Jim Bakker’s Reflections on Lavish Lifestyles

“…as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet

possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10).

I doubt that any minister in church history has paid a higher price for his lavish lifestyle than Jim Bakker did. Not only did he end up spending nearly five years in federal prison, but he also faced widespread criticism and ridicule for his opulent lifestyle while building his PTL TV ministry at Heritage USA.

During a period of five years, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker received $3.7 million in salaries, bonuses and benefits. What few people realize, however, is that they also gave away  millions of dollars of their royalties to the ministry during that period. Although not entirely accurate, the widespread image still remains: The Bakkers were money-grubbing preachers who defrauded the people of God.

In prison Jim Bakker spent a lot of time studying the words of Jesus, and he came to some startling conclusions as to what Jesus had to say about money:

As the true impact of Jesus’ words regarding money impacted my heart and mind, I became physically nauseated. I was wrong. I was wrong! Wrong in my lifestyle, certainly, but even more fundamentally, wrong in my understanding of the Bible’s true message. Not only was I wrong, but I was teaching the very opposite of what Jesus had said (Jim Bakker in I Was Wrong, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).

Few issues are as thorny as the question of a minister’s lifestyle in relation to material things. One extreme is exemplified by the deacon’s prayer, “Lord, we ask you to keep the preacher humble, and we will keep him poor!”

This view expects those in ministry to practically take a vow of poverty in order to keep from seeming greedy or materialistic. Having a nice house, car or wardrobe is seen as a sign of worldliness—unbefitting a person in ministry. Peter’s declaration of “Silver and gold have I none”  (Acts 3:6 KJV) becomes a proof-text model for the financial condition of all those in ministry.

As imbalanced as this view is, there are many scriptures sometimes cited to support it. Those in ministry are repeatedly warned about the dangers of greed and of trusting in money. For example, Paul wrote that “the overseer must be above reproach…not a lover of money  (1 Timothy 3:1-3 NIV). And Peter said that leaders should be “not greedy for money, but eager to serve  (1 Peter 5:1-2 NIV).

Paul warned that people of “depraved mind”  would “suppose that godliness is a means of gain”  (1 Timothy 6:5 NAS). If you are a minister struggling just to make ends meet, this may be a scripture that is hard to imagine. How could someone seriously see the ministry as a way to get rich?!  you might wonder.

However, while most of those in ministry have very modest lifestyles—whether they want to or not—some indeed have been guilty of “merchandising” the gospel. The anointing of the Spirit has literally been sold to the highest bidder.

Jim Bakker echoes these biblical warnings:

I believe one of the reasons I had to go to prison is because I was teaching people to fall in love with this present world…the gospel began to take second place. I began to write books on how to get rich, even though Jesus did not have one good thing to say about money. Take another look at what Jesus says in the Gospels. Instead of teaching people to get rich, He warned people about the deceitfulness of riches (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal,  Volume 7, Number 2).

This issue of Christians and money is one that will not go away—it will only intensify as we approach the end of this present age. If the church does not sound a clear message, people’s thinking will be shaped by the unbalanced dictates of the world.

But just as there is danger in Christians falling in love with money, the opposite side of the coin is also dangerous: Many Christians are tragically entrenched in a poverty mind-set. While they may feel “spiritual” about their lack of material goods, their poverty is actually restricting their ability to bless others and extend God’s kingdom.

Jim Bakker finally came to this conclusion about the prosperity message:

I am not against prosperity; I believe in it. I believe that if God wants to give your ministry a billion dollars or give you an entire city block in New York City, He can certainly do it. But we need to beware of falling in love with things rather than with Jesus (Jim Bakker in “Loving Jesus—and Your Enemies,” The Morning Star Journal, Volume 7, Number 2).

That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Will we fall in love with things  rather than with Jesus? However, rather than casting stones at someone else’s lifestyle, let’s examine our own  hearts–making sure our priorities are truly aligned with the purposes of God.

 

 

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Grandma’s Theory on Church Growth

Granny onlyGrandma Buchan was a very wise woman, and she had a fascinating theory on church growth. Well, actually, her theory had to do with restaurants,  but many of the same principles apply to churches.

“Jimmy, I never go to a restaurant if the parking lot isn’t full,” she told me firmly one day.

I had never thought about restaurants that way. In fact, it seemed to me that there should be other considerations.

“But, Grandma, I don’t always like  busy restaurants, because you have to wait longer for your food.”

Granny couldn’t be dissuaded, though. “No, Jimmy, if a restaurant has a lot of customers, I know the food must be good.”

At the time of our conversation, it never occurred to me to ask Grandma about her thoughts on church growth. But as a pastor, I later adapted her theorem: Churches tend to grow when they serve good spiritual food.

There’s a lot to be said for this axiom. I remember when our college fellowship group was attracting members away from the very boring and very liberal chapel program on campus. The college chaplain wasn’t very happy about this, of course, but I told him that people were simply gravitating to where their needs were being met.

I’ve been on the other end of this principle, too. What if you’re a pastor whose members are leaving to attend a church down the street? It’s particularly painful when you’ve poured your heart and soul into someone who then departs for greener pastures or a better show.

If Granny were still alive, I would love to bring up some questions about how her theory applies to churches. For example, the McDonald’s drive-thru is almost always busy. But I surely can’t say the food is good, at least not nutritionally. Aren’t there churches just like that—serving food that’s high in sugar and fat, making people obese and clogging their spiritual arteries as the years go by?

Yes, people tend to gravitate to what meets their needs, but they also can gravitate to junk food.

How does this apply to your  church? Is it just a feel-good congregation, or is it truly offering good spiritual nutrition? Is it a place of genuine relationship and accountability, or is it more akin to a McDonald’s drive-thru?

As we can see in John chapter six, Jesus’ earthly ministry demonstrated both sides of Granny’s principle. On the one hand, huge multitudes were following Him, because He was serving good food, healing people, and meeting their needs.

But toward the end of the chapter, the crowd was reduced down to the original 12 disciples. Why? Because Jesus wasn’t going to let His ministry become like a McDonald’s drive-thru. Rather than being content to entertain people or feed them junk food, He gave them some “hard sayings” that day: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you”  (v. 53).

So we need to allow God to deal with us on both sides of this issue. If few people are being attracted by our ministry, we must ask ourselves whether we’re truly serving good food.

However, if huge crowds are coming, we may need to preach some “hard sayings” and see who the real disciples are. Let’s make sure our congregations aren’t just filled with drive-by Christians, coming for the junk food. Instead of just providing a momentary spiritual high, may our “worship experiences” promote long-term spiritual growth.

 

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ANGRY God or SMILING God–Do You Get to Choose?

I recently met a woman named Gail who grew up in a church that had a very distorted view of God. It gave her the impression that God was angry all the time. Since He was angry at pretty much everything,  it ended up being hopeless to relate to Him or please Him. No matter what you did, at the end of the day He would still be angry.

Fortunately, Gail eventually met the true God, and it turned out He wasn’t mad at her after all. In fact, He embraced her, welcomed her home, and threw a big party for her. (See Luke 15 for the details.)

Although I’m generally an admirer of 18th-century preacher Jonathan Edwards, I’m not a big fan of his most famous sermon title: “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  Can you imagine putting that on a church sign or billboard today? Definitely wouldn’t be politically correct.

But the main thing I don’t like about Edwards’ sermon title is that it gives the same false impression as Gail’s former church: God doesn’t just “get angry” from time to time, He’s angry by nature.  Instead of just being mad at those who sin, He’s mad at everyone, all the time.

What could we call this warped view of God? As Edwards practically says in his sermon title, this is the ANGRY God. Since His anger never changes, you could put a scowling portrait of God on your wall. No matter what you did, the angry scowl would remain.

But oh how the pendulum has swung in our day. Thankfully, there are fewer and fewer churches that promote the ANGRY God theology. But sadly, we’ve adopted a perspective that is not much more accurate: the SMILING God.

Just as the ANGRY God never is happy about anything, the SMILING God never gets angry and never frowns. Everyone and everything is quite OK with Him. “Different strokes for different folks” is the theology of the day, and God could care less about people’s lifestyle choices. People’s behavior is their private, personal choice, after all, and who is God to interfere with their pursuit of happiness?

So if you’re a member of “The Church of the SMILING God,” you probably have a very different portrait on your wall—a God with a huge, unchanging grin.

How did we ever get to such a place, where we adopt a picture of God with an unchanging expression on His face? Is it because He’s actually an UNKNOWN God to us, like the God of the Athenians in Acts 17:23?

You see, if we don’t really know  God, we’re prone to paint His picture with some kind of fixed expression that we’ve picked up from our church or some TV preacher. But that kind of God is not a real Person, He’s just a caricature.

The real God can be seen in the real Jesus. He certainly wasn’t the ANGRY God, but He did get angry at times—mostly at the hypocrisy of religious people. And despite some of the pictures of Him that we hang on our walls, Jesus wasn’t the SMILING God either. Yes, I’m sure He smiled, and I bet He smiled quite a lot. But He wasn’t always smiling, and I don’t think He’s always smiling at the SMILING Church today.

The God described in the Bible is a God who has emotions. He’s not angry about everything—far from it. But He’s not happy about everything either.

We may be uncomfortable with the fact that God has emotions. We’d rather put Him in a tight, predictable box. But He’s calling us to discard our tidy boxes and draw near to get to know Him  better.

Be wary of any preacher who gives the impression that God is either ANGRY or SMILING at every person and every lifestyle present in a massive congregation or TV audience. Draw near, and find out what God is saying about you.  He definitely will SMILE when you do.

 

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Sacred Cows, Obamacare & Irrationality

I hate  sacred cows. Mine, yours, or anyone’s.

       A sacred cow is defined as anything beyond criticism or questioning. Something like our President or his healthcare law.

Although the Republicans will forever be blamed for the recent government shutdown, the whole thing started when they foolishly thought they could attack Obamacare, our President’s lone domestic achievement and #1 sacred cow. They would have loved to kill the law entirely, of course. But when they failed in their attempt to defund it, they tried to find a few things reasonable  Democrats might be able to agree to.

Since the Obamacare website is a disaster, maybe the individual mandate for health insurance could be delayed for a year, just like the President had unilaterally done with the employer mandate. But no, the President was not willing to consider that.

In a previous vote, a large number of Democrats had joined Republicans in opposing the new tax on medical equipment, so maybe that tax could be eliminated from Obamacare. But this time the Democrats joined ranks with the President and refused to drop the tax.

Various other tweaks were proposed the past few weeks, but President Obama seemed offended that the Republicans would even think  of touching his signature piece of legislation—a law originally passed without a single Republican vote. No, Obamacare must not be repealed, defunded, delayed, or even tweaked.

It’s a sacred cow, don’t you see? Not just to the President, but to every Democratic in the Senate or the House of Representatives. So much for reasonableness.

It apparently doesn’t matter to President Obama, Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi that every one  of the President’s promises about the law has been broken.

He had repeatedly told us we could keep our present health insurance if we liked it. But now people are being dropped from their health plans, and workers are being cut back to part-time so their employers don’t have to offer insurance.

We were told an average family would save thousands of dollars a year on their health coverage, but in fact the opposite has happened—huge increases in nearly everyone’s premium.

The law was structured so that more young people would buy insurance, putting more money into the system to pay for the uninsured. But few young people are interested when they see the cost.

Like one Democratic Senator observed, the whole thing has been a train wreck. Yet if a train wreck happens to be a sacred cow, it remains untouched and unchallenged. After all, those mean old Republicans are just haters,  the media would like us to believe.

The problem with sacred cows is that they cause people to act in irrational  ways—not even in their own best interest.

And make no mistake about it: the Republicans have sacred cows too. So do you. So do I. We have things in our lives that are untouchable. Things that are idols.

God, deliver us from our sacred cows. Free us from our idols. May we have no other God in our life but You.

 

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3 Reasons Washington Is Dysfunctional

      No organization, organism, family, or social system functions perfectly. But as people throughout the world can now see in vivid display, our current government in Washington D.C. is more dysfunctional than it has been for many years.

There are 3 major reasons for this:

      1. Dys-function starts with dis-respect. No one likes to be “dissed,” but the players in the Washington drama clearly have no respect for each other anymore, nor are they respected by the American people. Leaders of the past, like Ronald Reagan and Tipp O’Neil, were able to disagree without being disagreeable, but that is no longer the case.

      2. Dysfunction happens when labels don’t match their accurate definitions. What comes to mind when you think of the label “Republican”? There are many possibilities. The party of “go along to get along”? The Rinos (Republicans in name only)? The party of Lincoln and liberty? The conservatives…libertarians…or Tea Party? You see, pinning down the label is more complicated than it sounds, because even this one party has become dysfunctional in some ways.

But this doesn’t let the Democrats off the hook. The word “democratic” implies listening to the will of the people, but have the Democrats been doing that the past five years? Not in the least. They don’t seem to care that a majority of Americans are opposed to Obamacare or want it delayed until the bugs can be worked out. They can’t seem to hear the cries of people who are losing their jobs or being reduced to part-time because of the law’s unintended consequences. Instead of living up to their name, “Democrat,” they are dissing the American people.

      3. Dysfunction happens when no one leads. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that dysfunction happens when the person who is supposed to be leading refuses  to lead. Coining a phrase to describe President Obama’s leadership style, pundits say he “leads from behind.” Instead of getting involved, taking charge, and building a consensus, he more often sits on the sidelines and watches the children fight. Sounds like a dysfunctional family doesn’t it? No one is in charge, so everyone  is in charge.

One terrible reality of most dysfunctional families is that they periodically try to patch up their differences and project a “happy family” facade to the world once again. They create some kind of short-term compromise that ignores all of the underlying issues. It’s only a temporary fix until the next fight or breakdown. It’s playacting, and in the church world we would call it hypocrisy.

It takes a miracle to repair a highly dysfunctional family. Disrespect has to be replaced with respect. People have to fulfill their proper roles. And there needs to be good leadership. Yes, these 3 things often require a miracle—something that only can happen with God’s help in changing people’s hearts.

In order for our “family” in Washington to become truly functional again, there will need to be some major heart-change as well. But how can that happen when our nation has increasingly dissed  the Lord and left Him out of the picture? It’s no wonder that kids fight out of control when their Heavenly Father has been banished from the scene.

 

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Are YOU Experiencing a ‘Partial Shutdown’ Lately?

In case you didn’t notice, the U.S. federal government recently experienced what was described as a “partial shutdown.” A whopping 43% of federal workers—nearly 900,000 people—were deemed “non-essential” and put on furlough. Of course, once the government starts up again, they get all of their back pay, so basically the U.S. had hundreds of thousands of workers on a paid vacation at taxpayer expensive.

There are many things troubling about this scenario. At a time when the government runs billion-dollar deficits every year, cynics would ask whether we should have cut some of the “non-essential” government services a long time ago, not just temporarily but permanently. And it surely is strange that, because everyone receives their back pay, it actually costs MORE to have a shutdown than to run things according to “business as usual.”

However, unless you are a federal employee or live in the Washington beltway, you probably didn’t even notice the shutdown. For most of us, life went on. The sky didn’t fall, and the economy didn’t grind to a halt. We discovered the liberating truth that our lives didn’t depend on the government after all.

Prior to the shutdown, Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi famously said that there was no fat in the federal government—the budget had already been “cut to the bone.” Well, it sure doesn’t seem that way, Nancy.

Although the shutdown raised numerous political issues, it also caused me to ponder some more personal questions:

  • Is it possible that my spiritual life has been operating on a “partial shutdown” for months or years, even though I’ve never noticed?  Compared to what God desires for me as a Spirit-filled believer (John 14:12), it seems I’ve been operating at a pretty low level.
  • Are there some “non-essential” activities and expenditures in my life that could be cut in order to help me bear more fruit?  Jesus’ is the master gardener, and it’s likely that He has much more pruning to do in my life (John 15:1-5).

These are questions you might want to ask yourself as well. Is it possible you’ve allowed your spiritual vitality and giftings to atrophy and partially shut down? Have you lost your first love, your passion, or your dream lately?

I’ve been wondering lately if much of the church in America is experiencing a “partial shutdown,” lacking the dynamic spiritual power and fruitfulness the Lord desires for us. Maybe it’s time for some pruning to get rid of our dead branches and unnecessary programs.

Several months back, my smartphone experienced a “partial shutdown” when its memory was nearly maxed out. Although everything still worked to some extent, the phone was extremely slow and unresponsive in comparison to how it operated when I first bought it. In order to return it to its original functionality, I had to delete a bunch of unnecessary apps. Maybe it’s time for that to happen in some other areas of my life as well. What about you?   

 

 

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Hater or Truth-Teller? 6 Ways to Tell the Difference

How can we tell the difference between a hater and a truth-teller? It’s not always easy. But our ability to discern the difference will be crucial to our future growth and success.

If we give too much credence to haters and naysayers, we will end up discouraged or confused as they tear down our identity and undercut our mission.

If we reject the input of genuine truth-tellers, we’re likely to end up full of pride, with dangerous blind spots as to our true condition.

Although it sure would be easier if the haters wore black hats and the truth-tellers wore white hats, it’s seldom so clear. I’ve never met a hater who doesn’t claim to simply be “telling the truth.”

Haters are on the rise today, and we want to make sure we aren’t among them. At the same time, truth-tellers seem to be increasingly rare, because the truth  is not politically correct or socially acceptable these days. Today’s culture considers being tolerant and non-judgmental to be the paramount human virtues, and this is problematic for truth-telling. Anyone who has a strong opinion is considered a hater, whether they are one or not.

So how do we distinguish between speaking the truth and being a hater? Here are six telltale differences:

1. Truth-tellers are interested in dialogue and relationship, but haters typically “fire bomb” their opponents in hit-and-run style.

2. Truth-tellers have an ultimate objective of help and healing, but haters want to silence and destroy their adversaries.

3. Truth-tellers have hope that people will acknowledge the truth and repent, but haters are convinced people will never change.

4. Truth-tellers are humble enough to admit they’re not always right about things, but haters have a smug, know-it-all attitude.

5. Truth-tellers have a track record of making positive contributions, but haters leave a trail of devastation wherever they go.

6. Truth-tellers demonstrate an ability to find the good in things whenever possible (Philippians 4:8), but haters typically are negative about everything.

One day King David was approached by a hater named Shimei (2 Samuel 16:5-13). This bitter man from Saul’s clan cursed at David, threw stones at him, and called him names like “murderer,” “scoundrel,” and “worthless man.” David’s men were outraged, and they wanted to cut off Shimei’s head. To their shock, David said to let Shimei alone, for perhaps the Lord had told him  to say those things!

David’s humility enabled him to realize a vital truth: Just because a person is a hater, that doesn’t mean they’re not also speaking the truth at times. However, rather than following Shimei’s example, Ephesians 4:15 says we’re to speak the truth in love.

If you’re a leader, you need to be careful how you handle haters and truth-tellers. Beware of the tendency to surround yourself with people who flatter you as if you can do no wrong. Make sure you have some people in your life who love you enough to tell you the truth—even when it hurts.

When you are criticized, don’t automatically conclude that the person is a hater. Take their critique to the Lord and ask Him to show you if any part of it is true.

When Nathan the prophet confronted David about his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 12), can you imagine what would have happened if David had branded Nathan as a hater and rejected his input? We need to make sure we love the truth  enough to find and embrace the truth-tellers around us.

What about you? Have you been too concerned about what the haters and naysayers think about you? Do you have a few faithful friends who can tell you the truth when you’ve been too blind to see it?

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The Perils of Standing Out

Aren’t you tired of fitting in and being ordinary? God never called you—or anyone else—to settle for an ordinary life. Just as He makes every snowflake beautifully unique, so He has a special design and purpose for each one of us.

Yet most people seem quite willing to blend into the crowd, to be politically correct and commonplace. Especially in today’s youth culture, peer pressure promotes mediocrity rather than brilliance. People who want to do something truly magnificent are ridiculed. The safest posture is to have the same grades, pay grade, or accomplishments as everyone else, because excelling might make others feel bad.

Innovation has always required a rare breed. Only a few people are willing to think outside the box of conventional wisdom. It has never been easy to be a Galileo, Edison, Einstein, or Steve Jobs. And today it seems harder than ever to be a groundbreaker, as the culture tries to push us toward conformity and mediocrity. Who dares to have the audacity to be above average?

In case you haven’t noticed, a socialistic spirit has been unleashed in our nation in recent years. It’s a badge of honor to say you’re in the “middle class,” but you’re certain to be vilified if you are part of the “1%.” The Occupy Wall Street protesters proudly declared, “We are the 99%!” What an abomination. Instead of achieving something extraordinary and uncommon, many people would rather fit in with the undistinguished masses of humanity.

In contrast, one of the key traits of biblical heroes was their willingness to stand out from the crowd…to be different…to be exceptional. Noah didn’t have any competitors in the ark-building industry. He stood alone, and he was mocked for it.

Joshua and Caleb stood alone among the spies who surveyed the Promised Land. Ten other spies said the land was impossible to conquer, and over a million Israelites sided with them against Joshua and Caleb. Yet these two brave men refused to back down.

David stood out as the only man in all of Israel who had the courage to fight Goliath. Despite the ridicule of his brothers and the skepticism of King Saul, David stepped out from the crowd and won a stunning victory.

On another occasion, David was mocked by his own wife, Michal, for “distinguishing” himself from the crowd and worshiping more passionately than anyone else. As the Ark of the Covenant was being brought into the city, Michal “saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart”  (2 Samuel 6:16).

When Michal later saw David, she mockingly said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today!”  (2 Samuel 6:20)

Many people, like Michal, don’t want you to distinguish yourself and stand out from the crowd. They will ridicule your passion and criticize your success. Like Michal, their own lives are barren, and they are threatened by your uninhibited creativity and freedom.

But if you’re going to be a world-changer, you must be willing to be different from your peers and distinguished from the crowd. You can’t be wrapped up in yourself, nor can you let the world squeeze you into its mold (Romans 12:2). And you’ll have to accept scorn as the inevitable lot in life of those who challenge the status quo and set a higher standard.

Like David, Daniel was willing to stand out. We’re told he “began distinguishing himself…because he possessed an extraordinary spirit”  (Daniel 6:3). Faced with tremendous pressure to conform, he and his friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego—refused to bend or bow.

Where are the heroes today? Where are the standouts—men and women courageous enough to rise up and distinguish themselves with an extraordinary life? The future hangs in the balance. Conformists may become popular, but they will never change the world.

 

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Who Stole the Body of Christ?

After Jesus rose from the dead, the tomb was empty and some people thought His body may have been stolen. That was totally incorrect, of course, but I can understand how some people might have come to that conclusion.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the Body of Christ described in the New Testament, and I’ve begun to think the unthinkable: I’m beginning to wonder if the Body of Christ really HAS been stolen in our day.

Here’s what I mean…

Paul’s letters give a very vivid description of the church as Christ’s Body. Instead of being a mere organization or club, he saw the church as a living, breathing organism. Just like a human body, the Body of Christ was composed of “many members” with “diversities of gifts.”

The Body of Christ wasn’t to center on just one or two gifted individuals, nor even on just a few types of spiritual gifts. No, the Body would only work properly as long as it realized everyone was gifted—for “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all”  (1 Corinthians 12:7).

At times there were public “equipping” meetings in the early church, such as when Paul left the synagogue in Ephesus “and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus”  (Acts 19:9). Yet Paul also  describes a completely different kind of setting for the Body of Christ—one this is extremely difficult to find these days:

Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification  (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Have you seen anything even remotely like this in recent years? If not, I ask you again: Has the Body of Christ been stolen?

Of course, we still are the Body of Christ in some kind of theoretical or theological sense. But let’s be honest about the kind of church life promoted by most congregations today:

The BODY of Christ has been replaced by the AUDIENCE of Christ.

       This has some tragic ramifications. No longer must every member of the Body function according to their gifts. A very few gifted individuals occupy the stage, and the remainder fill the seats of the audience. At best, these “ordinary church members” function as ushers and parking lot attendants. Even if we consider this part of the “gift of service,” where are the OTHER gifts of the Holy Spirit in our church life?

And what about you who are from Pentecostal or charismatic backgrounds? Can you really say your “Body life” is any better than the audience-oriented churches I’ve described? Perhaps you have a Sunday show that is more energetic than those from traditional or evangelical backgrounds. But in all likelihood, it’s a show nevertheless—much different than the kind of Body described by Paul.

There’s an old adage I try to live by, but it’s difficult in this case. According to the adage, we shouldn’t criticize anything unless we can offer a solution. And ideally, we should be modeling how to do things better.

I admit, I don’t have much of a solution in this case, and I can’t really say I’m doing things any better in my own life. But I’ve tasted of the Body of Christ in the past, and I miss it. I long for a community of believers who are building their lives together, discovering their gifts, and turning the world upside down for Jesus.

What about you? Are you satisfied with the kind of church life you’re experiencing?

Or perhaps, like me, you’re feeling like the women who wanted to see Jesus’ body on Resurrection Sunday: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus  (Luke 24:2-3). They must have felt really sad about this. They were looking for the Body of Christ, but couldn’t find it.

Churches love to claim they are doing something “new,” but usually they’re just modeling themselves after some other church they’ve visited or read about. Join me in praying for God to do something truly  “new,” bringing us back to something very old : the many-membered, multidimensional, supernatural Body of Christ.

 

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When the Concrete Dries Too Fast

Hard lessons from my worst job ever

I’ve done lots of different jobs during my lifetime, and most of them were rather fun. Before even getting out of college, I had painted houses, worked at a bowling alley, managed a miniature golf course, done landscaping and blacktop sealing, and served as the director of a teen center. As an adult, my diverse careers have included being an attorney, a pastor, a magazine editor, an instructor at a ministry school, a church consultant, and a writer.

But one job stands out as by far the worst  I’ve ever had. It only lasted for one day, but it left a profound impression on me nevertheless.

I don’t even know what to call this job. If I wanted a positive spin to add this on my resume, I probably would call it something like “Concrete Technician.” But in reality it was just grunt work—somewhat akin to a prison chain gang in the old movies.

My dad owned a number of rental properties, and he hired my cousin Jack and me to pour a new concrete driveway for one of the houses. Of course, Jack and I had absolutely no experience with concrete, but apparently my dad thought this was something anyone  could do. And I’m sure we were a lot cheaper than anyone else he could find for the job.

It was a hot July day, and the first three or four hours were spent in breaking up and removing the old  concrete. We didn’t have any fancy equipment to do this. Just pick axes, sledge hammers, and shovels.

Did I mention that it was a lot like the old chain gangs?

Realizing that Jack and I needed a little guidance, my dad hired a man named Pauley to oversee our work. Pauley was a plump, jovial sort of guy, and he chuckled as he gave us instructions on what to do. Of course, Pauley never lifted a finger to help with the heavy lifting, but he enjoyed watching Jack and me sweat and complain as we broke up the old driveway.

At about 11 a.m., Pauley said he was taking off for an early lunch. I guess he felt he’d given us enough instructions until the concrete truck arrived at 1 p.m.

However, it turned out that Pauley had an alcohol problem. Instead of just going out for lunch, he went on a drinking binge and never returned to our job site.

You can picture the scene when the huge blue concrete truck came at 1 p.m. The concrete guys were used to dealing with people who had experience  with such things, not novices like Jack and me.

Eager to get to their next location, the concrete guys backed up their truck to the driveway and poured out the fresh concrete. Jack and I did our best to smooth it out, but the concrete hardened amazingly fast and with disastrous results. Within a few hours, we found ourselves with a “new” driveway that looked like the topography of the Promised Land—full of hills and valleys. What a mess. It was embarrassing, to say the least, but we had done our best.

One of my premises is that we should try to find the lessons in every story we encounter throughout life. Although many different lessons could be cited about my calamities as a “Concrete Technician,” my main takeaway was the shock of how fast concrete dries. And once the concrete dries improperly, the only way to remedy the situation is to get out the pick axe and sledge hammer again. Ouch.

This principle applies to many different areas of life:

  • When you have a newborn baby, the clock is running on how much time you have to “mold the concrete” in their lives. Sure, you still can give them your parental input once they’ve become adults. But it’s certainly a lot easier when you’ve already shaped their values at an early age, when the concrete is still wet.
  • Every business, governmental agency, political party, church, or nonprofit organization has a “corporate culture,” and this is more difficult to change as time goes by. A friend of mine became the senior pastor of a church that had been planted a decade earlier. The man wanted to make some significant changes to the church culture, and he failed to anticipate how difficult this would be. After all, this church prided itself on being “prophetic” and open to the ongoing leading of God’s Spirit. One of its mottos was even “Constant change is here to stay!” Yet the reality was much different than the motto. After just 10 years, the church “concrete” had become surprisingly resistant to change.
  • If you’re a Baby Boomer, like I am, you’ve probably already dealt with the “concrete” principle in your personal life. The perspectives and habits you’ve formed over the past 50 or 60 years are not easy to change, are they? I hate the old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but let’s admit, it’s a lot harder  to teach new things to us “old dogs.”

Jesus addressed the “concrete” principle in terms of putting new wine into old wineskins (Mark 2:21-22). Just like concrete on a hot July afternoon, wineskins harden quickly. Unless they are constantly hydrated, they lose their elasticity and are resistant to expansion.

This is a lesson for all of us. It is NOT inevitable  that our hearts become—or remain—hardened. God has His own pick axe, and He offers to remove our “heart of stone”  so He can give us a “new heart”  that is soft and pliable (Ezekiel 36:26).

He loves you enough to do that. So get ready for some surgery if you need a new heart today!

 

 

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