What We Learn From The Tower of Babel

This weekend I taught on Genesis 11:1-9 which is the story of the tower of Babel.

11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5 And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.

As you read this you may think it is just about a tower.  But as you look deeper you will see two of the most significant sins that we commit as We Try To Take The Place Of God In Our Own Lives.  

  1. The sin of trying to create our own security (…Come, let us build for ourselves a city…lest we be disbursed over the whole earth.)
  2. The sin of desiring the praise that is rightly God’s, another word for PRIDE  (…a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.)

One of the things I have seen and learned the hard way is when I try to be God, living life on my terms, things end badly!

This week think about the ways you try to build your own security vs. trusting God and how your pride may get in the way of giving Him the glory He deserves!

Why I Go To Church Even When I Don’t Feel Like It

Why I Go To Church Even When I Don’t Feel Like It
What leaving and returning taught me about church.

Trudy Smith
By Trudy Smith

September 8, 2015

I have the same memories as many evangelicals who grew up in church at the same time I did: felt-board Bible stories, Sunday school donuts, praise chorus lyrics on overhead projectors.

Even before I was old enough to do much besides doodle during sermons, church was a fixture in my life. I was sometimes bored and sometimes enjoyed myself, but going to church wasn’t a choice—it was just what everyone did.

As I got a bit older, I realized that not everyone went to church, but I gathered that being someone who did was a moral imperative. It meant I was taking my faith seriously, being a good person and making God happy (or avoiding God’s anger). By the time I was old enough to join the youth group, other factors reinforced my involvement: church was where my friends were, where the cute boys were and where much of my social life took place.

Heading off to college meant that my parents no longer took me to church, and my social life was no longer headquartered there, but I still saw my attendance as a basic requirement of following Jesus. Where else could I grow in my faith and find spiritual community?

Over the next few years, however, something strange happened. I followed Jesus right out of church and into the streets, communing with homeless people over slices of pizza and hearing sermons in the words of the people who lived in the shelter on skid row where I served breakfast on Sunday mornings. Jesus showed up in all sorts of unlikely, unofficial places.
I realized that church was not a place to go because everyone had their act together. It was more like a refuge where all sorts of people could gather to remind each other of the story we are all in.

I continued to journey alongside other Christians, but I no longer understood the importance of attending church. It occurred to me that perhaps what was more important than how often I showed up for a Sunday service was how often I showed up for people who were in need: quietly listening, crying with them, sharing my food and time and space and joining my voice with theirs to demand justice.

The more I learned about poverty and systemic injustice, the more frustrated I became with churches whose weekly programming is disconnected from the world beyond their sanctuaries. I was tired of prayer without action; simplistic spiritual formulas without any mention of the Gospel Jesus preached: good news for the poor, freedom for the captives, sight for the blind. I lost hope that most of the Church would ever get its act together enough to closely resemble Jesus.

But then another strange thing happened. I kept following Jesus, and eventually, He led me right back into church. I was surprised. There were plenty of people there working toward justice, but I realized that church was not a place to go because everyone had their act together and was doing things right.

It was more like a refuge where all sorts of people could gather to remind each other of the story we were all in—the one about how God loves us, and is renewing our world and our souls in spite of all the damage that’s been done. It was more like a school for conversion where we were all stumbling through basic lessons on how to love.

We sang about this love and this mission to be part of it; we sang about our brokenness and our hope. We looked each other in the eye. We confessed our sins. We shared bread and juice and remembered that we are all tied together in this dysfunctional family that God has cobbled together.

I’ve slowly learned that going to church can be about something other than moral requirement, fear of punishment or even social connection.

It wasn’t perfect—sometimes I felt frustrated, bored or hurt—but it was good, and God was in it. Yes, church people could be apathetic, judgmental and selfish, but so could I. And just like everyone else, I needed to be welcomed and loved anyway.

Then one day, an older church lady put my husband and me in charge of finding people to serve communion each week. We were still “the new couple,” so I’m pretty sure she was just trying to rope us into consistent, punctual attendance—and her plan has absolutely worked.

Now that we’ve shouldered even just this tiny bit of responsibility, we recognize how many people have to show up consistently to create the prayerful, welcoming, worshipful space we experience each week. If everyone involved in leading music, running sound, teaching kids’ classes and preaching sermons only showed up on the days when they didn’t feel stressed, busy, tired, bored, sad, frustrated or enticed outside by beach weather, we wouldn’t have much of a church at all.

So I’ve slowly learned that going to church can be about something other than moral requirement, fear of punishment, social connection, getting spiritually fed, or even looking for likeminded people with whom to pursue justice in the world. Going to church can be about holding this space in which to experience the grace of God together, learn together, fail and forgive and stumble forward together.

I’ve benefitted from the sacrificial commitment and consistency of countless people who have welcomed me into community over the years, and now I recognize the invitation for me to do the same thing for others: to hold that space even on days when I don’t seem to personally benefit from it. When the songs don’t do anything for me, when I don’t want to talk with people about the difficult week I’ve had, or when I’d rather sleep in instead—it is then that I am invited to go to church anyway.

Not because God or anyone else is judging me by my attendance, but because it is a chance for me to be church to the people who are sharing this journey with me. It is an opportunity to hold space for others to encounter God, and to open space in myself to encounter, even when I least expect it, God in the midst of the people who are my church.

5 Ways To Avoid Temptation Today

Without any question – the biggest problem that Christians have is temptation. By far, it’s the biggest problem. If you can eliminate temptation, you can eliminate sin.

A pastor once told his congregation, “I learned a great lesson from a dog.” He said, “His master used to put a bit of meat or a biscuit or some kind of food on the ground, and he’d say to the dog, ‘Don’t eat that,’ and the dog would run over and eat it, so the dog wouldn’t get a treat. And he put another piece of meat on the ground. He’d say, ‘Don’t eat that.’ The dog would go over and eat it, and again, no treat. Well, after awhile, the dog got the message: eat meat, no treat. So the dog decided he wouldn’t eat the meat.” But the man telling the story related how that the dog never looked at the meat. The dog evidently felt that if he looked at the meat, the temptation to disobey would be too great, and so he looked steadfastly into his master’s face and never took his eyes off him, and thus the temptation never caused a problem.

Now, temptation works like that. As long as we stare at it…as long as we look at the things Satan dangles in front of our eyes…as long as we entertain ourselves on that and feed on it, we’re susceptible. While temptation is a very common problem for all of us, victory over temptation is not! Our problem is the same problem the dog had. The problem is we entertain ourselves by looking at the temptation rather than staring into the Master’s face.

Here Are 5 Ways To Help Avoid Temptation Today

  1.  Guard What You Look At.  From porn to catalogues, from lust to covetousness, temptation starts with the eyes.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.
  2. Put a greater weight on the long term consequences of sin than on the short term pleasure of it (play the end game… how will this end for me, where will it lead me)
  3. Everyday renew your sense of reverence to God.  Because of God’s grace, I want to honor Him with my life! (Romans 12:1-2)
  4. Everyday take some time to fully focus on Christ.  Whether its 10 minutes or an hour – focus on Him!

Hebrews 2:18 “Since he himself (Jesus) has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted”.

Do You Know Your Story?

Every Christian in the midst of conversation with those who are far away from God should know their story. This is what Christ did in your life, your “testimony”. As I was thinking through this, I came up with a few thoughts that all of us can use to frame our story, allowing for easy communication. Here they are.

  • Your Past: You before Christ
  • Catalyst: Something or someone that made you realize your need for Jesus
  • Surrender: I’m not my own, I was bought with a price, Jesus is Lord
  • Transformation: New Creation, Jesus changed my life. How am I different?
  • Today: What is Jesus doing in my life today? (this is important because if Jesus didn’t make a lasting impact on your life, why do I want what you have?)

Challenge for Today: Be a catalyst for someone else coming to Christ!

I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian

The following is from Thom Rainer’s blog about his new book I Will.  I would encourage you to visit his sight at http://www.thomrainer.com

Thom: This week, my newest book, I Will, was released. So today on the podcast, we give an overview of the book and the resources related to I Will. Be sure to listen for the giveaway in the podcast and be one of ten winners who will get a free, signed copy of the book.

Some highlights from today’s episode include:

-Church membership is more about how you can serve than how you can be served.
-If you’re not in a small group, you’re not a fully functioning member of the body of Christ.
-The entire idea behind I Will is to get members focused outwardly.
-Giving is one of the key indicators for being an outwardly focused church member.
-You can tell a person’s commitment to their church by looking at their giving statements.
-Traditions are ok, but not when they become an idol in a church.

The nine “I Will” statements we cover are:

  • I Will Move from “I Am” to “I Will”
  • I Will Worship with Others
  • I Will Grow Together with Others
  • I Will Serve
  • I Will Go
  • I Will Give Generously
  • I Will Not Be a Church Dropout
  • I Will Avoid the Traps of Churchianity
  • I Will Make a Difference

What are your thoughts on these points?

Darkness all Around

Some people have become very concerned as of late as to the state of our country and world.  It seems that things are getting increasingly dark all around us.  So it made me start to think and go back to God’s Word – wouldn’t this darkness make the light shine all the brighter?

We are called to be the “light of the world” – it has to be dark for light to shine the brightest!

While our society will continue to erode outside of a great revival (which we should pray for!), its our responsibility to be the light!  I see this as one of the greatest opportunities in our lifetime to point people to Christ!  Let’s be a high beam, LED, super light in our world today.

“You are the light of the world!”  Matthew 5:14

Do You Know Your Story?

Every Christian in the midst of conversation with those who are far away from God should know their story.  This is what Christ did in your life, your “testimony”.  As I was thinking through this, I came up with a few thoughts that all of us can use to frame our story, allowing for easy communication.  Here they are.

  • Your Past: You before Christ
  • Catalyst:  Something or someone that made you realize your need for Jesus
  • Surrender:  I’m not my own, I was bought with a price, Jesus is Lord
  • Transformation:  New Creation, Jesus changed my life.  How am I different?
  • Today:  What is Jesus doing in my life today? (this is important because if Jesus didn’t make a lasting impact on your life, why do I want what you have?)

Challenge for Today: Be a catalyst for someone else coming to Christ!

Why We Need A Different Kind Of Maturity In The Church


Why We Need a Different Kind of Maturity in the Church

You’ve had it happen before, people tell you they are leaving your church because ‘they’re not growing’ or they’re looking for ‘deeper teaching.’

They claim they need a place where where they can grow and mature more spiritually.

While I totally understand that people leave churches for legitimate reasons (I have left a denomination at one point), over time I’ve begun to sense a trend. While everyone might have one or two life-time changes in them, the kind of ‘this isn’t doing it for me’ movement that characterizes church today alarms me.

I’ve noticed that the people who often claimed to be the most spiritually ‘mature’ (or at least on that quest) are often people who are

  • Somewhat judgmental
  • Generally disinterested in reaching their unchurched friends
  • Self-focused
  • Serially dissatisfied
  • Often unwilling to actually commit long-term to any local church

Question: are these really the characteristics of maturity?

Maybe what poses as ‘maturity’ isn’t always maturity.

Here are three points of confusion I’ve noticed in the maturity discussion in the church today:

Depth of knowledge is seen as the goal of maturity. It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

Clarity is mistaken for superficiality. Sometimes I think people assume a teaching is ‘deep’ because they can’t understand it. They walk out of church and you ask them what they learned. They say “I”m not sure, but wow, it was deep.” How helpful is that?

Preachers need to be clear, but often, there’s a pressure on us ‘to go deeper’ by offering information that’s confusing or even irrelevant in the name of ‘being deep’. I always shoot for clear, even though that’s sometimes more work. It’s easier to be confusing than it is to be clear. And I still shoot for clear even though I know my inbox will get messages from people who can’t understand why we’re not ‘deeper’.  But if you want to reach unchurched people and truly help even Christians mature, you need to be clear (Paul, by the way,seems to agree).

Many Christians also appreciate clarity because, unlike complexity, clarity is helpful. If you really want to grow, clarity is of tremendous value.

People think the church is responsible for their spiritual growth. People leave churches because they’re not growing. But whose responsibility is growth? Theirs. Yours. Mine. Why is that people who say they are most passionate about maturity blame others for their lack of maturity? I just don’t get that. Isn’t responsibility a sign of maturity?

For sure, the church can help. In the same way a gym can help you get fit, a friend can help you through a tough time. But you are responsible getting in shape, for getting better and even for your personal and spiritual growth.

So what are some marks of a different kind of  ’maturity’ in the church today?  Here are five I see:

A passion for application. Biblical knowledge is ultimately designed for application. The kind of maturity that I think honour God most deeply is knowledge applied in love. Our lives should be different. Our marriages should be different. Our parenting should be different. Our love for our neighbours and community should be different. Our confession and repentance should be deep and authentic. Our transparency should be authentic. And we should be radically committed to living out our faith.

Humility. True Christian maturity has always been marked by humility.

A servant’s heart. True maturity comes in many things (including faith) when your quest becomes about others, not yourself.  Mature Christians live for Christ and live for others.

A love for unchurched people. If you consider the Apostle Paul to be a mature Christian,  consider his obsession with unchurched people. Eventually it got him killed. Real maturity is not a life lived in pursuit of self or even the ‘found’ – it’s a life lived pursuing others and the lost.

A deep investment. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I do think one of the marks of mature faith is a deep investment in the Kingdom of God. Sometimes I wonder if you checked the giving records of people who complain most about being fed, and you will see scant evidence of a sacrificial investment in the Kingdom of God. Conversely, you will see many people deeply committed to quietly serving others who have a deep investment in the Kingdom. Think about that for a while.

What are you learning about maturity?

What do you think the future of the church would look like if we pursued application, humility, service, love for the unchurched and a deep investment in the Kingdom?

Rick Warren, Mental Health and Embracing Brokenness

This is a great blog article I wanted to share.  This great tragedy has opened up some serious dialouge in these areas.  what are your thoughts?

Rick Warren, Mental Health & Embracing Brokenness

April 11, 2013 by 

Last weekend Saddleback mega-pastor Rick Warren shared the terrible news that his 27-year-old son, Matthew Warren, committed suicide. Matthew had a history of depression and had long struggled with suicidal thoughts. Our hearts go out to Rick and Kay Warren, their family and their friends.

It’s been encouraging to see the outpouring of support for the Warrens and a flood of blog posts addressing mental illness.

There has also been criticism. It’s sad, but when celebrities struggle someone is always there to kick them while they’re down. In this case, some people are shocked that the “purpose driven” pastor could have a son who committed suicide.

Gasp! Rick Warren isn’t perfect?!

The idea of pastors’ kids who aren’t miniature pastors in training has always been fodder for ill-hearted prodding. But for someone like Rick Warren, who is more than a mere pastor, but a preacher of hope and a peddler of purpose, it seems all the more painful. How could someone like that lose a son to depression? How is it that Rick’s message has helped so many people across the world but couldn’t seem to help his own son? Why can’t he help himself? (Starting to sound familiar: Matthew 27:42)

They’re horrible questions, aren’t they? But I have to admit I asked some of those questions myself.

Aside from being mean, those questions are simply unfair. Yet they are still asked.


I think part of it has to do with this expectation that Christians have to be perfect. But we’re not. So we avoid things like mental illness, depression, pain, struggle and failure. Those things are the opposite of perfect, so we don’t dare talk about them. When those things suddenly come to light, as they always do, we’re shocked and hurt and we don’t know how to deal. We lash out with questions based on poor reasoning.

Part of the problem is our expectations. If we could just tear down that bizarre idea that Christians are supposed to be perfect, that church is a place for happy, smiling, perfect people, then these realities might not be so difficult.

Churches must embrace brokenness.

  • Church should be a place where it’s OK to struggle with depression.
  • Church should be a place that’s home to the recovering and relapsing liar.
  • Church should be a place that welcomes the alcoholic.
  • Church should be a place where leaders can have faults.
  • Church should be a place where we’re not afraid of pain.

And not just in a back room, everybody knows it but we don’t talk about it kind of way. And not in a generic, ‘oh I’m a sinner too’ kind of way. We need to be honest and up front about our brokenness. It’s more than a marketing issue—it goes to the very core of our faith. But should also flow from the top down and inhabit how we communicate. Our communication should reflect our brokenness.

It’s by embracing our brokenness that we can unseat these dangerous expectations. We can cut off those ugly questions before they start. We can allow our churches to truly be places of welcoming and love, not just for the perfect, but for the rest of us.

May our prayers be with Rick and Kay Warren, their family and their friends in this difficult time. May our churches be welcoming places for hurting people.

Some Wisdom for The Church

This is a great article from my friend Ed Stetzer.  He is the President of Lifeway Research and studies churches and culture.  What are your thoughts?

NASHVILLE (BP) — The election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pontiff sparked an interesting response from much of the mainstream media in the United States. 

There was a great deal of angst, and even shock, that the Catholic Church chose a leader who holds to traditional Catholic beliefs. It appeared many were hoping the church would suddenly choose someone who would move away from all the conservative moral standards Catholics find rooted in their sacred texts, but which seem outlandish to those who have moved on to more progressive thinking.

The yearning of the media during the days leading up to the papal conclave may not have come to fruition, but it helps us consider this moment. You can see the reaction across the channels, but one example may help. For example, take Erin Burnett’s comments on CNN, including this bold statement: “The Church helps the poor and the lonely, and I bet there are a lot of people who might return to the Church if it changed.” Erin is blunt enough to say what many have thought — that if churches would just get with the times, people would return. But is there any evidence to show this to be the case? In short, no.

This desired capitulation to culture is a familiar refrain. As a matter of fact, this is the story of much of mainline Protestantism in the United States. In the desire to engage culture, several mainline Protestant denominations aligned with culture’s values and in a great historic twist of irony, their churches didn’t stop shrinking. They shrunk faster.

Regardless of whether or not you believe you are right, as I assume Erin does, the claim that capitulating to the whims of culture will lead to a renaissance in religion has no statistical basis whatsoever. It seems many in the media were hoping for a liberal mainline Protestant as pope, and shockingly, a Catholic showed up.

Those espousing conservative beliefs considered antiquated by mainstream culture are often the ones experiencing growth. The Great Awakenings even provide historical precedence for this. In previous religious renaissances it was Baptists and Methodists who saw the explosive growth. Today it is the Pentecostals.

The Pentecostals, according to the National Council of Churches, are one of the few denominations actually growing in the United States. The Assemblies of God grew by 3.99 percent from 2011 to 2012, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World were up 20 percent from 2011 to 2012. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a progressive mainline denomination and the 10th largest in the nation, saw a drop of 3.42 percent and the United Church of Christ, a small denomination only getting smaller, decreased in membership by 2.02 percent — and this is in one year, not a decade. The math does not look good.

My friends leading several of these growing Pentecostal denominations will assure you they have not changed their beliefs about controversial issues nor have they sought to downplay their practices, which many find odd and outdated at best. Yet, their churches are growing.

Regarding the Catholic Church, although many former Catholics from the northeastern elite have walked away from their faith, many devout Catholics consider these beliefs not something to easily discard in the name of cultural expediency.

Now, obviously, I am not a Catholic. I am not only a Protestant, but a conservative evangelical one at that. However, I do think the breathless reporting of the mainstream media, surprised that Catholics would choose someone with actual Catholic beliefs, actually shows something more about the media — their desire for religion to evolve, and, at the end of the day, a misguided impression that cultural capitulation will lead to more religious believers. 

Moving away from your beliefs neither creates converts nor reverts (those who might return, like an Erin Burnett). It simply downplays what you believe and softens your impact on a society that needs you for what you believed and acted upon in the first place.

Needless to say, I disagree with Catholics when it comes to some of their doctrine. But, even as so many keep saying, “if they would just change, I’d come back,” the last thing the Catholic Church needs is to capitulate to the culture of the day because, well, they really aren’t coming back. 

Ask the Episcopalians.

Thoughts? -Matt