Tag Archives: Church

Are You a Church Burn Out?

Are you bored with church? Do you feel like you’re spiritually dry? Everything seems to be the same; nothing really changes; nothing is moving? Here’s why. You are not moving toward God’s will and purpose for your life. You’re not spiritually healthy, so you’re not growing in your faith. You are not doing anything, or just doing the bare minimum. You’re in spiritual survival mode, instead of thriving and flourishing. You’re living more for the world than for God. Where is your supposed faith? Perhaps you’re doing things for God, serving at church, but you’re doing from your flesh. That means your doing it all by yourself, from your own limited resources, rather than in partnership with God.

The reality is: you have limited time, limited money, and, let’s face it, you may well have less and less interest in church or in pursuing God. Jesus said, “If you aibde in me, and I in you, then you’ll produce much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). That means, even if you’re doing something for God, you’re accomplishing nothing significant because if you’re not doing it from the power of the Holy Spirit’s presence in you. Is the Holy Spirit filling you? I’m not talking theory here, friends. I’m not asking you to go back to some time in your past when you “accepted Christ,” or had an emotional experience with God. I mean, are you filled with the power and presence of God? No? Then why aren’t you asking, even crying out, for that? “How much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13).

The Holy Spirit’s presence is the requirement for fruitful activity in the Lord. That’s the reason you’re burned out, friend. You’re full of your own effort, not the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who brings us into Christ and Christ into us. This is not something you work out in your head, or convince yourself of. When the Holy Spirit fills you and empowers you for God’s work, it is a real ongoing experience deep within. He perfects, affirms, strengthens and establishes you from the inside out. I’m not trying to get you to do more for God, although some of you need to do just that. I’m seeking to stir up a genuine spiritual interest. I hope you desire to be filled with God Himself.

Jesus had chosen the 12 apostles, and trained them to be his witnesses in the world. One betrayed him, so they were down to 11. Then he told them to “wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” The entire Christian mission was on hold, until God poured out the Holy Spirit to empower His people. The apostles were scared, timid and focused on their own little community, until the Day of Pentecost. Suddenly, they were on fire! Now they boldly spread the news about Jesus’ resurrection, and God’s offer of forgiveness for sins and eternal life. The Holy Spirit was availble to everyone who would believe in Jesus. So, why are you still doing this on your own? Why are you satisfied with being bored? Why are you looking at other means of success,  or methods of getting high? If you have really, truly given your life to Jesus Christ, if you still have the least bit of faith, then you’ll never be satisfied until you are filled with the Holy Spirit, and going into all the world to make disciples for Jesus.

“Don’t be stupid. Instead, find out what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t destroy yourself by getting drunk, but let the Spirit fill your life.”  The Holy Bible: The Contemporary English Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), Ephesians 5:17–18.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Acts 1:8.

 

The Merge

Church splits are common. However, I only know of only one church that reunited after dividing, and I was part of it. “The Merge” of First Baptist Church, The Colony was official 28 years ago today.

In January of 1988 I began the Master of Divinity program at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I filed my resume’ in the placement office with the hopes of serving in a church during my seminary career. By the end of the semester I received a call from the newly appointed pastor of First Baptist Church, The Colony. Pastor WB had seen my resume’,  and, after an interview, wanted me to be their Youth Minister. He invited me to introduce myself to the congregation during a Sunday morning worship service.

On the drive from Ft. Worth to The Colony that Sunday morning I took a wrong turn and ended up passing by the old Texas Stadium in Irving. First time I’d seen the fabled home of the Dallas Cowboys in person. As I walked up to the church I encountered two middle school boys sitting on the monkey bars in the children’s playground. They would be part of the small youth group I led beginning in the summer. Our first official activity was to attend the Youth Evangelism Conference at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

Every weekend I commuted from Ft. Worth to The Colony and built a Saturday-Sunday youth program. Over the next six months our group doubled in size, from a dozen members to a high attendance of 26. I really enjoyed working with those kids.

At that time The Colony had around 20,000 residents, many of whom were younger families, so you’d probably expect the First Baptist Church to have more teenagers. In fact, you’d anticipate more members. Our auditorium seated 200 and it was never filled on Sunday mornings. You see, something had happened to this church before I arrived.

When Pastor WB first interviewed me he mentioned that the church had exprienced a split. A large group had left First Baptist and formed a new church called Calvary Heights, which met at the local high school. They called the former youth minster of FBC to be their pastor. The old pastor of First Baptist had evidently been the source of the contention that resulted in the split, and had subsequently resigned. First Baptist had called WB to be their pastor only a few months before he brought me in as their new youth minister.

So, the church had split over a disagreement concerning their former pastor. I was leary about this when I interviewed, but once I met the youth it didn’t matter. Several months into my tenure at First Baptist talk of a merger began. Each church appointed three members of a committee, which met for several months to discuss the possibility. By the end of the year, the committee had a recommendation: Merge! Wow, I was amazed at this. However, the pastor that hired me was not so enthusiastic. In fact, WB wholeheartedly opposed the merger.

You see, the committee’s recommendation was for the 27 year old pastor of Calvary Heights to be the senior pastor of a re-formed First Baptist Church, and for 60-something WB to be the associate pastor. I would be the youth minister. I was in favor of the merger. However, I had been hired by, and called by the church to, serve under WB, and he was opposed.  During my brief time in ministry training I’d been taught that staff at a church are called to serve under the pastor. That means submit to his authority. However, I was still a member of the congregation of First Baptist Church, and the church would make the decsion here. What should I do?

I remember the meeting I had with WB to discuss the issue. He was angry with me. He accused me of undermining his authority because of my support for the merger. In fact, at one point he began to yell, then lunged at me over his desk. It was not a very Christlike display of character. However, it helped me decide what I must do.

A business meeting where the congregation would vote on the merger was scheduled for a Sunday night in December. I knew what I must do. At the appropriate time in the meeting, before the merger vote, I stood up and read my letter of resignation. Then I walked out the back door, expecting never to return to First Baptist Church, The Colony. I met with a couple of my students at the McDonald’s across the street to say goodbye. I drove back to Fort Worth that night sad and shaken.

Now, that’s not the end of the story, or I wouldn’t be writing this today. But perhaps I should explain why I resigned rather than remain and vote for the merger. My primary responsibility if I am not the pastor is to serve the church under the pastor’s authority. If I cannot support the pastor, I do not oppose him or try to undermine him, I simply seek another place of service. That’s why I resigned.

On Monday morning I received a call from a congregational leader, perhaps one of the deacons (I don’t recall), informing me that my resignation had not been accepted. Ok, what, how could they refuse my resignation? This leader continued: WB had quit, stormed out the back door (and broke the glass on his way out!), the congregation had voted to merge, call the pastor of Calvary Heights, as pastor and me as youth minister. My objection to supporting the unstable and unChristlike WB was eliminated when he quit. I chose to serve the newly merged congregation under the new pastor, Bill Wilks. I would serve alongside two wonderful men: Morris Seay, education minister, and Ralph Baxter, music minister. It was like being called to a new church, except I got to keep the youth I’d worked with over the previous months.

The first official day of the merger was Monday, January 9, 1989. I remember the date distinctly because it was listed on so many records as the date people had joined the First Baptist Church. I had nine youth in attendance the last Sunday before the merger. On the first Sunday after the church reunited we had 90 youth!

There is so much angry energy expended when we disagree with one another. Divorce, political division, church splits and many other examples abound. It’s like the power of an atomic bomb, the destructive power of which was unleashed by the USA at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Those bombs worked by splitting atoms. However, there is exponentially more energy released when atoms unite in nuclear fusion. That is, when atoms unite.

When the church unites to do God’s will, His power is released, and people are saved, delivered and healed. Our families, our churches and our nation need to come together in the name of Jesus. I believe that will only happen when we who claim to be Christians actually follow Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we have “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ephesians 4:2–6.

 

Coexist.

This world is a place where life with God and without God must coexist.

This is the case in order that people may clearly see the difference and decide whether they want to live with God for eternity. Those who live by faith in God and those who do not live side by side in this world.

The primary choice we are making over and over again every day is whether or not to believe in God.

If we believe, we live in light of that faith (James 2:14-26) and we seek to have a relationship with God. If we disbelieve, we incline to our own understanding of the world and live accordingly (Prov. 3:5). Unbelief is wrong because it separates us from the one who is good and right. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Unbelief has disastrous consequences, since it cuts us off from our Father and the hope of eternal life.

The contrasting lifestyles and states of wellbeing of genuine believers vs. unbelievers are clear indicators of the relative value of having a relationship with God. For example, a scientific study recognized that people who pray regularly are psychologically healthier than those who do not. The strength possessed by believers in the midst of tragedy and suffering is testament to the value of faith in God. Those who tithe their income are less materialistic, less controlled by money or the constant yearning for it.

So, why aren’t more people turning to faith in Christ? Don’t they see that this offers a better life and life after death? Are believers failing to show this to them convincingly? Or are they being deceived? Satan is the deceiver, and he is called god of this world.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4, ESV)
I believe Satan has effectively deceived the world, including increasing numbers of Christians (Matthew 24:24).

To understand how Satan has accomplished this you must recognize that there are two worldviews at war in our nation today. The Christian worldview and secular utopianism. Currently, the delusion of secular utopianism is spreading. The Christian worldview has been under sustained attack by the proponents and leaders of secular utopianism since the 1800’s.

The Christian worldview is based upon the Bible. It is centered upon a faith in the God who created the universe, and made human beings in his own image. Its morality is based upon the will of God, who will judge the world. Its hope is in a coming new world where Jesus Christ will reign.

Secular utopianism, simply stated, is the godless pursuit of personal happiness in this world.

It is humanistic and seeks to make earth into heaven, and each human being into a god. It is based upon Satan’s ancient lie spoken to Eve in Eden.“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’” (Genesis 3:4–5, ESV). According to this worldview the only god who matters is you. It has adherents in every religion, but it denies the authority of the only real God and Creator of the universe. Yes, there are many who would call themselves Christians who are actually believers in this worldview. The Apostle Paul warns that these apparently religious people are, “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Secular utopianism is a materialistic worldview, giving no credence, or at least no significance, to a real heaven beyond this world. Karl Marx is perhaps its most powerful proponent. Marx famously called religion opium because he believed it kept people from realizing they needed to fight to make this life and this world the only heaven there can be.

Marx wrote:
“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

Communism and Socialism promise to create a secular utopia by enforcing income equality and then by abolishing private property, but ultimately what is sought is the abolition of any personal opinion that does not conform with the ideology enforced by the state. We saw this in the failed USSR and we see it prominently in China and in North Korea. This is the direction the liberal/progressive movement is taking the USA.

However, the left is not alone in it’s pursuit of secular utopianism. It is the same on the far right. The free market capitalist’s favorite philosopher is Ayn Rand, who formulated the philosophy known as Objectivism, which is an intellectual justification of the self-centered pursuit of happiness. The reason capitalists love her is due to her support of a laissez-faire approach to capitalism, which permits market forces to work. However, unbridled free-market capitalism inevitably results in the abuses of which many  were victims during the 2008 financial crisis. This is the grist for Bernie Sanders’ popular grind against big corporations and income inequality.

So, neither the left or right have the answer to our problems, and neither can offer human beings what we really long for: love, purpose, lasting peace, fulfillment, the reason for our existence, which is God himself. Oh, but they try. You and I must follow the radical route, the narrow path, which will make none of our political and worldly friends happy.
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13–14, ESV).

Our culture has become toxic. It is imperative that we repudiate its godless values and protect ourselves and our children from being inculcated and indoctrinated. In order to do this our minds must be renewed by daily reading (or listening to) the Bible. We must be active in church. Jesus himself established the church, not a building or an institution, but communities set apart from the world to worship the One True God. The time in long past when a Christian could sit at home and rely on their own self-discipline and understanding of the Bible and expect to grow. Now, not only will you not grow, you will regress; you will fade into the light of common day; you will become more and more like the post-Christian culture, which has an inescapable influence on all of us.

Do you need examples of this influence? There is the obvious proliferation of pornography, available on every phone, tablet and computer. Our entertainment is filled with sexual immorality and violence. There is wide acceptance, even enforcement of the so-called rights of people to participate in perverse sexuality and distorted views of gender. Far more dangerous is the marginalization or outright rejection of Christianity in favor of the unbridled pursuit of self-satisfaction, pleasure or personal happiness. This is secular utopianism at work, and it is most dangerous when people believe that it is good, virtuous and right to pursue godless and distorted practices. Those who reject these practices as wrong and/or speak against them are considered evil and kept from expressing their offensive opinions in the public square, which was once a marketplace of free ideas.

The Western world is build upon the foundation of a Christian ethic and philosophy. The current preoccupation with secular utopianism has been labeled “post-Christian culture” by some observers. Author Mark Sayers, in his book Disappearing Church gives insight.
“Post-Christianity is not pre-Christianity; rather post-Christianity attempts to move beyond Christianity, whilst simultaneously feasting on its fruit.
Post-Christian culture attempts to retain the solace of faith, whilst gutting it of the costs, commitments, and restraints that the gospel places upon the individual will. Post-Christianity intuitively yearns for the justice and shalom of the kingdom, whilst defending the reign of the individual will. Post-Christianity is Christianity emptied of its content” (Kindle loc. 200)

This may help to explain why, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, people still pursue heaven on earth. There is continues to be enough of a Christian remnant, and the remnant of its ethic, to keep us from descending into the outright evil of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, and there is still enough temporary prosperity to keep us well fed and entertained. However, the widespread addiction to alcohol, illegal and prescription drugs (painkillers and anti-depressants) is testament to the fact that the pursuit of happiness is failing.

People who have a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ, must genuinely follow him. “Let your light so shine before people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). What if you don’t reflect that light? What if you don’t shine? Then people cannot tell the difference between a Christian and a secular person. If that is the case, why would anyone want to waste time and energy devoting themselves to something other than themselves?

Worldly churches have little influence and lose members because they are no different from the culture. This is the case with churches where the Bible is distorted and disbelieved. Today many formerly large denominations are a shell of their former selves and a tithe of their former size because they have reinterpreted the Bible, rejected it’s authority and embraced contemporary cultural ethics. Then there are churches where relevance has taken precedence over the Bible. They may technically agree with orthodox Christian teaching, but they don’t emphasize anything controversial or counter-cultural. They teach practical advice and preach personal happiness. Some of these are churches where style and slick production is more important than biblical substance. In both of these types of churches—-the liberal, heterodox, or the surface conservative where relevance trumps all—people are unaffected by the truth of Christ. People leave, attend sporadically or live lives that are no different than their neighbors who do not go to church.

Those of us who are saved, are saved from this cursed world. We have been given hope in a life beyond our earthly existence. I am a new creation, set free from the three forces that kept me blind, lost and spiritually dead: the world, the flesh and the devil. The life I live on in this body on earth, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and proved it when he died on the cross to save me. I must live this out daily. Then sinners will see and change their minds about God and about this world (Psalm 51:13).

The church of which I am Senior Pastor is called Lifewell for a reason. Jesus promised to make within each believer a wellspring of water overflowing with eternal life (John 4:14). That is God-quality abundant life. We want people to see this life lived through us and to be drawn to the God who gives it.

There is no good life apart from God, even non-believers benefit from the faith of God’s people. That is what is holding this rebellious, increasingly godless nation together at this moment.  Maybe what held your life together when you were in a state of rebellion and practical atheism was the prayers of a faithful grandma, or friends who refused to give up on you.
Believers are by no means given material advantages; in fact, the opposite may be true in many cases. However, the internal wellbeing produced by spiritual life within is its own reward far above wealth. God himself is the reward to his people (like the Levitical priests, cf. Deut. 18:2)

“Those who come to him must believe that he exists and he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after him” (Hebrews 11:6).
See also, Isaiah 40:10, 62:11, Gal. 3:14, Col. 1:27, Eph. 3:16-21.
“As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
the face of God?”
(Psalm 42)

We live in a world where life with God and apart from God coexist. If you claim to know God, it is imperative that you live that life to the fullest, and live it openly. People who have no faith need to see the difference. Is there a difference in you? If not, you don’t really believe in this good and loving God, who sent his Son to give eternal life. Jesus promised to give a rich an satisfying life.

“The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. I have come to give abundant life” (John 10:10).

Sayonara Nissan!

“For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?”
From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot

Now I will measure my ministry in Nissans.
-Pastor D

Throughout my time at this church there have been some hard times, and many of those have been related to money, or the lack of it. But I’ve always had a nice car to drive. I’ve had a 16 year relationship with Nissan that, it appears now will end. The “why” is inexplicable. NMAC (Nissan’s finance company) simply will not offer the same loyalty lease deal they’ve given me since 1999. This is strange since I’ve leased FIVE cars from them. Oh, well, Sayonara Nissan!

This has brought me to evaluate what’s happened in our church during that time period. I can chart the changes that have taken place by going from Nissan to Nissan.

1999 Nissan Maxima
It all began in 1999. That’s when I got my first ever new car. It was a black Nissan Maxima with tan leather interior. Prior to this I had always purchased used cars, most of them were just transportation, nothing special. In 1999 Nissan advertised a lease deal on their Maxima. I had a friend who drove one and spoke highly of it. The six cylinder engine Nissan put in these had a good reputation for power and reliability. Additionally, this was the only large, four door passenger car with a standard transmission. So, in February of 1999, I started driving a Maxima. I really liked it.

I was youth minister at this time, and, of course, I wanted to show off the new car. One Sunday night a group of teenagers and youth volunteers came over to my apartment after church. We were practicing a skit for the following week. One of the adults was playing on my computer and suggested we go to Dunkin Donuts. It was late by then, but the donut shop is open 24hrs. A group of us piled into the new Maxima, and, well, the rest is history.

There were a lot of police cars at Dunkin Donuts that night. Being the responsible adult that I was, I noted the time (around 1:00 AM) and told everyone we needed to get back to the apartment. I thought everyone was over 17 (curfew would have been midnight for anyone younger), but honestly I wasn’t sure. On our way back a couple of the teens in my car wanted me to see a statue at a local “Buddhist temple” (it’s still there, and I really don’t know what religion they are, but that’s what we called it). I agreed, but had to make a (legal) u-turn to get to the street where they said I could see a statue sitting in the middle of a man-made pond. When we got there you couldn’t see anything because the fence was covered in plastic. I didn’t let anyone get out of my car, and we pulled away.

Two of Garland’s finest pulled us over as I turned onto the next street. The end result was a false arrest and my new car getting dented by the police as they wrestled with an adult passenger. The car was impounded overnight. I hadn’t had it for two weeks at that point. Btw, if you want to learn more about this incident, which is quite relevant and informative relative to bad police, you can read it here http://wp.me/p42WJH-f

As a result of this incident, my reputation was damaged, far more seriously than the new car. The pastor of the church where I served as a minister at the time stated that he planned to make my position part-time by the summer. This necessitated a change, whether I was ready or not.

On occasion prior to this incident I had considered the possibility that God might one day call me to start a church. In fact, I had even discussed this with some of the very volunteers who had been over at my apartment that fateful night. I believed I saw the need to craft a church to reach those who were unreached by traditional churches. When I broached the topic with the pastor of the church were I served, he was in favor of the idea, so much so that he facilitated its implementation.

On July 4th, 1999 we started a brand new church called City of Refuge. Our first worship service was held a a local park called 111 Ranch. The idea behind the name and the church related directly to the incident that precipitated its existence: a City of Refuge is a place where those who are presumed guilty can be free of judgement.

We met for small group Bible study in a house that doubled as the pastor’s residence, dubbed “the Baltimore house” from the street it occupied. We met for worship in the ballrooms of hotels, in parks and wherever we could find space. We spent a great deal of time, energy and money putting on a dramatic outreach called House of Judgement. This had begun many years earlier and was at its peak at this point.

2002 Nissan Maxima
My lease on the ’99 Maxima was up in 2002. If memory and my calculation is accurate it was the summer of that year when I leased a 2002 Maxima. NMAC (Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp) was kind enough to recognize my responsible payment history and pre-approve me with tier one financing without a credit application. Good thing, because I’d been through a lot of difficulty by that time.

911 had happened the previous year, and the entire nation had begun to change. Our church was changing too; many things had happened and not all of them good. Some key leaders who I had been mentoring left the church, and not all of them continued to live for Christ. In fact, I discovered that some of them had been hypocrites all along. To make things worse, these young men whom I’d spent many years teaching were saying some pretty awful things behind my back. I felt betrayed.

On December 2nd of 2002 something happened to me that continues to have a serious impact on my daily life. In the morning I woke up to a beautiful, sunny day. By 1:00pm I had lost the hearing in my right ear and was experiencing severe vertigo. I lay in bed for a week, unable to move without becoming dizzy and nauseous. To make things worse, I suffer from tinnitus; when the right ear went deaf, the ringing in it didn’t go away but increased until it was nothing less than torment. I went to several doctors, but none could help me. Eventually the vertigo subsided, but I am still deaf in my right ear to all but the loudest of outside noise. The ringing is continuous and as loud as normal conversation, which I am able to hear in my left ear. This is a constant drain on my energy as I strain to pay attention and make out what people are saying.

The church was not able to pay me a full salary and I was unable to find a full-time job to supplement the erratic income. Let’s just say, as my reputation had been damaged at the beginning, so now my credit had been damaged too. This was a dark, depressing time, and I was very grateful for my car. Everything else seemed to be falling apart, but at least I had something nice to drive.

At this time I was living with a member of our church. He had an old Geo Metro sitting behind his garage. It was an ugly, turquoise, three cylinder buzz box. However, I remember thinking that maybe I should try to buy that car instead of leasing another new one. It would have saved money. My pride got the better of me, and the Lord was merciful and gracious. Even so, I still wonder if I should have humbled myself (further) by trying to buy that car. This is all the more thought provoking when I consider my present situation. We’ll return to that at the conclusion.

In 2002 all of our church meetings were held at an old movie house called the Ridgewood Theater. We had begun to renovate the facility, but discovered many things that needed to be addressed. We continued to produced House of Judgement here. Additionally, I wrote and we produced plays for Christmas and Easter. Many people came to our theatrical events, but in spite of this numerical success, our worship service attendance was quite modest. One reason was, we discovered that the building we were leasing had no heat. Winter worship services were very cold indeed, especially since they were held on Sunday nights. I am sure there were significant spiritual reasons that trumped this problem, not the least of which was a need for more faith.

The Lord led me through a time of discovering, learning, applying and leaning on the promises he has for his people in the Bible. When God makes a promise you and I must hear it and heed it. We must have faith in God as a good and loving Father who will fulfill His promises, even when circumstances don’t support what we believe God is saying. I saw many amazing promises about me and our church during this period, but there was little happening to validate them. I still believed.

At this time I wanted us to move on from being the City of Refuge to become a city set on a hill for all to see, like Jerusalem. I wanted our church to take hold of the promises God has offered his people. Often the name Zion is attached to those promises in the Old Testament. It was another name for the city of Jerusalem and represented God’s people. That seemed like an amazing name, which had an ancient origin and resonance in the culture of 2002. We officially became Zion Church in February of 2002— three years after the incident that moved me to start City of Refuge.

I remember after picking up the new Maxima I preached a sermon on faith, and illustrated it by playing a scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. In the scene Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker how to be a Jedi when Luke’s X-Wing fighter sinks into a swamp right before their eyes. Yoda inspires Luke to attempt to use the Force to raise the ship from beneath the mire, but the apprentice Jedi fails. Why? Yoda easily raises the ship, then an astonished Luke Skywalker puts his hand out and touches it as he says, “I, I can’t believe it.” Yoda responds, “And that is why you fail.” Most of those who were at church the night I used this illustration were aware of our difficulties financially. I encouraged them to resolve their own problems by putting complete faith in a good and loving God who promises and provides for His children. Then I told them to go outside and touch the car I believed God had provided. I had parked it next to the entrance to our meeting place.

2002 was also the year that we began to have a real youth ministry again. Until that time, the church was populated with so many (older) teenagers that it seemed the entire congregation was a youth group. However, we needed a dedicated ministry to junior high and high school students. Craig Wilson had graduated from Baylor and returned to Garland. When asked, he responded to the call and began to lead our small youth group.

2006 Nissan Altima SE-R
My lease on the ’02 was up by 2006 and I really didn’t like the body style of the latest Maximas. A salesman talked me into a limited edition Altima, called the SE-R. It had a lot of the features of Nissan’s 350Z, and that sold me. Of all the Nissans that I leased, that Altima is the only one I would have purchased at the end had they offered a good enough deal (which they didn’t). In fact, in my present situation I’ve considered buying one. They made a limited number in 2005 and 2006 and they’re hard to find, but who knows? Once again Nissan offered pre-approved credit and a really good deal, and once again this is something I wouldn’t have qualified for on paper. Credit bureaus are not forgiving entities. So, I praised God for the blessing.

By 2006 we were a very different church. Young people grow up and move on. They change, their needs change, and they are impatient for things around them to change. From 1999 to 2006 we lost and gained many people. The church retained a small core of strong leaders. Yet, instead of being a church comprised largely of 16-22 year olds, we now embraced a much broader age range.

I officiated the weddings of a number of our leaders in 2005 and ‘06. We had transformed from a church of mainly singles into a church with increasing numbers of families. We had a growing number of youth by this time due to the leadership of Craig Wilson, who now had a wonderful wife to help him. Craig married Rachel in 2005.

Also, I met and began to mentor a young person in Craig’s group named Aaron Cloud. The first thing this 14 year old kid told me was that he wanted to be a pastor some day. So, I believed I needed to teach him. This was the first time I’d spent any significant amount of time with a young teenager since we started the church.

We moved to downtown Garland in 2004, where we met at the Main Street Coffee House initially. Later we leased space from a Seventh Day Adventist church (which worked out because they worship on Saturdays). Soon we began worshiping on Sunday mornings, which was, in part, an effort to meet the needs of families with young children. However, I also think we had become more comfortable with being a church. There is an element of tradition behind church. People (especially in our part of the country) expect churches to meet for worship on Sunday morning; we had probably come to share that expectation. At times we’ve tried to revive Sunday evening services, usually as an option in addition to Sunday morning, but this has been largely unsuccessful.

2006 was the last year we produced House of Judgement. The next year one of our founding members passed away suddenly from cancer. Chuck Tomasek was a dedicated youth worker and tireless volunteer for every dramatic production we did. We have missed him greatly.

2009 Nissan Maxima
NMAC made their usual loyalty offer and I turned the Altima in for a new Maxima. The body style had changed and I liked it much better. However, Nissan no longer had a manual transmission option, which I missed. This was the most luxurious car I’ve had the privilege of calling my own.

By this time the church considered downtown Garland home. For a year we sublet space from the Garland Opry in one of the oldest buildings in downtown Garland. It is right on the Square at the corner of Sixth and State. In 2009 we leased it on our own and that’s where we remain.

The church continued to grow in diversity, even if our numbers remained relatively small. What began as an outreach to young people had now become a church for people of all ages. That is not to say we had lost our youth appeal. In fact, due to the long and hard work of Craig Wilson our youth group comprised half of our typical Sunday morning worship attendance. We funded large numbers of teenagers to attend camp each year and had to rent a 55 passenger bus to get them there.

It was during this lease that I met and began to mentor three teenagers, two brothers and their friend. I’ve never come close to going over on the number of miles allotted me under a lease contract, but I added many additional miles to the ’09 Maxima picking these kids up and driving them around. For the first time, I had to be cautious about how much I drove! I spent more time and money on these kids than any I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with many young people. I’m not boasting; rather, I’m disappointed, in them, in myself. At first, they seemed to be receptive to what I taught them, and I was happy to spend the time and energy investing in their lives. As time went on, however, they each continued to get into trouble at school, to become less and less interested in Christian faith, and to become increasingly immoral. I persevered, but all they did was take advantage of my willingness to give them rides and buy them meals. The jury is still out on these kids because they haven’t yet reached maturity. I hope they are open to the Lord as he seeks to correct them by bringing on the consequences of their poor choices. Far more than that, I hope they each have a change of heart before they wreck a significant portion of their young lives.

We began leasing the upper floor in our building in 2010 to provide space for children and youth. One of our members left shortly before this because he and his wife determined that we didn’t have enough space for their kids. I have always tried to make certain that we provide for children, even if, as a single man, some have assumed that I am not concerned about our kids. Honestly, nothing infuriates me more than this misperception.

During this time period I moved to downtown Garland, first living in some new apartments that were a block away from the building our church leases, then moving above the church so that we can continue to afford the space for our kids. I was able to move out after about a year, but have had to move back in for the last two years to keep us in the space.

Our church has sought to be visible and active in downtown Garland. We have an entry in the Labor Day parade, pass out free hot chocolate during Christmas on the Square, and I participate in the Downtown Business Association. Downtown is changing and we are here for that reason.

2012 Nissan Altima
On February 14 of 2012 I turned the ’09 Maxima in early and started driving another Altima. This was strictly a financial decision. The dealership called me to take the car early, and I asked them to give me a deal with a lower payment. This has been a good car, but nothing exciting. In two weeks I’ll turn it in and not look back.

After a decade as Zion Church, I led us to change the name again. This time it was not because of changes in our church so much as changes in the world around us. The name Zion didn’t have the same cultural resonance as we sensed in the early 2000’s. Islamic extremism, cults and general misunderstanding by some older people led me to pray about a new name. Zion’s motto was “Spirit and Truth”; it came from the narrative of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. She had asked him where someone should worship, and Jesus responded: “those who worship God must worship in Spirit and in Truth. Lifewell comes from the same story. Jesus told the woman that if she asked, he could give her water that would become in her a well of water springing up to eternal life (4:11 & 14). Later in John, the Lord promised that He would give water that would become “streams of living water flow(ing) from within” (John 7:38). These streams of water are identified as the Holy Spirit. “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those hwo believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:39). So, we seek to preach Jesus in order to bring that living water to people. The Holy Spirit will live within anyone who will believe in and receive and call on Jesus to save them. Therefore, not only do we receive life, but we become channels of that life for others.

Our church revised it’s founding documents, and, most importantly, it’s mission statement. The new mission statement contains phrases from each of the previous phases of the church:
City of Refuge, Zion and now Lifewell.
It reads:

Lifewell Church is called out to be a refuge, worshiping God in the Spirit and in truth, reaching the unreached with the Gospel and learning to live well through faith in
Jesus Christ.

I thought the church would experience numeric growth after we made this very significant change. We have not, yet. We have continued to persevere and mature. We have been tested and tried. People have left the church and gone on to larger congregations. But those who remain will be blessed, I believe. Indeed they already have been.

Our leaders began having children, and I have become like a grandparent. I love these kids. Although I’ve always been concerned about the kids who come to our church, I’ve not interacted with them. Over the last several years all that changed. The biggest change came when Craig and Rachel’s daughter Jubilee began to talk, and talk to me! Then they had Asher. I’ve never held a toddler who likes me as this boy does. Now all the kids like me. Dean and Tasha’s daughter Maddy asks many questions about Jesus, Ransom talks to me and shows me his toys. I love these kids. I really do.

I believe the church is in its basic final form, but there are still changes, improvements and growth coming.

Sayonara Nissan!
Well, Nissan didn’t offer me a new lease this time, and no one with NMAC can tell me exactly why. Loyalty is not rewarded any longer, it would seem. I believe in Providence, however, that God is working all things together for my good. There is a reason for this and I am seeking to discover it. There is a path to take and I am searching for it. I’m sure that’s the main reason I’ve spent all day writing this overview of our church’s history. I want to know where to go and what to do next, and that is not just a concern for what I’ll be driving in two weeks when this lease is up.

Regret is a terrible thing. We cannot change the past. There are plenty of things I’d do differently in leading our church. “Hindsight is 20/20,” as the cliche’ goes. However, I believe in a God of second chances; indeed, He offers many chances. He forgives the past when we confess, and He offers us a new future. So, here I am in a similar position to 2002 when I thought about trying to buy that old Geo Metro. This time, it appears, I don’t have the option to just slip into another new car. I checked on a Honda yesterday, and even after 14 years my credit is not tier one. Credit Bureaus are not forgiving. The initial offer before they checked my credit was great, then they came back and upped the lease price by TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS A MONTH. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and that, my friend, is an established fact. Our financial system is at fault for this. I’ve paid my car payment on time every single month for three years. I’ve never missed a payment in 16 years. I’ve paid off a student loan after 30 years. None of that matters, apparently. At least, not enough to elevate my credit to the status it was in 1999.

Providence. What is God saying? What is God preparing to do? I’ve been unwilling to humble myself by driving an old car again because I have so little in my life the looks anything like achievement. At least a new car spoke of some degree of success. Now what? Honestly, I’ve told the Lord that I’ll drive a used car again. I’m certainly not going to pay the ridiculous interest they want to charge me to lease or buy right now. But what does God want? What is His will? I doubt that I was supremely concerned about that in the financial area back in 2002. Perhaps this is a test. Well, I will drive anything He wills. My pride is withering quickly.

Most importantly, I will go anywhere, and I will do anything the Lord calls me to. I have almost no debt at this point. I may have to take a loan from my annuity to buy a car, but technically that’s not debt because it’s my money. Without debt I’m free to do what the Lord wills without restraint. So, exactly what is that? Where do we go from here, God…?

“Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.”
-T.S. Eliot, Prufrock

Church Addict

I confess, I am an addict… a church addict. I’ve been going since I was 16. Church didn’t save me: Jesus Christ did—and is. Although church people have been some of my closer friends, I’ve been hurt deeply by them. Church people have wrecked my reputation with rumor and gossip, judged me and assassinated my character in the community. Many more have simply turned away and treated me like a stranger. The reality is, although most church people would claim to believe in Jesus, they aren’t any more like him for the professed belief, and are no worse or better than anybody else in the world. Jesus had the most difficulty with the church people of his day (synagogue people, they could be called), but he still attended and participated every week.

I’ve been in church every Sunday morning for over 30 years. I think I’ve missed twice since I made a commitment to Christ and got baptized. That changes today. I’m not going to church this morning. It’s 6:15 A. M. and I thought I’d sleep-in today, but I’m wide awake, going through withdrawals at the prospect of not being in church. You see, I’m the pastor of our congregation, and I’ve challenged everyone to stop playing church, to stop (just) going to church, and to start being the church.

We are going to try something today, and throughout the summer. I’ve called it The UnChurch Experiment. I told everyone we won’t have church on Sunday morning this summer. Instead, I told them, be the church to the unchurched by shining your light where the unchurched go. Then we’ll gather Sunday at 5:30 P. M. to share our stories and worship.

Now, when we started our church, there was no morning worship service, but I still met with our most dedicated people for brunch and Bible study during that time. With this UnChurch Experiment, though, I won’t be teaching, preaching or even attending church. It’s unsettling. That’s part of the purpose. We need to take risks, shine our light out in the world, and be deliberate about sharing the Gospel with people who have less exposure to it. We need to bring Jesus to people who have less opportunity to hear and receive. Sounds good. I’m still going through withdrawals, though.

Here are the ten assignments I’ve given to our people for Sunday mornings.
1. Invite some unchurched friends and/or family to brunch, ask if you may pray for their needs.
2. Go somewhere fun and find an unchurched person to check out Lifewell Worship
3. Do a service project with your friends and/or family.
4. Relax and relate with your family: no electronic devices or TV, just face to face contact.
5. Read your Bible for one hour without interruption, then post to a social network about what you learned. Invite people on your network to Lifewell Worship.
6. Knock on a neighbor’s door and share something with them. Invite them to check out Lifewell Worship.
7. Make a video to share the Gospel, i.e., interview some people about a relevant topic that may be used as a catalyst for sharing the Gospel. Tell them it will be played at a Lifewell gathering.
8. Walk or ride bikes at a park near your house and meet others. Invite them to Lifewell Worship.
9. Walk the ROC neighborhood (an area where there are many apartments) and invite people to Lifewell UnChurch Worship at 5:30p.m.
10. Volunteer somewhere. Shine your light and tell everyone about Jesus. Invite people to Lifewell Worship.

So, it’s Sunday morning: time to be the church.

The UnChurch Experiment

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Lifewellchurch.com will be doing something different for the summer. Perhaps you can incorporate this challenge into your own church experience, or apply it in some way to your walk with God.

Beginning June 1st we will not meet on Sunday morning…   for the rest of the summer! 

Do not to go to church anywhere Sunday morning; instead, be the church to the unchurched by shining your light where the unchurched go. 

We will gather together each Sunday at 5:00 p.m. to hear your stories, then we’ll worship our God in Spirit and Truth at 5:30.

10 UnChurch Experiment Assignments.

1. Invite some unchurched friends and/or family to brunch, ask if you may pray for their needs. 
2. Go somewhere fun and find an unchurched person to check out Lifewell UnChurch Worship
3. Do a service project with your friends and/or family. 
4. Relax and relate with your family: no electronic devices or TV, just face to face contact. 
5. Read your Bible for one hour without interruption, then post to a social network about what you learned. Invite people on your network to Lifewell UnChurch Worship.
6. Knock on a neighbor’s door and share something with them. Invite them to check out Lifewell UnChurch Worship.
7. Make a video to share the Gospel, i.e., interview some people about a relevant topic that may be used as a catalyst for sharing the Gospel. Tell them it will be played at a Lifewell gathering.
8. Walk or ride bikes at a park near your house and meet others. Invite them to Lifewell UnChurch Worship.
9. Walk the ROC neighborhood (an older and poorer area of town densely populated with apartments) and invite people to Lifewell UnChurch Worship at 5:30p.m.
10. Volunteer somewhere. Shine your light and tell everyone about Jesus. Invite people to Lifewell UnChurch Worship.

Non-conformist Christianity

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Christianity in the West has, for quite some time, been about cultural conformity, and very little, if at all, about the life and teachings of Jesus. It used to be that growing up in the United States meant you were exposed to Christian values, even if you chose to ignore or rebel against them. Not so today. To conform with Western culture, more specifically the American version, is to be at odds with the values of Christ. Therefore, in order to be a Christian, the kind of Christian that lives according to values taught by the biblical Jesus, you will need to become a non-conformist.

There are still vestiges of Christian culture, and plenty of people who appreciate it— even if they don’t really live by following Jesus— so, you’ll have a few friends. However, genuinely following Jesus Christ’s teaching will put you at odds with the majority. Your lifestyle will appear strange, and many of your choices will alienate you, even from church people. This is okay… if you believe what Jesus said.

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV).

Don’t assume that “the world” in Jesus’ statement refers only to secular culture. It includes the church and its culture too. Remember, it was the most religious and well respected people who were the architects of Jesus’ execution. These were the guardians of culture in a society founded on religion. It was they who failed to recognize that God had come to visit. They confused their system of ritual, liturgy and law with God. The Romans worshiped strength and their own power. These first century Jewish leaders actually worshiped their own religious power. Jesus threatened that; he made them jealous; they had him killed.

In our day I’m no longer surprised when priests and ministers are exposed as frauds or moral failures. There are too many who are in religious leadership for the wrong reasons. I would be more surprised if every high profile leader or celebrity pastor were actually as pure as they pretend to be. Freud had at least one thing right, there exist ego defense mechanisms employed by people to protect their public personae. Among these defense mechanisms, Sigmund identified what he called “reaction formation,” wherein a person comes out publicly against something that they are actually practicing (or at least are harboring).

An example of this may be observed in the 1999 movie American Beauty. Ricky is the son of a homophobe. Ricky becomes friends with his next door neighbor Jane. Jane’s father is Lester (played by Kevin Spacey), who has a crush on one of Jane’s female friends. One day Ricky’s homophobic father comes on to Lester. After Lester rebuffs the surprising sexual advance, Ricky’s father shoots and kills Lester. The idea, I believe, is not that the man hated Lester, but he was driven by shame to kill what he hated about himself. Reaction formation is what is behind the shooter’s public hatred of homosexuals. One wonders about the late Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church…

People are attracted to money, sex and power. When religion offers a way to obtain any of the three, there will those who pursue it for that reason rather than the purported spiritual purpose. So, the answer to non-conformity with the world is not conformity to a religion, denomination,or church’s cultural expectations. In fact, the conservative expressions of church in the U.S.A. may be little more than the conservation of an older iteration of American culture, which may have some values that derive from the teachings of Jesus, but some that do not.

We seem to have selective memory when it comes to our longing for a bygone era. Peruse the fiction aisles of a Christian bookstore and you’ll encounter many novels which are set in the pioneer days. This seems to be a golden era in the minds of conservative Christians. The women all have long dresses and bonnets on their heads, the men are strong, family oriented and honorable. However, an honest examination of history would find many non-Christian values and religious expressions, during this time period. Then there’s slavery and racism. The pictures on the covers of these books are of white people. People of color probably do not look back at the 1800’s with nostalgic longing.

It doesn’t matter if you attend church or fancy yourself an atheist, you cannot escape the influence of culture. Those of us who seek to follow Jesus, however, need to stage a rebellion. I’m not thinking about a new monastic movement, or withdrawing from society like the Amish. We need to change our thinking and change our ways. We need to eschew conformity to either the secular or religious cultures and have our minds renewed by the truth of God. We need awakening. We need transformation. We need a resurrection.

This all begins with dissatisfaction. If think you’re all you need to be, if you have all you want, then you’ll never change. Jesus said he came to cure those who are sick, not affirm those who think they’re well (Matthew 9:12-13). He is the light of the world, but those who think they see, never will. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Dissatisfaction with the world system, with our culture, may then lead us to a willingness to look elsewhere for happiness and fulfillment. “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), so the ability to look elsewhere requires faith. Believe in the existence of a loving, almighty Creator. Trust him. Seek God by looking to the one who claimed to be his only born son. Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). No one has ever seen God, but Jesus has explained Him (John 1:18). He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and “in him all the fullness of God lives bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus boldly proclaimed, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). If you want to know the truth and be free, then follow Jesus Christ and his teaching (John 8:31-32).

Our churches must become communities of non-conformity by virtue of taking the teachings of Jesus seriously and doing what the Lord commanded. Our lives must be consumed with love for God, rather than love of money. We must love one another the way Jesus loved us, rather than loving ourselves and seeking our own agendas. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, instead of loving stuff and envying those neighbors who have more than us. We must learn to be sacrificial servants, rather than self-seeking and self-serving consumers.

We must learn to worship and enjoy God’s presence in our everyday activities instead of constantly seeking to be entertained. We must reign in our insatiable and increasingly perverse sexual appetites. Pornography, fornication, adultery and homosexuality, all of which are practiced widely (even in churches), must immediately and completely stop in the lives of Christ’s followers. The love of guns, love of violence, bloodlust, all must become abhorrent to us. Guns are tools. I don’t love my shovel, my crescent wrench, or my blender.

We need to stop depending upon chemicals to make us happy or keep our moods positive. Alcohol, marijuana, antidepressants, energy drinks, cocaine or meth: it doesn’t matter, if I’m relying on the chemical instead of God, then it’s an idol and it has to go. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12); “all things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful, but not all things build up” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

If this is going to happen it will require a death. The death is the old me, my old self. That will not happen, indeed it cannot, through my own efforts. I don’t have the desire or courage to begin the process. Self-denial, self-discipline and harsh treatment of my body won’t change me on the inside. Faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus, however, will. “For I have been crucified with Christ and no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

I don’t think a non-conforming community of Jesus should avoid the world or avoid the culture, though. We need to engage people who are enthralled with culture and inured to religion with a real and relevant and renewed counter-culture centered on Jesus and his teachings. I’m not sure how all this looks yet, but I’m seeking and getting a sense of how it feels. Anyone else interested in joining the non-conformist revolution? Start with a serious reading of Jesus teaching to his followers about what it means to live out life like a follower. You’ll find it in Matthew chapters five, six and seven.