The Secret Sin That Will Kill Your Church

Most Christians do not pull open the heavy oak door of the old church building on main street expecting to find twisting slides adorned with colorful Disney characters, hung over fraternity boys lounging on frayed occasional chairs, or high end apartment decorated with stainless steal appliances. Yet these scenes and countless others now fill the space once reserved for vibrant congregations. Introspection demands that Christians of every denominational tribe should ask, “Will we be next?” We will be the last generation that fills this space?

To answer this question, Christians must wrestle with another foundational question: Why do churches die? Why does God turn sacred spaces into places of secular profit?

The quick, Sunday school answer is “sin” Micah 1:5 declares that God sends the nation of Israel into exile because they have turned away from God.

All this is because of Jacob’s transgression, because of the sins of the people of Israel.

What Sin Kills Churches?

But what sin? What sin cause God to say, “Enough” as he rushes down from heaven to crush the rebellion of his people? It is the sin of idolatry.

Micah makes this clear in second ways. First, he talks about the how Jerusalem and Samaria have committed the same sin. Their mountains serve the same gods. This would have been a troubling association for the people of Judah. From its inception, Israel had practices idolatry. Jeroboam created a new religion based on the worship of golden cows to keep his subjects from returning to Jerusalem to observe the Passover feast at the temple. 2 Kings 2:28 reports, “So the king took counsel and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.” To be an Israelite at that time was to be an idolatry, a worshiper of false Gods. Though Judah has the temple, her people like the people of Israel us their high places to worship false gods. There is no distinction between the two nations. “Her wound is incurable; it has come to Judah (Micah 1:9).”

Secondly, Micah point-blank says in verse 7, “All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces.” They were idolaters.

Knowing God’s hatred of idolatry, the men such as Martin Luther and John Calvin removed many statues and stain glass windows from their churches. They understood that representations of Jesus, Mary, and the saints did not further worship because the minimized God. Calvin noted,

For surely there is nothing less fitting than to wish to reduce God, who is immeasurable and incomprehensible, to a five-foot measure.

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When men and women assume God resides in a crucifix, a portrait, or a statues they do disservice to the Christian faith. God is grander, holier, and far more glorious than anything humanity can image. When the create images of the one true God, they do not represent God but rather the person’s limited concept of God. To worship an religious icon is to be worship an idol.

Though protestants must be aware of idols and seek to avoid them, most will not be undone by idols that sit atop of buildings. They will be destroyed by the idols that reside in the basement of their hearts. In Ezekiel 14:3, the prophet proclaimed,

There men have taken idols into their hearts, and set a stumbling block of iniquity before their faces.

Most churches do not come to an end because they hang a picture of Jesus in the pastor’s office. They come to an end because their members allow idols dominate their hearts which control the desires and actions.

The Dangers of Heart Idols

Brad Bigney helpful defines an idol as, “anything or anyone that captures our hearts, affections, and mind more than God.” Luther concurs writing, “Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say that is really your God.” In short, we can worship a host of things ranging from sex to children to money, to vacations to suits at church to rap music. Anything we love so much that we get upset if we don’t have it and sin to attain it Is an idol.

How do we know if we are driven by idols instead of love?

We mistreat our families, our fellow Christians, and our neighbors. When people stop loving God, they stop loving people. Micah 3:3 describes the covetous people of Judah as follows:

You who hate the good and love the evil, who tear the skin from off my people and their flesh from off their bones, who eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them, and break their bones in pieces and chop them up like meat in a pot, like flesh in a cauldron.

When we slander people on Facebook to get our way at church, give the silent treatment to our kids to force them to do what we want, and consume our neighbor’s purity as we watch pornography videos, we reveal the presence of idols in our hearts. The church exists to deal with these and thousands of other idols through the preaching of the Word, counseling, and church discipline. But when the church stops battling these idols and allows them to fill its pews, it will die. God will tear down the congregation, allowing daycares to flourish where pulpits once stood.

Undoubtedly, most dying churches mistreat their members and their community as the gasp for survival. But ultimately, they do not die because they failed to hold Fall Festivals, embrace Facebook, or play the right music. They died because they stopped worshiping God, exchanging the God of heaven from the slimy gods of this world.

The Results of Idolatry

Such an exchange is always a bad exchange because the gods of this world possess no loyalty to you. Micah notes that the idols represent the futility of human life. He proclaims,

All her carved images shall be beaten to pieces, all her wages shall be burned with fire, and all her idols I will lay waste, for from the fee of a prostitute she gathered them and to the fee of a prostitute they shall return.

To secure the gold needed to make idols, the ancient cult temples facilitated prostitution. The Jews worship sex and tithed to that cause. Their coins were melted down into idols. But their idols failed to protect, sustain, and guide them. When the Jews were taken into captivity, the idols were transformed back into coins. The coins were then handed to soldiers who took them back to their own temples exchanging them for sexual services. The same circle of life encompasses the idols of our hearts. The ties and suits, the furniture, the books, the shoes, and the cars that we fought, bleed, and sacrificed for will one day desert us. Our kids will host a garage sale selling all our prized possessions for a fraction of their actually cost so that they get a few dollars and finally get that pair of shoes, the second dream home, or that vacation that they have always wanted. Idols do not save. They destroy.

Now we return to our question, “Will my church die?”

Do you have idols in your heart?

What Can The Alcohol Debate Teach Us About Parenting?

alchohol-blogThe Alcohol debate has once again been stirred about by the news of Pastor Perry Noble’s firing. The arguments of many modern day teetotaler are once again floating to the top of our newsfeeds. The alcohol antagonists have always feared that their Christian drinking friends lacked the wisdom to properly exercise their liberty. These traditional Southern Baptists types knew that playing with fire would end badly. And now in Pastor Noble’s case, it has.

Today, I do not want to add another page to the alcohol discussion. Rather, I want to pivot and look at some of the parenting implications that spill over from of the latest discussions on drinking.

More Than Walls

Many in the Bible believing world think that Pastor Noble’s main problem was with alcohol. If he had just emptied his cabinets, he would still be employed. Those who disapprove of alcohol are boldly advocating that all wine, beer, and hard liquor should be avoided. If we would simply create enough walls, then we will be protected from sin and disaster. 

And while I agree that we should encourage men and women who struggle to flee temptation, we must recognize that a drunkard’s problem is ultimately not Jim Bean or Budweiser. Jesus said,

It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt. 15:11).

Nothing we eat or drink makes us a sinner. Nothing we eat or drink causes us to lose our job. Pastor Noble sinned, and we sin because we have a worship problem. We desire something more than God and that desire leads us to sin and destruction (James 1:14-15). In Pastor Noble’s case, he used alcohol to find satisfaction outside of Jesus. And sadly he found out like many before him, that sin only leads to “death.”

The antidote for drunkenness is not a house filled with Sprite. The antidote is satisfaction in Christ. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 4:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” If we want to stop being an alcoholic, we must replace our drunkenness with the Holy Spirit. We must find relief and happiness in God instead of a bottle of scotch.   

The Heart of the Matter

So what do this mean for us as parents? We must realize that our kids greatest struggle is not outside of them but inside of them. Our kids sin because they desire things more than God. We can and should protect them from drunkenness, pornography, and a whole host of other sins. We should put up walls to keep our children away from temptation. But, we must not boast in our walls. Our moral, sexually pure daughter can still be controlled by a love of softball. Our nicely behaved son can still love his video games more than Jesus. Our nice kids can still easily worship things other than God. They can still be on the road to destruction. Denying our kids access to certain things does not prevent sin. We simply force our kids’ hearts to rumble along to the next device, person, or thing it can access for worship. Our job goes beyond creating behavioral standards.

Instead of boasting in walls and legalistically calling all parents to follow our standards, we must strive to reach our children’s hearts. We must recognize that our job does not come to an end when we can trot out pleasant children that society happily accepts. Our job does not end until our children are perfected in Christ (I.e. it doesn’t ever end). As parents, we are called to tackle our children’s hearts. We are called to tackle our daughter’s love for candy with the same concern that we address our son’s sexual sin. We must daily tell our kids that Christ satisfies. We must call our unrepentant children to place their hope in Christ and remind our believing children that God is good. We must not boast in our walls because standards and limitations on Christian liberty do not save. Christ does. Are we ready to proclaim him?    

Stop, Wait…Then Post: 3 Social Media Rules To Live By

stop think Post blogWe are the press. We can instantly write editorials on our blogs, comment on tragedies via twitter, and document triumphs on Instagram. With a smartphone and a few clicks, we can do in seconds what used to take newsroom hours to accomplish. We can communicate with the world more effectively than ever before.

In short, social media is amazing.  When used well, Christians can influence millions for the gospel with 124 characters and a picture. But the instantaneous nature of social media also brings great danger. What used to be limited to an ugly letter that never got sent can now become world news thanks to Facebook and Instagram. With few clicks, we can attack celebrities, businesses, and even our closest friends. In a matter of seconds, we can destroy relationships, compromise our faith, and divide our church.

But social media doesn’t have to be deadly. If we submit our social media life to the Scriptures we can find a better way forward. Admittedly, the Bible doesn’t say anything about social media. But, it says a lot about human speech and human interactions. In James 1:19-21, we read:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

3 Rules

1. Post slowly. While there is nothing wrong with using social media to inform our opinions, we must always be slow to speak. We must resist the impulse to comment on everything everywhere. Before we post, comment, and tweet let’s ask ourselves these questions: “Will my post offend my friends and coworkers; will my comments glorify God; will anyone be encouraged by my interaction?” If the answer is no, then we don’t post. And if you are posting simply to correct someone, don’t. No one asked you be their teacher. And a loving rebuke should always be delivered in person (Matt. 18). If you don’t have someone’s phone number, let it go. A couple of years ago, I tried to teach a former acquaintance how to be a better Christian via his Facebook wall. After a few days of arguments, he defriended me. We will not win a brother from a distance. Besides, God can mature people without our witty corrections. Let’s be slow to post.

2. Don’t post in anger. Remember that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. If we are angry (even rightfully so – which doesn’t happen often), let’s take our cause to God. We often turn to social media because we don’t want to submit to God and to divine justice. We want instant gratification. Instead of making God our refuge, we find comfort in letting theman-791049_1920 world know that Bobby is a jerk. We find comfort in saying, “I don’t usually callout people, But…” And as the number of like’s goes up, we feel justified.  But we’ve not won Bobby. We’ve not helped him get right with God or even grown in our faith. Our anger has only made the relationship worse. Our gossip never produces their holiness. The next time we are angry, let’s put down our phones, let’s stay away from our laptops, and let’s turn off our tablets. Let’s ask God to show us the cause of our anger. Let’s spend time toppling our idols instead of murdering others on social media. And if we have been mistreated, let’s trust God to vindicate the righteous.

3. Speak the truth with love. Those who use social media well will direct people to others. Instead of filling our pages with ugly comments, lets praise others. Let’s post things that have encouraged our souls and that will encourage others. Let’s rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Let’s daily spend time in the word and let the Holy spirit inform what we tweet, video, and post instead of our emotions.

I mention the above rules not because you need them. I need them. My heart is wicked and can be persuaded to post all kinds of dumb and hurtful things in cyberspace. I still regularly have police my tweets with the above rules.  Although no one can perfectly master their social feed, (we can never perfectly master our hearts this side of heaven) we can become more like Christ each day. In turn, our use of social media presence can improve!