Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fake Spirituality

Last week, I talked about how both belief and unbelief can coexist, side by side, in our lives, and I tied it in to our core values--Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story. When we are not following God completely, these vital components of a genuine faith degenerate into Fake Spirituality, Fake Community, and Fake Story. Lately, Pastor Brent and I have been calling these "The Easy Threesy" instead of The Key Three.

But beware! This degradation happens more easily than you might think, and unless we stay vigilant in our relationship with God, we are certain to drift into The Easy Threesy. This week, we're examining Fake Spirituality.

Real Spirituality is about possessing an authentic vertical relationship with God. For our relationship with God to be authentic, there are several important criteria:

  • We have to accept at the most basic level who he is and who we are. He is the Creator; we are the created. He is the Master; we are the slaves. He is the Father; we are the children. He is the Sovereign; we are the subjects. He is the Leader; we are the followers.
  • Because of the nature of this relationship, we have to accept his commands, his will, his plan, his cause, his wisdom--we have to live life his way. So we use "our" possessions, time, health, abilities, relationships, careers, and opportunities for his purposes.
  • Finally, we must understand that he is the proper object of our worship, and we must strive to eliminate all competitors for our heart's affection, staying connected to him in prayer and through his Word.
Fake Spirituality cleverly and subtly seeks to subvert each of these markers.
  • While giving lip service to God's authority, Fake Spirituality tries to soften God's complete and total demand on our lives. We end up fudging around the corners by being "reasonable," adopting our own notions of God's identity, instead of accepting who he has revealed himself to be. This can happen in a thousand different ways. One of the most common ones I hear is the insistence that "God would want me to be happy." And that idea is used to justify a wide variety of sin--even adultery and divorce! So the practitioner of Fake Spirituality continues to claim to accept and follow God, but it is not God as he has revealed himself to be through his Word.
  • When we start to make God "reasonable," it changes the kind of demands that he places on our lives. We begin to say things like, "Well, God would never ask me to give up my golf league; after all, there's nothing wrong with golf." And of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with golf, but God will ask us to give anything that stands in the way of us accomplishing his purposes for our lives. We will miss a call to enter the ministry, a call to serve overseas, a call to build a bridge with our next-door neighbors. In essence, we stop listening to God's demands to pursue a life of our own comfort and convenience, life on our own terms.
  • A person possessing Fake Spirituality may be at church every Sunday, but they do not have God as their object of worship. They might worship pleasure, power, possessions, popularity, or prestige. It might be career, thrills, politics, or alcohol. It could be anything... except God. For a person of Fake Spirituality, they may still pray, but they will find their prayer times dry and empty, and their prayers will go unanswered--because there is a lack of desire to truly hear what God is saying to them. When God demands something that we refuse to surrender, we lose our close connection to him.

Here's the problem: One event of obedience is never enough. We may experience a spiritual breakthrough in our lives--a time of learning, where we begin to understand God in a deeper way than we ever have before; a time of surrender, where we give up our resistance and humbly accept God's demands for that moment in our lives; a time of victory, where we overcome an addiction or a habit that has kept us in bondage--but that time will pass, and God will call us to experience him again a deeper level.

We cannot rest on that past success--God calls us to experience ongoing success in our lives. Surrendering to him is a continual process that never ends. To be people of Real Spirituality, we must learn to make surrender a habit--that we would constantly ask him what he would want from us next, and then seek to do it. In other words, that we would come to God, saying "yes" to him in advance--whatever it is that he wants to do.

Here are the tell-tale signs of Fake Spirituality, so that you can test yourself to see if you've wandered into complacency in your walk with Jesus. Do you live with:

  • A nostalgia for the past, when you felt closer to God?
  • Devotion to a program or ministry that at one time served as a tool for your growth?
  • Longing for a person that God had used formerly to draw you to himself?
  • An attachment to a particular style of music, preaching, or worship service--and if you don't have your preferred style you "can't worship"?

When we have fallen in love with the forms over the Former, it means trouble for us spiritually. There is no method, no person, no program that God deems necessary, but many times we are quick to override him. We declare things necessary that God has not, and in that way we demonstrate our refusal to accept his lordship over our lives. We demonstrate our Fake Spirituality.

You see, it's easy for this to happen. In fact, it happens all the time--it's the Easy Threesy. Real Spirituality, a vital, authentic vertical relationship with God, takes concentration and effort. It takes focus and determination. But O! What a joy to walk closely with God! To sense his presence and care, to know his faithfulness and love, to rest peacefully in the midst of chaos, to rejoice in the middle of suffering--it is the most wonderful thing in the world.

What is it that's holding you back? Why not say "yes" to God right now, and enjoy a return to Real Spirituality?

Monday, June 22, 2009

You believe... but how much?

In Mark 9:14-29, the Bible records an interesting story about a demon-possessed boy whom Jesus' disciples were unable to help. The demon had robbed the young man of his speech, and would throw him to the ground in foamy-mouthed convulsions.

When the father brought the boy to Jesus, Jesus made a comment that seems a little harsh and maybe even out-of-place: "O unbelieving generation! How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?"

Unbelieving? Really? It's not as if Jesus had been around. Prior to this, he had been up on the Mount of Transfiguration, with Peter, James, and John. In fact, he had only just arrived on the scene. So since the father didn't have access to Jesus, he tried the next best thing--he asked some of Jesus' disciples for help. He asked the disciples whom Jesus himself had already commissioned and given authority to drive out demons (Mk. 6:7) to liberate his son from the evil spirit that was controlling his life.

But it seems that Jesus' appraisal of the situation was right on track, after all (imagine that!). For the father says, "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." Jesus responds, "'If you can'? Everything is possible for him who believes." And the father immediately answers back, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.

What a very interesting statement. It seems that belief and unbelief are not mutually exclusive, that we can possess both simultaneously. There are not many opposites that fall into this category, making belief and unbelief a rather unique pair. For example, it would be difficult to see how a light or a TV or a stove could be turned off and on at the same time. Not many people would ever think of saying, "I am relaxed; help me overcome my stress!" But belief and unbelief seem to be different.

At a recent conference, Craig Groeschel, pastor of in Oklahoma, made the insightful observation that Christians usually live with and move among three different levels of belief:

  • I believe in the gospel enough to benefit from it.
  • I believe in the gospel enough to contribute to it comfortably.
  • I believe in the gospel enough to give my life to it.

At the first level, we believe enough to accept and enjoy the benefits of following Jesus--forgiveness of sin, assurance of eternal life, peace, hope, joy, acceptance, self-worth--but we don't want our faith to cost us anything.

At the second level, we begin to realize that it's not just about accepting God's love for us, but about loving God in return. So we begin to contribute our money, our time, and our talents and gifts for his use. We might join a small group where we can practice loving other people, or begin serving in some ministry to benefit other people. But, of course, we don't allow our faith to get in the way of the things we really want, like weekends of camping, our golf league, and a flat-panel TV or a big house. We contribute--but up to a point--not in a way that's going to inconvenience ourselves.

At the third level, there is no longer a concept of serving oneself. Faith and life are intertwined, and every decision, every dollar, every priority is made from a perspective of how best to serve and grow the Kingdom of God. There is an abandonment of self and a total commitment to God and his glory.

Groeschel says that true clarity comes not from the identification of these three levels, but from understanding that success at level three, can easily cause us to slip back into level two. This is because level three is where we grow spiritually, where our capacity for impact is expanded, where our understanding of God is deepened, and as we adopt this new level of belief, allowing it to sink deep into our hearts and minds, in time it becomes the new "normal" for us. It becomes a regular part of our lives. What was once sacrificial and challenging, now becomes... comfortable.

To return to level three, we must listen closely to what new steps God is asking us to take--steps that will lead us again out of our level of comfort and into the level of radical obedience and trust. And if we consistently resist what God wants to do in us, if we keep on saying "no" to him repeatedly, we find ourselves back at level one. We aren't really contributing to the gospel at that point--no matter what it looks like on the outside. Our spirituality becomes a matter of keeping up appearances. We're really only in it for the goodies we get, the benefits we find.

Belief and unbelief actually live quite easily side-by-side.

So it's as if Jesus is saying to us, "You believe... but how much?" The Bible tells us that Jesus will not do miracles where there is a lack of faith (Mt. 13:58). Faith in him is a condition that he places on everyone who comes to him, asking for his help. And without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6).

In our church, we talk often about Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story--our Key Three. Our Key Three are all about living out a level-three faith. But there is a level-two version of these values that we often settle for--Fake Spirituality, Fake Community, and Fake Story. Together, they make up an unconvincing, unattractive, unfulfilling life. Starting next week, we're going to be exploring these counterfeit rivals for the vibrant, level-three faith that Jesus died to bring us.

But until then, you might start asking yourself, "How much do I really believe?"

Sunday, June 14, 2009

God Is...

For One Prayer 2009, we're focusing on the topic "God Is..." I mentioned today that we could spend every week for 100 years on this theme and never exhaust the richness and depth of the identity, activity and character of God. So, just for kicks, I figured if I were going to preach on this for a year, what are the first 52 topics I'd be sure to cover:

God Is Infinite
God Is Sovereign
God Is Intense
God Is Holy
God Is Waiting For You To Do Something
God Is Calling Us
God Is Right Here
God Is Right On Time
God Is On Mission
God Is An Anchor
God Is Deep
God Is Compassionate
God Is God
God Is Community
God Is One Of Us
God Is A Shelter In Trouble
God Is Trustable
God Is The God Of Abraham, Isaac, And Jacob
God Is I Am
God Is Father, Son, And Holy Spirit
God Is Patient
God Is All About Relationships
God Is Unfoolable
God Is Mysterious
God Is Omni-Everything
God Is With Us
God Is Our Liberator
God Is Life
God Is Light
God Is Better Than Anything (Even Coffee!)
God Is Perfect
God Is Strategic
God Is Really Smart
God Is Awesome
God Is Hilarious
God Is Knowable
God Is Dying To Meet You
God Is Creative
God Is Emotional
God Is Inexhaustible
God Is Responsive
God Is A Parent Of Brats
God Is Right
God Is A Change Agent
God Is A Procrastinator
God Is A Being, Not A Philosophical Construct
God Isnowhere
God Is A Delegator
God Is Persistent
God Is Extravagant
God Is Not Willing That Any Should Perish
God Is Accepting Friend Requests

What does your list look like? Who do you know God to be? Let's hear it!

Monday, June 8, 2009

US National Conference

This past weekend, Pastor Brent, John Fisher (our lay delegate), and I attended the National Conference for the United Brethren in Christ, USA, in Huron, OH. Representatives from UB churches from around the entire country were present; altogether, nearly 900 people participated. The weekend included business, inspirational speakers, workshops, worship, and great opportunities for interaction and connection with old friends and new ones. It was a fantastic experience, very worthwhile. Here are some of the highlights.

  • We elected a new bishop--Phil Whipple from Colwood UB Church in Caro, MI. The bishop is the spiritual leader and overseer of our denomination. He sets the vision for our churches, and provides direction to the various teams that equip us to accomplish the vision. Bishop Whipple and I aren't what you'd call close, but I do know him. I believe he will be a very capable, godly leader for our denomination, and I'm extremely pleased to serve under his leadership. His term will begin in August.
  • Our main speaker was Dr. Tim Brown from First Baptist Church of Clovis, CA (my old stomping grounds as a high schooler). He shared his story about how he was called by God to "the worst church on earth" (the words of the chairman of the search committee). Getting ready to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the church had split every ten years of its history, and was down to about 60 people from nearly 400 just prior to the most recent split. It had a terrible reputation in the community, and was full of contention and bitterness. Yet God has used him to lead the church to health and vitality, serving their neighbors, and advancing the kingdom. They are now running about 900 in attendance on Sundays. His stories of God's grace were extremely powerful and offered hope that no situation is too dire or beyond God's transforming power.
  • Saturday morning, we attended various workshops designed to help us apply the main theme: XLR8--spread the word rapidly. We each found ours to be beneficial and practical.
  • Saturday evening focused on UB missions, with a fantastic presentation of the history of UB work around the world, and inspiring worship with the praise team from a UB church in Jamaica. Global ministries director, Jeff Bleijerveld gave the message.
  • Sunday wrapped up with an encouraging message from outgoing bishop Ron Ramsey and the installation service of our new bishop.

If you like, you can check out more at

In many ways, the state of our denomination is not strong. We have many weak and unhealthy churches, few resources, and a lot of inertia. This has been our condition for a lot of time, despite the best efforts of many godly leaders to change it.

However, I do feel that a fresh wind is blowing. There is a clear call to us as pastors that we must lead our churches to fulfill the Great Commission, and I am seeing many pastors respond to that call. The denomination equips us and empowers us to accomplish the mission, and slowly churches are beginning to turn around. This is an exciting time in the United Brethren Church. I'm sad that only three of us from our church had the privilege of participating in this conference. In 2011, I hope to see a strong contingent from PCC at National Conference, to be equipped, inspired, and informed for Kingdom service.

May God bless his church, as we seek to serve him without compromise!