Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Is it the church's job to feed us?

I have been around the church my entire life and often hear about how people are "church shopping." When asked why they are looking for a new church, the response is often "I just don't feel like I am being fed there!"  My question is: "Is it the church's job to feed you?"

The term "church shopping" and being "spiritually fed" stem from the same dynamic: Christian Consumerism.  We feel like the church is there for one purpose: to fulfill my needs.  But is that why the church exists?

There are certain groups of people who need to be fed: Babies, the Weak and the Injured.

Dianne and I are about to welcome a new baby into our world.  For the first stage of his life he will be completely dependent upon us to feed him.  We expect this and actually will really enjoy caring for our precious baby in this way.  It is completely normal for a baby to need to be fed, but if i had to spoon feed my 15 year old son that would mean something was desperately wrong with his development.  

Don't get me wrong, the term "baby" is in no way an insult.  All humans begin as babies and all Christians start out as baby Christians.  Christians who are new in their faith are actually really fun to be around.  I find their zeal, excitement, questions and even immaturity, delightful and refreshing.  They are dependent upon the church to feed them in that infant stage.   I find their desire to be spiritually spoon fed completely normal and natural.

The weak and injured also depend upon the church to spiritually spoon feed them.  This is to be expected.  Many times Dianne and I have had to feed our children when they were too sick or hurt to be able to do it themselves.  We have done it gladly because of our love for them.

We have also done the same for many weak and injured believers within the church.   We did it gladly because of how much we love them.  I believe the church should be a place where the spiritually weak, immature and injured can be fed and cared for with grace and love.

But now we come to the heart of the matter.
Should mature healthy Christians expect the church to feed them?

1 Peter 2:2 says "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation."

We will continue our analogy.  The older my children get, the more I expect them to feed themselves.  It is normal, healthy and natural for them to learn to care for themselves.

The more mature a Christian becomes the less they rely upon the church to feed them and care for their needs.

Don't get me wrong. I am a preacher and work very hard to prepare sermons that lay out a banquet of spiritual food.  I want my messages to be encouraging, challenging, and uplifting.

My wife is an amazing cook and she could prepare me the most delicious and nutritious meal I could ever eat, but if that was the only meal I ate each week, I would be in a desperate physical condition!

This is how I began my spiritual journey.  I was dependent upon the church and my parents to feed me spiritually.  My journey with Jesus changed forever when I decided that I was going to learn how to feed myself.  I made a commitment to God and myself that I would spend an hour reading God's word before I went to bed each night.  At first it was a struggle, but then God began to open my eyes and I couldn't get enough of God's word.  That is when I began to grow by leaps and bounds.

I am not angry at those who are "church shopping" or depending on the church to "feed" them spiritually.  I understand why you feel that way.  Unfortunately, I feel like the church as a whole has been guilty of encouraging this dependence.  We haven't taught believers how to feed themselves spiritually.  

The church is a lot of things to a lot of people and I am grateful that God has called me to work in the church, but if you are looking to the church to be your only source of spiritual health and well being you will be greatly disappointed.  You will never find a church that will adequately meet all of your needs because it wasn't designed to do that, only God can!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My Most Shocking Blog Ever!

You may be asking yourself, “Is this just another one of Brad’s attempt at click-bait?”

He has written some pretty shocking blogs already.  What in the world could he be writing about that is so shocking? 

Am I going to be offended after reading this?

Hopefully not, but please hear me out.

I am shocked that I live in the greatest country on earth, and that I have so many freedoms that millions of people around the world take for granted!

I am shocked that I was raised by the most loving, Godly parents a kid could ever ask for!

I am shocked that I am married to the most beautiful, talented, compassionate woman I have ever met!

I am shocked that we have three healthy, kind, creative, intelligent children who love Jesus with all of their hearts!

I am shocked that we have more than enough of everything that we need!

I am shocked that we have a church family who loves us so deeply!

I am shocked by all of the amazing friendships I have been able to have!

I am shocked that I get paid to do what I love: sharing the life-changing truth of Jesus-Christ with students and adults!

I am shocked that I have had the opportunity to travel the world telling others about the God who loves them unconditionally!


This may sound like I am gloating, but I must tell you where all of these shocking blessings come from. 


I am shocked that the God of the universe loves me with an indescribable love! That He thinks about me continually!  That He surrounds me with loving-kindness!

I am shocked that through Jesus Christ I am forgiven of ALL of my sins!  (And I will let you in on a little secret: I am guilty of some pretty shocking sins that I am never going to tell you about!)

I am shocked that no matter how abundantly full my life feels, God continues to pour out more!

I am shocked that God continually overwhelms me with blessings that I could never earn or deserve!

I am shocked at how easily I take all of these things for granted!

Today I choose to pause and rehearse the blessings, freedoms, and privileges that I continually enjoy and I invite you to pause and do the same.  It may shock you to realize how blessed you really are!  

Friday, October 21, 2016

Will You Miss the Rapture?

Growing up, in the church in the 1980’s I had the delightful opportunity as a ten-year-old to see the Christian movie “A Thief in the Night.”  If you haven’t seen this cinematic masterpiece, it essentially depicts the terror and horror that many Christians believe will take place in a 7-year period known as “The Great Tribulation,” which happens after God has taken Christians out of the earth in the “Rapture.”  

Why anyone thought it would be a good idea for me at ten years old, to watch this movie is beyond me.  I still remember how the scenes of people getting their heads chopped off for not taking the “mark of the beast,” kept me awake at night for months.   

I also was terrified by the scenes depicting people who thought they were Christians, but who for some reason or another weren’t considered good enough or faithful enough to be taken in the “Rapture.”

There even was a Pastor who was left behind.  
I guess his theology wasn’t quite perfect enough!

The thought of being “left behind” literally gave me nightmares!  I remember getting up at night and sneaking over to my parent’s bedroom to put my ear up to their door to see if I could hear them breathing. 

Because I knew that if Mom and Dad were still here than I was OK!  
I knew that there couldn’t be any better Christians than my parents. 

One day my Mom took me to get my sweet mullet trimmed at the high-end beauty salon known as “Fantastic Sam’s.”  While I was getting my hair cut she said that she was going to run down the street to another store for a few minutes and be right back. 

After my haircut was finished, I remember vividly standing there at the huge glass walls holding my orange balloon and Fantastic Sam’s complementary comb, waiting for my mom to return. 

I don’t know how long it took for her to return, but in my mind, it felt like an eternity!

My mind began to race and I was sure of what had happened.


My mind began to race as I pictured my head being chopped off for not taking the mark of the beast!
Just as I could picture the guillotine’s blade coming down, my mom’s car pulled up!

I ran out to the car crying, “Mom, Where Were You?”
(I know my mom will fell horrible reading this blog. Don’t worry mom, after many counseling sessions, I am now able to forgive you for abandoning me!  Just kidding, love you, mom!)

I tell you this story for a reason.  I had this distorted perception that I had to be good enough for God. 

Matthew 5:8 says “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” 

I thought I was a good kid, I went to church my whole life and prayed and “asked Jesus into my heart” at five-years-old. 

But when you look at the definition of “pure” it means “blameless, innocent, and unstained by guilt.” 

I thought I was good, but I knew that I couldn’t possibly be that good. 

I pictured God like a judge who was constantly grading my behavior to see if I added up or not. 

Like he was Simon Cowell on American Idol, and after my best performance he would say, “That was just horrible.” 

I had been taught that God loved me, but I wasn’t sure that he liked me!

My problem was I didn’t understand what had taken place when I put my faith in Jesus as a child.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

When we place our faith in Jesus he exchanges our sin for his perfect righteousness!

Once the exchange is made, when God looks at you, he sees the sinless perfection of Jesus!

1 John tells us that “If we are afraid it is because we haven’t fully experienced God’s perfect love.”  He also says that we can “face God with confidence on the day of judgment.” 

As a child,I was afraid of God because I didn’t fully understand what Jesus had done for me.

It has taken me a long time to begin to understand the grace of God, but I now understand what forgiveness really means.

I don’t have to be afraid of God, and neither do you!

Regardless what your theology is about the end times.  Whether you are pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-millennial, post-millennial, or amillennial doesn't matter. We are probably all wrong!  What matters is that you find forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Ridiculous Way We Pray!

I have been around Christians and Church my entire life and I am intrigued by our idiosyncrasies.  I am especially fascinated by the way that we pray.

We say things like:
“Lord, I pray that you would put a hedge of protection around us.”
“God, help us to be Jesus with skin on today.”
“Father God, I pray that, Jesus, you would help us Lord, to have a good day, Father God.

We say that Prayer is simply talking to God, why do we say such weird things when we pray?

What is a “hedge of protection?”  Do we even know?
No, we just heard someone else pray that and so we pray it.

What does it look like to be “Jesus with skin on?”  Is there a Jesus without skin on, walking around?  I think that would really freak people out.

Why do we feel compelled to say varieties of God’s name in every sentence of our prayers?
How odd would it sound to you if you heard me talking to my wife like this?  “Dianne, I just want to ask you, Dianne, if you could make me some food, Dianne?” 

Why do we bow our heads and close our eyes when we pray, when Jesus lifted his eyes to heaven when he prayed? (Matthew 14:19)

Before you think that I have appointed myself as the prayer police, I must admit that I am sure that I have done all the things that I have just described when I have prayed. 

The reason that I think that we say odd things when we pray is two-fold. 
1         1.      We pray the way we have heard others pray.
2         2.      We are nervous when we pray.

     1. We pray the way we have heard others pray 
It is natural to repeat the behavior of the people around us. 
The first time I heard my kids pray over a meal and say, “Lord bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies,” I had to laugh!

Why would a six-year-old kid ask for God for “nourishment?” 
Is this something they would naturally ask for? 
No, they were repeating what they had heard me pray. 

I then asked why I prayed that way.  Because, I heard my parents pray that way, who heard their parents pray that way, who heard. . . and so on.

3        2.   We are nervous!
I think that we are nervous for a couple of reasons. 

First, we are talking to the creator of the universe.  That’s pretty intimidating.  I think that’s why we lean towards saying God’s name a thousand times and making them too formal.

Second, when we pray with others around, I think we want to sound spiritual and impressive.  But the result is that we just sound weird.

I remember reading about Moses and how he talked to God like a man speaks with his friend, and I realized that I don’t talk to God that way.  My prayers sounded like I was talking to a scary God a million miles away.  I decided a long time ago, that was going to change.

Many years ago I was hanging out with a teenager, who loved to skateboard and had recently committed his life to Christ.  His prayer sounded something like this:
“God your so stinkin cool.  You are so totally Rad.  I wish that we could just hang out and go skateboarding sometime.  I know that you would have to be so amazing at it.  I mean you like totally walked on water.  Anyways, My Mom and Dad hate each other right now and are talking about getting a divorce.  Would you change this for me?  That would be so totally awesome.  I love you.  Peace Out!”

That was someone talking to God like he was his friend! 

I decided to start talking to God like that!      

I John 4 says “God is love.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect.  So we will not be afraid on the day of judgement, but can face him with confidence.  Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear.  If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love him because he first loved us.”

All that we do is a response to what God has already done for us! 

Through Jesus we can come boldly come to God the Father!

Jesus said, “I no longer call you servants but friends.” 

What if we stopped talking to God like he is our master and started talking to him like he was our friend?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is Joel Osteen a False Prophet?

I remember vividly the awkward moment that I got to meet Joel Osteen. 

“Hello, Joel.  Umm, Mr. Osteen.” 

Long awkward pause as my hands fiddle in my pockets and I look into Joel’s piercing blue eyes.

His teeth are brilliantly white behind that obnoxious smile of his. 

As Joel stands there saying nothing, just smiling, of course, I am trying desperately to figure out what I should say next.  My wife standing next to me is no help.

Just moments earlier we were standing in a long line of people staring at a blank wall like we were lined up to face a firing squad.  Why had I chosen to put myself into such a weird situation?

We had being driving with our friends for the last two days from Iowa on our way to Texas to depart for a 7 day cruise.  We had decided to stop along the way at Joel Osteen’s church. 

I decided to go along for this adventure as a curious skeptic, not a fan or follower of Joel’s. 
I had read one of Joel’s books and had mixed reactions to it.  On the one hand, I had enjoyed his positive “reach for the sky, with God’s help you can do anything” approach to life.  On the other hand, I was skeptical about the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.     

I had seen Joel on TV a few times but wasn’t a huge fan of his style. 

I had heard a lot of the criticism towards Joel’s ministry.
“He doesn’t preach the gospel.”
“He doesn’t preach against sin.”
“He is greedy and just in it for the money.”
“He is a false prophet and only wants to draw a crowd.”

So I was interested to experience his church first hand.

As we walked from the parking garage to the massive arena, we were constantly greeted by helpful friendly faces.  When we walked into the arena on a Saturday night it was about 30% full.  An usher greeted us and asked us if it was our first time there.  We explained that we were visiting from Iowa.

The usher said, “Let’s get you a better seat.”  He then ushered us down to sit on the front row!

I happen to sit next to someone who had been attending the church for several years.  He said he preferred the non-televised Saturday night service, because Joel was a little more relaxed and off script. 

He then said something that shocked me, “Did you know that Joel doesn’t receive a salary from the church? His income is from his book sales.” 

So much for the “Joel is greedy and just in it for the money” accusation.

Then the craziest thing happened!  After the worship and as communion was being served I heard Joel give a clear presentation of the Gospel!

So much for the “He doesn’t preach the gospel” accusation.

After we left the service, I had come to the conclusion that maybe I was wrong about Joel’s ministry. 

My purpose in writing this blog is not to sell you on Joel Osteen. 
My purpose is to suggest the thought that maybe we as Christian’s are too quick to judge the character of someone that we don’t even know!

I know that Jesus said “Beware of False Prophets.” But I’m not sure this means call them out on Facebook.     

Nothing could be easier and takes less courage than to take to social media and type away judgmental accusations against everyone we disagree with.  WE CAN EVEN TYPE IN ALL CAPS. We can back it up with scripture references, add angry emoji’s and feel very smug and self-righteous! 

But what good has this accomplished for the kingdom of God?

I am not saying that we blindly and mindlessly follow any teaching that becomes popular.  Followers of Christ have the responsibility to use the brilliant minds God has given them to verify that what they are listening to lines up with what God has already said.

But Jesus dealt quite harshly with the self-appointed doctrine police and fruit inspectors of his day.

Jesus also said “You will know them by their fruit.” 

Unless I have relationship with you, it is extremely difficult for me to be qualified to speak about your spiritual fruit or lack thereof.

The longer I am in the ministry, the more reluctant I am to criticize another minister.  I understand how difficult it is and how easy it is for people at a distance to misunderstand what you are trying to accomplish. 
“The Law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

Notice that Grace comes first!   

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Is Mother Teresa in Hell?

     Recently, wild mindlessly skimming through my Facebook News Feed I came across a link one of my “Friends” had shared entitled “Roman Catholics: Canonizing the Damned” attached to a picture of Mother Teresa. 
     Obviously, this got my attention.  The writer begins by stating that Mother Teresa was “the damned follower of an apostate religion!”  I then began to read about all the things Mother Teresa did wrong.  But according to this article her biggest problem was theological.  The writer then proceeds to lay out all of her false beliefs and contends that because of her false beliefs she was damned to hell!
      Several years ago as I was starting out in ministry, I was given the difficult task of performing a funeral for someone whom I didn’t know while they were alive.  Almost every funeral I had every attended the minister spoke with confidence that the person whose life they were celebrating was in heaven. 
     Because of my lack of knowledge of the deceased person’s faith or lack of faith, I wasn’t sure how to approach the funeral service and so I asked my Pastor for advice.  I will never forget what he said.

“Don’t preach them into Heaven or Hell!” 
“They are where they are, and nothing you can say or do will change that fact.”
“Leave that up to God.”

It some of the best advice I have ever heard. 

     I don’t fully understand anyone (such as the above mentioned writer) who will emphatically state that another human being is in hell!  God is the Judge of the world and I feel completely inadequate to sit in that chair.   
     It also intrigued me that the writer of this article (Who writes for a website who seems to think almost every human being is going to hell!) was so against doing good things to earn a place to heaven.  Even though I agree with the writer on this issue, it seems like they were proposing that our theology must be perfect to earn a place in heaven!  
Whether we think its good works or perfect theology will get you God’s approval, we are dead wrong.
God says there is only one way for a human being to be in right relationship with him. 
“If you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” 
This kind of faith is all about Jesus and what he did for me.  What he is asking of me is that I trust him.
I am relieved to know that God hasn’t called me to be the world’s judge. 

I know I would be quite stingy with Grace and Mercy towards everyone else, except towards myself of course!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Complicated Gospel

Image result for pulling out hair

I grew up in Sunday School, and whenever the teacher asked a question it seemed like the answer was always from a short list. . . Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, Pray, Read Your Bible, and Witness.  

As I grew older, it seemed like life got a lot more complicated and so did the church’s instruction on matters of Faith. 

It didn’t matter what the issue was, God’s advice in Scripture was simple.

“Husbands love your wives.  Wives respect your husbands.”

“The Love of Money is the root of all evil.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“If you want to become great, become a servant of all.”

“Go and make disciples of all people.”

Yet Christians have written countless books on all of these subjects!  When preachers preach on these subjects we get a list of 17 action items!

How can we take something so simple and make it so complicated? 

It is this last subject of the ministry in which I have found the greatest frustration within the church.

I graduated from high school and said yes to God’s call to go into the ministry.  So naturally I set off for Bible College.  

I thought the ministry was simple!  
“Preach the Word!”  “Love God, Love People”  “Make Disciples!”
 HAHAHA. What a fool I was!

Once again I discovered that Christians had filled libraries with books on how to correctly go about doing the work of the ministry!  I had entered college confident that with God’s help I could do what he had called me to do.  I left scared that I wasn’t prepared for the ministry!

That was only the beginning.  

Once I actually got into the ministry, I discovered that it was even more complicated than I had been taught in college.  

There were so many expectations put on the performance of pastors.  I heard horror stories of small churches where the pastor and his wife worked tirelessly to do everything while the people in the congregation sat back, did nothing to help and responded with complaints that their needs weren’t being met. 

I read books from the so called “experts” in large churches who laid out their complex systems with charts and graphs on how to disciple people.  

I became so overwhelmed that I cannot tell you the number of times of I have wanted to quit the ministry because I have thought I wasn’t qualified as a leader.

I was told that church services had to be polished, seeker-friendly, organized, micro-managed and planned down to the minute.     

How have we made something so simple become so complex?

When I read the gospel accounts about Jesus ministry, it still seems so simple.  

He lived life with people, loved them and showed them truth.

When I read the accounts of the early church it still seems so SIMPLE!

They devoted themselves to doing life together, praying together, eating together, and listening to the apostles teaching. 

How have we made something so simple become so complex?

We see complexity trying to creep into the church very early on.  In Acts, the apostles start to get roped into a conflict about serving food to the poor.  They realize what is taking place and designate other people to take care of the problem so they can “devote themselves to the teaching of the word and to prayer.”

I wish I could tell you that we have been faithful to the apostles example and that 2,000 years later the job description of a pastor is to “devote themselves to the teaching of the word and to prayer.”  But that is far from the truth!

How have we made something so simple become so complex?

Why do we as believers rush to purchase the latest Christian book on life issues instead of studying and applying the simple truths of scripture?

I believe this happens for a couple of reasons.  

For some reason, human beings love making simple things complex.  I don’t think we have evil intentions, but I don’t think that we are aware of what we are doing either.
If by God’s grace we just simply followed the simple teachings of Scripture, God would get all of the credit, and that doesn’t sell books.  

But if to truly get breakthrough in an area of our lives requires following some experts complicated advice, then we as human beings get the credit.  

A verse that constantly rings in my ears is this from psalms “Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain!”

Let us as believers and as the church leave this complicated gospel that rests all upon our efforts to figure everything out and return to the simple GOOD NEWS!

Jesus calls to us simply, “COME FOLLOW ME!”