9 Crucial Teachings of Jesus Christians Tend to Ignore

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Following Jesus is hard. Obeying Jesus is hard. Sometimes even hearing his teaching can be hard. When we hear these hard teachings we grimace, raise our eyebrows, open our eyes wide and say, “Surely, Jesus doesn’t really expect me to do THAT!” Here are some of the hardest, but most central and critical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and so many churches seem to ignore.

1. You cannot serve both God and money – Luke 16:13

We have probably all heard this one before and yet most of us have probably spent a good part of our lives living like it isn’t true. Jesus makes it very clear that it is not possible for us to fully love and serve God and money at the same time. We must choose. If we choose to love our money, our stuff, and our jobs that provide us with money more than we love serving God and doing gospel ministry – we might as well declare to the Lord that we don’t really worship and serve him because we’d rather serve our money.

2. Love and pray for your enemies – Luke 6:27-28,35

An enemy is a person who is actively opposed or hostile to something. As Christians, our “enemies” are therefore many. Jesus not only encourages, but commands that his followers both love and pray for those who are hostile and actively opposed to everything that they stand for. Are you regularly praying for and seeking to do good to those who are actively fighting against religious freedom in America? Those who seek to kill Christians worldwide? Those who post on Facebook about God’s “non-existence” and ridicule and condemn all who believe in such “nonsense”? In recent months it has become more clear to me than ever how many Christians in our country seem to think that evangelism means condemning the unbelieving world. Jesus doesn’t command us to sit on our computers and condemn those who disagree with our beliefs or are even hostile and actively opposed – instead he commands us to pray for them and do good to them.

3. Turn the other cheek – Luke 6:29

When was the last time someone hurt you or insulted you? I don’t mean called you a name, I mean really hurt you. How did you respond? For most people, our natural response is either to lash out and strike back or run away. But Jesus commands his disciples to fight the natural response and instead to simply take the beating, absorb the insult, and respond with kindness and love. Paul hints at this when he writes about Christians suing one another – he says, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” instead of striking back and suing a brother in Christ. Jesus also modeled this throughout his trial, torture, and crucifixion – “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” Christians are called to be hurt, wronged, defrauded, cheated, abused, and get hit on the cheek without retaliation.

4. Deny self, take up Christlike suffering – Luke 9:23

In a nutshell, Jesus explains what would-be disciples must do in order to become followers. They must 1) deny themselves, 2) take up their cross (meaning suffering for Jesus), and 3) follow Him. But if we’re being honest, many of us think we can jump straight to step 3 without denying ourselves or suffering. Paul writes extensively about Christian suffering in 2 Corinthians. He says, “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.” Paul is arguing that if we do not receive daily suffering for Christ we will not be able to receive daily life with Christ. Suffering brings life. Denying self brings life. Losing our life means finding it. If we are truly, honestly, authentically, sacrificially living a Christ-centered life focused on gospel ministry – there will be suffering. Do you suffer on a daily basis for Christ’s name and his mission in this world?

5. Following Jesus is more important even than family – Luke 9:57-62, 14:26, 21:16-17

This may be a difficult one to swallow and it is not always easy to explain even for someone who believes it to be true. Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than caring for elderly parents (Luke 9:60). Following Jesus and preaching the gospel is more important than our relationships with our parents, our siblings, or even our spouses and children. Don’t believe me? In Luke 14:26 Jesus says, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” Loving my wife more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Loving my children more than I love Jesus prohibits me from being a disciple. Jesus demands such a strong and resilient love from his disciples that our love for our families must by compassion look like hate. Think about how much you love your closest friends and family. Multiply that significantly and you are only beginning to scratch the surface of how deep your love for Jesus should be.

*It may sound harsh initially, but I believe that loving Jesus first and foremost is the only way to truly love our families.

6. Hell is real and most people are headed there – Matthew 7:13, 13:50, 25:46

Many who identify as Christians either don’t believe hell is real or don’t believe that hell is eternal. Hell is both real and eternal and it will be far worse than even the most creatively sadistic mind could begin to imagine. Jesus spoke more bluntly about the realities of hell than most churches and pastors do today. Even those of us that do believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible rarely live our lives like we care about the many who are headed there. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” Many/most of the people around us – even the people that we love dearly and have strong relationships with – are on the highway to hell. But do we do everything in our power to make sure that doesn’t happen? Do we pray every day for the unbelievers in our lives? Do we talk about God with them often and purposefully? Do we actually share the good news with them? You may believe that hell is real, eternal, and terrible – but do you share the gospel with your friends who are headed there?

7. We cannot be loved & accepted by both Jesus AND the world – Luke 21:17

Jesus told his disciples just days before his death,”And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.” Paul understood this when he wrote, “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” Most of us spend our whole lives trying to find love and acceptance from other people. The way we dress, the hobbies we take up, and the things we spend our money can usually be traced back to us trying to find love and acceptance from the people in our lives. But Jesus warned his disciples against this. If we are living lives that are truly obedient to Christ – the world will hate us. Being Christ’s servant rarely pleases the masses. So many Christians spend their lives trying to have both – love and acceptance from both Jesus AND the world. And in the process, many have found acceptance in the world while sacrificing obedience to Christ.

8. Forgive others, or God won’t forgive you – Matthew 6:14-15

Forgiveness isn’t always easy, but for Christians, it is always required. We have been forgiven a greater debt than any debt anyone on earth could possibly owe to us. We wronged God more severely than anyone could possibly wrong us – and yet he forgave us. Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” If we do not forgive those who wrong us even in the worst possible ways, God will not forgive our sins. 

9. Deny Jesus before men, get denied by him before God – Luke 12:8-9, Matthew 10:32

We must not be ashamed of Jesus. I always tell my youth group kids when no one will volunteer to pray, “Don’t make Jesus that person that you’re embarrassed to let everyone else know you’re friends with.” The point is that we cannot only identify with Christ quietly and internally. Part of following Christ is acknowledging him and identifying with him publicly to the world. Jesus says,I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels. But anyone who denies me here on earth will be denied before God’s angels.” Again, many of us might claim to know Jesus and be Christians, but do we tell the whole world that we are? Do we publicly identify with Jesus and associate ourselves with him in spite of the rejection from the world that it will bring? We should – because if we don’t, Luke 12:9 will apply to us. 


 

These are just a few of the radical teachings of Jesus that so many Christians and churches have either chosen to ignore. What other major, crucial teachings of Christ would you say that many Christians fail to acknowledge regularly?

 

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9 Reasons People Aren’t Coming to Your Church

 

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If you go to a small or struggling church (or any church for that matter), you’ve probably asked yourself, perhaps frequently, why more people (or anyone at all) aren’t coming to your church. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear that about 90% of churches aren’t growing. Many churches are about to die because of self-inflicted wounds and we must do all that we can to prevent such demise. There are quite a few reasons for this but here are 9 specific reasons why many churches have stopped growing and why more people aren’t coming to your church – even if you have sound doctrine, loving members, and good intentions (unfortunately, these things aren’t enough in our culture to connect with people).

1. You aren’t inviting them

A survey conducted several years ago revealed that 82% of unchurched people were “at least somewhat likely” to go with a friend to church if they were invited. Another survey found that only 21% of church members invite someone to church in a given year, and only 2% (yes, that is a real statistic) invite an unchurched person to church. There is a very good chance of someone attending church with you if you would only ask. Train yourself and the people in your church to ACTUALLY invite people into your community of believers; to actually invite someone to church on a Sunday morning or to a small group or event of some kind. One of the main reasons, perhaps the reason more people don’t come is because your church isn’t inviting them.

2. You aren’t praying for them

Prayer must be the heart and soul of every church’s evangelism strategy. Maybe no one is showing up to the things your pour so much thought, time, and money into because you haven’t poured out any prayer. Never stop praying that God would bring people to your church and never stop living out those prayers by inviting people yourself.

3. Your members are embarrassed of your church

“My church? No way. People love our church!” Yeah…maybe they do. Maybe they love it for themselves and their family, but the reason they don’t invite people is because they are embarrassed and afraid that it might do more harm than good to invite an unchurched friend or family  member to your church. Some of your most committed and invested members might not be inviting anyone because they are embarrassed of some (or several) parts of your church. Some of the reasons they might be embarrassed are listed below. If your church members are embarrassed to invite someone, you’ve got a major problem that needs fixing.

4. They don’t know who you are

Some churches are simply not visible in any way, shape, or form. Their websites are 10 years outdated, they have no social media presence, their buildings are unseen, and there is no effort at “advertising” your church to the community. If people don’t know that you exist, where you are, and what you are like, then they will never visit your church. If your church building isn’t visible, find a way to make it stand out or ask the city about putting signs up guiding people to your building. If your website is outdated, FIX IT. My little church has about 15x more people look at our website every month than come through our doors – your website is your first impression. Make sure people know that you exist, where you meet, and what you’re all about – especially online.

5. It isn’t the culture anymore

People may not be coming to your church simply because less people are going to church than ever before. It used to be that Americans who didn’t go to church had a feeling that they should, but didn’t for some reason, and felt guilt later. That is not the case today. There isn’t much we can do about this one on a grand scale, but people may not be coming to your church at least partially because fewer people are going to church in general.

6. Your church is all for you, not them

Many small, struggling churches are the way that they are because they have ceased to become focused on (or even aware of) visitors and unchurched people. No one wants to come to a church where they feel like an outsider. If you want your church to reach people, especially non-believers, then you must shift the focus from your member’s wants, needs, and preferences to the needs of the unchurched. Ditch the church lingo, stop referring to locations as “next to Mike’s classroom” when a visitor asks for the bathroom, and make some changes in your Sunday morning services that show your focus is on reaching people and connecting with new visitors, not on maintaining status quo.

7. You’re stuck in the past

A side effect of being an internally focused church is often falling quickly behind the times. I don’t just mean music, though that is part of it. I mean music, technology, social media, outreach methods, preaching styles, small group efforts, etc. Spend some time evaluating and take a good, honest look at your church and decide if there might be aspects of your church that are stuck in the past. People want to be part of a church that demonstrates relevancy and modernity without sacrificing truths and core traditions. Be willing to make some updates to your church life if you want to connect with the people of today.

8. You offer little or nothing for kids & students

Whether you like it or not, many churches ride on their children and youth ministries. Young adults are looking for a community where they can start and raise a family. Young families are looking for places where their children’s needs will be met. Middle age families are looking for places where their teens can be part of a strong youth ministry. In other words, adults age 22-50 are usually looking for a church that can meet the needs of their future and current children. Churches without strong children and youth ministries will have a hard time drawing people, especially families.

9. Your worship service isn’t connecting with them

In some cases, this might be putting it gently. Everyone is different and everyone has their own preferences and ideas about how a worship service should be done. But the fact is that music should be modern, engaging, prepared, and as professionally done as possible. Preaching should be interesting, practical, theological, and interactive. Giving should be emphasized, but not beaten to death. Fellowship should be natural and enjoyable, not weird and forced. People are looking for a worship service that connects with them. They aren’t necessarily looking for a recording artist worship leader and a conference speaking caliber pastor – they are just looking for Sunday services that connect with them personally and build them up in their spiritual lives. I know it might not be pleasant if you are a pastor or church leader reading this, but you need to open your mind to the possibility that people are just not connecting with your music,  your preaching, or any other part of the service.

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There are many more reasons and churches/pastors should take a good hard look at themselves. Way too many churches are dying deaths that could have been prevented. Self-inflicted wounds are causing church after church to close their doors because they have completely failed to connect with people. We must do all that we can, including giving ourselves the courtesy of an honest evaluation, in order to prevent more churches from perishing unnecessarily.

What thoughts do you have? What else would you add to this list?

7 Questions Christians Should Ask Themselves Before Posting About Politics On Social Media

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Recent political events in our country have caused American Christians to become more politically vocal than ever before. The primary avenue for this vocalization has been through social media, as I’m sure you have noticed. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter have become our primary voices – our primary way of communicating with one another – for better and for worse. As I watch approximately 98% of my Facebook friends (A rough, unscientific estimation) post, rant, complain about the political goings on of our nation, some questions came to mind. Here are just a few questions I think Christians should ask themselves before posting about politics (especially controversial issues) on social media:

1. Will this bring about unity or disunity in the body of Christ?

Every single person is entitled to their political beliefs. But when we become Christians, we submit our own preferences and ideas to Christ and we become part of a group of believers called the church. Individualism has no place in Christianity – which is communal in nature and practice. Because this is true, we should consider whether or not our bold statements on social media about politics will unify or divide us from our brothers and sisters in the seats next to us on Sunday morning. You may have a very strong stance on something like immigration – but if a brother in Christ sitting next to you in church is an immigrant – your vocalization of political views may cause disunity. Before you post political things on social media – ask yourself whether or not it will harm your relationship with anyone in your church. Church unity and healthy church relationships should be more important to you than your political preferences.

2. Do I view politics & government as savior and king, or Jesus?

I wrote something on this not too far back called “Well, Here We Are”. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican party, candidate, or platform belong to God. They are human political constructs – not saviors. Though Christians have the freedom and the right to partake in the political discussions in our nation and should be vocal about many things, it is downright wrong and incredibly dangerous to view either party or any political leader as God’s chosen agent in this world. Jesus alone is Savior and King and the church alone is God’s chosen embassy of hope. Before you post your political manifesto on Facebook, examine your heart and determine whom you truly honor as savior and king.

3. Will this help or harm my Christian witness to the world?

You may be right about your political beliefs. In fact, I’m sure you are! But even if you are, there are more important things than being right. I can hear my wife snickering as she reads this – but it is true. Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 8 in a discussion about eating food sacrificed to idols. His point is this: that your relationship with other believers and your witness to unbelievers is more important than being right about something. Sometimes believers are called to tone things down, even if they are technically right about something, in order to maintain healthy relationship with other believers and a strong witness to the non-Christian world. Certainly we should not sacrifice truth for the sake of being “seeker friendly”, but, I hate break it to you, your political preferences most likely do not classify as truth. So ask yourself before you hit “Post” whether or not your post will help or harm your representation of Jesus and his church to the world.

4. Are my political beliefs really as Biblical as I think they are?

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. You may be totally convinced that they are. But guess what, odds are that there are other Christians who disagree with you and would also use the Bible as their reasoning. Because we don’t have a government built on Scripture, this will always be a reality. It is easy to climb up on our high horse and view ourselves and our political beliefs as more godly, more biblical, or more righteous than the people who disagree with us. If you haven’t, you should closely examine what God’s word really says (or doesn’t say) about something before mounting that horse.

5. Have I really listened to the other side?

I’m not talking about the kind of “listening” that means being quiet just long enough until there is an opening to tell the speaker that they’re wrong. I’m talking about really listening to the heart and beliefs of another person and giving them the utmost respect and kindness – even if they treat you like you are inferior, stupid, or ignorant. Sit quietly and patiently and listen to the thoughts, beliefs, and reasoning of someone who disagrees with you- whether Christian or non-Christian. You don’t have to agree, but you do have to be respectful and I would say that as a Christian, you are even required to pursue healthy relationship with that person regardless of political beliefs.

6. Do I care more about politics than Jesus and his mission?

Like I said a few months ago in a post called “The 2016 Presidential Election and Misplaced Passion”, Christians are certainly entitled to their beliefs and their political preferences just like anyone else. But should American politics be the thing we are most vocal and most passionate about? Definitely not. If our love and passion for politics is greater than our love for Jesus and our passion for his mission then we have a serious heart problem. Most of us are quick to share our political beliefs, but silent about who Jesus really is. We are eager to talk about government, but not about our church. Maybe you should delete the long political rant you are about to post on social media and post something about who God is or what the Bible says or invite someone to church instead.

7. Would Jesus be pleased with my engagement in the political discussion?

This sort of an overarching summary question, but it is worth asking all the same. “Would Jesus be pleased with my…” is a good question to ask about anything in our lives. Would Jesus be pleased with your heart? Your words? The way you treat those who disagree with you? The way you represent Him to the world? There is a healthy way and an unhealthy way for Christians to engage in political dialogue. The healthy way is one that God would be pleased with based on what he has spoken through the Bible. Examine your heart ask yourself if Jesus would be pleased with your engagement in the dialogue of American politics.

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What do you think? How should Christians engage in the political discussion? What would you add to or remove from this list?