God is NOT an ATM

Here is your god?

When I was about to graduate from seminary I had one last hurdle to jump over: the oral theology exam. This delightful exercise is how I know my theology will fit into 20 double-spaced pages.

After turning in my paper, the date for the exam was set with two professors who would read the amazing work of theological brilliance and prepare to pepper me with questions. On the appointed day I entered the office, took a seat, and nervously sat down. The professors welcomed me, explained a few procedural items, and then asked the first question.

“Does God change?”

Oh good! A softball.

“God never changes in He essential character or purposes,” I said. They were satisfied but I wanted to add more. “I have to believe, also, that God is a personal being and does change His mind. He responds to prayer. Anything less and God becomes a machine.”

The professors, happy with this answer moved on and did not ask any further questions on the topic. An hour and a half later they informed me I had passed the exam. Insert crowds cheering here.

The experience sticks in my mind because at that moment I realized the implications of a personal God. Many theological systems treat God as if He is a machine. Too much Christian preaching does, too. As much as I wish it were not so, many of my own attempts at building a relationship with Him are marked by a “pull this lever, expect that result” mentality.

God’s people have always struggled with the difference between having a mechanical god and a personal relationship with God. In fact, a wise prophet once challenged another god to make this exact point. I’ll share the story with you and draw some applications for us.

Elijah Issues a Throwdown Challenge

The days were dark in Israel. The kingdom promised to Abraham and ruled by David’s family split in two. The queen was a Baal-worshiper and the King went along. Everyone went along it seemed, all except Elijah. The prophet grew weary of the people worshiping other gods so he decided to do something about it.

He called the prophets of Baal to a throwdown sacrifice. This was before Bobby Flay made throwdowns cool. Each would prepare the sacrifice of a bull as usual but with a twist. (Every good story has a good twist!) The fire for the sacrifice had to come from the deity they served. Elijah graciously offered to let the Baal worshipers go first.

The prophets of Baal cut up their sacrifice, placed it on the alter, and began to pray to Baal. It took awhile. They got a little worried so they shouted. Then they danced. They cut themselves in an effort to get Baal’s attention. They carried on like this all day while Elijah taunted them.

It was getting late so Elijah decided to take his turn. He repaired the alter, which had fallen into disrepair from disuse, and prepared his sacrifice.

Then Elijah did something strange. He dug a trench around the alter and ordered large amounts of water poured on the sacrifice. It would be impossible for it to catch fire without a miracle.

Elijah prayed.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.

Can you hear Elijah’s heart for God and the intimacy they shared? The passion for God’s name, the repeated “answer me,” and the desire to see others worship God again show Elijah’s love for the Lord.

God answered Elijah’s prayer. He sent fire and the entire sacrifice including the bull, the stone, the wood, and the water were consumed.

Open all night

God is Not an ATM

Did you notice the difference between how the prophets of Baal and Elijah interacted with their deities? The prophets of Baal tried increasingly desperate tactics to manipulate Baal into doing something. Elijah merely prayed and trusted God to send fire.

How often do you try to manipulate God as if He is a machine? I call it “God is my ATM syndrome” and it happens to me all the time.

I believe that if I insert my faith card, punch in my “PIN” of Bible reading, prayer, and holyish living that God will be obligated to spit out the blessings I ask for. In the process, I’ve made God a cosmic ATM, a machine to be manipulated, just one more device in my life to help me get what I want which sound suspiciously more like the prophets of Baal than the prophet of God.

You do not have to squint too hard to see the attraction of a god like Baal. Do a little dance. Sing a little song. Shout a bit. Earn a scar or two and he’ll do anything you want. You just have to find out what gets his attention today.

God is nothing like that. He notices genuine faith and has compassion on His people. No need for manipulation with Him.

If you want your relationship with God to grow then you have to stop manipulating Him and begin interacting with Him on a personal level.

What does that look like? Here are a few ideas:

  • Stop trying to manipulate God and trust Him. No more negotiations. He wants to bless you and, in fact, already has. He loves you and paid the price to bring you close. His desire for you is not dependent on your church attendance, the number of minutes you spend in prayer or the Bible, or what you have done for Him so stop expecting God to bless you because of what you do or avoid doing.
  • Accept that God is in control even when you do not understand Him. How do you approach a friend when they do something you don’t understand? If the person is really a friend you talk to them and see what they were thinking. Things do not always turn out the way you want them to. It is hard to understand why God does intervene in some situations and not others. But the answer is not trying to control Him or worse blame Him for illness, divorce, or death as if everything ultimately rests on your shoulders. Rather, follow the example of so many in the Bible who took their complaints to God and see what He says. He just might surprise you.
  • Build God’s Kingdom not your own. Intimacy is inherently other-centered. Elijah’s prayer shows his heart for God. “Answer me, Lord, answer me…” Elijah longed for God to be glorified and worshiped in Israel. The good news is God will probably not ask you to build a huge, soaking wet, bloody alter so He can destroy it with fire. But He is asking you to use your gifts and abilities for His name wherever you live. Maybe you have a step of faith in mind now that God wants to use to bless someone else? Just trust Him and do it.

The fact that God is a living God, personal, and relational sets Christianity apart from other religions. It also will bring your faith to life.

How has God shown His personality to you in your life?

7 Characteristics of a Healthy Church Community

Church with open door

“Church shopping” is such a crass term but unless you still go to the church where you did Bible drills at AWANA you have looked for a new church community. What criteria did you use to make that choice? Maybe right now you are searching for a community to belong to and wondering the same thing.

The last time my wife and I “shopped” for a new church we took the decidedly unscientific “we’ll know it when we see it” approach. Each week was a nerve-wrecking gamble. Plus, we had a new element: children old enough to have opinions.

One church visit lives in infamy in our house. When we picked up the kids (about 6 and 8 at the time) they came running full speed toward us. We could barely contain our curiosity until we reached the car. Turns out they played so much Bible hangman that they couldn’t wait to get out of there. Guess how many times we went back.

There has to be a better way.

Acts 2 is a kind of golden age for the church. Everything was still new and not yet institutionalized. Is there anything from that time that we could apply to our church searches?

While no church will be perfect – we are dealing people – great church communities have certain traits in common.

Here are seven characteristics of the healthy church community from Acts 2:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.


The Acts 2 church devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. I imagine the Apostles sharing things Jesus taught them. At this time the church was still primarily Jewish so it stands to reason that their teaching resembled the conversation on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 about how Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures.

How do you tell a Bible-teaching church today? Three questions to ask about teaching:

  • Is Scripture valued? It’s hard to tell from one service or sermon but you want to see that Scripture is read, preached, and applied in multiple contexts. A Scripture-valuing church will usually pepper passages throughout a service, for example.
  • What does the Bible reveal to this church? You can tell a lot about a person’s spiritual maturity by what they believe the Bible reveals. To some, the Bible is a constant drumbeat of rules and lifestyle judgments. If you get this impression run and do not feel bad about it. You want a church that sees in the pages of the Bible a glorious God revealed and responds to Him. The difference is night and day.
  • Is Jesus preached? Jesus is the one thing all believers have in common. Everything leads back to Him and so should sermons, Sunday School lessons, worship in song, etc.


The second thing the early church devoted themselves to was fellowship. The word here is one you may have heard before: koinonia. The root of the word means “common” which is why they “had everything in common.” Deep and genuine fellowship is a sign of a community you want to belong to.

Here are three questions to ask as you look for fellowship in a church:

  • Do people have the courage to be vulnerable? Deep relationships cannot be developed without someone willing to share their struggles. In a church culture that values looking like everything is okay this can be difficult to find but it’s out there. You see this kind of vulnerability in the church’s shared activities like prayer and meeting one another’s needs.
  • Do people demonstrate genuine concern for others? Fellowship looks outward to see how others need help. In the Kingdom of God we are no longer self-protecting but others-protecting.
  • Do people seem to feel like they have a personal stake in the ministry of the church?  When people feel empowered to use their gifts to help others and share in the ministry of a church great things happen.

Breaking of Bread

Third, the early church spent time together eating. Yes, the church potluck might be the longest-running church tradition. But there is more than just deviled-eggs and German chocolate cake on the line here. A church that eats together demonstrates  uncommon unity. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to eat next to someone you are fighting with?

Two questions to ask about breaking of bread:

  • Does the church feel like family when they eat together? You can find this in churches of all sizes. During our search, we knew we found the right place when there was a potluck the first Sunday we visited. We did not stay but felt like we could. It felt homey and comfortable.
  • How does the church handle conflict? Talk to leaders and ask how they handle conflict. I guarantee anyone who leads for any significant period of time has dealt with conflict. Do they ignore it and hope it goes away? Do they address concerns immediately? Is restoration the goal always? These questions will tell you much about a leader’s commitment to unity.


The early church spent time together in prayer which meant both formal occasions at the temple (Acts 3:1) and times of intercession asking God to do things like release Peter from prison (Acts 12:12). A community’s prayer will reveal much about its depth with the Lord.

Questions to consider:

  • Does this community pray for one another? Interceding before God for needs of others demonstrates both an awareness of the need and faith in God to intervene.
  • How do they move beyond intercession? Prayer is much more than simply asking God for things although it is that. A thriving spiritual community will have at least a few people who listen in prayer. A great one may even do so in a service.

Meeting of Tangible Needs

One of the more fascinating aspects of the early church is the selflessness with which they treated possessions. They were no longer obsessed with the accumulation of things but rather with meeting the needs of others where they could.

How to gauge the meeting of tangible needs:

  • How does the church meet needs in the community? Do they offer a food bank, clothing store, or help with a benevolence fund? Does the church rally around people who have sudden (or even long-term) needs? In action, this means taking meals to people who lose loved ones, helping the homeless, and going to pray with people when they need it.
  • Does God seem to be working here? I include in this section the miracles the Apostles were doing. Not only were people giving of what they had but God was meeting needs as well. Not every church will have a miracle worker (I don’t think I’ve gone to one that did!) but God seems to do amazing things with people who trust Him. Usually there will be a story or two that reminds you God is alive and active in this church. Find those stories and you will learn much about the church.


Worship is always the result of seeing God at work both in the miraculous and the hearts of people around you. The early Christians were no different. They thanked God for everything He had done for them. In a world before formalized church services the church praised God in everything.

Questions to help evaluate worship:

  • Is worship an attitude or a section of the service? In the days of the “worship wars” some have the impression that worship is the singing part of church. Praising God is an attitude of joy no matter the style of music used to express it. Look for joy.
  • Does worship go beyond Sunday morning? You want to know and live your Christian life with people who honor God with their entire lives not merely Sunday morning. Look for people who genuinely praise God regardless of their circumstances.


Finally, God added to their number daily. The Acts 2 church still had no outreach program, no missions budget, and no training on how to “win souls.” The community was simply attractive. People could see that God was working and wanted to be part of it. Luke puts the credit for growth squarely on God not on the people’s ability.

Mission questions:

  • Does God seem to be attracting people to this ministry? Notice where people are coming from as a church grows. Look for diversity of reasons people are joining the church. If no one is “being saved,” but people are transferring from other churches you want to ask why. One is not necessarily better than the other. Churches go through cycles. But ask the question and evaluate.
  • Is there a developed mission program? The early church probably did not have their mission strategy written on papyrus but I’m sure that everyone in church could have told you why their diverse community held together. They were about sharing the good news of Jesus. A church with a plan in writing will have thought through a mission strategy and be positioned well to accomplish it. Not a deal breaker but an impressive addition if it exists.
  • How does the church interact with the community? You want to know how the church relates to the community around them. Would anyone miss them if they were gone? If yes, you found a good one.

So there you have it: seven characteristics of healthy churches. No church will have everything you are looking for so I encourage you to make your own list. You might want to rank these seven ideas in order of what is most important to you. Be smart and open and I know you’ll find a community you can belong to.

When is the last time you looked for a church community? What were you looking for and how did you know when you found it?

Waiting is the Hardest Part

High heels
Waiting in line…

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate waiting? I’d put it at about a 3. There are worse things in life (cleaning up projectile vomit, parents?) but waiting is still low on the totem pole. However instant society has become, you still wait all the time, at the DMV, the grocery store, a traffic light, etc. That’s why binge-watching Walking Dead on Netflix is such a revelation; no waiting to see the next episode!

When it comes to your spiritual journey waiting can be a good thing. Isaiah 40:31 gets blasted on one of those idyllic pictures at the Christian book store in the KJV “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” A quick search shows that waiting on God is a huge theme in the Bible (i.e. Proverbs 20:22, Psalm 27:14; Lamentations 3:25 among others).

You can ignore it and pretend discipleship is as instant as your Keurig coffee in the morning or you could embrace waiting and learn how to relate well with God in the meantime.

To that end, I have three suggestions for you from the book of Habakkuk.

Uh…I know. Right now you’re trying to remember Habakkuk. If you ever learned the books of the Bible then you remember his name but have you ever read his story?

Habakkuk was a prophet and a fantastic example of how to wait on the Lord.

Habakkuk the Complainer

Habakkuk’s three chapters start with a complaint. He wanted to know why he kept crying out to God but God did not seem to hear him.

“How long, O Lord, must I call for help but you do not listen?”

Apparently, Habakkuk asked this question many times. He looked around his city and saw injustice everywhere. The rich were getting richer and the poor were getting poorer. “Conflict abounds,” he said. Bad circumstances were all around him. The Law of God supposed to ensure justice in Israel he called “numbed.”

Habakkuk’s response is instructive. He took his complaints to God.

Habakkuk trusted God enough to complain to Him. If you do not trust how someone will react to negative information how do you approach them? Cautiously? Carefully? With a little sugar-coating? Habakkuk does none of the above. Rather, he appeals to God drawing on what He knows of God’s character.

My life has seasons when it feels as though injustice, death, and disease reign everywhere. Maybe yours does too. You didn’t get that job you were hoping for. Sickness invades. Death visits your family. Do you wonder where God is in all of it?

I used to think that if circumstances in my life were not perfect then God must be angry with me. After all, God controls everything, right? But I’ve grown to believe that the bad times, stressful times, relationally chaotic times can be used to draw me toward God. I’m not convinced that God causes all these things but I know that He uses them all to remind me to trust. Am I willing to come to Him when things get crazy? Maybe even to complain?


Habakkuk the Waiter

After his first complaint and answer from God, Habakkuk has a completely different problem. He hates God’s answer. Habakkuk complained about the lack of justice in Israel. God said do not worry because the Babylonians were coming to clear that up.  This was terrible news so Habakkuk complained a second time.

Habakkuk not so gently to reminded God of his purity and holiness especially compared to the wickedness of the Babylonians as if to say God cannot use such filthy people. Could he?

And then he stopped and sat down:

I will stand at my watch
    and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
    and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

How long did Habakkuk wait? Unfortunately there is no indication in the text of how long he waited. We can skip to the next line and read God’s response declaring the Babylonians have a target on their back too. But in jumping ahead so quickly we do not get the experience of God Habakkuk had.

The break between when Habakkuk sat down on the wall of the city and when God answered is full of tension. From Habakkuk’s earlier statements, I take this to be a regular practice and prayer in his life. We do not know whether it was a day, a week, a month or even a year but we do know that Habakkuk waited.

Have you ever had to wait on something? It’s like that time between a job interview and receiving a response from the HR person. There’s tension. You hope and maybe even dream a bit. You get excited, nervous, or afraid. Expectations run wild. Why aren’t they answering? Did I do something wrong? Is God going to answer at all?

That’s what Habakkuk experienced as he waited for God. 

Trust is forged through the fire of events we do not like.

Habakkuk the Worshiper

However long Habakkuk had to wait eventually God  responded. In short, God said He would take care of the Babylonians, too.

Habakkuk’s faith was rewarded. He learned that God would not let injustice run rampant in Israel or Babylon.

His response is some of the most beautiful poetry in the entire Bible and almost no one knows about it so I want to give you just a little bit.

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

Isn’t that the prayer of every waiting believer? “Repeat them in our day…” One of the compulsions that drove me to pursue spiritual formation as a course of study was that I did not see God in my day. Did He still work miracles? Did He still make amazing and dramatic changes in people’s lives? I didn’t see it. Some days I still don’t but I trust, pray, and ask God to still do great things.

He finishes with this gem:

I heard and my heart pounded,
    my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
    and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
    to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.

Even in the end Habakkuk had to wait for God. Your situation is not so dissimilar. Neither is mine. We are all just waiting for Jesus to come back, ultimately. Things will never be completely right until God keeps this promise. And so, in spite of the injustices we see, we wait just like Habakkuk.

Because we trust Him.

Is there a prayer you are waiting for God to answer right now? Tell us a story about waiting for God to come through for you (maybe still?) in the comments below.

Introducing God

Hello my name is

Making introductions is one of the simplest but hardest tasks one can be called upon to do. You need to give a brief – and that’s the key – description of the person being introduced. It gives the introducee a framework from which to launch a question or two at their new acquaintance. But you should not go into too much detail or you’ll sound gushing, over-flattering, and probably embarrass everyone involved.

We recently had our annual end of summer party and invited people from various spheres of our life which meant there were a lot of introductions to make. It got me thinking, what would I say if God came to the party and I had to introduce Him to someone?

God’s OT Reputation

The task of introducing God is more complicated that at first it appears. God has something of a reputation that precedes Him. If you were, say, at a backyard BBQ throwing a bocce ball and suddenly God walked up, what would you say to make a proper introduction?

Let your imagination wander with mine.

“Oh, hi God! Good to see you again! This is Mike. Mike, this is God.”

“Good to meet you God.” *holding out a hand*

“You too, Mike. How’s the game going?” *Pretending he doesn’t already know*

“Not bad but Eric here keeps knocking me out.”

“One time I knocked out an entire city. Technically, it was two cities.”

How awkward is that pause?

Let’s face it, God just doesn’t have that great a reputation when it comes to the Old Testament. I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard people say God in the OT is mean and suddenly changed in the NT. But is that true?

How God Introduces Himself in the OT

Wouldn’t it be helpful if there were a passage where God introduced Himself? Wouldn’t God’s response to a horrible sin be instructive in shaping our thoughts about Him? I’m glad you asked. Yes, it would be and you’re in luck because there is just such a passage.

But first, some context.

Remember the story of the golden calf? Moses was hanging out with God on the mountain when the people of Israel thought maybe he took a left turn off a cliff so they created a new gold god to worship. Moses got wind of the idolatry from his omniscient friend and hurried down the mountain to kick some butt (I’m pretty sure that’s in the Hebrew…) breaking the tablets of stone God had just written in the process.

All appropriate butt kicking complete, Moses prayed for forgiveness and all was right. But the tablets needed to be rewritten and the covenant needed renewed. This time God made Moses bring the stone tablets and do the writing which seems like a smart move after he smashed version 1.0 of the Ten Commandments.

Now here is what I want  you to notice. God showed up at the covenant renewal ceremony and introduced Himself.

Before I tell you what He said, what do you expect God to say here? Something about His holiness? His righteousness? His right to be angry, maybe? Good thoughts but all wrong.

Here’s what God said (from Exodus 34):

And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Does this surprise you? This is the Old Testament God who has a reputation for being all fire, brimstone, and no love?

This introduction became a standard way of talking about God. It was repeated over and over including in 2 Chronicles 30:9, Psalm 103:8, 111:4,  145:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.

What should you take from this passage about your relationship with God? Three things:

  • God is slow to anger – If you are struggling with sin and are afraid that God is after you or is angry with you for doing that thing again, this is a comfort. God is, in fact, eager to forgive you and heal the wounded places that are leading you to sin. So why let that sin keep you feeling separated from Him? Confess what He knows already because there is no need to be afraid of His anger.
  • God’s love is abounding – The word abounding makes me think of abundant, generous, and plentiful. If you’ve ever struggled with feeling accepted or loved by anyone, God’s abounding love and acceptance of you is the answer. He loves you more than you can know. He could not accept you more than He already has.
  • God is willing to forgive – God opened up and revealed an amazing sense of justice. He is at once willing to forgive and ready to punish the guilty. Why both? I believe it’s the difference between those who know they are guilty and humbly seek Him and those who know they are guilty and do not.

Moses, heard God’s amazing self-revelation/reintroduction and did the only sane thing to do. He pleaded with God to go with Israel to the Promised Land. God, for His part, upped the ante and affirmed the covenant, the promise of land, and His instructions.

Does this sound like an angry mean-spirited God to you? Me neither. God is actually quite loving in the OT as He adopts Israel as His people.

What about all that punishment and disaster God causes in the OT?

As with any introduction, first impressions matter. With God, this declaration of His character makes a lasting impression on how you read the rest of the Bible. Are there times when God is angry with Israel and sends judgment? Yes. But is He still slow to anger, abounding in love, and willing to forgive? Also yes.

Some examples of each from the rest of the OT:

Examples of God’s Slowness to Anger

  • Genesis 15:16 – While God made the covenant promise to Abraham, He revealed that the Abraham’s descendants  would be enslaved for a time but then would come back to take over the land promised to him. God anticipated Abraham’s question about the delay, and said “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” In other words, God was willing to be patient with them though he knows they are headed for disaster.
  • Nehemiah 9:30-31 – Nehemiah pointed out God’s patience with Israel throughout their sordid history with idols.

Examples of God’s Abounding Love

  • Isaiah 43:1-7 – One of the most beautiful declarations of God’s love for Israel ever. He told Israel how precious they were to Him and what He would do to bring them back. There was no reason for God to take them back except for His exceptional love for Israel.
  • Hosea 3:1 – God made Hosea one of the more graphic and heartbreaking examples in the Bible when He had the prophet marry a prostitute. The picture in chapter 3 is a treasure as God reclaimed Israel because of His great love for her. If you’re ever looking for something to read in a quiet time you could do worse than the first three chapters of Hosea.

Examples of God’s Willingness to Forgive

  • 2 Samuel 12:13 & Psalm 51:1-19 – David sinned with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah. It took awhile for David to repent but he did it wholeheartedly. God forgave David who then wrote a psalm of confession to commemorate the experience.
  • Jonah 4:9-11 – Jonah was a very self-centered prophet who preached repentance to Nineveh against his will. Just as he feared they repented and God forgave them. God’s concern for Nineveh stands as an eternal witness to God’s willingness to forgive everyone who would turn to Him no matter what their sin.

God is not hellbent (pun intended) on punishment, death, and destruction in the OT. He did not change from one section of the Bible to the other. He has always been full of grace for His people. If there is any difference at all it is in the expression of the grace and forgiveness He offers. In the OT it was incomplete and temporary but finally grace and forgiveness comes completely, once and for all, in Jesus.

That’s worth an introduction, don’t you think?

How does God’s surprising introduction change the way you think about Him?

Fortifying the Right Beaches

Troops ready for storming the beach

The 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion was this past June. The reader of history can look back knowing the outcome of events in a way the participants in those events cannot. We marked the anniversary with thankfulness but the boys storming those beaches didn’t know what would happen next.

I often think of the strategic decisions in preparing for the battle; it began long before boots hit the sand. The Allies were careful to mislead Hitler into believing that the attack would come at Pas-de-Calais, the shortest point across the English Channel. They fed false information across the spy networks and created massive faux-bases that easily deceived German reconnaissance pilots. You could do that in a world before satellite imaging.

When the attack finally began, German forces were ready but no where near the scale they would have been without the deception of the Allied generals. Hitler reportedly was happy the battle had finally started. He never imagined the battle could be lost or that it would be the beginning of his demise. He fortified the wrong beaches and could not stop the onslaught once it started.

The Evangelical Pas-de-Calais

As I survey the cultural landscape I cannot help but think that late-century Evangelicals also fortified the wrong beaches. Somewhere between the 1970s and 1980s Evangelical leaders sensed they had some power. It was numbers thing. They realized that while they did not get the attention of the press, they had far more people than the press believed. “The Moral Majority,” they called it.

Evangelical leaders became active in politics endorsing candidates, pushing agendas, and speaking out on issues of morality. It was great, for awhile. Evangelicals seemed to have some weight to throw around the political arena and did, often with success. For example, the issue of abortion drove rank-and-file Christians to the polls for decades but was eclipsed in the mid to late 90’s by gay marriage. This is became the great deception and diversion of Christian political involvement, the Evangelical Pas-de-Calais.

In an effort to support what is now called “traditional marriage,” Christian people enshrined into law the view of marriage as one man and one woman. Political success felt good. Laws were passed in nearly three-fifths of the states, in California twice, and once federally. It seemed the “will of the people” could not be stopped.

…but it could be changed

While Christians focused on passing laws Hollywood began churning out movies, sitcoms, and other media that portrayed gay people and relationships in positive lights. Christians passed the Defense of Marriage Act. Hollywood made Will and Grace. While Evangelicals were chasing votes, Hollywood was chasing hearts. They knew laws can be ignored or changed at any time…if you have the hearts of the people.

In recent years, the courts have struck down many of the legislative victories Evangelicals once celebrated, all the effort and capital expended to pass them wasted. Meanwhile, polling data shows that Americans feel more favorably about gay marriage than ever even in states that currently prohibit it.

If Evangelicals worked so hard to change laws why have they lost the battle in public opinion? At a time when their political influence seemed to be unstoppable a quick tidal surge of public opinion washed away all their efforts. Why? Evangelicals fortified the beach of law and neglected the more strategic beach of public opinion.

The term “public opinion” is slightly misleading and may suggest Evangelicals should only tickle the ears of those paying attention to them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as Evangelical leaders became more concerned about numbers and influence they lost both. They were short-sighted about how cultures change. They thought of themselves as modern-day Wilberforces. They ended up more like modern-day Marie Antoinettes.

D-Day soldiers coming ashore.
D-Day soldiers coming ashore.

Fortifying the Right Beaches

My view on this began to change several years ago when I reviewed a book by Os Guinness titled A Free People’s SuicideGuinness convinced me that the foundation was never based on policies one supports. Rather, the Founders believed that the republic rested on the character of the people. Fighting for causes is nice but fighting for people is more important and, ultimately, more effective.

The tides have turned and my point is not to begin a political debate or to criticize Evangelical leaders. They were men and women of their time and did the best they could. This is a different time which calls for new actions.

What can we do in a post-Evangelical world to influence an increasingly hostile culture? We must fortify the right beaches.

Influence is not gained by demonstrating mass numbers. It’s earned in increments bit by bit. This is why Peter writing to a soon-to-be-persecuted church says “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

We have to start thinking smaller not bigger churches, buildings, and budgets.

 Post-evangelicals hear the calling to apprentice individuals to Jesus and trust God for their influence in the broader political universe.

The only instruction Jesus left us with was to make disciples. That is, to tell other people about the great news of what He’d done on the cross and to teach them how to live in light of this news. The rest of the New Testament is stories of people learning to live in the amazing grace of God.

People change when their understanding of the world is chiseled into one resembling the way God understands it. American culture no longer has the Bible as the factory installed worldview. P0st-Evangelicals accept this stubborn fact. But if you want to change it then you have to learn to speak the new language. Don’t fight it. Use it to your advantage and you just might find genuine influence under your fingertips.

When I started this blog my tagline was “Where Faith and Politics Meet.” I was trying to convey that Christians have a place in politics. I still believe we do. But I’ve grown to believe that Christians must take a much longer view when it comes to cultural transformation.

It starts with heart transformation.

It starts with grace.

It is apprenticeship to Jesus.

That’s why I’m relaunching Rev Nev with a whole new focus. Gone are the political policy debates of the past. Now the focus is on people and what it takes for them to move closer to Christ whether they already consider themselves Christ-followers or not.

There are four primary topics I will write about:

  • God – The central Christian pursuit is knowing and relating with God. Paul expressed this beautifully when he called it the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” We’ll explore the Scriptures for what they have to tell us about Him and what He wants us to know. Sometimes it’s theology and revelation and others it’s about how to listen and interact.
  • Community – “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Christian community is a much larger universe that we normally imagine. Our perspective can be limited to the people in our small group or church and occasionally our denomination. But it’s much bigger. You have more in common with a believer from 1000 years ago than with a peer who doesn’t believe. Expect posts on who some of these people are and how they encourage you and I to keep the faith.
  • Perseverance – The true result of faith is perseverance not perfection. The perfection is already handled by Jesus. He calls us to live in light of his gifted-to-us righteousness, we also must persevere when we and others don’t.
  • Reward – God has something wonderful for us. It starts now but it extends forever. Taking an eternal view of things puts the rest of life in perspective.

The world is changing and that is okay. Some Evangelicals are fighting to retain their power and whatever prestige they have left but because those things were never eternal to begin with it’s a hopeless cause. We only have two options: (1) continue to fight a battle we’ve long since lost, or (2) reinforce on a new front. It will mean learning new tactics and ways of speaking. It will require us to contextualize our message in ways Christians never have before. We will need a fresh breath of the Spirit to bring us to life but that is no problem for our God.

Consider this post an invitation.

Are you ready to join the post-Evangelical world?