The Gay Blade Cuts Both Ways

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Just the other day, I was asked about whether or not a Christian can attend a same-sex wedding in a Church. Should I bring my family, and my young children to such an event?

We know what God says about same-sex weddings. Absolutely nothing. There is no such thing in the Bible. But before the LGBTQs breathe a sigh of relief, God has much to say about traditional marriage. Though the examples of strong man-woman marriages seem to be few, they are there, as exemplified by Adam and Eve, Joseph and Mary, Aquila and Priscilla, and many others. The first book in the Bible to frankly discuss sex is Song of Solomon, and it describes an intimate relationship between a man and a woman. The wisdom literature (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) all speak of marriage as the unique relationship between a man and a woman that is exclusively theirs. When Jesus speaks of marriage, he speaks of it as an exclusive relationship between a man and woman sealed by God, unbreakable by man. His followers bore similar testimony to the marriage relationship.

Therefore God’s silence on same-sex marriage is deafening. We know from Romans 1 that same-sex attraction is unnatural, therefore people are not born with it. It is not God’s will for people of the same sex to have sex with each other. (This is a “one-flesh” argument that works well against polygamy too.)

Therefore, for someone to say that they were born gay and ought to fully express themselves (in order to be happy), they ought to be able to marry another gay person is an out and out lie. And God takes this very seriously.

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Lev 20:13)

The word “abomination” may be one of the strongest words in the Old Testament to describe the displeasure of God. Not only does the practice disgust Him, but it seems to me that any “marriage” based on the practice would be absolutely abhorrent to Him. Something so totally outside His plan for marriage that this too would be an abomination.

I heard someone say a few days ago that they knew they were gay from the day they were born. A person doesn’t even begin to think about other people sexually until they get to puberty, do they? Did I miss that? Unless they have been abused sexually I doubt seriously that “from the day I was born” sex was a thing.

I believe there is as much to “same-sex” attraction as there is to the overused stereotypes of what is “male”
and what is “female”. There are so many things that are considered feminine, that any man who has an interest in cooking, tailoring and fashion, personal grooming, or music is immediately, in some circles, considered “gay”, and so pressured by his peers that at some point, he just gives up and “comes out” because he has been labeled so all his life. Any girl interested in carpentry, stone work, weight-lifting, etc., is considered “butch” and must be gay. Since when did we become so narrow to think that only men are interested in some things and only women are interested in others? Do these things compromise our sexuality? Can’t a girl be interested in cars and a guy be interested in soufflé and not be considered gay?

My point is that “being gay” is a false statement, and becomes a trap for anyone with what they interpret as same-sex attraction, and expressing that attraction through physical and imagined acts is self-reinforcing. The more you do it, the more you are used to it, and it becomes normal.

Yet the patterns that reinforce homosexual behavior are eerily similar to the patterns of other sinful behaviors. Psychology tends to call these “addictions”, and sexual addictions tend to be the most destructive, as they tear at the soul of the individual, and not just the flesh. Any sin can become a lifestyle, including lying, stealing, adultery, coveting and so on. And the trap of each sin is two-fold, 1) I can stop anytime, and 2) I’ve gone too far already to turn back.

But there is hope. As long as you are alive, you can still turn back. Your path is not set, nor your destiny assured, since God is stronger than your “destiny” and more powerful than your lifestyle. Don’t give up yet. He hasn’t given up on you.

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0010 – Source Code 2 – Are You Beautiful?

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It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And many understand the wisdom of that sentiment. We tend to see beauty in those similar to ourselves, and only begin to see beauty in those unlike ourselves when we mature. Yet beauty is a quality we recognize without realizing it. We are engineered to recognize beauty (often as symmetry of design) as perfection. We often pair the word “flawless” with beauty, as a way to describe it. If something is faultless or flawless, we more likely recognize it as beautiful. We also recognize order as beauty. A house free from clutter with well-trimmed landscape would be considered beautiful. Well-brushed hair and manicured nails are beautiful.

Even small children do not have to be taught beauty, for they automatically recognize it. Our eyes recognize symmetry, perfection, and order without having to be taught what they are. This is part of our source code, for God is the ultimate Perfection, Order, and Designer of all things. Truly beautiful subjects remind us of awe and wonder. Yet God refuses to let others take credit for His work.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exo 20:4-6)

If it is built within us to recognize beauty, then we are also designed to react to beauty. We react with awe and wonder. And we react with adoration. When we look at the night sky, we are amazed at its vastness, in awe of the power it took to create it, and we just gaze at it, adoring such mighty handiwork. When we see a spectacular piece of art, we are in awe of the skill of the artist and adore the artwork. It is a short step from awe and adoration to worship.

God not only recognizes our propensity to be in awe and adore beauty, but warns us off of worship when our adoration calls away from Himself to someone or something else.

Aspiring to beauty sometimes comes at great personal cost, and can lead to anorexia, bulimia, and even suicide. We have our own personal ideal. I recall in the Matrix some years ago when Neo first enters the computer world (after having escaped it), Morpheus tells him that what he sees of himself is his “residual self-image”. It is how he sees himself. I know exactly what he is talking about, because the guy I see in the mirror every morning isn’t the guy I see myself as (and that’s probably a mental issue right there). But each of us has a “residual self-image” or an ideal self-image that we feel is the way we ought to look. This sometimes leads to making ourselves the idol, an unrealistic obsession with the way we look and how we feel, which is definitely a mental illness called narcissism.  And yet even this “illness” can be rectified with a proper understanding of who we are before God.

Anyone can make an idol of anything, including themselves. It is an idol when it takes our focus off of God. Idols of our own making make few demands of us. Our favorite musicians or movie stars, atheletes or even preachers may only ask for time, some cash, or a donation. That’s far easier that re-ordering your life after the perfection of a perfect God.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) or “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Pe 1:16)

God makes demands on us. He is not content to let us wallow in our imperfection. He calls us to Himself, through His son Christ Jesus. Jesus is the one who renews us and washes us to be pure and holy.

that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:26-27)

Christ wants to make us beautiful in His sight, not just to make us beautiful, but to cleanse us from sin:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1Jn 1:9)

God is just as interested in our beauty as we are, to restore us to the beauty we had before the Fall in the garden, when we had a perfect relationship with Him. God love us so much that he molds us, like clay, into vessels worthy of His use. He molds us, refines us, perfects us through trial and sometimes through suffering, until we are beautiful vessels, so shiny He can see His face in us.

We may recognize beauty in others and in things, but God sees our beauty when He sees Himself in us.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1Pe 3:3-4)

This is why no image, no graven image can ever be formed before God. All of them are meagre and stupid before the holiness and beauty of the Almighty God. No idol, no Greek statue, no modern Olympian, no self-made man can even hope to be compared with the awesomeness that is God.

Are you beautiful to God?

Biblical Eldership

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I feel like I’ve argued both sides of this debate. Early in my ministry, I was confronted about whether an elder could be a single man. Later, could he be a divorced but remarried man. I’ve heard that the qualifications for eldership ought to be taken at face value, and that they ought to be understood as guidelines. I would pay to see the longitudinal study that showed the results of both understandings.

The truth is I’ve seen a few church elders in my time. I’ve had the privilege of working with some great men. And I’ve worked with men that were not so great, and some that were really petty. Some Elders were far more interested in personal or family power in the church than delivering sound judgment. I’ve seen many good men shy away from the leadership because the men in already in power were corrupt. And I’ve seen good Elders sour under peer pressure and pressure from those of influence outside church leadership.

I see the church elder as a dying breed, whose role and scope is slowly being taken over by staff, the “hired guns” from out of town, out of the colleges and seminaries. Staff take up the role of the Elder, but don’t do the work of shepherding, not like a home-grown Elder, allowing the sheep to wander on their own through the week because staff don’t necessarily understand the community like the Elder does.

That is the price of cheap grace by the way. If its easy to get into faith (by raising your hand or standing up at the close of the message) its just as easy to fall back out. Salvation costs you nothing, but it costs you everything.

We’ve so corrupted the understanding of what an Elder is that we don’t even try it anymore. It’s a title for a church officer and nothing more. He manages church business and hiring and often firing the preacher, if he has any power at all. In a small church, the Elder is the “Great Power”. In a large church, you can scarcely find him, eclipsed by the personality of the Preacher. Somewhere in there is the biblical role of an Elder.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1Ti 3:1-7)

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Tit 1:5-9)

When we look at the qualifications for an Elder we see a man who is an upstanding citizen, well-known in his community. He is a man with a stable marriage and family life. He is a man who knows his Bible and has good management skills. he has been through the school of hard knocks and graduated with honors. He is respected by his peers, but humble. He is evident in his faith and willing to share it. He is a man with life experience and wisdom, and the ability to pass this on to others. This is a man whose wife and children look up to him. This is one who is just as qualified by who he is as by those who know him.

This is the heart of Pauline Eldership, and let us tread carefully on this ground, since the leadership of God’s Church suffers, if not shatters and crumbles, if we do not take this seriously. As Alistair Begg recently said, “The chaos of an Elder’s home bleeds over in church leadership.”

The systems our churches use are far too weak, and far too lenient to meet this standard. And this leads to weak and lenient churches. We must be willing to accept the notion that if no man is qualified, then God has chosen no one to fill the role. We must be willing to keep the position open and vacant until men are qualified. Contrary to the “by-laws”, the Bible does not make it mandatory, and it may well mean the Lord is not ready to appoint any elders at this time. I think there is something to be said for men to be deacons before they are elders, but the diaconate is a different kind of position.

The Elders’ role (always in plural, by the way, never singly) is the shepherding of the flock. Its instruction and ministry of the Word, anointing the sick, and giving wise counsel.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. (1Pe 5:1-3)

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. (1Th 5:12-13)
Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. (Jas 5:14)

The elders are not responsible for the budget, the collection, benevolence, or making sure the stairs get fixed. The Elders are responsible for the spiritual depth of the local Church, while the deacons are responsible for the physical well-being of the church. As Shepherds and Overseers, they pursue the strays and lead the flock. They are responsible for dreams (as the old men, Acts 2:17) not the bottom line. An Eldership not willing to entrust these things to the Diaconate has done a poor job of selecting deacons. An eldership unwilling to stand against peer pressure from the church or even wife pressure at home is a poor eldership at best.

If Elders has been selected according to the standards we know are written in God’s Word, our churches would be in very different places now, and not nearly so dependent on the colleges and universities for leadership and advice. That places the Scholars in those leadership roles, not seasoned elders. That’s not what the Scriptures teach. That’s not the New Testament Church.

What we are seeing today among our larger churches reflects this. The Church has become a place to be entertained, not an encouragement for service. If we see the elders at all, it is the stumbling meditation of the Lord’s Supper, very much out of tune with the rest of the service. Where are the elders leading from the pulpit, through the song service, and giving the invitation? They are often men unskilled in speaking, uncomfortable before a crowd, and very willing to let the preacher take over for them. Where is the enthusiasm of the Board Meeting? Or the emotional vitality when telling the preacher where to go?

Men, if you are an Elder reading this, I encourage you to become more involved and out front in your church. Don’t be content to hide behind the title, or simply show up when the Board Meeting is called. You are the Head Christian in your Church, not your preacher. Everyone expects the preacher to be a Christian. But the Elder is one who lives where they live, and has been through what they experience and still loves the Lord. The Elder is the man who calls on the sick and the infirm, who shepherds the flock, knows the flock by name, and encourages the weak. If you are not up to the task, resign, and let God call someone who is. Encourage your preacher and admonish him, hold him accountable, but never tear him down in front of others. If you don’t like your preacher, hold him up before God in prayer. If you are not a praying man, then get on your knees. its time you started. If you are depending on your preacher to do your job, then its time for a wake-up call. Help him do his job by doing yours.

Blood Moons

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September 28, 2015 was predicted as the last of four “blood moons” to occur, a “tetrad” of lunar eclipses (four occurring in close proximity in time) that when they occur on Jewish Feast days, predict major events for the Jewish people. You can read all about it at http://www.endtime.com/four-blood-moons/ and watch a video by Irvin Baxter. The threat of this blood moon is that “the Bible predicts” the Jews will sign a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and this will start the seven years of tribulation before the final return of Christ.

However, coming so soon after the “Mayan Prophecies” of December 2012, and before that Y2K, and before that September 1988, many people are tired of date-setting for doomsday. Is it possible that God set 9/28/15 as the final nail in our coffin? Yes. Of course it is. But just as soon as a person sets a date, you know he will be wrong, since:

“Now concerning that day and hour no one knows–neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son–except the Father only.” (Mat 24:36)

If the Bible seems pretty clear that no one can predict the Day of the Lord’s return, why do so many try to? In AD 1000, the church predicted the return of Christ, a prediction which caused such disappointment that the church split East and West in 1044 in the Great Schism. William Miller (of the Seventh Day Adventists) predicted Jesus’ return in 1844. Many others throughout history tried to predict it. All failed. Are there certain Biblical markers to determine the timing of the second Coming? Are there any Biblical prophecies that we can say for certain will happen at a certain time?

But this is the dilemma of prophecy. And some prophecy teachers confuse the original return of Israel after the exile to a future return, due in small part to Ezekiel’s prophecy of a Temple. The return of a nation called Israel in 1948 (by UN decree) has stirred the pot of prophecy teachers who are all certain it portends the return of Christ. Now it has been 70 years since 1948, and still no return. And of course, this puts doubt in anyone who believed because of the prophecies.

They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2Pe 3:4)

They will say that if the prophecies failed, there must not be a God. I get very frustrated with this, one of my all-time pet peeves. May I remind you of yet another prophecy?

For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear something new. (2Ti 4:3)

Something new? Everyone who comes out with a “fresh word” from God, ignoring the sound words that are already written, is leading people astray. “Sound doctrine” is being put by the wayside because that’s too hard. That requires study and discipline and sound teaching. But this wave upon wave of prophecy teachers, each with their own fresh spin on the prophecies given to Israel 2500 years ago, seems like it will never end, because there is always people with money gullible enough to buy it.

This verse sounds prophetic to me.

Did Jesus Come?

IMG20073Recently, I was called into the hospital to help a family through the last hours of their mother. It was not an easy afternoon, as we watched the numbers on her monitors fall slowly to zero. She died very peacefully, surrounded by her husband, her children, and her loved ones. As a Chaplain, I made myself available to them without being obtrusive in this very private family event.

As I attended to them, I began to think about something we had discussed in Bible Study a few weeks ago about Jesus’ coming. Jesus promised the disciples in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Some might argue that this refers to Jesus’ Second Coming, and well it might. But there is a subtle promise made here for every believer, I think.

I am reminded of Stephen in Acts 7 who was the first Christian martyr. He testified that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56) Was Jesus coming then to receive Stephen into glory? Would the Lord of Heaven take the time to receive us individually upon our death? Would Jesus come and receive us personally when we die? It’s possible.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul remarked, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2Co 5:8) He says elsewhere, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Php 1:23) The Bible makes clear that the Christian will be with Christ upon death. Jesus’ promise to the disciples makes it seem that He personally will receive all who die in the Lord as well.

And thus my thought as I sat there watching this family grieve, “Is Jesus here too?” Did Jesus come to receive this dying woman unto Himself? Did He, unseen to human eyes, receive the soul of this dying woman? Were our eyes unveiled, would we too be witnesses of His majesty as Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration? There came over me a special desire for holiness as I imagined the presence of Christ in that very room preparing to lead this dear saint homeward.

Call it speculation if you will. But wouldn’t it be great if the last eyes you see on this earth and the first eyes you see in Heaven belong to Jesus? What if Jesus was the one that escorted us across the threshold into the heavenlies, through the gates of pearl and into the presence of the holy ones. Just as Jesus has been the author and perfecter of our faith, would He not too be our guide into heavenly realms? It’s certainly something to think about, and something to look forward to.

1010 – Source Code 10 – Community and Consequences

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“Thou shalt not covet”

From the beginning we were taught, “It is not good for man to be alone” and so God created a woman, and the first community was born. We start with this last commandment, one often neglected in the list, because I want to work from the least to the greatest. In a sense, this is God’s Top Ten List. At the tenth position we find this principle of community. Why do people congregate together? We practice it without really being aware of it, and think it strange when someone chooses to separate themselves and be a “loner”. It is built within us to be together, rather than apart, even in the sweltering jungles that are farthest from civilization. Human beings congregate, pool resources, fight alongside one another. We do this without thinking because it lies beneath our thinking in our BIOS. With this tenth code comes a warning. Because we congregate together, we compare ourselves to others. If your spear is longer than mine, your hut bigger, your wife prettier, I will notice those things. What I choose to do with this comparison is the subject of this Code.

“‘And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.’ (Deu 5:21)

Deuteronomy uses two words to describe envy. The first “covet” has more of a sexual overtone, like “lust”, hence, wife is moved to the first clause (where in Exodus 20, wife is placed second, after house). The other word, “desire” has more of a general sense of envy. This fresh emphasis may be in light of the Sin at Baal-Peor (Numbers 25:1), and the daughters of Moab. Sexual desire is given special attention because even to look upon a woman, to lust after her, is to commit adultery with her. Jesus re-emphasizes this in the New Testament:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mat 5:27-28)

This kind of envy, which we call lust is just as dangerous as the act itself. Has not many a man been consumed with desire for a woman? Does this not explain the destructive nature of porn?

Add to this the power of envy often used in marketing. When you watch or listen to a commercial, the whole point of this tiny piece of media is to entice you spend your money on something you do not have. Often it is demonstrated that such an item will improve you life, make you feel better, or impress your friends. Several years ago, my folks came down to visit us. We have an HDTV, just like many others. Its not a huge TV, but enough to get the job done. But my folks did not have one. They really enjoyed watching TV on this High-Definition Screen. As soon as they got home, Dad went and got himself a new HDTV. For good or ill, seeing what someone else has automatically, without our even really thinking about it, demands comparison. You notice when you visit someone whether their house is cleaner than yours. Whether their kitchen appliances are more up to date than yours, whether your car has as many bells and whistles as theirs. And that is exactly what this commandment is designed to curb. How do you react when you see someone else’s stuff, even their spouse? Does this comparison lead to discontentment, or even envy?

So, for what purpose is this code built within us?

First, that we would seek others so that we would not be alone. This reinforces our need for accountability. This code is our automatic nature to be in companionship with others. Companionship has consequences. For two to walk together, they must agree to go the same direction. There are rules about companionship that are often unstated. So in our relationships, we build a system of rules that makes sure everyone gets along. There are things we talk about, and things we don’t. There is an unstated agreement that what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours, and we do not take without asking. This is my property and that is your property. This is my spouse and that is your spouse, and we do not trade. (I.e., Swingers, who swap spouses, grate on me personally because they violate this code. The same goes for Communism.) Thus we are accountable to each other if we wish to maintain that relationship.

Second, that in our capacity for comparison we understand that many times we do not measure up and need to improve. If we unconsciously compare ourselves to one another, there must be a reason for it. We recognize people who are more righteous than we are, and as sinful people, this naturally grates on us. This contributed in large part to why Jesus was crucified, because of a world of lost sinners couldn’t stand One who was not. Jesus is our model for righteousness. When we take up His righteousness upon ourselves through salvation and sanctification, our capacity for comparison to Him works for us, and we practice our capacity for judgment (based on this code). Don’t discount your ability to judge, because it comes from this capacity for comparison (between what is right and what is wrong) and leads to a spiritually enhanced ability called “discernment”. When we use Christ as our standard of comparison, it is much easier to see what is “not-Christ”.

Third, we receive validation and approval from others (an important emotional need) when we succeed. From the right sources, that can be valuable empowerment to do what we are supposed to do. I cannot emphasize this enough. If we fail to receive validation (from our parents, our peers, even our kids to an extent) there is a deep disconnect within us, a breach of the BIOS, and odd behaviors begin to emerge. Validation-seeking behaviors will take the lead, desires for approval, trying to be the best to the exclusion of other needs, to the exclusion of common sense, i.e., taking steroids to be the best athlete against better judgment. Trying to be the best student, or the best musician, practicing and practicing because validation one did not receive from mom and dad (especially dad) will be sought from others. Consider obsession with Facebook (and WordPress) likes, seeking validation from strangers. Coveting comes into this when we see the validation others receive and desire it for ourselves, and sometimes this will lead to murderous behavior (Lee Harvey Oswald?). The desire to “make a name for myself” comes from this.

The last commandment is the only commandment to deal with an attitude, a starting point for which many of the other commandments follow. Please follow and like as we continue to work through the Source Code.

Doing Church

IMG20031Myopia is the medical condition of only being able to see things up close. It is the condition many churches fall into when they only look at themselves and their own needs for too long. A church can become myopic when it only focuses on the needs of a few, instead of the whole, or its members, instead of a community. For a church, this can be fatal. For example, if ministry is offered only to the offended, the blessed are ignored, and no one else notices when they leave, and vice versa.

We need to pull back and take a larger view of the controversies going on among our brethren so that we can biblically navigate through them ourselves. We are not the only church, and what goes on among them affects us as well. This month our churches celebrate together at the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. I won’t be attending very simply because I cannot justify the expense. I have been waiting for some kind of workshop schedule where I might find a seminar or two to brush up my skills for Chaplaincy. No such luck. The last schedule I saw was directed primary for those in churches doing church work, largely according to a large church model, or telling you how to get a large church. It seems like I’ve been hearing that rhetoric for the two decades of my pastoral ministry. It’s easy to see why.

The balance of influence in our brotherhood has shifted. It used to be that all the churches supported the Bible Colleges more or less equally, because the colleges’ needs were modest. But as they have grown, their needs have grown, as their need for church support. Churches who are larger contribute more, and as a result, have a greater stake in the graduates they produce. The colleges, now universities, have produced graduates more suited to the specialized ministries of the large church. Ministry graduates are now being trained in one or two things, not the many roles demanded by the small church, who can only pay part-time wages despite full-time expectations. Yet these ministry specialists bring hefty college debt and narrow training, like youth, counseling, or pulpit ministry. It is a recipe for frequent minister burnout, short pastorates, and vacant small-church pulpits.

And this is where we find ourselves today. We have hundred of small churches asking for a guy who can preach and change the light bulbs, while the graduates are continually frustrated by the small-minded of the small church. All they can think about (and I include myself in that bunch, once upon a time) is how to grow that church into a mega-church, just like Bob Russell did at Southeast Christian Church. Many of the men I trained with, and now myself included, have come out of the ministry with an overwhelming sense of frustration and guilt that we couldn’t do it. It is guilt and failure. It is also doubt. Has the Lord said? Did the Lord call me to ministry? Somewhere, somehow, there has been a disconnect between the average church and the average Christian University. And the smaller churches are turning to lay preachers, men who have little formal education in Bible, because they simply cannot afford the high-priced graduates (who have decades of college loans to pay off).

What can be done? It seems to me that two things needs to happen. First, the small church needs to wake up and and realize their ship is sinking and that all hands need to be on deck. There is no room for pew-sitters anymore. If a small church is going to survive, everyone, no matter the age, needs to be about the business of ministry, because they cannot afford someone to do it for them.

Second, The Colleges and universities need to wake up, and train more men for small church ministry. If colleges depend on donations, they need to realize their donation pool is drying up. The more often they have to compromise for funding, the more the small churches are going to bail on them. The Universities need to realize that its not all about the specialists. There needs to be a call for the generalists, those who can do a little of everything. This is a role that needs to be marketed and pushed, because that is the world their graduates are going back into. There needs to be a course on church politics, and how to do spine surgery on spineless elders. There needs to be a backbone clinic to speak truth to the powerful in the small churches and deliver the word of God without compromise, but with tact and respect.

Ok, soap box aside, I’ve been in enough small churches to see the same personalities with different faces. I love the small church, and I love the way small churches do things, how they impact their communities, and most of their people are honest, hard-working, down-to-earth folks. I miss it, just like I miss the quiet of Christmas Eve Communion and the strains of Silent Night, the Easter Choir and the Sunrise Service (followed by breakfast, of course). I miss the sense of belonging, of family in the small church. That’s why I think God made so many of them, because He loves them too.

Let’s stop playing church, and let’s be the church, and let’s do it together.