When “church” Becomes Idol…

***Disclaimer: for this particular post the word “church” will be used in reference to church as a place, program, service, institution, gathering, etc. Obviously, these things should not define “church”, but we are going to look at what happens when the things above somehow sneak in and become more important than Jesus, and people knowing Him as Lord.***

Idolatry is very much still around today. Every single one of us could find an idolatrous area of our lives if we took a long enough look at ourselves. This happens when, for whatever reason, we are deceived into thinking that something else is more worthy of worship than our King, Jesus. Often times these idols sneak their way in because they are not inherently bad things…at all. In fact, they are sometimes very good things that have either pushed Jesus off His throne in our lives, or accidentally become the priority over Jesus. This happens when we believe lies, or UNtruths that are injected into our lives by the enemy. “How though, could ‘church’ become an idol!?”, some of you may be asking…

I was recently at an event with about 50 other Christians. During the event everyone took time to go around, and share “success” stories of things that had been happening in their lives as they pursued being a “Christian” in their context. The purpose of these stories was for edification for those who were there. As people shared others were ecstatic and huge smiles began to form on their faces. After a few minutes of these stories something hit me…and my heart grew very heavy…

First, here is a few examples of these “success” stories:

“…when my neighbor found out I go to church he came to ask me if he could come with me!”

“…it was so neat…after we met and started building a relationship she agreed to come to church with me.” (She had been invited several times before)

“It’s so great, several people have joined us at church.”

…and so on and so forth…

The entire evening, other than perhaps during a prayer to “bless the food”, the name of Jesus was not mentioned once. No stories about Jesus being introduced to anyone, or anyone being “invited” to experience Jesus as a powerful and living God right here and right now. No stories of anyone being impacted in any way by Jesus Himself. Again, the NAME of Jesus was not mentioned once. Was it on purpose? Of course not. Am I certain that everyone in that room loves Jesus? Yes. Was this neglect of Jesus intentional? Of course not.

You see, somewhere along the way the works of scripture got transferred out of the hands/responsibility of the ordinary believer, and placed into the hands of the paid clergy. The way “success” and “effective ministry” is measured shifted from individual life transformation (Which is very difficult to measure, fabricate, & force.) to a generic “how many people are here”? When the responsibility of the individual believer to make disciples was shifted to the paid clergy the ability to do so seemed to go with it. This is not the individual believers fault. Over time what it means to be a follower of Christ has changed, along with the methods and language we use to communicate such things…

When anything takes the place of Jesus in our lives the focus goes to that thing…and off of Jesus. That thing takes the throne. We are guilty of idol worship. When our primary goal is to get people to go to church (Of course, with the desire and hope that they will eventually “meet Jesus”, or make a decision to follow Him at some point) we have replaced Jesus with church. We communicate with our actions and words that “church” is savior, and forgiver of sins. We bow down in worship to church. “Church” did not die on the cross for our sins – Jesus died on the cross for us, His Church, His Bride, so that He could become all that we worship. As the TRUE lover of our souls our number one desire MUST be to introduce others to Him. As a part of the process we become a part of the body of Christ! We naturally gather with other believers as a result, but hopefully not spend too much of their time with those believers. Hopefully, we will then begin introducing others to…yes…Jesus…not our new church.

I am around different types of people all throughout the week, as I am sure many of you are. Something I have noticed in the people I am around who do not claim “membership” to a particular “church” as a building with a name, or institution is the things they place value in. Every single time I am with these people they are full of joy as they share stories of individuals who they have been discipling, and walking with. They share about how Jesus is becoming Lord to these people. Then, they invite me to this new believer’s Baptism after they have led them to Christ! A natural result is always that these new believers are connected with the body of Christ in some form or fashion-usually very healthy. They may not be filling the pews of a church on Sunday morning, or “serving” in a church program. But, they are actively out proclaiming to others this new love they have found in Jesus as He has become their Lord. There is much freedom in the above…it feels weightless, and light…it feels like a journey of obedience & dedication to Jesus.

This is far different from the conversations I have with others who have dedicated and given their lives to the “church”. Discussion is more about endless struggles with sin and trying to manage that sin. It’s about the uncomfortable invitation to church on Sunday they have extended to their neighbor for months-wondering why their neighbor won’t come. It’s about how good and funny their preacher’s message was the previous Sunday, and how much they loved “that one song the guy played”. Again, none of those things are necessarily bad, but when they take the place of Jesus as Lord in our lives we become idolaters.

Those of you who know me know that I am not a fan of any particular model of “doing church”. I think that conversation is silly – we don’t “do” church. We BE Church. If you are BEING Church, and obedient to Jesus at your church then these words are not for you. I am not at all submitting that this is the case across the board. I am simply sharing observations I’ve made in cities all over the country (three of which I have lived in for long periods of time) among people in both scenarios. If Jesus is your Lord in both words & actions then let’s praise Him for that! If something else has sneaked in and taken the place of Lord (perhaps “church”) then may we all run hard after Jesus together to place Him back on the throne in our lives.

“Jesus, we trust you. You are so gracious. Thank you that you pour out your grace over us when we can’t seem to “get it right” over and over again. Empower us by Your Spirit to see the You in us be reproduced into the You in those You have placed in our lives!”

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Normalcy, The Great Seducer…

The issue of normalcy has been at the forefront of my mind for many years now. However, it has only been recently that these things have begun to work themselves from the place of mere thoughts in my mind into reality. It has been a goal of mine since I was about 15 to “be different”. I have come to discover that God has wired me to be a bit rebellious, which can be a very dangerous thing if not harnessed for the Kingdom & His purposes (Something I struggle daily to grasp). Being normal has always seemed so boring to me. Why would I want to be, do, look, act, work, perform, & love like everyone else does? Where is the adventure in that? There may not be adventure in it, but it is much “easier” to be “normal”. Therein, lies the seduction…

By nature, I suppose, we choose what is easier over what is “right”, or obedient. I mean, it is much easier to go along with the “flow” of the majority, or “status quo”, right? For example, it takes much more effort to eat organic & prepare meals at home than it does to swing by Subway to grab a $5 foot long. It is SO much “easier” to mentally & physically “escape” the busyness of the day by watching hours of TV on the couch than it is to engage those we love in healthy conversation about life. It is much “easier” to fit in with the “crowd” by having a “real job” (9-5, vacation time, set hours, health insurance, nice salary, retirement, etc.) than it is to do what you love doing – even if it means less money, or the risk of “appearing” unsuccessful. We could go on and on with examples…(I’d love to hear some that come to your mind as well)

The more places I go the more encouraged I become. I meet people everywhere who refuse to be seduced into the normal life. They are insistent upon pursuing what they feel are the important things in life. The beauty of that is we all must choose for ourselves what is important to us, and what we value based upon the activity of the Gospel in our lives. Then, we mustn’t judge the things others choose as important so long as they have heard God’s voice and are in His will for their lives. There is much freedom in this, as well as a lot of room for Jesus to move in our lives as we make ourselves available to Him for obedience.

Perhaps Normalcy is the enemy’s great tactic in keeping the Bride of Christ too busy to ready herself for the return of Her Groom? It is what robs us of the Joy we could have in Christ through our pursuit of what is in line with His kingdom. It is what causes us to live a life of doubt and fear, unfulfilled. This Great Seducer grabs us, and pulls us in early on. It conditions our minds against TRUTH, and the things of God.

I do not find anything normal about Jesus and those who followed Him in the scriptures. In fact, they were quite the opposite of the rest of their fellow man. However, they did not choose to be abnormal for the sake of being different. They chose to be different so as to fully surrender their lives to Jesus, and be completely available to Him. Does normalcy reduce our availability to the Holy Spirit’s leading? There have been many attempts to pull God, His Kingdom, and His purposes into our “Normalcy box”. There are a lot of “normal Christians” out there. They all look alike, dress alike, talk alike, do the same activities, drink the same beverages, follow the same laws (scary – see Galatians), keep the same traditions/rituals, follow the same “leaders” (Often times not Jesus), spend their money on the same things, have similar “time cards” of availability, and have the same lifelong insecurities that Jesus longs to set us free from. As believers, we should be set apart from the world. I would submit that very few, if any, of the above things are on the same list Jesus holds in how He desires His children to be “different” from the world. There are also similarities we should share with our brothers & sisters in Christ. Again, I feel that very few on Jesus’ list can be found in the above. I have no desire to be normal in any sense – worldly, or Christian – both are a far too incomplete picture of what Jesus paints when He speaks of life to the fullest, for the purpose of His Kingdom, as an adopted Child of God.

May we pursue Him, and obedience to Him. Let us not swing the pendulum back over to the other end, allowing our “rebellion” or rejection of what’s normal to become our idol. Both are dangerous, and not pleasing to Jesus. This is a mere plea with myself, and you all to insist upon removing the “normal” things in our lives that steal our uniqueness in Christ. May our hearts cease to lust after what is easy and normal, and may we be seduced by the one true lover of our souls. May that love set us free, and cause us to come alive. May this be what “sets us apart” as those who follow Jesus. Thank you Jesus.

Fruit.

Back in August we hosted a Student CPx Training in Austin. Since that training we have seen God use the students who “graduated” from SCPx to do some incredible things for His Kingdom. From praying healing over broken bones to Baptizing new believers into new student-led churches these students are really “doin’ the stuff”! Morgan and I have the privilege of walking alongside of these students in discipleship relationships now that we live here in Austin. It is so incredible to watch God use them as they obey His voice. Four students got Baptized by other students this past Friday. Another student who had just come to Christ last week was also Baptized by her discipler in the bath tub in her apartment the Thursday night before these Baptisms…People’s lives are being transformed, and it is happening at the hands of ordinary followers of Christ – these are not religious professionals, church/campus staff members, or people who get paid to do the works of ministry. These are broke students who have been wrecked by the Gospel, and can’t help but introduce others to their king…

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The kingdom of God is expanding…that is, new believers are being transformed by the Gospel as they encounter ordinary people who have been transformed by the Gospel. Last night 12 people came over to our house to talk about and discuss desires and passions God has placed in each of their hearts. The stories revolved around starting community discipleship houses in the city that would lead to a network of house churches. We got to share with them a bit of our story with IG in Ft. Worth, then Vegas, and now here. We were all equally edified, and can’t wait to see what God does. We had a powerful time of communion together as well.

God is moving in Austin in some powerful ways. We are loving every second of it. From events in our apartment complex pursuing community to discipling students one on one we are easing into a beautiful rhythm of life here in Austin. Stay tuned…