Why Christianity does not work…

Bear with me on this. Too often we are quick to read the first couple of paragraphs and jump to our own conclusions. That’s why journalism teaches journalists to put pertinent information up front, or at least the information you want the readers to grab, up front. They know our attention span is short! I digress.

Why Christianity does not work…

Jesus seemed to change lives when he was on this earth. Even in Acts, lives were changed. Peter stands up to a huge crowd and preaches boldly. He couldn’t stand up to a little slave girl the night of Jesus’ trial! Saul persecuted the church, then is radically changed. In Acts 19, 12 men full of the Holy Spirit change the economy of Ephesus.

That’s the Bible.

What do we see in America? Set aside the political arena, which is tough for me to do. (Do NOT get me started on how the Republican Party made conservative Christians their water boys for 14 years, then did NOTHING with key issues they PROMISED to deal with…)

The Church in America. Is it changing people? Are people LESS selfish than people in the world? Are people LESS likely to get divorced in the church than in the world? Are people LESS likely to gossip in the church than in the world?

We have not removed the SELF from the center in American Christianity. We have put it dead center. Our churches that “grow” market themselves to serve every need an American Christian could want. In the South, they have whole Christian mini-cities where you can belong to the church health club, have a latte at the church coffee bar, go bowling in the church bowling alley… WOW! Everything for … ME!

We have created niche market churches. We have 20-something churches, 30-something churches, even 60-something churches. Why? To serve… ME!

We have put the self dead center.

When the self is dead center, you don’t care about the other… at least I don’t. If I am consumed with my needs and wants, I certainly don’t want to spend time with someone else and listen to THEIR WHINING about their selfish needs! Especially if they are not Christian! Come on! I have a LIFE, you know!

Thus, my contention. Christianity is not working. We are not really seeing change. We are not even seeing growth. We see shifts of people from one church to another, but people coming from darkness to light? That’s hard work! Who has time for that? I have a job, a family, weekend cabin retreats, a boat, lots of fishing to do…

When the self is at the center, Christ is on the periphery. That is not Christianity. This is not working.

Hopefully I am deep enough into this tirade I have sufficiently ticked enough people off I can now continue. Perhaps I have even put my own ministerial credentials in jeopardy. That may add some long needed excitement to my life.

Now…Why Christianity WORKS.

Unfortunately, we simply have few models of this in the United States. So much of it is overseas in refreshing areas of the world where situations are so desperate they MUST have Jesus work! But, oh! Those stories!

Jesus DOES work in the United States. It is just not easy! We want it easy. I want it easy! I want cruise control!

Jesus works in Brooklyn, New York. They work their tails off at Brooklyn Tabernacle, but drug addicts are set free. Prostitutes come to Jesus. Gang members find new life in a REAL family. They sing from the HEART. (GOD! How I miss that singing!)

Grace is not easy! Grace demands effort. They give themselves daily to the work of the gospel in Brooklyn. They pour their lives into people strung out on drugs, young single mothers, gang members, and more. They see too many slip back into the destructive cycles. They also see Jesus radically change lives.

These believers do not have their own lives at the center. They have JESUS at the center. It is a PLEASURE for them to serve their church. They see changed lives.

Their lives changed. It was not overnight, and it is still ongoing, bu CHANGE THEY DO! They LOVE Jesus and they LOVE what Jesus does in the lives of others. It wakes them up in the morning and gives them sweet rest at night.

Jesus works. Christianity works. I am tired of it NOT working. How I need that change!


What IS the deal with Kansas?

Several years ago there was a book entitled, What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Of course it was a liberal who grew up in a wealthy suburb of Kansas City who had not been there in years wondering what had happened to his dim memory of some “populist” state. His claim is this suburb was “middle class,” but it’s not. It’s VERY wealthy.

What has led me to this question about my home state is the hulabaloo the governor of Kansas has caused following the horrific tornado that took out the town of Greensburg. What is popular these days is to make sure we blame everything possible on George Bush. Katrina? Bush’s fault. Global warming? Bush’s fault. It’s just the popular thing.

So, after Greensburg gets leveled the governor trots out there and claims the clean up would go a lot quicker if they didn’t have so many trucks committed to Iraq. Here we go again…

What has happened to my state? This was a place where people looked out for each other. It’s Kansas…HELLO…the land of Oz? Tornadoes happen! And when they do, people get right back out there and help each other clean up. We knew what it was all about living there. You don’t blame someone for not showing up! You grab a shovel and start digging. You grab a broom and start sweeping.

Now, we trot out there to make sure Bush takes the blame for SOMETHING. The governor is smart. She knows this is winning political points. She knows she needs a life after the governor’s mansion. Maybe she’ll get appointed FEMA director!

What has happened to my state? We used to help each other! We didn’t blame someone else. Tornadoes happen. You get out, lend a hand, help rebuild, and life goes on. It was an honest life and an honest place.

Now, it’s become the land of whining! Blame Bush! Score points!

What IS the deal with Kansas these days?


What IS the deal with Kansas?

Several years ago there was a book entitled, What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Of course it was a liberal who grew up in a wealthy suburb of Kansas City who had not been there in years wondering what had happened to his dim memory of some “populist” state. His claim is this suburb was “middle class,” but it’s not. It’s VERY wealthy.

What has led me to this question about my home state is the hulabaloo the governor of Kansas has caused following the horrific tornado that took out the town of Greensburg. What is popular these days is to make sure we blame everything possible on George Bush. Katrina? Bush’s fault. Global warming? Bush’s fault. It’s just the popular thing.

So, after Greensburg gets leveled the governor trots out there and claims the clean up would go a lot quicker if they didn’t have so many trucks committed to Iraq. Here we go again…

What has happened to my state? This was a place where people looked out for each other. It’s Kansas…HELLO…the land of Oz? Tornadoes happen! And when they do, people get right back out there and help each other clean up. We knew what it was all about living there. You don’t blame someone for not showing up! You grab a shovel and start digging. You grab a broom and start sweeping.

Now, we trot out there to make sure Bush takes the blame for SOMETHING. The governor is smart. She knows this is winning political points. She knows she needs a life after the governor’s mansion. Maybe she’ll get appointed FEMA director!

What has happened to my state? We used to help each other! We didn’t blame someone else. Tornadoes happen. You get out, lend a hand, help rebuild, and life goes on. It was an honest life and an honest place.

Now, it’s become the land of whining! Blame Bush! Score points!

What IS the deal with Kansas these days?

Some things just should not surprise me, I suppose, but they do. Maybe I will never get over the shock and move to numbing reality. I hope not.

One of my part-time gigs is teaching NT History and Literature, along with another course, at a Christian college. Part of the grading for the semester was for each student to read through the New Testament during the semester. They would hand in a reading log as part of their final, so it counted for 15 percent of their test score! To my shock I had a handful of students who did NOT read through the New Testament. This in a CLASS that studied the New Testament. This in a school that is “CHRISTIAN.” This in a school where they could have at LEAST read the New Testament for their devotions.

This just hits me as a bit scary.

It has been a weary week thinking of the horrific violence. The week became even heavier when I realized just when the events at Virginia Tech took place. The shooting was Monday, April 16. April 19 marked two other horrific events: the tragedy at Waco, Texas in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Today, April 20, marks the 8th anniversary of Columbine.

If these are not times for prayer, I do not know what time WOULD be more appropriate. We need God. We need God to turn our hearts. Our nation needs a soul searching revival.

Please permit me this rant. The tragedy of the shootings at Virginia Tech are overwhelming. The horrendous loss of life is simply staggering. Everytime I try to say anything about this I lose words. There are no words.

But it seems that suffering from a loss is not enough. Somehow we have to reach in and exploit the situation. The media has caught itself in a trap. They have allowed themselves to exploit the killer, allowing his homicidal rage to spew onto the airwaves, bringing dishonor to those who died.

NBC can talk all they want how they “wrestled with a difficult decision.” Excuse my sarcasm and doubt on this one. Simply put, it’s B— S—. They wrestled with it long enough to soothe their tiny conscience then raced off to air it because they knew what it meant: HUGE ratings. That is the name of the game, baby.

Of course lost in this story will be the victims. It will be all about what “WE” did as a society to this homicidal maniac.

If you read this, please click on my link to Christianty Today’s website (right side of this page). They are running stories of just who some of these victims were. Many were Christians. Campus Crusade at Virginia Tech says they lost several students in this senseless rampage.

Good people dead. Their names forgotten because NBC has to win a ratings race.

End…rant.


Simple stories from the Old Testament are so wonderful. I can look at the story of David and Goliath from time to time and each time find some things the Lord can teach me.

This trip through I notice again how Israel had lost their identity. They had allowed Goliath to dictate the rules of the game to them. He kept calling them “the army of Saul.” They always ran away in fear.

Here comes this KID…David…and he knows who he is. He knows the army is the army of the LORD. He knows Goliath is an uncircumcised Philistine. He knows the rules of the game! When he heard the war cry, he ran TO the battle. That’s warriors do.

It is a sober reminder to me. Sometimes I allow the enemy to dictate the rules of the game to me. I forget who I am, who I belong to, and just WHO the enemy is. So often I listen over and over to HIS rants toward me and forget to listen to the words of my King.

We need to run TO the battle, not run away from it.


Simple stories from the Old Testament are so wonderful. I can look at the story of David and Goliath from time to time and each time find some things the Lord can teach me.

This trip through I notice again how Israel had lost their identity. They had allowed Goliath to dictate the rules of the game to them. He kept calling them “the army of Saul.” They always ran away in fear.

Here comes this KID…David…and he knows who he is. He knows the army is the army of the LORD. He knows Goliath is an uncircumcised Philistine. He knows the rules of the game! When he heard the war cry, he ran TO the battle. That’s warriors do.

It is a sober reminder to me. Sometimes I allow the enemy to dictate the rules of the game to me. I forget who I am, who I belong to, and just WHO the enemy is. So often I listen over and over to HIS rants toward me and forget to listen to the words of my King.

We need to run TO the battle, not run away from it.

Today I was reflecting on one of the words of Christ from the cross. We have a community Good Friday service every year and my text was Luke 23:43 — “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Interestingly, I went through this passage in TNIV and ESV and discovered how smooth the TNIV is compared to ESV. Verses 40-41 go like this in the TNIV:

23:40
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
23:41
We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then, the ESV:

23:40
But the other rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41
And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.

The phrase that threw me off was “and we indeed justly.” I had to read it several times, going “HUH?” each time, until I finally connected it to v. 40. Looking it up in Greek, I understand “punished” is supplied in English. Why? To smooth out the reading. Is it correct to do so? I do not doubt it.

Before we go off the deep end and say, “Well, the ESV is simply being completely accurate,” I had to look at other formal translations to see how they handled that verse.

NASB (my good ol’ standby):

23:40
But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41
“And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what F503 we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

They supplied “suffering.”

NRSV:

23:40
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41
And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”

They supplied “condemned.”

RSV (the prototype for the ESV):

23:40
But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
23:41
And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

The RSV is clearly the pattern for the ESV here. Yet, two very fine formal translations felt the need to put in a word just to smooth out the reading. It was not a bad idea. It kept me from going, “HUH?”

I do not mind the ESV. I am still a fan of formal translations. The smoothing out for English reading is becoming more understandable to me as time goes by. The reading of public Scripture is so vital, and to have a text clunk like that is a shock to the system, especially if you are reading it publicly for the first time.

Again, I am finding the TNIV a more “dynamic equivalence” work, yet one that is more “formal” than the NIV, which I like very much.


“The church is dying in many places because of cleverness.” (Jim Cymbala)

When I attempt to get by on my cleverness, ingenuity, talent, brains, guts…you name it… I will only get so far. Pastor Cymbala made that statement above when I visited his church for the prayer meeting on March 20. It has stayed with me.

It rings so true in my own life. My prayer life falters and then everything around me falters. I am not a clever pastor. I am not a talented pastor. I better be a praying pastor.

A conversation this week reminded me of the impact of Pastor Cymbala’s statement. We are beginning to see a rise in moral failures in some places. It’s only the last part of a deeper problem.

Brothers and sisters, we are dying from our own cleverness.

What is paraded as “successful” in our Christian colleges? When a pastor comes to visit chapel, is he or she a pastor of a church averaging less than 100 (which would represent over 80% of churches)? More often than not the pastor is a megachurch pastor. The evangelist is a “big name” evangelist.

Looking back at several church district meetings where growing churches are celebrated, I have a difficult time remembering the last testimony from one of those churches where they spoke of prayer being the generator for their growth. They spoke of programs, ideas, devices, technology, sermon themes. Looking back over the past few times I have witnessed the celebration of a “booming” church, I honestly cannot remember ANY discussion of prayer, a move of the Spirit, or even a huge conversation about conversions.

Our new church plants are built on cleverness. One church plant I know of went several months before the pastor developed his own sermon series. He was getting them “out of a can.” It was “working.” His church hit 125 almost instantly. Why bother with anything else? The numbers were good. Or were they?

What do numbers mean, anyway? Well, a lot. It’s still how we count success.

Yet, we are seeing an increase in moral failures again and we are left scratching our heads.

Small church pastors with little growth are not more spiritual. My point is we are reaping a harvest we have intentionally sown. When we parade results in front of people the hidden message is, “You can get results, too.” We begin to look to pragmatics rather than the power of the Spirit.

We parade big time evangelists across our college chapel platforms and everyone is “called” to be an evangelist. What they are called to is the big time travel schedule, the adoring crowds, the cool websites, and the nice money. They do not see the years of labor, the multiplied hours of prayer, and the endless line of rejection that may come first. No one gives them that picture.

We are not people of prayer. We are people of pragmatism, and our pragmatism will kill us. I face failure all the time because I am not “measuring up” to other churches. My mind spins and whirls trying to “think up” some “formula” to get my church to grow. I want to see people come out of darkness into light. I want to see our church stabilize financially. Those are not bad things!

But when I fail to get in the place of prayer and instead try pragmatism, I will find myself in trouble every time.

Brothers and sisters, we are failing. Let us not fail anymore.