Our Futile Struggle Against Time

Time just keeps flying by, doesn’t it? Time is such a weird thing. Sometimes it seems a hour, a day, a week, can take forever, especially when we are waiting for something good to happen. Then other times we say things like “I can’t believe how fast this month has flown by.” And of course, the older we get, the faster time seems to fly by.

I remember thinking when I was a child that the world would end before I was able to get my driver’s license, graduate high school, get married, have kids, etc. Do you remember having those thoughts too? I also remember hearing the “old folks” (who in reality were then about my age now) talking about how time seemed to pass by faster and faster with each passing year. I remember thinking they were probably on the verge of some sort of old folks’ disease that obviously affected their thinking! hahahahahaaha

Now I find myself puzzled with where all the time goes and hear myself say to my other “old folk” friends, “Can you believe how time seems to speed up every year?” And I imagine there is some kid overhearing that conversation thinking we are just confused old folks! hahahahhahahaha

The real issue is that none of us have a guarantee of what tomorrow holds for us. None of us know how many breaths we have remaining in this life. But what we do know for certain is that time is flying by at record speed, and every minute spent can never be recaptured. We say things like, “Can you believe it is 2021?” “Can you believe it is tax time already?” “Can you believe school is out already?” “Can you believe summer is halfway over?” And so go the conversations year after year.

Even though this phenomenon happens every year to each of us, we always seem surprised by it. It is like we think that somehow, we will get ahead of the curve next year. Somehow, we will be able to control the pace of our calendar and get everything done we plan to accomplish. But it never happens. Life just keeps on coming like relentless waves constantly crashing against the shore.

Life happens. Good and bad, great and horrible, average and extraordinary, boring and exciting, complex and simple. Life just keeps on coming at the same relentless pace of 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days a year, 24 hours per day, 60 minutes per hour, 60 seconds per minute…over and over again.

It is so easy to get so caught up in the pace of life that we forget to really live. Our priorities get all confused and we find ourselves “running on fumes”. Jesus would say that our absolute highest priority is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and that our second highest priority would be to love our neighbor as ourselves. The “rat race” is not our friend. It will destroy us if it is left unchecked and unbalanced.

Every breath we breathe, every minute we spend takes us one minute closer to our last breath and our last minute on this earth. Rest when it is time to rest. Work hard when it is time to work. Play when it is time to play. Laugh when it is time to laugh. Cry with it is time to cry. But always remember that minute spend can never be recaptured. Make every opportunity count.

Civil War Reenactments & the Local Church

Every year, pre-‘Rona anyway, thousands of people gather to re-enact scenes from the Civil War. They go all out. Every button is genuine. Every gun is polished. Every strategy is authentic. Every flag handmade. It is the kind of event where if you were to stumble out of the woods into one of these battles, you would think you had teleported back in time 150 years.

It looks real. It sounds real. It feels real. The canons are loud; the smoke is thick. The generals on horseback yell orders. The sweaty soldiers dive into ditches and wade through creeks. The flash of gunfire sparkles across the front lines. The canons, guns, and yelling create such a racket your ears ring.

It seems real. But it’s not. Nothing real is actually happening. Strategies are being enacted, but no ground is actually being won or lost. Soldiers are falling to the ground, but no one is actually dying or being hurt. It feels like a war; but it’s actually just a routine. They are play-acting. It’s all make-believe.

I wonder if the same could be said of our many of our churches? If you were to stumble into one of our Sunday morning services, you would be impressed. Every aisle is vacuumed, every instrument tuned. Our clothes are pressed, and our smiles are wide. We preach, we sing, we shake hands. And it looks and feels exactly like church. But is anything real actually happening?

Is any spiritual ground being won or lost? Are any souls being saved? Are lives being touched and changed? If we are not careful, we can become so familiar with the routine of ministry that we find ourselves simply reenacting routines. Another service, another message, another song.

My guess is that far too many churches are merely play-acting week after week. Just going through the motions, getting through the list of duties and responsibilities. I think that is the sad reality for so many churches. Consider the evidence found in the lack of growth or even decline, conflict issues, unhealthy structures, a lack of vision, loss of hope, little to no momentum, and lack of spiritual power.

But there is a huge difference between a Civil War re-enactment and the local church; for the church, the stakes are real, the battle is real, and our enemy is real. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Many who are reading this article are discouraged and feel hopeless. It’s okay to admit it. So, to every weary pastor, every tired Sunday school teacher, and every faithful church member, I say; keep fighting the good fight of faith. Don’t give up. Not now. Not ever. “Don’t get weary in doing what is right, for you will receive the harvest at the proper time” (Gal 6:9).

Dream with me about “the church” for a moment. What would a local church be like if its people were radically devoted to Christ, irrevocably committed to each other, and relentlessly dedicated to reaching those outside God’s family with the gospel of Christ?

A Works Based Gospel is No Gospel at All

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7

The gospel is the good news of God sending Jesus to earth to become sin so He could forgive our sin, set us free from condemnation, AND give us His righteousness in Christ (2 Cor 5:17-21). The word gospel means “good news”. The single sentence that best sums up the good news of the gospel of Christ is “that God is reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Cor 5:19).       

The issue Paul is addressing in Galatians 1:6-7 is the turning from a grace-based gospel to a works-based gospel. Paul’s point is that a works-based gospel is “really no gospel at all”. Our salvation is based on God’s grace and His faithfulness, not our faithfulness. Salvation is based the work of God, not our works. 

According to Paul, anyone who teaches a works-based salvation is teaching a gospel contrary to the gospel of Christ. A works-based gospel is really not good news at all. Good works cannot earn salvation or heaven or God’s approval. Grace works. Works Won’t.

According to Ephesians 2:4-10, because of God’s great love for us, He chose to offer us grace out from His deep reservoir of mercy, knowing all along we were sinners undeserving of His forgiveness and reconciliation. It is God’s grace alone that saves us, through faith. Salvation does not come through works. Good deeds are incapable of earning God’s love, forgiveness, acceptance, or approval. God did all of this because He also wants to demonstrate the incomparable riches of His grace, which is expressed in His kindness to us in Christ. 

Though we were created to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us (Eph 2:10), those works cannot save us. Yet, many of us have bought into the lie of religion that makes us think our relationship with Him is based on our performance. Religion is based on rules. Christianity is based solely on a personal relationship with Christ

Salvation through grace alone is the polar opposite of salvation through works or performance. The great news of the “good news” is that God has already done it all. When God said, “It is finished!” He meant it. God freely offers salvation, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, and freedom to us. We just need to receive it all by faith. Really. It is true. God has done it all already. Receive it by faith, then walk it out by faith. 

When it comes to salvation; Grace Works. Works Won’t.

2021 Will Find THE Church Alive & Well!

As we enter 2021 I am filled with hope. Every week I talk to discouraged pastors and church leaders and give them the same reminder about the power and beauty of The Church, and of the local church. THE Church ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS flourishes in times of hardship and struggle.

Oh, I recognize the struggle and all the various threats that might be lurking in the future, but I nevertheless I am stoked about the future of The Church and my local church. I am stoked that so many local churches are finally realizing their need for revitalization, renewal, and revival.

Don’t get me wrong, those “community clubs” that call themselves “churches” are in trouble. The vast majority of churches are declining, detached from meaningful ministry, and have no influence or impact in their community. Some churches, many churches even, may never recover.

BUT THE CHURCH is alive and well! For many churches, I am expecting 2021 will be a year of renewal, revitalization, and revival.

For my entire adult life I have been hoping and praying another great awakening in my lifetime. Every previous great awakening occurred in times of darkness and struggle. Is it dark enough yet for a great awakening in our lifetime?

I have embedded a video of a song that reflects what the Holy Spirit has been stirring in me as we enter 2021. This song was written in 1973, and has been redone recently by some artists who feel the Holy Spirit stirring them same thing in them as He is stirring in me. I hope the Holy Spirit uses it to stir you too.

Church Triumphant from Triumphant Church on Vimeo.

Two Timeless Truths from 2020

If nothing else, 2020 has either taught us or reminded us of two timeless truths. First, we are not in control. “Control” is really nothing more than an illusion. We do not have control over anything really. Oh, we think we do, our lives feel safer that way, until BAM! something unexpected happens.

I am reminded of a verse from the book of Proverbs; “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.” (Prov 27:1) No matter how diligently and wisely we plan, we never know what a day holds.

But we can sure make plans, can’t we? Remember how booked (and even overbooked) our 2020 calendars were in January 2020, then by mid-March events were being canceled left and right. Sports seasons were canceled, travel plans were canceled, church services & events were canceled, family events were canceled, and concerts were canceled.

Our lives changed unexpectedly, and our lives went sideways in a few short weeks, proving once again we are not in control. Which reminds me of the second timeless truth, we may not have control over tomorrow, but we know the One who is already in our tomorrow. 

God is 100% sovereign, but that is not the same as 100% of everything that happens is God’s plan. Evil exists. Stupid exist. Bad decisions exist. Faulty DNA and rogue cells exist. Our world is deteriorating, yet we cling to the hope that somehow “we” have control, or that since God is sovereign, only good things we happen for us and to us. 

But in the midst of all the chaos, God always has a plan. The key to understanding his plan is to let go of the lie that we are in control, and therefore, since we are not in control, we need to run full speed toward the only One who is in control, who can calm the storm OR calm us in the midst of the storm.

God being sovereign and being in control, doesn’t mean bad “stormy” days won’t come, but it does mean that even on the darkest, stormiest, bad day, we are not alone. God was already there waiting for us. It means he is not ever caught off-guard, overwhelmed, perplexed, or bewildered. He may choose to calm that storm, or He may choose to calm us, but either way, He is in control.

If you are not walking in peace, then it is directly related to how you view the need for control and how you tie that to being safe and secure. It is much easier to have peace when you choose to relax in knowing the One who is already in your tomorrow, regardless what may come. God’s promise is not to rescue us from our struggles, but rather to place Himself in the middle of our struggles with us.

As we enter 2021 hopeful and moving forward as best we can, let’s remember God is in control. Whether He chooses to calm the storm, or calm us, let’s continue persevering, and moving forward.