Dying or Looking for Signs of Life?

By Pastor Loren Regier
 
In my office are the relics of an old hobby I used to enjoy – taxidermy. In fact, right before college I toyed with the idea of just skipping college and starting a taxidermy studio called, New Life Studios, Inc. – I even had a motto – ‘We bring dead things to life” which was a little take-off of GE’s former tagline, “We bring good things to life. It didn’t work too well for GE. The problem is life, both physical and spiritual is the sole domain of the God of Heaven who is the giver of real life and all that is truly good. No one can really create anything. Especially life. The animals in my office have no breath, no pulse. They simply serve as dusty curiosities to those in the 3-6 year old range. They are only representations of life, merely imitations with glass eyes. This is a day in which the church’s eyes are “glassing over”. The new expectation from the young (aged teens-mid 30’s), is that church should be full of life. Amen to that! Where the Spirit of God is there ought to be life. Real life. I get that. I want that. We need that. Those under 40’s so often leave fundamental churches looking for more life, vibrancy, and sense of God’s power and presence. Though I detest the departure, I applaud anybody with a real hunger for the living Lord. This should be a wakeup call to all those who take pride in cold orthodoxy alone. Churches should have a pulse. My only fear is that we no longer know what that life looks like. An even greater concern is that we are settling for artificial life. Churches wishing to attract the life seekers are popping religious pep pills. We now are calling ourselves centers for passion and excitement, cultures for dreamers and innovators, launching pads for vision and headquarters of social justice. God is no longer our greatest fear – boredom is. So bring on life even if you have to fake it. Sell the sizzle. Bring in the clowns. Rename your church. Shake it up! Problem is you can’t fake life. The following points illustrate the most common imposters trending today. Life is a good cup of coffee. If you would know our passions for life in the church, just look at our investments. How great is it if your church has a nursery that looks like Disney World, a sanctuary that looks like a movie theater with, of course, the now quintessential Coffee Station with a “churchy” name like, Aromas of Grace? Grace smells a lot like Starbucks, I’ve noticed. (How did Grampa ever make it through church without coffee?). Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee and have even been known to drink it on Sunday at church but please don’t choose a church on those grounds alone. Life is thing of beauty. Perhaps you noticed new Church websites today are full of pictures of happy, blemish-free young people with smiling faces? Ever wonder, where do they get all these happy, good-looking people? People at our church are so normal-looking, some almost grumpy. Paul’s website was not that popular either, Paul, Chief of Sinners, pastor of the Nothing Good in Me Baptist Church. It just didn’t sell well. Who wants an old battle-scarred preacher with low self-esteem preaching about sin? Churches with life are full of the young and beautiful. Pastors are looking, well, different, have you noticed? T-shirts and tattered jeans have replaced the suit and ties. Tattoos are in and big biceps are all the rage. We want our preachers to be burley, buff and bearded. Preaching is now done from bar stools behind round tables where preachers relax over tablets (not those that Moses used) with a latte in one hand and a gorgeous wife on the other, preaching is now more about chatting up the good life, getting out of debt and staying healthy. The tone is sweet and conversational, making the truth almost optional, non-demanding. Humor dulls what edge may still be left on truth and makes our preaching seem not only less convictional but just plain, less. (Disclaimer – my wife would argue that gorgeous wives are not to be considered less spiritual than others) Life is open and all-embracing. In this new day of Gospel Lite our sin is not as serious as it once was, so our life in Christ is not so much about freedom from sin as much as it is a freedom to sin. Dance teams slowly twirl as the stage fog slowly swirls behind them in multicolored magic. Church platforms are technical infusions of the media medics. Bait and switch. Musicians who made a very short walk from Hollywood, copy and paste religious lyric to their bar tunes and soulful rhythms then foist them upon the church. “That will make it “Christian”, they wink and we drink it up. Only prudish minds and pale untattooed arms dare raise any objections. Christian rappers, beer-drinkers, winebibbers, women preachers both gay and straight, comedians both saved and lost and nearly any other strange creature of the darkness is now part of acceptable church life. And we love to have it so. Gone are boring platforms with wooden pulpits and choir lofts. Organs went extinct with choir robes. Now, giant screens, and laser lights add zip and zest to what must have been missing in the days of deadpan Puritans. Music has become a strange blend of crooning words and swaying emotions. Jesus may be Lord in the new lyric but the new Lord sung about is so seductively expressed that the performers would have us to believe, Jesus could be my boyfriend, too.  “Hey, God doesn’t judge so why should we?” Turn up the volume and drown out the haters. Life is like, so amazing! Our young like wonders. Because Jesus healed and fed the multitudes in His day, we dare not preach about sin until we first show the world how much we care for them. Heal them first. Never mind that Jesus came to seek and save not to amaze and bedazzle. He didn’t always heal, always raise the dead, always do marvels or multiply the loaves and fish. And when He did he chided those who just came to see wonders. No lepers were healed in Elijah’s day and Jon the Baptist didn’t have a miracle tent. But we still should. What the world needs is love, food, clean water and a good dose of miracles. “Send me your gifts and you’ll get your healing”. I can’t think of one person the Lord healed and then asked for a donation and I do know everyone he healed or raised from the dead, later died. There is no cure for death apart from life. The point is the Lord’s miracles were to validate a greater truth: dead men need spiritual life and only Jesus can bring us that sort of life. Miracles were not the focus but merely the conduit of a greater reality. The message of life is changing. It is less, now, about His life and more about our own lives. Focus on me! How can God help me? Our church culture today is telling us were never that dead anyway. Others may need saving, perhaps, far away, but we here in Christian America just need a good makeover. The thunder of convictional preaching and days of soul searching are over. Hearts are not laid open by line upon line preaching anymore. Living sacrifice sounds way too demanding. Life is no longer about crucifying our lives and living Christ’s – not really. It’s about protecting our lives and asking God to take up our American Dreams. Now, it’s more about saving the earth instead of souls. The true cause of church today is about preserving things like clean air, drinking water, whales, oceans, alternative lifestyles and eating kale. Defending lesser causes has hijacked the mission of life and light. The cries from the uttermost are nearly a whisper compared to the deafening roar of our quest to be uppermost. We like our numbing sense of goodness and our national sense of greatness. Great causes have eclipsed the great curse and all but extinguished the Great Commission. The worst sin the church can commit today is to name sin, eat trans-fat, ignore poverty and own a carbon-emitting cow. Life is fun and family-first. And speaking of cows, what of our sacred cow? Pleasure. Pastor, don’t you dare touch my pleasures! Our pleasures bring meaning to life, don’t they? Our Sacred Cow even has a name – The Weekend. We feed it, tend it so we can milk it Friday-Sunday. As for me and my house, we will worship the weekend, after all, the family that plays together. . . Life is Action! Church should be a blur of activity in what is a life of constant motion. Church, if we can squeeze it in at all, should be inspiring and devoid of voids. Sermons are not judged by strength but by length. The good ones, of course, are the short ones. Our toes must keep tapping while our minds keep racing. Mobile devices insure that the droning preacher doesn’t ruin my pace of life. Sitting in one place, on unpadded pews is not only old-fashioned, it’s unproductive. Church should have something for everyone – to do! Listening just gets in the way of doing. People demand that churches cater to the habits of every subgroup including the hang gliders, hobbit lovers and Harley riders. We run from church services to soccer fields and little leagues, way too bothered to find out we are so busy and yet so barren. We are just too busy for the lost art of a Sunday slowdown. When is the last time we really “Considered our ways”? Rest and reflection are for the old and unmotivated. “Be still and know? These are words for another generation. Life is a warm, fuzzy feeling. Unity is the new king that dethrones all other virtues. Don’t be a hater. What the world needs is a deep feeling of oneness. Warm fuzzies rule and deep passions reign. Passion is the mantra that deadens discernment. “Don’t doubt my passion”. Everything’s right if it feels right. Your church is Doctrinal – mine is Passionate. You state your dead creed – we feel our living faith. “Better to feel a lie”, we are told today, “than yawn about truth”. We are the generation not convicted about anything except that convictions are wrong. The age old question of “What is truth”? is alive today but it is not a longing for truth rather a jaded suspicion that truth can’t be really known. Truth in every generation is not lost because it is unavailable, rather because it is being willfully supplanted. So, this is the emerging church who’s longing for life has all but swallowed up our young. Tired of old preachers who can’t do anything but find fault in their young ways, the young simply disappear looking for a vibrancy that has long been missing in many of the Fundamental churches they are leaving. No life. We that stay behind know that emotion without sound doctrine is dead wrong, but we also need to accept that doctrine without spiritual life is wrong, too. Sadly, we wring our hands as our young disappear. Are we ready to die?  Could it be we who remain don’t really know the God we claim to know? Like the church of Sardis in Rev 3 – Could it be that God has assessed us and said, “I know thy works that thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead. Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore what thou hast received and heard and hold fast and repent.” “Repent” is the key for the older generation and “hold fast” the key for the young. Elders, our eyes have forgotten how to cry, our lips have forgotten the salty taste of tears shed over a prolonged negligence of our own pursuit for God. Our settled-for hearts no longer feel the joys of new life in church by reason of the gospel telling we profess. Our hearts don’t leap within us at the sound of good doctrine. Joys of revivals past and great rescues of the lost are only a memory. We are cold. We are the problem; not the youth. May God help us to warm up again, so that this generation coming may adore and not abandon the One True and Living God. To those young lives looking for life, don’t abandon solid churches to feed your emotions with wells that hold no water. Keep yourself in line with truth and in love with God.