Information Overload

I have spent the last few months becoming a #churchnerd. Yes, that’s right. A church nerd. How, you may ask, does one become a church nerd?

It begins with reading. Lots and lots of reading. Blog articles. Web sites. Books. Lots of books. It continues with more reading, listening to podcasts devoted to church leadership, church health, pastoral care, preaching and church renewal. It involves prayer and a good bit of talking with others in ministry, those entrenched in the muck and mire of the everyday shepherding of their flocks and battling the darkness of culture.

I have soaked myself in data and research reading. The Barna Group and Pew Research Data are like my BFFs for information.

And you know what? All of the information, all of the current studies and books and research depresses me. It frustrates me. It saddens me.

We live in a world that is increasingly more secular, and our culture is shifting dramatically towards it. The words “unchurched” and “dechurched” are become daily parts of our vocabulary. As someone in the trenches, it is easy to get sucked into a woe-is-me attitude, especially seeing it from the perspective on this side of ministry.

I was reminded recently, however, that it is not all doom and gloom. After all, as believers, we know who wins in the end. We know that Jesus will be victorious. His kingdom will reign. (Can I get an amen?)

The hubs and I went to Tennessee recently to attend a ministry conference. It was a foretaste of heaven, to be surrounded by so many believers raising up their voices in prayer and song. It felt like holy ground.

 

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                                                                                                                  photo courtesy of Seedbed

Prayer and revival were among the themes of the 3 days. We worshiped together, we prayed. We listened, we worshiped, we learned, we prayed, and we worshiped again. With every speaker, my soul was convicted of the bitterness and sadness that has taken root. In tears, as I confessed to my sins, my heart broke. The hard shell of disappointment shattered and fell to the ground as I released the burden of it to the Lord. Something happened within the conference and in the travel time with friends. Something holy. Something good.

You see, even in the midst of reading, and writing, and spending time becoming a church nerd, it was all in my head. I was learning, but I wasn’t growing. Knowledge is a good thing, but knowledge is best when it transforms the heart and soul, when it stirs one to action.

My heart is in revival. I have come to the realization that revival begins in each of us, when we open our heart to seek after the Lord with a hunger that we haven’t known before. This is where I am now. It is a hard, and a holy, place of transformation, of growth.  No longer am I just seeking information, but I am seeking after the heart of God, desperate to have His heart for His world.

In a journey of faith, we must seek to be revived over and over again. The world will do its best to wreck us, to make us angry and bitter. The world and its despair will harden our hearts to the cries of the needy, the hurting, the marginalized. The world will do its best to destroy our peace and shake our faith.  The world will overwhelm us and the only way to not succumb is to trust in the One who has overcome the world.

All the data, all the reading, all the information in the world will do nothing if we do not use it to stir up revival in us.

Information needs to lead to transformation.

 

 

 

 

5 Easy Ways to Stay Exactly the Same

Change is hard, amen?  No one likes change and everyone bucks against it when it comes.

And it does come, sweet friends. There is nothing so constant as change. It comes in the weather, it comes in the seasons, it comes in the day-to-day decisions of life.  Jobs change, friends change, people change. We are in a constant state of growth and death, of renewal and rejection. In every moment, there are ways to choose the path of growth, of health, of renewal….or the path that leads to stagnation, death, decay. And friends, it is a choice. It takes a conscious decision to continue to move forward, even in the hard times, even through the pain, even through the dark nights of the soul.

Our spiritual lives, just as our physical lives, have cycles of change and rebirth, inspiration and darkness. But if you don’t want to grow or change? Well, here is 5 ways in which you can choose to remain the same….

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  1. Don’t pray.   Prayer leads to a deeper relationship with God, and richer relationships lead to….work. Renewal. Walking through the valleys and the peaks. All relationships take time and effort to grow them, and it is no different with God. A rich prayer life is how we communicate with our Savior, and how He communicates with us. As you deepen your relationship with God, love will overwhelm you and you will want to act out of that love. God will stir in you a desire to reach more people for the Kingdom. Just don’t do it if you want to remain where you are at!
  2. Don’t seek. Close your eyes and turn off your mind. Don’t read spiritual books, don’t allow inspiring speech to hit your ears, don’t let music touch your heart.  And above all else, don’t pick up a Bible!  God will continue to seek you out, in order to inspire you and teach you and grow you….but ignore it the best you can. Keep your eyes downcast and focus only on yourself so that you aren’t seeing the beauty and the tragedy in the world around you. Which leads to my next item…
  3. Be self-focused. Don’t invest in others. Worry about how your needs are being met only, and not about spreading the Gospel message to those who may have not yet encountered Christ. Do not become passionate about serving the outcasts of society. Never ask a relative or friend how it is with their soul. Never invite another person to join you at your local worship service. Someone sitting in your seat? Kick ’em out. Someone else making you feel uncomfortable with their questions or comments? Ignore them. Never engage those who may challenge the way you think or the way you do things. To do so may cause you to question and wrestle with your beliefs and traditions. Gasp! Who needs that stress?
  4. Be a cultural Christian. Be nominal in your faith. Sure, if someone asks you what your faith is, answer Christian, but never live out Christian witness. To do so may deem you a “radical.”  Show up for the occasional worship service (Christmas and Easter are your best bets.) Don’t spend more than exactly 60 minutes in a worship setting, and never cultivate deep friendships with other Christians where accountability matters. Don’t invest time in learning and growing in your faith. Spend all your free hours sucked up in the latest viral videos, or social media, or binge-watching Netflix. Pay more attention to the break-ups and hook-ups in Hollywood than you do to the heartbreak God has for His people. Romans 12:2 (NLT) states: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” But what do I know? It’s only scripture….
  5. Don’t risk. You read that right. Risk can equal rewards, but it can also lead to hurt and frustration. Risk can lead us down a path filled with glory and joy, but it can also lead to some pretty dark places as we join with Jesus in setting the prisoner free. Risk can lead us down into the valley of shadow and death, and if we aren’t clinging tightly to the Shepherd, we can fall in the pit. Let fear hold you hostage. Let fear keep you from living out a life of freedom in Christ. Without taking a risk, you never need to worry about growth or change.

All 5 steps sound easy, don’t they? It would be so much easier to be stagnant, to sit and just BE. And yet, God continues to pursue the hearts of His people. God continually invites us to grow and change and be transformed, not by this world, but by His grace, mercy, and love. God doesn’t want us to stay the same. God desires our hearts. God desires our willingness to be the clay as the Master Potter molds and shapes us into the image of the Savior.

I hope you read this as being light-hearted, if a bit snarky, but it really isn’t a light-hearted subject. The sad state is that these are not crazy things you’ve read. These are all attitudes I have had at one time or another, or things I have struggled with in my own hardened heart. These are words I have heard fellow Christians say. These are the actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) of many of our churches, by many of our people. This is the state of Christianity around us. And it breaks my heart. 

Friends, Jesus came to give us life, an abundant life. It is not a life of worldly abundance of riches and ease, but it is a rich, full life.  It is a life that is better when we walk along with one another, lifting each other’s burdens, carrying one another’s loads. It is a life better lived in community, and a life best lived when we are following our Shepherd, clinging tightly to His cloak. God will never leave us, nor forsake us, but will be beside us as we live into the life He has given us.

Risk it all, pray unceasingly, love the other, seek to find God in everything, and live a life where no one doubts whom you serve.

Embrace change.