How have we, the American Church, managed to make the Sunday experience so complicated while simultaneously stripping it of the presence of God? Perhaps it’s because we suspect that God is insufficient—that His sweet, savage presence is not enough—and so we’ve overwhelmed and burdened ourselves with props. We tell ourselves we’re promoting God with our endless list of beloved props (though many are, in fact, designed to promote ourselves). We pour our money and energy into grand buildings, artistic bulletins, endless theatrics, elaborate graphics, computer effects, light shows, and cutting-edge programs until we’re too exhausted and preoccupied to invite Jesus into the mix.
At the same time, we perpetuate the spectacle/spectator mindset with our stages and theater seats as the select few carry out their duties while everyone else, including Jesus, is expected to sit there and behave. And all the while, we remain unchanged.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am not anti-technology, nor am I saying that building funds are unbiblical. But who can deny that we’ve become so rehearsed and polished that we’ve wrung ourselves dry of all spontaneity, leaving no room for the Holy Spirit and forgetting that, if left to Himself (deprived of all our props), He would be what He’s always been: absolutely everything we need.
Have you ever experienced that stripping moment when you realized God had assigned you to pour yourself into someone who had nothing to give you in return … or who wasn’t particularly nice to you … or who was bad-tempered much of the time? Maybe you’re there right now. When the call comes, we dread saying yes—but we will say yes if we realize that, more often than not, “doing great things for God” means carrying out the most menial and thankless tasks of all.
Jesus taught us this truth by example: He served those who hated Him, even washing Judas’ dusty feet just hours before Judas turned on Him. And think about it: “While we were wasting our lives in sin, God revealed His powerful love to us in a tangible display—the Anointed One died for us” (Rom. 5:8, Voice). Your thankless task might involve seemingly endless days of sitting bedside. It might involve adult diapers, the immediate needs of someone in crisis, or the rants of an addict.
Tasks like these can drain us until we wonder how we’ll have anything left to give tomorrow, but we must resist becoming lethargic or despondent—or assuming that God has abandoned us in our suffering and sacrifice. Selfless service is not just a nice thing to do, it’s beautiful to the Father. And it’s impossible to do well without the Holy Spirit. That’s why He’ll teach you how to exist in this new reality if you’ll allow Him to ground you in the even greater reality of His presence. He might even show you that it’s an honor to be among those appointed to love and care for the broken.
My prayer for you is that you’ll “be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father” (Col. 1:11-12). Surrender to His will and ask Him to teach you to endure in grace (and yes, even joy) rather than by “white-knuckling” your way through this season.
We think of the spiritual “mountaintop experience” as pleasant and joyful, when in reality it’s often stark, lonely, and brutal. But if God has assigned us to that place, then it’s right where we want to be. Watch the 4-minute video for more…
Let’s talk honestly for a minute about the growing prevalence of “Facebook Christianity”—you know, those 101 ways we equate burying ourselves in social media with interacting with God. Just one example: those posts that claim that a Like = Amen, or that a Comment = a prayer—or, better yet, a Share = a hundred prayers.
It appears that all we have to do is bang on our keyboards for 30 seconds each morning to be transformed into prayer warriors. But please understand: liking a FB page does not equal prayer. There’s nothing even remotely similar about giving a thumbs-up to a social media post and communicating with our Creator. When the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us to pray,” He responded with a beautiful lesson in how to talk to the Father. He didn’t say, “Click a button or two, and we’ll call it even.”
Seriously, are we that lazy? Are we so pressed for time that we’ve replaced our morning God-time with the click of a Like button? Or is it that we’ve convinced ourselves that we can spend time with God without having to rip ourselves away from our devices?
And how about those click-bait posts that test your “faith” according to whether or not you Like or Share? Every time I see a post like that, I’m stunned that any Christian would actually believe that Liking a post was somehow connected to their devotion for Jesus—or that scrolling past it would make them a child of Satan—and yet it happens. A lot.
And while we’re on this subject: sharing a post that promises money in return for an Amen or a Share (even when adding the disclaimer “just in case lol”) is no different than consulting a Ouija board to discover the future “just in case” a board game might know more than God. We either trust the God of the Bible or we don’t. We look to Him for provision, or we look to Mark Zuckerberg. We are Christians who live by faith, or we are superstitious twits. End of story.
Faith and superstition don’t mix. We can’t have it both ways. So please, if you care anything about lending credibility to what you believe, stop this ridiculous hocus-pocus. Let’s put an end to Facebook Christianity and repent that it ever got to this point in the first place.
Here’s to the new year—a brand new opportunity to experience the joy and contentment that come from genuine communication with the Father.
1 Tim. 4:1, Voice: “The Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons.”
When we ration our love for God, we set boundaries as to what we will and won’t do to express our devotion to him: “It’s okay to clap our hands in church—a little.” Or, “Lifting one’s hands is nice, but let’s not go too far.”
of what others might think… and of what God might do if given free rein. What if He brings us to tears, or prompts us to dance or sing a solo or lift our hands when no one else is lifting theirs? What if He causes us to look foolish?
We even use God’s own Word to justify our lack of passion: “Everything must be done decently and in order!” Meanwhile, we tolerate and even encourage those who are overcome with emotion in other situations. We smile as a lovesick friend sheds tears of joy while talking about her sweetheart; we yell and clap when our football team wins; we bounce like pogo sticks and dance like teenagers at a concert. But on Sunday, we stand like pillars of salt in the presence of GOD. What is wrong with this picture?
God’s love knows no boundaries. He doesn’t ration His love for us. “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son.” (John 3:16). How dare we draw boundaries with Him? What would happen if we determined that, when it came to loving God, we would always err on the side of excess? Granted, moderation is a virtue in regard to certain things, such as sugar and television and Facebook, but it has no place in your love life with God. Let’s top saying, “Lord, You can go this far, but no further. I give You this much, but no more.”
Let’s face it: the Americanized concept of Christmas is for the wealthy. There are many who look to this season with dread because they cannot keep up with the demands that we, as a society, have put upon ourselves. As Christians, we can pretend that Christmas is still centered around Jesus, but in reality we know the truth: ‘Tis the season of gluttony, shameless materialism, selfishness, and “load[ing] other people down with unbearable burdens” (see Lk. 11:46).
The tragedy is this: If Christmas excludes the poor, then it’s not part of the Kingdom of God, because the gospel is always good news to the poor.
What can we do? If we truly want to bring Christ back into Christmas, let’s make sure we’re not just offering lip service. We can bellow, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” until we’re hoarse, but unless we actively and deliberately stop participating in the shameful aspects of what Christmas has become, and instead open our hearts, homes, and pockets to those who suffer during the holidays, we are, at best, annoying—and, at worst, hypocritical.
If you’re among those who are blessed enough to make it through the holidays without having to choose between groceries or a new toy for your toddler, please consider “adopting” a family. Take the burdens off a parent or two by committing to purchase presents for the kids, and then throw in an extra blessing for Mom and Dad. And don’t stop there. Pay attention to everyone around you. Determine that no one will spend Christmas alone if you can help it. Don’t assume that everyone has somewhere to go; if in doubt, ask. Surely we can all fit a few more place settings at our tables.
We’re already into the first week of December, so act quickly! Find a family to adopt, and then let them know they need not worry about the expenses that come with Christmas. (If you choose to do this anonymously, ask a friend to be your messenger.) This season wasn’t meant to be a time of anguish, loneliness, and anxiety, but that’s what we, as American consumers, have made it. Let’s do what we can to reverse the damage by “shouldering each other’s burdens” (see Gal. 2:6).
Too often we assume that holiness is dignified and well-mannered, even stuffy. It is nothing of the sort. Jesus is holiness itself, yet He overthrew tables in the temple courts and plunged into hell for three days to rescue the lost.
There is nothing remotely dignified about bleeding, naked, on a cross.
Believe it or not, the primary meaning of the word holiness is not related to morality. What it does mean is “set apart.” To be holy is to belong to God and be reserved for His purposes and pleasure. The holy individual isn’t disconnected from the world around her, yet her heart, mind, body, and spirit belong solely to God even as she dwells in a world full of sin. She is just as holy while diapering the baby, leading a staff meeting, enjoying a romp with the husband, or struggling with temptation as she is while flat on her face in intercession for a sick neighbor.
False ideas and images relating to holiness are so ingrained in our minds that, if presented with the photos below, many of us would immediately assume that the man is holy and the woman is a skank. Surely folding one’s hands is holy and red heels are scandalous.
Do you see how absurd this way of thinking is? Yet we fall for it again and again.
Truth be told, the term holy can describe even the person who was saved five minutes ago. This is because we become holy not by swearing off dancing or taking offense when someone curses but by relinquishing all rights to our own life and surrendering ourselves into God’s hands. The end result of such surrender is the grace to behave in ways that please Him; and thus as a person is set apart, she may very well become more patient or clean up her language or stop abusing prescription meds. Her devotion to God and her standing in His eyes bring about changes in behavior. But understand this: An atheist can abstain from sex before marriage or spend her life in service to the poor, but that does not make her holy. Only the finished work of Jesus as she, by grace, surrenders to His sovereignty will render her holy.
Society (and, sadly, the Church as well) has so twisted the idea of holiness that referring to someone as holy has become an insult. “Mandy won’t wear short shorts, she’s too hooooly.” In fact, most of us would cringe at the mere idea of referring to ourselves as holy, lest we imply that we think we’re better than everyone else. But holiness has nothing to do with feeling superior; in fact, the closer we get to Jesus, the more we realize just how messy, broken, and depraved we are apart from His grace. So I’m going to go out on a limb here. As one who belongs to God and is reserved for His purposes and pleasure, I am holy.
There—I said it. I dare you to make the same declaration.
Lev. 20:26: “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine.”
Is there someone in your life who has an approach to faith that borders on reckless, impulsive, even foolish? Do you wish you had that same kind of faith? Then learn to dream.
My husband, who will say yes to just about any dream that God puts in his heart, has taught me more about faith in the past seven years than I learned in the four decades before we were married. I was the type who anxiously clings to security and tries to control the universe, while he’s the type who changes the world through the power of faith in God. As a dreamer, he isn’t ignorant of the obstacles that stand between himself and the vision God has planted in his heart; he just knows God is bigger and badder than those obstacles.
Once you commit to be crazy enough to follow God wherever He leads, get ready to watch your God-dreams unfold. The experience will render you breathless with gratitude and awe and lift you to new levels of faith. But know this: You must be willing to persevere when opposition comes… because it will come. Some will criticize or ridicule you for daring to dream. Some will laugh, and others will try to rein you in. They’ll try to domesticate you and break your spirit. You might even have to fend off “friendly fire.” After all, it was Joseph’s own brothers who said to one another, “Oh, here comes the great dreamer. Let’s kill him…. We’ll see then what becomes of his stupid dreams” (Genesis 37:19–20, Voice). Jealous of the dreamer, they plotted the murder of their own brother, then threw him into a pit, then sold him to slave traders.
But Joseph’s dreams were God’s dreams, and God’s dreams aren’t so easily extinguished. If you don’t know how this story ends, here’s the short version: Many years and many battles later, Joseph became second in command over the Egyptian empire and was instrumental in saving the nation of Israel from extinction.
Lynn Bogle, former CDO of the Nashville Rescue Mission (which houses hundreds of homeless men), made this statement: “God says to us, ‘You know what? I’ll take care of it. You just dream, and I’ll take care of it.’” The “it” to which he was referring is a 12 million dollar budget. What’s your “it”? Are you willing to dream and let God take care of the impossibilities?
I keep hearing about believers who are suffering from depression, and we all know it gets worse this time of year. So I’m going to repost an article that ran in a LifeWay publication awhile back, and about which I received emails from numerous Christians thanking me for speaking about the taboo subject of depression. One email from the pastor of a successful mega-church not too far from here, read, “You’re one of the first Christian writers I’ve found who includes a common-sense endorsement of medication, which I resisted until my own breaking point…. Like you, I had friends who further injured me by suspicion of sin on my part. It feels good to read how someone else walked through what I’m in.” We (i.e. Christians in general but especially ministers/pastors) are not talking about this, but we should be! It’s real, and there’s hope for those who suffer, but if we clam up about it, we’re exacerbating the problem. So here’s the article exactly as it ran:
In the winter of 2006–7, during an especially sorrowful and stressful period, I plummeted into a mental state unlike anything I’ve experienced before or since. This was not simply a case of the blues. I lost all interest in the activities that constituted life: people, writing, recreation, my career, and daily rituals like grocery shopping. The moment I woke, I longed for bedtime—for escape—and yet I couldn’t sleep. Nausea, confusion, and exhaustion plagued me. Smiling was impossible in the face of intolerable sadness. Pulling myself out of bed each morning was torment. The thought of continuing in such blackness for one more hour, let alone one more week, was unbearable as I struggled to “keep it together.” I dreaded social situations. The sound of conversation and laughter between my coworkers became foreign to me, until I couldn’t recall what either one felt like. I knew I’d laughed and conversed thousands of times, but now it seemed ludicrous and utterly impossible.
Worst of all, although God hadn’t left me, the awareness of His presence that I’d always enjoyed had vanished.
One evening, I mentioned my struggle to someone who was spiritually sound and whose opinion I valued. “I can’t feel God,” I said. “This sadness is devouring me, and I can’t find Him no matter what I do.” My friend answered, “There’s got to be some kind of sin in your life if you feel separated from God. Examine your life and try to figure out where you’ve gone wrong.”
My friend meant well, but he had inadvertently kicked me when I was at my lowest. His words didn’t make sense: even though I couldn’t feel God, I knew I hadn’t turned my back on Him. And somehow I knew that He hadn’t deserted me. My friend simply didn’t realize that believers aren’t immune to the horrors of clinical depression. Like many Christians, he mistakenly assumed that being a Christ-follower insulates a person against depression. This notion is so prevalent that many Christians feel too guilty and embarrassed to discuss their struggles. They forget that not even the “spiritual giants” of Scripture were immune to this type of suffering. Think of Elijah, who swung from great victory into deep depression, or David, who expressed his pain in Psalm 6, among others: “I am weary from my groaning; with my tears I dampen my pillow and drench my bed every night” (v. 6).
One Friday afternoon, my despair became so suffocating that I asked a girlfriend (whose husband had suffered mental illness) what was required to check oneself into a hospital—just in case. All hope, joy, pleasure, and light had ceased to exist for me. I begged God to give me a moment’s assurance, some sign, but the nothingness continued. It was sheer grace that allowed me to hang on until Monday, when I finally called my doctor and dragged myself to his office. I remember feeling bewildered as I watched the woman across from me in the waiting area peruse a magazine and smile pleasantly at a nurse. How could she be so carefree? How was she untouched by the desolation that had swallowed me?
The next hour changed my life. After I described my symptoms to my doctor, he asked about my circumstances and then ran some tests. His conclusion: my depression was the result of years’ worth of nearly continual stress, compounded by recent occurrences. Quite simply, I had drained my body of serotonin, the “feel-good” hormone. He prescribed a medication that would give me a bit of relief and allow me the time to “refill my tank.” Within four months, I was off the medication. Finally, I was laughing and living again.
Can depression be a sign of disobedience? Yes, it certainly can. But it can also be caused by medical or chemical issues, mental or physical exhaustion, and so on. Can God heal us in an instant? Yes, He can and often does. But if you’re in the “waiting stage,” don’t assume that God is displeased with you. Feeling separated from His presence does not equal being separated from His presence. Feelings can be very unreliable. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself while trusting that you completely belong to the Father. Recognize that seeking professional help and trusting God can go hand in hand.
Above all, remember that if you are a believer, your standing with God has not changed. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. For “not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Rom. 8:38–39).