Church Impossible

I’m not big on reality TV, but I’ve been watching Restaurant Impossible lately on the Food Network (and occasionally Kitchen Nightmares on BCC and Fox). For those unfamiliar with these programs, here’s a short description.

Each Restaurant Impossible episode features a failing restaurant on the verge of going out of business. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine comes to the restaurant, samples the food, observes how it operates, interviews the customers, inspects the kitchen, food storage, management, workers, etc. Then he gives his brutally honest assessment of the problems to the owners and workers. From there it’s a matter of quickly correcting the problems, with the owners and employee’s cooperation, so the restaurant has a new start.

As I watch various episodes, I see many common problems: poor quality food, preparation, and recipes, dirty kitchens, outdated decor, and perhaps most common, lack of humility in the owners, cooks, and other workers that prevent them from seeing the obvious.

Those restaurants that accept chef Robert’s assessment and embrace his recommendations and new menu are more likely to experience a successful turn-around. But some fall back into their old ways when Robert leaves, and end up closing soon after.

The concept of the TV series could be applied to many other kinds of failing businesses. However, I wonder what it would be like to apply it to the church, i.e. Church Impossible. A mature believer comes from outside to a failing congregation, observes how it functions, confronts them with the problems and gives them good biblical solutions, teaching them how to get back to the basics, etc.

(Actually, there is a ministry that does something similar, minus the reality TV cameras. It’s called Metanoia Ministries. If your church is struggling with internal conflict, contact them. They can help.)

Many of the problems in churches today are very similar to those of the struggling restaurants. Perhaps you are part of a congregation that is stagnant or failing apart, and you want to know how to turn it around. While I don’t have all the answers, in the next series of posts I hope to uncover the causes of some common problems and give their biblical solutions.

(By the way, out of curiosity, I googled ‘church impossible’ and found other bloggers and pastors who had the same idea. I didn’t look at anything they wrote because I want to keep to keep my posts as original as possible. It will be interesting afterward to compare to see how we all differed in what we found.)

Presumption or Knowledge?

And Abraham said to his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

-Genesis 22:5 (JND)

God told Abraham to offer his son, Isaac, as a burnt offering. Obediently, Abraham took Isaac on a three day journey to Mount Moriah where he was to accomplish the unthinkable, horrific task. God did not tell Abraham He would provide a substitute offering for his son. And yet, Abraham confidently told the servants he would return to them with his son alive. He also reassured Isaac that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice (Genesis 22:8). How did Abraham know God would do this when God had commanded him otherwise?

Sure, God had promised to make a great people of Isaac (Genesis 17:15-21), but He could have allowed Abraham to slaughter his son so He could raise him from the dead at some later time (Hebrews 11:17-19). Abraham didn’t have to return from the mountain with Isaac. Yet, somehow he knew he would.

His mother says to the servants, Whatever he may say to you, do.

– John 2:5 (JND)

Jesus and Mary were at a wedding when the wine ran out. Mary went to tell Jesus, but He apparently brushed her off, giving no indication He would do anything about it. Yet, somehow Mary knew Jesus would do something about it. How did she know in spite of Jesus’ answer?

These are just two examples of what appears to be presumptuous faith: expecting God to answer in a way nobody should expect. These people had received no word or prophetic vision from God of what He would do. How could they trust God to do something when the situation, even what He said earlier, said ‘No’? After receiving the command from God, Abraham had no right to tell the servants he would return with Isaac… or did he?

When it comes to knowing God, we rely on what God has told us about Himself in the pages of scripture. A whole field of study has arisen out of this which we call ‘theology’ – the study of God. The Bible is the primary textbook for this study, and there is so much in it, that it serves the mature believer just as much as the new believer.

Grade schoolers learn how to do math by example. They learn 1+1=2, 2+2=4, etc. They begin to learn by memorizing these simple formulas. But eventually it ‘clicks’ and they become able to do complex mathematical expressions that they haven’t seen before. Knowing God is similar. We learn about God from our Bibles – who He is, the things He likes and doesn’t like, etc. But mature knowledge comes to know God’s character and nature such that one can tell what God will or won’t do without an expressed statement of that in the Bible. It is similar to the relationship between husband and wife after many years go by. Each knows what (and how) the other thinks without having to hear the words… or even in spite of what is said.

The knowledge of God is not about facts that you have memorized (although those facts are necessary). It is deeper. It is personal and intimate. It is knowledge of His heart. And it comes about by spending time with Him in His word, in prayer, and in simple, submissive and obedient trust in what He has said. The more quality time you spend with your heavenly Father, the more He will reveal Himself to you, and the more you’ll know what He will or will not do in your situation. You will trust Him more.

Make it your life’s ambition to ever seek to know God’s heart.

New Book: Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective

Book cover imageFor the past 4 to 5 months I’ve been working on a book to help followers of Jesus get to know Him better. The content of the book is based on things I’ve written on this website and the Fadingman blog. The book is called Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective. It’s available for Kindle, and within a week (hopefully) it should be available in paperback through Amazon.com, but you can get the Kindle version right now by clicking on the cover image to the left.

I originally intended, back in August of last year, to put together a book based solely on the contents of the Fadingman blog. But I found I had some other writings that fit into the theme of following Jesus, so I included them also.

Click here to read more about the book.

Hoarders

… But according to your hardness and unrepentant heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath, revelation, and of the righteous judgment of God…

– Romans 2:5

This verse reminds me of the reality TV show Hoarders. The show is about people who have compulsions to collect so many things (boxes of stuff, animals, etc) that their houses become uninhabitable. At best they might have pathways through their homes a few inches wide to get around.

The most shocking part of the series is seeing the blindness of these people to their problems. They are only slightly aware that their compulsion has made life unmanageable, not only for themselves but for their loved ones and neighbors. Their denial makes it difficult to impossible for them to find help.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of our natural selves in relation to sin? Apart from the grace of God, we all have a sin hoarding problem. And we don’t realize that this is also a wrath hoarding problem. Unless we get supernatural help, we will eventually reap what we sow at the final judgment.

Only God has the solution for our problem. Only He can open our eyes for us to see what we have been doing to ourselves. Only Jesus can save us from the otherwise sure wrath that is to fall on us.

What God Doesn’t Do

We worship an all-powerful God. Nothing can stop or hinder Him from doing whatever He wants. Practically speaking (and as far as our situations and circumstances are concerned), nothing is impossible with God.

It is our awareness of this fact, joined with our knowledge of His love for us, that allows us to go to Him with our worries and concerns for the ‘impossible’ situations in our lives, knowing that He can and does deliver us out of these situations. As we become more aware of how unlimited our God is, our faith increases.

And yet, there are some things that God does not do… even that He cannot do. These are not limitations from outside of Himself; they all center on who He is: His character and His nature. God cannot and will not violate who He is. Amazingly, our awareness of God’s ‘limitations’ also helps to increase our faith.

Several years ago, I posted a list of things that God doesn’t do on the Michael Card forum. Here’s a reprint of that list. You’re welcome to add to it.

What God Doesn’t Do

  • Think or act like me (Isaiah 55:8-9, Psalm 50:21)
  • Give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8)
  • Forgive the sin of speaking evil of the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10)
  • Hear my prayer if I harbor iniquity in my heart (Psalm 66:18, John 9:31)
  • Forgive me if I don’t forgive my brother (Matthew 6:15)
  • Allow His word to return void (Isaiah 55:11)
  • Start something without finishing it (Philippians 1:6).
  • Do things maliciously (purposely create trouble for someone unjustly)
  • Tempt me (James 1:13)
  • Forget His covenant
  • Renege on His promises
  • Keep His anger forever (i.e. hold a grudge)
  • Sleep (Psalm 121:4)
  • Blink (i.e. make mistakes)
  • Fail to come through for me when I trust Him to save me (Romans 10:11)
  • Do things on a whim (randomly)
  • Do things half-way or half-heartedly (Philippians 1:6)
  • Break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick (Matthew 12:20)
  • Think of people in terms of statistics (He’s concerned about individuals, Luke 15)
  • Think in terms of probabilities (…no such thing as chance)
  • Give grudgingly (James 1:5)
  • Treat me as my sins deserve, see or even remember my sins (Hebrews 10:17)
  • Condemn me (Romans 8:1, … thank You, Jesus!!!)
  • Cease loving me
  • Despise the prayer of the needy (Psa. 102:17)
    • …including those in need of wisdom (James 1:5)
    • …or despise the sacrifices of a broken spirit and heart (Psa. 51:17)
  • Abandon me as an orphan (John 14:18 – I’ve always thought of orphans as children without parents, but Jesus, our spiritual big Brother, said this. He doesn’t abandon us either.)

What else does God not do?

The Voice Of The Lord

The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
  the God of glory thunders,
    the LORD, over many waters.
  The voice of the LORD is powerful;
    the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
  The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
    the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
  He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.
  The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
  The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
    the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
  The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
    and strips the forests bare,
    and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

– Psalm 29:3-9

The voice of the Lord certainly impressed this Old Testament writer. But what about the voice of the Lord in the New Testament? What did they have to say?

The voice of the Lord…

… is worth listening to (Luke 10:39)
… blesses the hearers (Luke 11:38)
… cleanses (John 15:3)
… casts out demons (Matthew 8:16)
… heals the sick (Matthew 8:13)
… raises the dead (John 11:43-44)
… calms the sea (Mark 4:39)
… withers the fig tree (Matthew 21:19)
… astonishes with power (Luke 4:32)
… changes fear to faith (Mark 5:36, John 8:30)
… forgives sins (Mark 2:5)
… gives life (Luke 4:4, John 6:63,68)
… intercedes for us (John 17)
… does not pass away (Matthew 24:35)

Why are we called sheep?

Know that Yahweh, he is God. It is he who has made us, and we are his. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

– Psalm 100:3 (WEB)

Through out the Bible, God’s people are referred to as sheep. But why sheep? Why not some other animal like horses, oxen or donkeys?

We think about the nature of sheep, how wayward they are. They tend to get into trouble and need the constant care of a shepherd to protect or rescue them. Of course, other animals can get into trouble, too. Personally, I think the stubborness of a donkey would make it a good human representative. But there is another trait that I think explains why we’re called sheep.

Oxen and donkeys are working animals, used to plow fields, grind grain, and carry loads. Sheep are not working animals. You won’t find sheep under a yoke pulling a plow, or grinding grain. People don’t ride sheep. They can do nothing to earn favor with their owners. They grow wool, but that takes no effort on their part. When you think about it, wool is more a product of the good care that the shepherd provides. The shepherd works to lead the sheep to water and good pasture. All the sheep do is follow the shepherd and eat grass.

How does this help your understanding of being called a sheep?


Update: I noticed that another analogy of God’s people is similar in this regard. A vine is also not used for work (Ezekiel 15:1-8).

Sanctification: Which Chapter Are You?

Step by StepLately I’ve thought about the first half of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, and how the development of Paul’s argument seems to parallel the progress of our walk with Jesus. Paul begins with describing the dire state of the unbeliever (chapters 1-3), then moves on to salvation (chapters 3-5), then to sanctification (chapters 6-8). Paul’s intention is that each one of us progress in life through to chapter 8; that we don’t get stuck in some earlier chapter (i.e. be satisfied with just being saved, or even be satisfied without salvation).

If you’re like most Christians, you probably find living a righteous, God-honoring life to be a difficult, if not impossible, task. You may be in the habit of condemning yourself for your lack of victory over sin. You may even have given up trying. If so, my latest writing, Victory Over Sin, was written to help you understand that, just as salvation is not by works, neither is sanctification by works. God does the work.

Website Changed to WordPress

As you can see, I’ve changed the website again. The main URL is still the same, but now I’m running under WordPress rather than my half-baked home-brew kludge. This will allow me to easily organize and maintain the site and concentrate more on posting.

Virtually all of the old material (over 1.3 megabytes) has been transfered to the new site and is listed on the right side of this page. Most of the HTML has been cleaned up, but some pages still need work (notably the Discipleship Class notes). There are also some broken links to outside sites that need fixing. If you notice any glitches, just let me know.

I am also in the final stages of self-publishing my book, Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective. I’m just waiting for the final proofreader’s inputs, then I’ll publish it through Amazon’s CreateSpace website.