lay leaders love God’s word, and are authentically interested in learning what it means, how to live it out, and how to share it with others. And lastly, they emphasize that which the word of God emphasizes rather than some obscure or strange pet theology.

Finally, “Do you regularly pray together for that which glorifies God and magnifies Jesus for who he is and what he’s done? Before you answer this question, you should know that praying in “Jesus name” is not another way of saying “amen.” It means praying for that which is consistent with all that Jesus taught and modeled. Moreover, it means praying for that which Jesus prayed for with the same humility and dependence upon God. And lastly, it means praying for those things that honestly bring glory to God and his kingdom. In other words, would the answers to your prayers move others to authentically magnify the name of Christ and his gospel? Jesus said that the hallmark of true disciples is that they are continually abiding in Him and experiencing effective prayer that results is the constant production of fruit that glorifies God (John 15.7-9). That does not mean that they are regularly receiving material gain or experiencing their “best life now,” but that they are worshiping God through Jesus and advancing the cause of Christ, which is the gospel.

Now if you find the answers to these questions are “no” then you are simply presiding over an “organization” rather than an “organism.” A true Christian fellowship is a living entity, it is an organism. Paul refers to the church sometimes as a “body,” or at other times as the “bride of Christ.” I think one of his points is that a local church is a living thing, not a finely tuned organization absent of genuine love and spiritual life. But if you find that the answers to all three questions are “yes,” then you have a spiritual treasure; in other words, God has greatly blessed you and your fellowship. Moreover, if God is in your midst, then by all means call in some consultants and have them evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it. Who knows, they may be able to help you strengthen some of your weaknesses and reveal some of your blind spots. Heaven knows I’m not against getting a fresh perspective or new ideas. They may actually help you identify some missed opportunities to reach others for Christ. But if you’re not willing to get together and sincerely raise and answer these three hard questions, then hiring some high-priced experts isn’t going to substantially change anything, but it will lighten your church’s checkbook. And in the end, most of those who serve and attend your fellowship will continue to be directionless; they will be flying blind and simply going through the motions—and there’s nothing attractive or compelling about that.

This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without express written permission.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © January 26, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC. All Rights Reserved.

 

I Am the Vine: Understanding John 15:1-8

My parents moved to Connecticut when I was in college, and around the time they were moving in, I visited them.  Their new home was not a very impressive house; it was a rustic wood-panel structure with a large overgrown yard. I was helping my dad clean up the backyard when we came across a large grapevine lying on the ground.  We would have cut it up and thrown it away if we hadn’t noticed a couple of grapes on it.  So we cleared everything away, and my dad said that he was going to enjoy the grapes that it would produce.  I thought to myself “Yeah right, good luck with that.”  It looked completely wild and literally only had a handful of small grapes.  But he built a makeshift trellis, and then we lifted it off the ground and anchored it upon the trellis. Then to my shock my dad started looping off a lot of its branches, even some of the larger ones.  I thought he had lost his mind; how could any plant survive such trimming.  He went at it like Edward Scissorhands. But sure enough, the next year it had several clusters of nice sweet deep purple grapes.  Understanding how one tends a grapevine is essential for correctly understanding what Jesus meant when he said “I AM the true vine.

Before addressing Jesus’ claim in John 15, it is necessary to survey his other “metaphorical” I AM statements found throughout John’s Gospel.  This blog does not address Jesus’ “absolute” I AM statements (e.g., Jn 8.58).  While they are important, they are not helpful for understanding what he meant in John 15.  Furthermore, John 15.1-8 should not be interpreted in isolation from the prologue of John’s Gospel.  But first, let’s briefly survey Jesus’ other “I AM” statements.

There are seven metaphorical “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John, some of which Jesus asserted more than once.  They are as follows:

  1. “I am the bread of life, I am the living bread.” Jn 6.35, 48, 51.

2. “I am the light of the world.” Jn 8.12; 9.5

3. “I am the gate.” Jn 10.7, 9

4. “I am the good shepherd.” Jn 10.11, 14

5. “I am the resurrection and the life.” Jn 11.25

6. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jn 14.6

7. “I am the true vine, I am the vine” Jn 15.1, 5

Most people understand what Jesus meant by his first 6 statements, even though these declarations have slightly different nuances depending upon their particular contexts.  They all, nevertheless, have the same general meaning, which is that Jesus claims to be the universal and exclusive provision of eternal life for all humanity.  Jesus made this assertion more emphatically in some of his statements than others.  Nevertheless, John introduced this very concept in his prologue, in which he clearly asserted that Jesus is the universal savior for all humanity (Jn 1.9-13).  Consequently, we should not understand Jesus’ statement that “I am the good shepherd” to only refer to his concern for the nation of Israel, but instead that he is the good shepherd (i.e., that he is both Savoir and Lord) for all humanity.  Certainly the disciples would have at least understood Jesus to mean that he was the promised good shepherd of Israel when he first made this claim.  Nevertheless, the more we learn about Jesus’ mission and purpose in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament, then the more we come to understand that Jesus was not claiming to be just the good shepherd for Israel alone.  Jesus was speaking about a greater reality, one that his disciples did not fully comprehend until decades after the resurrection.  Nevertheless, we learn that Jesus meant more than was originally understood precisely because his disciples inevitably came to realize that he did in fact mean more than they originally understood him to mean.  And having come to the realization that Jesus is the good shepherd for all humanity, they proclaimed this good news to the church and world, which is preserved in the New Testament.

Nevertheless, a problem arises for some as they seek to understand precisely what Jesus meant in John 15.1-8.  It arises because some approach this passage in complete isolation from Jesus’ other “I AM” statements.  This is understandable given the context in which it is found, which was during Jesus’ last supper with his closest followers.  Regrettably, however, from this passage some conclude that Jesus told his followers that believers can lose their salvation if they fail to “abide” in him.  The results of such an interpretation is a “faith plus works” salvation, or a “faith plus one’s own power to endure” salvation (which is functionally the same thing). More specifically, some believe and teach that you initially receive the gift of salvation by placing your faith in Jesus, but you maintain it by your own endurance and good works.  Such an interpretation is driven more by one’s systematic theology than an actual exposition of the passage, for Jesus made it very clear to those present that they were already “cleaned” because of the word that he had spoken to them (see verse 3, and for further understanding of what being “clean” meant, see John 13.1-11).  Moreover, Jesus had previously taught that all who had believed in him already possessed eternal life, and had passed over from death into life (Jn 5.24).  Furthermore, he emphatically promised that it was impossible for him to lose anyone that had authentically and rightly believed upon him (Jn 10.28-29).   Consequently, such an interpretation ignores both an integral emphasis within the passage, as well as other clear teachings from Jesus concerning the security of the believer found throughout John’s Gospel.

So then, what precisely did Jesus mean when he stated that he is “the true vine”?  Jesus’ assertion should be interpreted in the same manner as Jesus’ other “I AM” statements, which is that he is the only true life-giving source for all of humanity (i.e., eternal life).  Branches that reveal the fruit of salvation (positional sanctification) are regularly pruned by the Father so that they can bear more fruit (progressive sanctification), thus glorifying God and proving their relationship with Jesus.  In the first half of the passage Jesus was teaching his disciples about progressive sanctification (cf., Jn 15.2b-5).  The doctrine of “progressive sanctification” focuses upon the concept of personal holiness, which speaks to how believers can “live out” what God has already accomplished in them through Christ.  Nevertheless, Jesus made a very important transition in verse 6.  In verse 6, he changed from addressing the disciples that were present (i.e., those that he declared were already “cleaned”) to “anyone,” which is an indefinite personal pronoun.  Concerning these unknown people he states that “anyone” who does not abide in him is “thrown away” (i.e., those that have not received eternal life through him), and are inevitably gathered for burning (i.e., eternal damnation).

Many misunderstand this passage because they know little about practices of vinedressers and pruning.  Jesus knew that vines have only two types of branches, those that produce fruit and those that don’t.  Fruit bearing branches are valued, while those that don’t are rejected. Non-fruit bearing branches are known as “suckers.”  Suckers completely lack the capacity to bear any fruit, and thus they drain sap from the vine that might otherwise go into fruit bearing branches.  Fruit bearing branches also have suckers, which is precisely why vinedressers continually prune them.  Vinedressers prune fruit bearing branches so that the vine’s sap will be directed towards fruit production rather than leaf production.  Branches that never bear fruit are inevitably cut off because they are worthless for fruit production.  Non-fruit bearing branches never produce fruit, no matter how patient you may be with them.  Consequently, they are eventually cut off, and then gathered up and thrown into a burn pile.  This is exactly Jesus’ point, everybody (i.e., all of humanity) must “abide” in him (i.e., trust and believe) in order to receive the fruit of eternal life.  Once someone entrusts themselves to him, then they not only receive the fruit of eternal life, but they also receive the capacity to bear additional fruit to the glory of God.  Their capacity to bear more fruit is fostered as God “prunes” their lives of the things that dishonor the Lord or are barriers to their devotion to him.  Consequently, because they are believers the Father prunes them so that they may bear even more fruit.  Anyone that has not first entrusted themselves to Christ are spiritually dead—no matter how healthy and alive they look, and inevitably they will be cut from the vine and eternally separated from God.

Some still struggle with this passage because they observe that the non-fruit bearing branches have some type of a connection to the “true vine.”  This should not be a problem, however, since John’s prologue makes it clear that it was Jesus who created all things (Jn 1.3, 10).  Therefore, since Jesus made all humanity, both believers and unbelievers, we should not be surprised that all humanity and creation is sustained by him, even those who have rejected him.  Jesus is God incarnate, and as God he sustains all things (Col 1.16-17; Heb 1.1-3), and it was for him that all things were created (Col 1.16), and he has authority over all things (Matt 28.18, John 5.22-23, 27).  Jesus is Lord of everything and everybody, whether they correctly acknowledge him or not.  Consequently, the scriptures plainly indicate that Jesus sustains the mortal lives of all people—both believers and unbelievers.  However, if anyone goes through life without ever receiving him as their Savior and Lord then they forfeit their only opportunity to the eternal life.  This is exactly what makes rejecting Jesus so offensive, for by it unbelievers have actually rejected both the true God, as well as the world’s only savior; consequently, there no longer remains any atonement for their sin.  Therefore, John 15.1-8, as well as the rest of Jesus’ “I AM” statements, should motivate us to make sure that the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is the central focus of all that we do in his name.  Consequently, John 15.1-8 should be understood as having an evangelistic emphasis, as well as an explanation of what progressive sanctification looks like for those who have believed and received eternal life.  The passage is not just about personal holiness, and it is not just about evangelism, it teaches us about both.  And most importantly, it does not explain how believers can lose their salvation.

Believers should always be thankful for the eternal life they have received through the Lord Jesus Christ, and they should renew themselves afresh to allowing the true Vinedresser to prune away that which keeps them from producing fruit that glorifies the majestic name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And if you have never trusted Jesus’ sacrifice as the only payment of your sins and received him as your Savior and Lord, then there is no better time than now.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © January 17, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC.

 

THE LAST JEDI’S MESSAGE TO EVANGELICALS

I finally went to see “The Last Jedi” the other night.  But of course, before the movie we had to spend 20 minutes trying to remember who was related to whom; who was still alive; and who killed who and how and when and why.  But such is the case when you begin a movie franchise in the middle—what in the world was Lucas thinking?

There were some elements of the movie that I enjoyed, but there were some plot flaws that are still hard to overcome (spoiler alert). Plot flaws such as some very small and extremely slow Resistance Bombers dropping what appeared to be gravitational bombs that destroyed a Dreadnought (a ginormous spaceship)—while in space no less.  And how is it that Leia, who is supposed to be in harmony with the Force, couldn’t discern that the gold dice that Luke handed her weren’t real?  Come on, if her spidey sense didn’t go off at that moment, then how did she get so out of sync with the Force?  Especially since earlier she was flying through zero gravity into a blast hole in her ship, which was caused by an incredible explosion that only she miraculously survived some how, which is also another plot flaw.

The biggest disappointment for me, however, is that Disney ruined the movie by attempting to brainwash young viewers with the impression that there comes a time when “old” spiritual truths that are codified in writing should be let go of, and maybe even destroyed.  (Spoiler Alert: the original Jedi ancient texts weren’t really burned because they can be incidentally observed on the Millennial Falcon near the end of the movie.) Nevertheless, you would have to be pretty naive not to appreciate the impact that such a concept would have upon young and uncritical viewers, views that are left with the impression that there is a time in one’s life to throw off old ways and make your own path.  Of course the message to those that consider themselves “Christians” who have grown up respecting the Bible is that mature individuals eventually outgrow the scriptures and let them go.

This is an extremely effective way to disseminate such an impression while appreciation of the Bible is quickly becoming a foreign concept in many “modern” churches.  But lack of value for the scriptures was not so for the saints of old.  Moses told Joshua that “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Josh 1.8). The psalmist wrote that the godly person’s “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers” (Ps 1.2-3).  Isaiah wrote “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8). Jesus himself stated that, “whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8.38). And lastly, the apostle Paul wrote “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man (and woman) of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3.16-17).  Need I go on?  Regrettably, more and more people are beginning to believe that the Bible contains myths, legends, prejudices, and errors.  Consequently, they feel that it is no longer relevant to their daily lives, and some even view it as a threat to enlightenment and a barrier for progressivism.

There will be those that think I’m making a big deal out of a nothing-burger.  I beg to differ.  Consider this, the first Star Wars movie was released in the summer of 1977 when I was 16.  The next movie is scheduled to be released in 2019.  That means that the nine movies that Lucas originally envisioned will span well over 40 years, and Disney will surely continue making more movies long after I am dead and gone.  They didn’t pay Lucas 4 billion dollars just to sell toys—toys mind you that millions of children played with during some very formative years.  Consequently, I can’t think of a cultural “fad” that has had more of an impact or influence during my entire adult life. Of course there were more significant events during this same period, such as the fall of the Soviet empire, the destabilization of the Middle East, the globalization of the illegal drug trade, the advent of the personal computer, and the technology and information explosion.  Nevertheless, when it comes to engaging our way of thinking during times of relaxation and entertainment, the Star Wars franchise must be one of the top 3 most influential movements of our time. And regrettably, in many areas of the world, it has been more influential then the Evangelical church during that same period.  If you still think I am making a mountain of a molehill, then just ask yourself these very simple questions: during the past Christmas shopping season, how many Bibles, Bible study aids, devotionals, or biblical commentaries did you give away as gifts to loved ones and friends compared to other stuff that has no spiritual benefit whatsoever.  Notice that I didn’t mention Christian music; that’s because much of it provides no spiritual benefit as well.  Moreover, how many of you gave your children, or your nieces and nephews, or your grandchildren Star Wars toys, DVDs, or other related items?  And lastly, which do you have a more comprehensive understanding of, the Star Wars movie series, or the message of the entire Bible?  So I ask again, who is having the greater influence?

Monte Shanks, Copyright © January 8, 2018, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC.

Imagining John Lennon’s Nightmare

Christmas is over, and that means that New Year’s Eve is just around the corner.  I’m not really into New Year’s Eve anymore.  I used to enjoy it, but no longer.  It’s not because I’m getting older, but because it has become a holiday for promoting Secular Humanism.  It’s not the parties and drunkenness that makes New Year’s Eve a decidedly humanistic holiday.  Heaven knows that there’s always a party happening somewhere—and there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a good time every now and then.  The problem is that the secular media has made John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine” the mandatory song announcing the beginning of the new year, and that the new year should embrace the dream of Secular Humanism. This is observable since over the last couple of decades one of the first songs everyone sings after midnight—if not the very first song sung—is no longer “Auld Lang Syne” (aka: “As Time Goes By”) but Lennon’s “Imagine.” If you actually listen to and think about what the song actually says, then you will also realize that if what Lennon imagined is ever achieved that the world will become a living nightmare for devote Christians everywhere.

The first line of the song simply asks us to “Imagine there’s no heaven.”  Lennon wasn’t asking us to imagine that there’s no galaxy, instead he was asking us to imagine that the place where God dwells no longer exists.  In other words, he wanted everyone everywhere to stop believing in God. And instead of a place called Heaven, he wanted us to envision that above us is “only sky.” Moreover, he believed that all we really needed to do in order realize his utopia of a godless universe was to simply begin imagining that God no longer exists. It is clear that envisioning life without God is what Lennon had in mind since he also asked us to imagine that Hell wasn’t real as well. As we all know, Hell is the domain where God eternally relegates all that rejected him during their earthly lives. And having imagined that God, Heaven, and Hell no longer exist, Lennon wanted us to imagine all humanity “living only for today.”  Don’t worry about what God promised would occur in the future, don’t even worry about the future, just live for the moment, that is what John Lennon hoped everyone would imagine.

Before unpacking the rest of the song, we should be reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ was committed to promoting the reality of Heaven.  His entire message could be summarized in his proclamation: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4.17).  Moreover, while training his followers on how to pray, he first wanted us to understand that Heaven is where God is, praying that “Our Father who is in Heaven, holy be your name” (Matt 6.9ff). The Lord also taught us that our hopes and prayers should always start with “Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” While the Lord exhorted us to faithfully imagine and look forward to a world in complete submission to the will of our heavenly Father, Lennon wanted us to imagine God doesn’t exist, that we are by ourselves, that we are accountable to no one; consequently, we are living only for today, existing only for the moment. There is no reconciling what John Lennon wanted everyone to imagine and what Jesus stated is true now, as well as what will occur in the future. They are diametrically opposed to each other; consequently, they are mutually exclusive. You can’t have both; you can only have one at the sacrifice of the other—so much for harmonious diversity between what Lennon wanted and what Jesus will accomplish.

To make his point even more polarizing, Lennon exhorted us to imagine there is no “religion.” Now I also wish that there weren’t so many false religions throughout the world. But that is not what Lennon wished for; instead he wished that there was no religion at all. Regardless of how you feel about some religions, the vast majority of them essentially teach us one fundamental truth, which is that God exists and that we are accountable to Him. Say what you will about some of their specific teachings; nevertheless, our world is better off because of this essential truth that virtually all religions promote. And it is this foundational truth that Lennon wanted everyone to imagine doesn’t exist.

What is most disturbing about Lennon’s imagination is that he believed that humanity could live “life in peace” if everyone else would stop believing in their religions, which requires that Christians stop believing in Heaven, stop believing in God, and stop following the Lord Jesus Christ.  As a matter of fact, for Lennon it is we who believe in the kingdom of Heaven that are the ones who prevent world peace and global harmony from being achieved.  Lennon’s chorus asserts precisely this, suggesting that “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”  Did you get that?  Lennon believed that it is we who worship God and believe in Heaven that are the ones who prevent the rest of the world from living in global unity. Lennon thought that in order for world harmony to be experienced Christians are the ones that need to stop believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and what he clearly taught about God, himself, and sinful humanity. It is we, therefore, who have to abandon Jesus and join all Secular Humanists so that the world can experience global tranquility.  And Lennon extended this satanic invitation through a simply little ditty that Rolling Stone once listed as the 3rd greatest song of all time.

Now that I am older I have become a light sleeper, and one of the things that easily wakes me are nightmares. I used to sleep so hard that I couldn’t remember any of my dreams—good or bad, but those days are gone, and now I am easily awaken by an occasional nightmare. John Lennon’s song “Imagine” inspires people to believe in a worldview that in reality is a hellish nightmare rather than a dream. And as more and more people uncritically embrace his vision, then the gospel will become increasingly offensive to them. Lennon’s song “Imagine” is for Secular Humanists what “Just As I AM” is for the church. This New Year’s Eve take a moment and watch how many people sing along with Lennon’s hope for the world. Then think about what the world will be like if it starts accepting and acting upon Lennon’s imagination. What if the secular world actually begins to view Christians as “bitter clingers,” as hateful people who refuse to relinquish to their archaic Bibles, their mythical religion, and their dead Jesus?  What if they begin to view us as the ones that are the real impediments to their hope for world harmony? You may find that hard to imagine, but I don’t, not for a moment. The fact that the song gets any airplay at all is a bad omen. Once more and more people start believing that Christianity is what keeps humanity from experiencing global tranquility, then devote followers in the Lord Jesus Christ will find themselves in a nightmare that is the logical endgame of Secular Humanism, which will be hell on Earth for everyone.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © December 27, 2017, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC.

Mausoleums or Ministry Centers

I’m guessing that most of us have heard of the Taj Mahal.  Some may not know where it actually is, but the name is certainly familiar enough (it’s in India if you were wondering).  But most people are not really aware of what the place actually is.  The most that some know is that it is a “fancy place.”  The fact is that the Taj Mahal is primarily and foremost a mausoleum—in other words; it’s a place to store dead people.  I won’t bother you with a lot of details, but about 360 years ago a king built it for resting place of his beloved queen who died during childbirth.  Another very famous mausoleum is the West Minister Abbey, which is where England buries her royalty and national heroes.  The sad thing about the Abbey is that it originally was a church, but it ceased to be so hundreds of years ago.  Now it a place for royal weddings and storing dead people.

It strikes me that a lot of church facilities are more like mausoleums than ministry centers.  For some reason we Christians get attached to the buildings where we worship, and sooner or later we turn them into things of worship, which inevitably leads them to becoming more like mausoleums—which are places that people generally don’t want to go, much less spend a lot of time.  It’s a rather odd habit to say the least.  Jesus knew this about us, he once said “. . . for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.  And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (Luke 16.8b-9).  Simply put, Jesus noticed that the people of God weren’t too smart about using money for the purpose of reaching the lost for Him, and this is most obvious with respect to how we use our church buildings.

Most church facilities are basically cared for like mausoleums that are filled with dated esthetics and furniture, instead centers for constant ministry activities.  Our facilities should be more like college campuses than places that are primarily used one day a week, or where people go to get married or buried.  Think of it this way, if church buildings were businesses then it wouldn’t be long before Christianity would go bankrupt because of lack of use.  In order for a retail outlet to be profitable, it must be easily accessible and endure a lot of foot traffic.  To put it simply, in order for a store to make money it needs to have a lot of different people go to it and they need to do so often.  Some may say “how crass, you aren’t talking about a store, but about the church!”  And I say that mindset couldn’t be more wrong!  Those who are in Christ and are members of your congregation are those that Jesus has made holy, not the facility in which we meet.  If people in your fellowship start thinking of your church’s building as something sacred and requiring special respect and attention, then they will inevitably become an impediment to effective ministry with respect to the use of your fellowship’s facilities.  And if they become the majority, then your church will function more like a mausoleum than a ministry center.  They will in essence turn your facility into sterile places of inactivity rather than a place where sinners regularly come and have their lives changed through the gospel.

It’s tragic that as fellowships grow they begin to attract people that try to make their ministry facilities more and more comfortable; this inevitably means that nicer carpet, furniture, and décor begin to show up.  This has an unintended consequence, which is an insatiable desire to protect and preserve the building’s esthetics.  The only way this can be done is if those in charge restrict the availability and use of the ministry’s facilities.  In other words, some in your congregation will become more concerned with preserving everything within the building, rather than hoping it all gets worn out by constant use and preserving souls through the redemption that is only found in Christ.  The interesting thing about retail stores is that they account for the wear, abuse, damage, and theft as part of the price of doing business, and if they didn’t they would lose money!  In case you are unaware, calculated into the price of everything you buy at the grocery store is the cost of what someone else steals or breaks.  Moreover, whether you realize it or not, all of that furniture, carpet, and décor in your facility will become dated in about 10 years.  In other words, it will not be long before your facility’s esthetics start to become less fashionable and attractive to visitors and seekers, so what’s the use in trying to preserve it all?  Why not allow it to be used and worn out for the cause of Christ and his gospel?  Moreover, people are messy, especially with things they didn’t buy with their own money.

Consequently, if more and more people begin to come to your “chapel,” they will inevitably spill things, tear things, break things, and even possibly vomit on things—as anyone in children’s ministry can attest.  So we should get use to it and realize that it’s all part of the price of doing effective ministry.  I’m not suggesting that we should allow people to intentionally abuse the resources that God has entrusted to us.  Nevertheless, wear and tear, as well as accidental abuses will occur, and when they do the last thing anyone should do is get mad or upset because someone has messed up the esthetics of your ministry facilities. This is especially true during the Christmas season, which generally involves a lot of activities where kids are involved and guests come and visit.  A lot of these people are unfamiliar with our policies concerning our “sacred facilities.” If we become so focused on preserving our building’s décor so that the visitors coming to our services feel uncomfortable or unwanted—well then you may have prevented a stain from showing up on the carpet, but you haven’t done the Lord Jesus Christ any favors.  Which do you think he is more concerned about, that some one may accidentally break a chair or that they may entrust themselves to him as their savior during this Christmas season? The bottom line is this, church buildings should be envisioned as beehives of ministry, training, and worship rather than mausoleums where dead people inevitably show up.

Monte Shanks, Copyright © December 6, 2017, The Lantern & Shield Times, LLC.