Karate Kid, Discipleship, and Why Some Are Leaving Christianity

Mr. Miyagi knew discipleship. He knew what it took to train someone to be able to do the things he did. Miyagi trained Daniel this way, not because cars needed to be washed but because these were the moves Daniel had to repeat enough times that it became natural to him (think muscle memory). When you do something enough times, your body is able to do it nearly instantaneously, almost without thinking. Daniel had to learn this…not just head knowledge alone . He had to learn how to act and react if he was going to succeed and grow. He had to learn this because there was a fight coming and he had to be ready.

The same is true with our faith. We disciple people in times of peace to ready them for times of trial. We lose credibility when we fail to make the Miyagi connection, letting people know that there is more to all they are doing than what they see. When we don’t make the connection between what we do “at church” with real life (relevance) all we leave people thinking they are doing is washing cars and painting fences. That is one of the biggest reasons young people have left the church is because we haven’t always made the obvious connection of how what we do is preparing them for significant things that they must be ready for.

It is crucial we help people make this connection.

The Problem of Hot Button Issues Becoming Identifying Markers

There have always been hot button issues facing Christianity. One of the challenges that faces churches who take a non-status quo position on these issues is to change their practices without setting up their position as THE identifying marker of the congregation. Whether you agree or disagree with a church’s position, you can understand why churches who take a stand end up identifying themselves through the issue. They bucked the trend. They went against the grain and did something that probably cost them some people, hurt some feelings, alienated some people and may have resulted in lost contributions due to their decision and convictions. That is called trauma. When people experience trauma, all too often that trauma gets so ingrained in their thinking that it becomes their identity. It becomes nearly impossible to view your life outside of the pain you experienced. Churches go through that too. In their mind the change was so significant and challenging and the pain so hard to go through that it is hard to think about the congregation without thinking about that issue. It can become a part of their DNA, resulting in the congregation having great difficulty viewing themselves as Christians without reference to their stance on the hot button issue. I am not saying every congregation who takes a controversial position does this but it happens. It is one thing to see that issue as part of your identity and quite another to make the issue your identity.

We have to be very careful in how we view our identity. These issues don’t make us Christians. Following Jesus makes us Christians. Faith in Christ, our baptism, our participation in the Lord’s Supper are core identifying markers of the Christian faith. When we start placing other issues over and above more core/central parts of our faith it is too easy to become exclusive and take on an air of superiority. It is easy to start thinking real/serious Christians need to believe as they do or need to be identified with them on that issue. If taken to an extreme, Jesus is no longer seen as the central identifying marker of our faith and these issues end up as the focal point.

So if you are going to take a stand on a controversial issue, it may be traumatic in many ways. Don’t let that experience elevate the issue beyond what is appropriate in the life and identity of the church.

Sunday Morning Worship Idolatry?

When Manassah became king of Israel at the age of 12, his leadership really showed his immaturity,

“He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. He sacrificed his children in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced divination and witchcraft, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger. He took the image he had made and put it in God’s temple” – 2 Chronicles 33:2-7

worshippicPeople can take something as good and holy as God’s temple and God’s temple worship and turn it to idolatry. Is it possible for people to turn worship itself into an idol? An idol is anything that we worship in place of God. Is it possible that in our worship we begin to love the songs, the beat, the trendiness of it all more than the God it is all trying to point us to? Don’t hear me saying this is a progressive issue. It can happen in conservative circles just as easily. In conservative circles, a big deal is made about the correct form of things. Is it possible for people to get so obsessed with the form that they turn the worship to the form itself instead of to God? This is not a progressive problem. This is not a conservative problem. This is a human problem. The only reason I use those words here is just to identify it in both contexts.

With churches in decline all over the place, is it possible that one of the root causes of all of this is at least hedging on making an idol out of what happens on Sunday? I am not making this as a bold declaration of condemnation. I am asking. I am asking because it is human nature to turn things into idols. If rocks and stick could be made into an idol, I have no doubt that people can turn to worship our event rather than the One the event is there to glorify. Some worship a minister or an elder or a song leader or a praise team or [fill in the blank]  and all those things are supposed to be there to get you to worship God.

Could this also be what is behind the whole “They like Jesus but not the church” problem of the last 50 years? People see a congregation obsessed with what happens on Sunday with little interest on what happens the other 6 days of the week. People see big discussions over minutia of what is appropriate in worship but then lax morality of those same people Monday-Saturday. They see a heavy emphasis on right doctrine but a very poor ethic toward others. Some have become obsessed with the body (the church) and have forgotten about the head, without which the whole things falls apart.

Could this account for our discipleship problem? With so much time, resources, money and talents tied up in making what happens on Sunday come across in a professional manner (which I am fine with, by the way 🙂 how many resources do many churches have left doing things other than sing, study and preach? Yet, some think all is well because we are still having a service on Sunday, still singing a certain way, and so God must be pleased.

I am asking here, not accusing. Does this resonate with any of you at all or am I just completely missing it here? It is important that we communicate with people why we do what we do. It is important that they understand who God is and why we worship Him. If we start to see that we are giving our focus to the form over our Creator, then we have an issue. That is not to say form is unimportant…it just is not always of FIRST importance. God is of first importance and everything else must fall into place around that.

Two Posts on Worship, One From Each Extreme

A post on old stale worship – Your Worship Service is B-O-R-I-N-G! by Sean Palmer

There is a wealth of information and stories in the comments. Have a look at the comment by Brad Carter where he tells the story about having a funeral for Jesus on Good Friday. Wow.

A post on hip, trendy worship where no one is singing – Why Men Have Stopped Singing in Church by David Murrow

  • Looks like this site is down right now.
  • Summary – He started off by talking about how hundreds of years ago worship in the assembly was done exclusively by professionals. The Reformation brought worship back to the people. We have now come full circle where many churches have a crew of professional musicians on stage doing worship for us, just like the 14th century. There are several other factors he mentions in the article but you have probably witnessed this yourself – people don’t sing like they used to. I would add to his points that for some today, singing out loud in a room with people around you just seems awkward. It is hard to recognize that if you grew up in church.

On one extreme the lack of preparation, lack of creativity and lack of the freedom to try new/vibrant things is killing our worship and in the second post those very things taken to the other extreme is having the same effect.

The Biggest Issues Being Discussed in Christianity Are All Connected

There are several topics that come up over and over again in Christian circles, particularly among church leaders, including:

  • Reforming our ecclesiology, the idea that our worship needs an overhaul and…
  • The segregation of the church into professionalized, age-specific ministries and the pitfalls that brings…and
  • The failure of parents and youth ministry to disciple our kids and…
  • Recognizing God’s mission for his church and how many churches have remained too institutional and neglected the biblical mission of the church which all leads to…
  • Losing our young adults – the mass exodus of 18-28 year olds from church

These are not separate issues.
All these issues feed into each other in an interconnected ecosystem that we call the church. They cannot be dealt with on an individual basis. These are systemic issues that all work from a common core problem. I believe that core problem is our identity. Have we forgotten who we are? Have some preached Christ divided where the Bible proclaims Christ united? Is the body, then, only a body if it includes who we are comfortable with. Instead of wrapping our identity in Christ, some have exchanged that idea for a seemingly tight-knit, deductive system that is able to defeat all false doctrine, doing so without a dose of humility and love. Our identity get wrapped up in being right, having perfect doctrine and being undefeatable by the denominations. Find that for me in the Bible somewhere…

So who are we and how does that impact these interconnected issues? Once we fully identify with Jesus (which is God’s ultimate goal for our lives, Rom 8:29-30 & 2 Cor 3:18)

  • Our worship and worshippers become so Christ-focused that our ecclesiology is no longer an issue (whether semi-archaic or technologically advanced) because they are so in love with the Lord and giving him their best that the bells and whistles become periphery. People who come into the worship will not be wowed by multiple powerpoint screens but by the Spirit that is at work within the congregation. Which would you rather draw them with anyway?
  • Segregation in the church becomes a church united, where intergenerational ministry is taking place and not just ministry TO all the generations at once but the generations ministering together, engaging in the mission of God at the same time rather than in isolation from each other (our current system is like just having a hand throw a game-winning touchdown…just shouldn’t work like that).
  • Parents are then reconnected with their kids in a spiritual setting and they are equipped to intentionally disciple their children. They see the need and their responsibility to do that because they realize just how much their kids need Jesus and how no one else will do a better job of teaching them than they will.
  • When the body comes together like this, with Jesus as our focus, the church’s mission naturally flows out of our identity and our practices become more in line with the ministry of Jesus and less concerned with the perpetuation of an institution.
  • Which results in our young people growing up with real faith that will last through their adult years because they know and love Jesus and our attrition numbers begin to decline.

These problems are all interconnected. We cannot just put band aids on symptoms. We have to get underneath it all and start addressing the core issues and I believe it all goes back to claiming the wrong or misplaced identity and putting our trust in the wrong things. I hope this post doesn’t sting too hard…it is not meant to be a rebuke. I also know not all churches suffer from this to the same degree. Also, this is not strictly a “church of Christ” issue but that many churches of all sorts of different denominational affiliations are trying to navigate this. I am afraid, we are taking this piecemeal and fear we won’t be able to solve a systemic issue by only focusing on one or two parts and missing the interconnection. This post is meant to help unpack where some congregations are at in this so we can move forward in healthy ways. The elephant is in the room for some, will anyone be willing to talk about it?

Worship Service – The Power of Upsetting the Routine

In the last post I mentioned something that happened in one of our worship services that I will never forget. The main reason I won’t forget it is not just because we prayed for her but because many of us got to meet her and encourage her that Sunday. I was later able to visit her in the hospital as she lost her battle with cancer. She was a real person with a real challenge and we stopped everything that Sunday to put it before God as a congregation. That is powerful.

Another aspect of that, that makes it stand out is that something different happened. The Sunday morning routine was upset. It is even a shame that I have to refer to it like that, but that is kind of how it goes…right? I am not being negative when I say this but we have pretty well formalized our worship (and for some pretty decent reasons) sometimes it becomes routine. I would bet some of the things you remember best that happened in a worship service were times the routine got upset. Someone (maybe you!) dropped the communion cups or maybe the lights went out or a song caught on and just kept going over and over and everyone was excited! Those things aren’t planned. Some don’t really mean much at all but other times upsetting the routine is powerful.

So what do we do with that? Sometimes upsetting the routine is unplanned. But we can plan to do this and when we do, it will get people’s attention because you are no longer going through the motions…instead of knowing where the service is going, you are engaged because you are wondering what is going to happen next. It is powerful to highlight different areas of the worship at different times. Have a communion Sunday where you spend more time on it with less sermon time. Or have a Sunday worship where you do more singing or more praying or more scripture reading. Have the worship in another location. Involve different people (the kids, teens, etc).

Upsetting the routine is powerful because it breaks us out of the realm of predictability. Once something becomes predictable we lose interest in it.

Worship Service – Recognize What is Real

About a year ago we had a lady in a wheelchair come into the foyer during worship. She told one of our elders that she had cancer and wasn’t expected to live much longer. She asked if we would pray for her. That elder went right up front between songs, explained the situation and prayed for her right there on the spot. It was touching and moving. It made the hair stand up on your arm because that moment in worship was profoundly in touch with reality. I have forgotten a lot of sermons over the years and many conversations that have happened in foyers, pews, and classrooms but that moment was one I will never forget.

Those moments aren’t going to happen every week but if we are in touch with people and what is going on in their lives, those moments may present themselves more often than we may recognize. We have to be looking and listening for them and willing to recognize them (publicly if necessary). We don’t do that to make people feel fuzzy or to give an impression that we are cutting edge. We do it because it is what Jesus would do and because it brings our worship in touch with what is really real.

Does our Worship Model Breed Disconnection in the Body?

pewspictureIt is certainly easy to idealize the worship of the early church, especially when developing community has been a big push in the last few decades. We certainly wouldn’t want to have to put up with half the things they had troubling them in their day. So I don’t want to idealize them but I think we can learn from them. On one hand they had their divisions. Paul certainly spent a lot of time writing to reconcile these divisions (Romans & Galatians in particular). At the same time, it would seem they had some advantages in being connected in some very real and powerful ways that we are often lacking in today. They had smaller churches, in homes, and I can’t help but think that impacted some of their practices in worship.

When you envision the five acts of worship we typically talk about today in our auditorium setting vs. their gatherings you get two somewhat similar but different results. Does what worship has turned into have some impact on actually disconnecting the body? Or maybe it is more subtle than that…does the way we worship lend itself to less personal/connecting worship than we might come up with if we could just start from scratch and develop another way of doing this?

Here are the five acts of worship (I know that sounds old school but that’s okay) and some comments on the lack of connection we experience in them through the way we do these in corporate worship:

  1. Prayer: Eyes closed, heads bowed. One guy prayers and everyone else listens. Now, prayer does connect us in a spiritual sense but that is more of a by-product than its main purpose.
  2. Preaching: All eyes on one guy, up front. He talks. We listen. Not really any interaction or conversation. This is why we call it the “auditorium” because it is the place we go and listen.
  3. Lord’s supper: passed sideways with little to no eye contact with others, much less conversation about Jesus.
  4. Singing: This certainly can and does connect us as our voices blend together in worship to God.
  5. Scripture reading: Like preaching, there really isn’t any interaction here. But like prayer it still has a connecting byproduct as we are all listening to words from our God to us as God’s unified people.

I am not saying any of these things are bad. I am saying that don’t always connect us very well. To be fair, the sole purpose of coming together on Sunday is not conversation or connection with each other. It is about conversation and connection with God and giving God the glory He deserves. So I am not saying we are completely missing the point here or that we have it all wrong. I am wondering out loud if there isn’t a better way to get more and better connection within the body in corporate worship. How have you seen it done?

Last, maybe it is the other way around and it isn’t that our worship breeds disconnection. Maybe our worship model just reflects the disconnection that already exists. Maybe we don’t really want to have that interaction or fear being vulnerable. What do you think?

Verses on Heaven: What We Will and Won’t Do There as Well as What Heaven is Like

What is heaven?

  • Heaven is God’s dwelling place (Deut 26:15)
  • Home of angels (Gen 28:12, Rev 4 & 5)
  • Home of the deceased righteous (2 Kings 2:1, Rev 6:9-11)
  • Ultimately the place of all the redeemed – 1 Thess 5:10, John 14:1-4

 What will we do in heaven?

  • Recognize people – Luke 9:30 (recognizing the dead)
  • Worship God – Revelation 4:8-11
  • Worship Christ – 5:13-14 (every living creature…that includes us)
    • Worship is the activity described the most in heaven
  • See things clearly – 1 Cor 13:12
  • See God face to face – Revelation 22:4
  • Dwell/live with God – Rev 21:3
  • Have our tears wiped away – Rev 21:4
  • Drink the water of life – Rev 21:6 & 22:1
  • Serve God and Christ – Rev 22:3 & 5:10
  • See Christ “as he is” – 1 John 3:2
  • Be pure:
    • Washed robes – 7:14
    • White robes – 3:5
    • Fine linen/bright and pure – 19:8
    • Spotless – Rev 14:4-5
    • Nothing impure can enter into heaven = no need for gates – 21:27
  • Respond to God:
    • Joy & Satisfaction are the two dominant responses (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, 372)

 What won’t we do in heaven?

  • No marriage – Mark 12:24-25
  • No sex – Matthew 22:30
  • Die, mourn or cry – Revelation 21:4
  • Be cursed – Rev 22:3
  • Some say no eating or drinking in heaven – Rom 14:17 (but see Matthew 26:29 & Rev 21:6, is that symbolic?). Paul doesn’t say no eating or drinking…he says it is not a matter of eating or drinking. That just means those things won’t be matters of dispute because there will be so many more meaningful and substantial things going on in heaven.

 Mystery about heaven:

  • We don’t see clearly now – 1 Cor 13:12
  • Jesus obscured as he went into heaven – Acts 1:9
  • Revelation – often doors and seals must be open for mysteries to be reveled and for visions to be seen. (Rev 4, 15, 19)

How is heaven described

  • Heaven is God’s Holy City, the New Jerusalem – Rev 21:9-10
  • It radiates and appears shining and brilliant – Rev 21:11
  • Doesn’t say it was made of jasper but that it shown like jasper – 21:11
  • The Sea
    • No more sea – 21:1
    • Sea of glass before God’s throne – Rev 4:6
    • 15:2 – the victors standing beside what looked like a sea of glass
    • Reconciling the images
      • 4:6 – Rev 21 & 22 describe what happen after God redeems his people. Rev 4, it hasn’t happened yet. Things can and do change.
      • 15:2 – what looked like = metaphorical
  • High wall with 12 gates/12 tribes of Israel – 21:12
    • Made of pearl (21:21) – perfection, beauty, value, purity
    • 3 gates/side
    • 1 angel/gate – 21:12
    • Gates never shut – 21:25 (sign of power…there is no need to protect from evil)
  • 12 foundations – 12 apostles (21:14)
    • Each foundation like a precious stone (21:19-20)
  • Street of gold – 21:21
  • City dimensions:
    • Square shaped
    • Same length and width – 1,400 miles X 1,400 miles = Miami to Providence, RI and from Jacksonville, FL to New Mexico
    • Walls – 200 feet high
    • Made of gold – 21:21
  • Source of light:
    • There is no sun or moon – 21:23
    • God is its light – 21:23
    • No more night – 22:5
  • Throne of God – 22:1
    • God is sovereign
    • River of life flows from God’s thrown – God is the source of life
    • Tree of life – 22:2
  • Who is there?
    • Those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of Life – 21:27

Worship Service and Mexican Food

A thought occurred to me as I was preparing Bible class last week that worship services are a lot like Mexican food, there are only 5 ingredients…the only different is in how they are arranged.