Two Great Sins Of American Christianity

I remember my first time at Disney World. What an amazing experience! The pyrotechnics (I love fire), musicals, 3d rides, and pineapple ice cream were fantastic. I enjoyed every moment, except having “It’s a Small World” stuck in my head. I noticed something interesting and alarming while at the happiest place on earth though; one of the least common sites was a smile. Thousands of people with nothing to do but eat, drink, and be merry with hardly a smirk to be seen.

As I walked throughout the park those two days I looked and looked for people who seemed joyful and happy. There were few. Even when getting off crazy rides, the average person lacked enthusiasm.

What could be the cause of such a tragedy? Was it the heat, or the lines, or the cost? Perhaps it was everyone had “It’s a Small World After All” running through their minds driving them closer to insanity? I don’t think these were the causes of such widespread unhappiness.

We have a problem in America. Ok, we have a lot of problems in America, but this one is frequently overlooked. This problem has infected us individually, in the home, societally, and in the church. It has spread to all of us.

The evil is bothersome in large quantities, but in little doses it can be enjoyable. Sometimes we share it with others and infect them. At times, groups of friends and family members comfort one another with its poison. I am guilty too.

This grave issue is unthankfulness: murmuring, complaining, ungratefulness, ingratitude.

This “little” problem seeps through our minds and speech going unnoticed and rarely confronted.

As Americans there is little reason to perpetuate this evil, but so much focus is on ourselves that we can’t see how selfish it is-how disastrous to our happiness. We cannot see how it affects those around us, including the lost world.

kids-not-sharing

We often ruin what could be the best moments of life through this wrong focus of ingratitude:

Romans 1:21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

What is presented in this passage is a group of people who have a knowledge of God and reject it because they don’t esteem God as great and are unthankful. The results are: the darkening of man’s heart and affections, vile lusts toward one another, and sinful self-destructive behavior. All of these downfalls are in America today, but I would like to note that the key causes (dethroning God/unthankfulness) are found too frequently in the lives of Christians.

People like you and me, who claim to follow truth, are also perpetrators of America’s downfall.

  1. They Glorified Him Not as God

The greatest command in Scripture is to love God, but Americans worship idols. It’s not by bowing down to statues, but lives in general give a nod to religion and focus on entertainment. New devices are more desired than a meaningful life. Trendy clothes become more important than reaching the needy. Social Media “likes” overtake spreading the gospel. Pure religion is to care for the fatherless and widow-the highlight of America’s religion is a new outfit on Easter.

Carnal people respect talents, looks, riches, athleticism, and personality more than Christlikeness. In the church being “cool” or funny is often a prerequisite for acceptance, not a person’s genuineness or love for Christ. It is forgotten that talents were given by God. There is a tendency to take pride in others and ourselves.

Millions of Christians can tell you the names of their favorite athlete, musician, or actor and would even call them a hero, but don’t esteem (or even know of) a young woman like Katie Davis or faithful men like Richard Wurmbrand who risk their lives to feed the poor and rescue the persecuted. These people, missionaries and ministers sacrificing for the benefit of others, should be more admired. They are not relying on talent or giftedness to gain fame and fortune, but have made the hard choice to lay down their lives for others. Ultimately, they have chosen to esteem God by living the gospel. My point is this:

When we make more of entertainers, and less of God and His servants, we aren’t glorifying God as God. We are erecting idols.

Every talented individual on this planet was gifted by their Creator. They may have developed those gifts, but they didn’t choose to be born musical, attractive, intelligent, or athletic. When men are glorified, and hearts fail to praise their Creator, He is not glorified as God. He deserves thanks and glory for all the pleasurable things we enjoy.

I am not against entertainers or athletes (go Broncos), but selfish lifestyles are promoted and men over God by an unbalanced attention to the trivial. When temporal success is lauded by the church more than eternal values it’s as though God exists to fulfill our dreams of success, instead of believing that joy comes from fulfilling His will. Can an athlete fulfill God’s will for their life through sports? Yes! Most important though is the reflection of Christ in this person’s life, not the gold medal.

Blessings come from seeking God, but we are not to seek God simply for the blessings.

A focus on ourselves and worldly achievements leads us into ungratefulness. Seeking pleasure and notoriety more than His kingdom causes ingratitude to intensify. Chasing happiness is the hardest way to catch it.

It isn’t true that if one isn’t in deep sin and attends a church then he can enjoy the American Dream and God expects little more. The Biblical truth is that God calls all His children to center their lives around Him (Deut. 6:4-15) regardless of their profession.  

God desires a loving relationship with us. This is why Jesus’ call to Christians is about more than living a clean comfortable American life and following a few moral obligations. Jesus calls us to join Him in the work of the gospel by giving up everything, being inconvenienced, and even persecuted to spread God’s love.

 Mark 10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s,

Mark 10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

Jesus teaches that true blessing comes when we surrender all we hold dear for God’s glory, not the pursuit of happiness.

We do not esteem God as God when we live for our pleasure and not His, for we were created for Him (Rev. 4:11). 

Are you living to pursue greater pleasure and leisure, or to further the eternal kingdom of God? Are You willing to be inconvenienced, even mocked, to make much of the gospel? 

Living for one’s self breeds ungratefulness.

2. Neither were They Thankful

Back to the illustration of Disney World; The reason so many seem unhappy is because of unthankful attitudes (I overheard this while standing in lines). Sure, Disney World is expensive, but such a small part of the world’s population gets to enjoy such an experience. It was hot, but cold drinks and ice cream are available when desired: most slept in a resort with air conditioning. The lines are boring, but it could be a bread line instead.

Ingratitude grows by focusing on temporal pleasure and minor inconveniences instead of daily blessings. For some, days of leisure, laughter, fun, and family are wasted by ingratitude. Our own lives are ruined when the focus is on negatives. I wonder how many incredible experiences are wasted by being unthankful?

This video gives in an adequate illustration of how one can waste their life.

 

You ruin what you have by seeking what you don’t.

I’ve been blessed to travel the world for four years. As I’ve ministered to orphans in cemeteries and people eating mice, it struck me as absurd how unthankful I can be: how focused I am on myself. America has a culture of envy, dissatisfaction, and covetousness. Americans are constantly aware of all the things they don’t have, concentrating on those objects which they desire to gain, instead of humbly focusing on that for which they can be grateful. This attitude does not please God or aid the church (Col. 3:15).

The sin of ingratitude portrays God as distant and uninvolved, instead of the gracious provisional Father He is.

Being unthankful disables from serving others because it places focus on oneself. Generous people typically focus on what they have to give, not on what they desire to gain. I want to be like that. I want to be like Jesus who, although He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor (2 Cor. 8:9).

Jesus is the physical image of God. He came to heal, restore, and give rest. Throughout the world God uses dedicated people to feed the poor, be a father to the fatherless, and free the addict. He uses those who make much of Him. He uses those who are thankful.

There is always someone with more than you, but there are millions more with less. We will never grow as Christians, or individually, until we focus on gratitude.  A person’s life does not consist in the amount of things he gains, but in the abundance of compassion he gives.

Are you looking for ways to be thankful? Are you looking for ways to give to those with less? Are you positively affecting those around you through a grateful outlook? 

Make much of God, His love, His grace, and His goodness: through your words, through your attitude, through your giving.

Give thanks to God for His love, His grace, and for His goodness: through your words, through your attitude, through generosity.

1 John 4:7-9  Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that liveth is born of God, and knoweth God.He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

“Where’s the Beef?” A Missing Ingredient in Traditional Church. (Warning: Millennial Perspective)

The church is facing a great dilemma, especially the Fundamental Baptist Church: we’re right, we’re godly, we’re biblical, we’re separated, we’re holy, we’re doctrinal, we’re conservative, but we’re shrinking! “We’re losing the millennials! What are we going to do?” This is a question I have been asked on many occasions since I am a millennial, and because I have had the opportunity to serve in dozens upon dozens of churches in evangelism. Many answers on blogs and social media have been given to solve this conundrum: change the music, drop the ties, use media, speak their language, focus on their needs, have cooler activities, connect on their level, preach topically, preach expository, be vulnerable, be real, have fun, be funny, be serious, focus on social issues, involve them in community outreach, get them active in community service etc etc etc… While some of these are good, many churches do these things and still fail to reach this generation.

Some men don’t want to reach the millennials. They’d rather attack anyone who builds a church by doing something different than what the preachers of the 1960’s did. They believe most millennials are carnal, selfish, narcissistic, shallow, and ignorant. They think all we care about is lower standards, more fun, and novelty. While this may describe a portion of this generation (and many in their own), I don’t believe it describes the majority of conservative Christian millennials. I have many friends who passionately love God, but are searching for His presence in a church. A lack of teaching on standards, less conservatism in the culture, lack of dedication, and wrong music are ultimately not what is hurting this generation. The problem is much deeper.

Do you remember that old Wendy’s commercial with three short old ladies standing around a huge hamburger bun? It’s about a foot in diameter and they can’t stop commenting about the size, “That’s a big bun.” Another says, “That’s a very big bun.” The first replies, “That’s a fluffy bun.” The taller one answers bewildered, “That’s a very big fluffy bun.” Then she removes the top with a gasp, and inside there is a patty so small it’s hidden under the pickle slice. The third lady, who is the shortest and crankiest of the three, chimes in for the first time and angrily asks while looking around the room, “Where’s the beef? WHERE’S the beef? HEY, where’s the BEEF?” The announcer then confidently compares McDonalds to that measly excuse for a meal and promotes Wendy’s more fulfilling version.

The main ingredient and substance of a hamburger is not found in the bun, a hamburger is nothing without the beef. The attraction of the early church was not social reform, music, activities, or cool buildings. It was the power of God (Acts 1:8). From my travels in evangelism over the past four years, and studying and conversing with Christlike millennials, members, and pastors, what we are all wondering is, “Where’s the POWER?”

We’ve heard of the great preachers in the 60’s and 70’s. We’ve seen the great church buildings and Christian schools so many sacrificed to build. We know that this older generation loves God! Yet, for THIS generation we have been left asking, “Where’s the power?”

John the Baptist preached with the power of Elias (Luke 1:17). The church was filled with miracles. It had incredible prayer meetings where God answered and filled men with His Spirit (Acts 2). The Christians prayed for boldness and went into the world seeing thousands receive Christ (Acts 4:33). Stephen was full of faith and power. When they had a problem they didn’t make excuses, they prayed down the power of God. Paul’s preaching wasn’t about homiletics, illustrations, and alliteration, it was “In demonstration of the Spirit and in power.” Read the book of Acts. Read 1 Corinthians. It was the power of God that brought people to Christ; not gimmicks, not tricks, but the felt, seen, and heard power of God!  1 Corinthians 4:20 For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. If there’s one thing the millennials I know are asking, it’s this: Where’s the POWER?

Growing up in a Bible preaching, conservative, separated movement I remember hearing at camp, in church, and in Bible college of the evils of CCM, liberal, and just less conservative churches. I was taught very clearly from an early age why I should be an Independent Baptist, and the reasoning made sense! These “compromising” and “backslidden” churches were obviously a great distress to a holy God. Sure they saw people saved and had powerful services, but that didn’t matter because they never grew to be as spiritual as us. They didn’t comprehend biblical separation and holiness.

I understood and was told that those people lived “having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.”  They had hype, but they didn’t have true spiritual power. They were full of sin and worldliness, while we were separate and holy. Yet, as I was reading through 2 Timothy recently and trying to be honest about myself and where I need to grow, I was surprised to see how many evidences of “powerless religion” are found in my own life, and in our churches.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:from such turn away.Where's the beef?

Take a second to look at those verses and compare them to yourself and your family. Take a look at those in your church and see if these qualities don’t exemplify the daily lives of your friends and congregation. If you read this list and honestly consider yourself, it may convict you about how many of those sins are in your life.

Could it be, that in our conservative churches, we read these verses thinking of a church down the road, when most of these sins are found in our own? Could it be that we have churches full of people who love themselves too much to sacrifice time to lead souls to Christ; or are too busy to encourage others around them; or are too worried about their reputation to eat with “publicans and sinners” so sinners might know the love of God?

Could it be that Christians in the most prosperous nation of the world are unthankful for multiplied blessings, while continually wishing we had better cars, more clothes, nicer homes, and bigger TV’s? Do we not have hearts full of covetousness towards those who are more wealthy, respected, or talented?

Are we not full of pride because of our Bible knowledge and conservatism? Is there not boasting of how great our families and our churches are? Are there not numbers of young people leaving our churches and teens rebelling because, since their youth, they were disobedient to parents?

Could it be, with all of our “dedication” to the Word of God, that we still get more pleasure out of hours of March Madness, TV shows, movies, sports, hunting, fishing, shopping, and hobbies than we do time with God or preaching (although we would never admit it)? Are you a lover of pleasures more than a lover of God?

Could it be that we have a form of godliness with our ties, suits, hair, dresses, choirs, conservatism, and haughty Christian verbiage, yet we don’t have the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace etc..?

Could it be, in spite of all of the righteousnesses found in our positions, we also lack the power of God in our lives? Aren’t many of our services attended out of duty, and not pleasure because we sense the presence of God? I have been in churches across the country which have as much of the Spirit of God working in them as you’d find in a catholic mass. The preaching is as convicting as the reading of Scripture in Latin. There’s no joy. The hymns are dead.

We’ve been doing the same stand up-sit down routine since we were born and can’t remember the last time we felt the presence of God. We don’t know what it is to personally see lives transformed through the gospel. We have never experience a moving of God in corporate prayer. We have no expectations of experiencing the Holy Spirit at church, it’s just a religious duty. Where’s the power?

One of my professors in college often said, “The greatest problem of our day is that the times are desperate, and we are not.”

We see anger and fighting between spouses, dads aren’t involved with their kids spiritually, and being a mom is less attractive than a career. This is because of a lack of natural affection. We frequently enjoy movies that blaspheme the name of God and which idealize pride, rebellion, sexuality, and materialism (it’s ok to watch just not in a theatre). We have all the same problems as “the church down the road” but we’re better because our services haven’t changed in a hundred years. Sure, our services aren’t like the early church, but we’re better than most.

Could it be that we have so lost the power of God that we think He is pleased with us just because of our standards? Meanwhile pride, envy, anger, impatience, lust, ingratitude, gossip, lack of compassion, and jealously reign unchecked and unconquered in our hearts and homes. Are we religious, but powerless over the flesh? Are we “Christian,” but nothing like Christ?

It seems to me that this is the case. We have raised a generation that knows not God, nor His works (Judges 2:10).

So, how do we bring back the power? Most importantly, we must be humble enough to admit we have a problem. We must quit judging every other church and be broken over the condition of our own lives and homes (James 4:6-11). We must realize that what God wants from us is to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength; not just to check off Christian duties (Matthew 22:37-40). Is there anything you’re holding back from God?

We must compare ourselves with Scripture, and not with the church down the road (2 Timothy 3:14-16). Be like Christ and not any man (1 Corinthians 1:29-31). Let the Holy Spirit have control of your life and services (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). PRAY PRAY PRAY (Luke 11:8)!  Be desperate for the power of God in your life (2 Corinthians 12:9)! God’s power comes with God’s presence (Psalm 63:1-2), and God’s presence comes after we have made peace with man and peace with God (Hebrews 12:14). We can not have God’s power if we no longer seek to be right in His presence.

The number of nonbelievers is a growing group in this generation. I hope to see an outpouring of God’s power in my life and my generation. Do you? Where’s the POWER?