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Recently I’ve had the frustrating experience of trying to get three of the largest churches in my city to come around a family in need. The situation at hand is a low-income single mother with six children, whose minivan was recently involved in an accident and totaled. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured. One church never responded, one said they get too many requests to be able to help but did ask what my own church was doing about the situation, and the final church – the one I attend and have been financially supporting – responded they only helped with rent and utility bills and would not be able to contribute towards purchasing a vehicle for the family.

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Being a preacher’s kid, I understand the inner workings and dynamics of a church better than most, but I was still left flabbergasted by the lack of assistance these local churches were willing to extend.

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I’ve been attending church almost my entire life. Being a preacher’s kid will do that to you. Don’t get me wrong, I believe the local church has played, and will continue to play, a critical role in the advancement of the gospel. Still, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with the direction the modern Western Church seems to be heading. Maybe it’s me. Perhaps I’m just on a rant. But it seems the church (and I realize I’m painting with an incredibly broad stroke here) has fallen into a formulaic approach devoid of passion and urgency.

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Our mission is to take the message of Jesus into all the world (Matthew 28:18-20), but we seem determined instead to preach a gospel of self-improvement and feel-good adherence to a script Jesus never embraced.

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Most Christ-followers are familiar with the Biblical command to tithe the first ten percent of their income. We can debate the various nuances of the tithe – and we will in an upcoming post – but today I want to discuss giving beyond the tithe. Some struggle with the concept of even giving ten percent back to God, so talking about giving even more may be uncomfortable.

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If you are in that camp, please don’t tune out yet. These articles aren’t long, and I believe it will be worth five minutes of your time to take away something to chew on. Giving beyond the tithe isn’t mandated in Scripture, but there are enough examples to make it something we should consider.

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One of the saddest verses in the Bible is Matthew 9:37, where Jesus told His disciples the world is desperate for hope and healing, but few are willing to go and help. Two thousand years later, the problem persists. The effects of sin are all around us. Evil manifests in unthinkable ways while the Church sits idly on the sidelines.

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We make token efforts, shake our heads, and wag our fingers, but still very few go out and spread the truth and love of Christ to our world. There is much anger and violence swirling around us. If we don’t go and tell them good news of Jesus, who will?

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I recently learned from an article that the city in which I live has more churches per capita than any other city in America. While some might see this as great news, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Why do we need so many churches? Doesn’t that mean the vast majority of them are horribly ineffective?

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Perhaps even more troubling is the amount of money these churches are spending on rent, real estate, and building projects. When did those things become more important than feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and providing shelter for the homeless (Matthew 25:31-46)? The Church has become quite efficient spending Kingdom money on things that bear little resemblance to Christ.
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I like to read authors from fifty years ago or more. It’s interesting how much of what they said so many years ago is still relevant today. They told it like it was without a hint of the political correctness that has become the rule of our day. One of my favorites, which will come as no shock to you if you have followed this blog for very long, is A.W. Tozer.

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This morning I read the following comment from him: “In the majority of our meetings there is scarcely a trace of reverent thought, no recognition of the unity of the body, little sense of the divine Presence, no moment of stillness, no solemnity, no wonder, no holy fear.” Sadly, this applies all too well to many of our modern churches.
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One of my friends was speaking at a large local church this weekend. We are always challenged and encouraged by his preaching, so my wife and I went to support him there. The Lord definitely spoke through him as he taught and we left fired up and ready to make some adjustments in our own lives. The church itself though left me feeling an odd mixture of anger and sadness. Despite the fervor of the sermon, the rest of the service felt slick, overproduced, and soul-less. Instead of an atmosphere where I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, all I perceived was the culmination of the American dream in the heart of suburbia.

My passion is to teach and encourage others to lead lives wholly devoted to Christ, to help them become the people God created them to be. When I am surrounded by a group of professing believers who are settling for less than God has planned for them, something inside me begins to well up and I want to scream. How is it that we have settled for so little when the One we serve holds the entire Universe in His hands? Greater still is the fact that when we surrender our lives to Him, all of His power resides within us and is available to us.

If we have all this power available to us individually, think what we can do corporately as the body of Christ! So when I sit among a few thousand people and feel nothing more powerful than the American Dream, I hope you understand my frustration. Gathering together as a body of believers should always bring about a powerful moving of the Spirit of God. But that won’t happen unless and until we have all surrendered our hearts and live entirely to Jesus Christ. As long as we are focused more on what we have in this world than on the fact that billions are destined to be forever separated from their Creator, we will never experience everything God has for us. We will never accomplish the mission He has given us to do when our selfishness and greed are our primary concerns. We are the hands and feet of God, designed to do great work for His honor and His glory. That’s the goal, but instead we are chasing a dream.

Don’t be fooled, God sees our hearts and knows where our motivations truly are. We are not here to enjoy the ride and get all that we can. Our purpose in life is to bring the Kingdom of God down to earth. We are to exhibit His love, mercy, and generosity to others. Anything less is unacceptable to God. Our souls were made to shine, but too often we simply hide the light. The result is a weak church oblivious to the power available to them. We become toothless and soul-less. We all must ask ourselves, “Are we pursuing the American dream or the mission of Christ?” Which will you choose?

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Unfortunately, rarely does a day go by where you don’t read or see a story where a “Christian” is saying or doing something that impugns the character of Christ. I hope they meant well by their actions, but the reality is they make Jesus less attractive to the public. A lot of this can be traced to some really bad theology taught in the last couple hundred years. Ultimately the blame rests on we who swallowed the teaching without ever bothering to test the validity of it. We are all imperfect beings and we all have our own issues. But we must never forget that the reason for our existence is to reflect the love and beauty of Jesus Christ.

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As I write this my wife and I are seeking a new local church with whom to fellowship. The most troublesome trend I’ve noticed as we are going through this process is that there seems to be a common thread running through many churches that emphasizes their social programs rather than the process of becoming fully committed followers of Jesus. The announcements that flash on a screen or are spoken from the stage all point to the various programming available to the attendees. As A.W. Tozer noted over fifty years ago, “Christian expectation in the average church follows the program, not the promises.” (“Faith without Expectation Is Dead”)

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Why does the Church exist? To clarify, I am speaking about both the Church of Christ, that is all who profess to believe and follow Jesus, and the local institutions where we gather together for worship, fellowship, and growth. There really should be no distinction between these two definitions, but at least in the West there seems to be an ever increasing divide between what is meant when we speak of the body of Christ (the Church) and the buildings where we meet (churches). It is revolting and heartbreaking to experience the watered down, feel-good message that is being preached in weekend services, while the true mission of the Church is left neglected.

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