Do You Attend a Life-Giving Church?

God hates religion. Think for a moment about how Jesus handled religious people throughout the gospels.   Religion says you can attend church, pray some prayers, follow the rules, etc… and be fine with God. Relationship says that your eternity is based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through which you are reconciled to God.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, “There will be terrible time in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying its power.”

Those verses describe America today don’t they? Then verse 5 closes it out with this phrase; “having a form of godliness, but denying its power”. The phrase “a form of godliness” means a structured religion. “Denying its power” is best translated as denying the Powerful One (Holy Spirit).

Religion is empty of any real supernatural spiritual power. It is completely void of the power needed to truly transform lives. Now, let me be clear; attending church and religion is not the same thing. They have become the same thing in many cases. Many churches do just reinforce religion and its rules (I would avoid attending one of those).

But some churches teach a personal, life-transforming relationship with Jesus, which is evidenced by the work of the Holy Spirit in & through a person’s daily life. I call those type churches “life-giving churches”. A life-giving church will spend more time talking about the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through you than about its structure, rules, and expectations of you.

In a life-giving church, you will hear about God’s grace and mercy, and power to transform you; instead of guilt, shame, and condemnation. A life-giving church seeks to remove all the plastic and fakeness (yes, I know, I just made up a word hahaahhahaha), and just be real people, in need of a real Savior for from the real sin, and chasing after the heart of a real God.

God loves you so much He sent His Son, not religion. God loves you so much He sent you a person, not a structure. God loves you so much He wants to remove your sin shame, guilt, and condemnation; not use it as a weapon against you. God is completely different than religion. He is all about us having a personal relationship with His Son, so He can heal us, restore us, give us His righteousness, His power, His gifts, His grace, His forgiveness, His peace, His hope, His gifts, and eventually, eternity with Him in heaven.

It’s not about being religious or spiritual; it’s about actually following Christ; having a personal relationship with a living Savior. Being deeply religious or deeply spiritual without the life transforming work of the Holy Spirit in your life will give you the same results. Hell will be full of deeply religious and deeply spiritual people. Don’t let that be you.

The Biggest Hindrance to the Cause of Christ in America

There is a difference between being exposed to the gospel and experiencing the gospel. The point is that being a “Christ-follower” is much more than merely calling your self a “Christian” or attending church, or adhering to some religious code. Being a true Christ-follower implies you are actually following Christ, embracing His attitude, and committed to carrying out His mission.

So many people have been exposed to the gospel; they know the details, can repeat the story, know the lingo, know the songs, etc. But, being exposed to the information of the gospel is much different than actually experiencing the gospel.

Jesus said, “If anyone believes on me, as Scripture has said, then streams of living water with flow from within him. And by this, he meant the Holy Spirit, who was yet to come.” (John 7:38) Is that how you would describe your spiritual life; as a spring of living water that flows from within you?

There is a war raging between our flesh and the Holy Spirit that indwells the follower of Christ (Gal 5:16-23). The Holy Spirit wants to give us life to the fullest by guiding us along a journey of discovering and experiencing God. Our flesh is self-serving, self-centered, and is a tool Satan uses to rob us of the life that God wants to give us.

Christians seem to think that operating in their “good” flesh is good enough. If I don’t do “bad things”, go to church, volunteer, give some money, etc… then I’m good. That is not a biblical concept. According to Scripture, our flesh, good or bad, is opposed to God and his activity in and through us. That is what “good Christians” struggle with issues like surrender and obedience.

I’d even go as far as saying one of the biggest problems facing the church in America is people calling themselves Christians but not evidencing their faith by walking out what they say they believe. The greatest hindrance to the cause of Christ is Christians and churches! Not Satan. Not the culture. Not drugs. Not porn. Not gambling. The average church and folks who call themselves “Christians” but who do not live a life as a biblical Christ-follower are the greatest hindrance to the cause of Christ in America.

Churches have become organized and religious, even “Pharisee-ic”, instead of being the place of hope and restoration God intended for them to be. The reason people sit through worship services bored and disengaged, then leave with no intention of applying anything they heard, is because pastors and church leaders are boring, disengaged, and not applying it themselves.

My basic point is that there is a major discrepancy between the what the Bible says about the church and what the average church actually is, because there is a major discrepancy between what the Bible says about Christ-following and what the average church attendee is in reality. Read you Bible and see if I am right.

A Church Reflects Its People

If a church sincerely and wholeheartedly loves God, loves people, and makes disciples as they are going, then that church will become a great church. But we must remember “the church” is the people, not the organization or the building. The organization reflects the people. So the real point is that individual people must wholeheartedly love God, love people, and make disciples, if there church is going to become a great church.

A great church that is growing, effectively making disciples, seeing God transform lives, and making an impact that will last into eternity is the way it is because individual Christ-followers make choices to obey, sacrifice, and surrender to God. The same is also true of a boring church, an ineffective church, a conflicted church, and a non-growing church. The organization is what it is due to the people who make up the organization. Your church is a reflection of you. Hard words for some people and churches? Maybe, but its absolutely true just the same.

Just imagine what Jesus would really say and do if He attended your church. Would Jesus be ok with the commitment he witnessed? What about the sincere heartfelt prayers, the unity, the willingness to stretch out of your comfort zone, the disciple-making efforts, the faith, the efforts to reach the un-churched or de-churched, the authentic worship, the surrender, or the sacrifice? Would He commend you for your heart, love, and obedience? Would He challenge your fear and lack of faith?

Would He say you are lukewarm and spit you out of his mouth? Would He challenge you to re-dream and surrender to His purposes? Would He overturn a few tables and pews and clear the place out with His rebuke? Would He thank you for your surrender, sacrifice, and selflessness as He recounted all the lives that have been changed as He has used you to carry out His ministry in and through you?

If we are really honest, few of us are ready to face Jesus’ evaluation of our church. And since “our church is a reflection of us”, few of us are prepared to face Jesus’ evaluation of our personal efforts at Christ-following. If an article like this makes you feel uncomfortable, just imagine how you would feel having your church being evaluated by Jesus!

We tend to ask the wrong questions: Am I comfortable? Does it meet my needs? Am I being noticed enough? Are my opinions being heard? Does it cost me any money? Does in require any time from me? Asking the wrong questions simply reinforces wrong behaviors and attitudes that do not honor God.

However, if you ask yourself the right questions: What would Jesus say, or think, or do? Is my attitude a positive example of my relationship with Christ? Am I being a good steward of all God has entrusted to me?   Is my heart right, broken, yielded, and surrendered? Is there any area of hidden sin in my life? If we ask the right questions wrong behaviors and attitudes will be challenged and God honoring behaviors and attitudes will be reinforced.

Biblically speaking, we all know Christ is the Head of the Church. Then, why do we (or let others) run the church like we are the ones in charge? I just wonder what Jesus would say about that?

The Difference Between a Civil War Reenactment and the Local Church

Every year, 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 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 of 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; 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?