The Rise of the Dones

Holy Soup

John is every pastor’s dream member. He’s a life-long believer, well-studied in the Bible, gives generously, and leads others passionately.

But last year he dropped out of church. He didn’t switch to the other church down the road. He dropped out completely. His departure wasn’t the result of an ugly encounter with a staff person or another member. It wasn’t triggered by any single event.

John had come to a long-considered, thoughtful decision. He said, “I’m just done. I’m done with church.”

John is one in a growing multitude of ex-members. They’re sometimes called the de-churched. They have not abandoned their faith. They have not joined the also-growing legion of those with no religious affiliation–often called the Nones. Rather, John has joined the Dones.

At Group’s recent Future of the Church conference, sociologist Josh Packard shared some of his groundbreaking research on the Dones. He explained these de-churched were among…

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Us Verses Them

As I’ve grown closer to God, I’ve realized I’ve had a distorted view of who he is, though my vision is becoming more clear little by little.
I’ve always seen him as being disappointed at my continued failure to overcome sin. This has been taught in both subtle and outright ways all my life. Such a viewpoint causes some to act as though they have somehow gained control over their sin, promoting an external self-righteousness. Otherwise, it drives those away that realize they can’t overcome their sin or manage it to appear righteous enough to others.
In both cases, the sin is still there.
I’ve come to a realization that I’m now starting to be able to believe and apply, though it takes time to fully sink in—Jesus became sin and took the consequences at the cross.
Yeah, I know we’ve heard this all our lives and say we believe it. However, we’re still led to think that we have to somehow overcome our sin.
God, while he loves us, doesn’t seem to like us much until we do.
This leads to all kinds of systems of sin management that have existed for centuries. However, these systems have never been successful at overcoming sin but only attempt to redirect it elsewhere while driving it deeper within ourselves.
We are not the problem, it’s them.” This is a phrase that is stated in many forms. This view attempts to undo all that Jesus suffered to destroy our sin on the cross. We impose our twisted view of God onto the rest of the world—“God loves you but doesn’t like you until you clean up your act.”
Jesus isn’t standing opposed to us when we fail. He is standing right beside us. When we only see him as distant, we have no power to overcome our sin. When we realize that he is in us and we are in him, we begin to realize we have his power within us and can overcome our sin with him.
What we may also fail to realize is that Jesus became sin in every way that sin is sin. He didn’t just symbolically become sin. He literally took all of our sin into himself and paid the consequences for it. Though I can admit this, I have a hard time truly believing it—for myself or for others. I still tend to insist there is something I have to do to overcome my sin. However, just as Jesus literally became sin, we literally became his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We have been made saints!
This is probably one of the most significant realizations in Christianity but yet the least accepted.
We continue to try to please God by our own methods when he is already pleased with us. We fail to just trust him and let him stand with us against our sin. We seem to think we are going to embarrass God if our vulnerabilities are exposed, so we act as though everything is okay on the surface.
However, Jesus overcame all of our shame at the cross!
We continue to see ourselves as an old, shameful sinner who has to do enough lifelong sin management to get through the gates of heaven. This causes us to live in a perpetually unfulfilled state.
When we accept that we have become a new creation, we focus on God’s grace and love and receive that fulfillment now, in this lifetime! Jesus is then able to help us overcome our sin as we are ready. This isn’t through force, willpower, programs, or management systems. It is through Jesus. We are also able to stand with others in their vulnerabilities and share Jesus’ love and acceptance with them. Instead, though, we tend to heap shame on others to justify ourselves or manipulate them to do things our way.
It’s not “Us vs Them.” It’s us standing with Jesus and with “them.” God is not on “our” side or against “them.” He sent Jesus to show that he is on everyone’s side.

Starting to get it….maybe :)

As I’ve spent more time with God, he’s brought me to a few major realizations recently.
The first is that I don’t want to be “right” for the wrong reasons. It seems no one ever reasoned someone into the Kingdom, even if their theology/exegesis/doctrine (or whatever you want to call it) was “right.” I’ve began leaning away somewhat from sharing too many specific Bible interpretations because they may either not be relevant to others yet or a scripture lecture may only push them further away (assuming I’m even right in the first place). Discussion is fine in some circumstances, but more often than not, it can confuse or alienate others.
This leads to the second thing, standing with someone in their afflictions is more important than quoting scripture to them or inviting them to a meeting. Both of these things may have their place, but I’ve noticed most people, Christian or not, are looking for someone to stand with them even if they aren’t “perfect” (however that may be defined per situation). Standing against someone in their “failures” will only push them away either physically or trust-wise. People will not open up if they feel like they are just going to be guilt tripped or beat over the head with scripture. I may, at times, get something from the Bible that will help me and, once applied personally, eventually helps others as they see the results. However, a “Bible says” attitude only seems to alienate, confuse, or make people tone-death to the point of the message being presented.
This leads to the third thing I’ve come to realize which ties back to the first two–unity is better than being right. This doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to something that is obviously wrong or conformance for conformity’s sake. However, we all have shortcomings, none greater or lesser than the others. I’m learning it is better to stand with someone in unity (again, not to be confused with conformity) and help them to deepen their relationship with Jesus. Then, he will help them in his time and in his way.
After over a year of trying to put the pieces together, following Jesus is starting to make sense. It’s more than just Biblical interpretation as there are over 56000 ways to interpret, and we may never come to a solid agreement on those things in this life. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t stand with others, Christian or not, and be receptive to God’s leading in their life. In the end, people will come to/grow in Jesus because of how we showed him in our lives by being there with/for them. This relationship with Jesus and others is unlikely to form though through flexing Biblical knowledge, threats, or flashy services while only relating to those broken on a surface level a couple times a week.
A “safe” environment where we can fail, share our deepest shame, and be loved anyways seems to be what is needed. Imagine if “the church” could be that place.

Bo’s Cafe: Don’t judge a book by its cover

Bo's Cafe

I dislike cliches.
It seems they are handed out to others as generic advice that they should retrofit to their unique situations. Sometimes they work, but many times what someone may need is a more personal encounter rather than just a cliche that could make them feel as though they are just outright wrong.
That being said, this cliche just so happens to fit perfectly here.
I had first heard of the book “Bo’s Cafe” about a year and a half ago. Based on the title and cover, I didn’t have much interest in it. I read the synopsis and figured I might give it a chance one day if I found it at a discount and I was bored.
Well, just that happened. I found it at a used bookstore and decided I’d nab it for a time I just wanted to read a novel type story.
When I finally felt led to read it, the book went about as could be expected for the first several chapters. I found the story line interesting enough that I had a continued desire to read it instead of doing other menial things.
And then it happened.
The author(s) made a point. At first I didn’t think it applied to me and didn’t get what the point was. Often, when I come across this scenario in such books, I never really get an applicable answer. However, the main character made the same statement as my thoughts (that this doesn’t apply to me and I don’t get the point). From there, the point was actually explained more fully and I saw how it is relevant to me and probably most of those I’ve known my entire life.
This has given me a major puzzle piece that I previously thought I knew, but haven’t been able to really “see” until now. It would seem that I was led to read this book at the perfect time when I most needed this perspective. I’m still learning how to apply this information personally but feel even closer to God now after these realizations.
I don’t want to explain the topics of the story in this post though as I don’t want to inadvertently provide any spoilers. I may discuss some of these concepts in future posts as I learn to respond to them in my own life.
I would definitely recommend “Bo’s Cafe” and reiterate that old cliche–Don’t judge this book by its cover.

The Reconstructed Temple System

As I’ve read and contemplated Matthew’s gospel, as well as the other corresponding gospels, one thing becomes more clear to me–we’ve reconstructed the same system Jesus ended and replaced.
Jesus was established as ruler of the Kingdom of God/Heaven upon his death and resurrection. This is a fairly easy concept for most to accept. However, we see there was still one major obstacle that stood in the way of people connecting directly to Jesus–the Temple. As stated previously, the chief priests and elders paid the guards who witnessed the resurrection to lie (Matthew 28:11-13). In the face of such testimonies (pagans stating the impossible resurrection was real), they still tried to hold on to their system; a system that wasn’t even performing its’ primary duty of sin cleansing anymore (Matthew 27:3-4). It wasn’t until Rome destroyed this system in 70AD that people could turn to Jesus less impeded. This worked for a little while, but eventually the system was rebuilt.
The chief priests and most of Israel were comfortable in their Temple and Sabbath rituals. Jesus appears to imply that both were no longer serving the purpose they were intended for (Matthew 12:6 and 8), if they ever fully did to begin with. Jesus often violated their laws about the Sabbath as if to say that they had made their own set of rules that weren’t what the original intent was. Likewise, Jesus also knew that when destruction came on the Temple, people would still be caught up attempting to live for and defend the Temple causing lots of needless death. Today, we vehemently defend our system politically and financially and state that we will die doing so. This causes us to be rigidly loyal to our system instead of to Jesus and alienates those who sin differently than we do. In the same way, Israel defined all “outsiders” as sinners worthy of destruction. Jesus turned these views on their head (Matthew 21:31; John 5:39-40; Matthew 8:11-12).
I’ve often seen people touting cliches about following the whole Bible and not picking and choosing. Yet, they ignore large parts of the gospel itself in favor of making rules that benefit the system. This is the same thing the chief priests did; they ignored the gospel Jesus was teaching because it undermined their system. We continue to make these same mistakes today by placing system funding above Jesus. However, we can’t serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
I want to say that I’m not just trying to find scripture that correlates with my viewpoint. Rather, I’m trying to point to scripture that best conveys the overall theme of the Bible–Jesus. I could make such posts much longer but would rather get to the point and let the reader find the deeper answers from there. Also, I know that such topics are uncomfortable but truly believe that we need to get out of our comfort zone, myself included, to be the salt and light that Jesus intended us to be. Mostly, we don’t want to know such truth, but instead we want to be told that what we’ve always believed is right as not to have to change our hearts.

Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24 (Part 3)

As stated in the last two posts, the entirety of chapter 24 relates directly to Israel’s fate over the coarse of the generation (40 years) leading up to the destruction of the Temple.
Verses 37-39 pick up with Jesus comparing the end (of the Temple system) with the great flood in the time of Noah. Everyone was going about their daily lives as normal. Likewise, everyone would be going through their normal Temple rituals ignoring all the signs Jesus has spoke thus far until it is too late for change. Rome would be upon them and many would still vehemently fight, and die, trying to protect their temple system. In verses 40-41, Jesus talks about the separation of people as invaders often did at that time, randomly “taking” one by execution and leaving the other. In verse 43, he goes on to state that if Israel would have listened to the warnings, they may have avoided such destruction. Instead, they ignored Jesus, many assuming that he wasn’t who he said he was (v44) until it was too late to flee or they tried to defend their ways.
If those caught up in the old ways would have listened and understood, they would have fled to the mountains ahead of time when they saw the signs Jesus spoke of being fulfilled. Instead, judgment came like a thief in the night and many were not able to flee as stated in the prior post. Jesus goes on to warn them in verses 45-51 to keep watch for the signs. Those who ignore them or who think these signs weren’t real would be caught off guard when Rome invaded. Those who continued to live out the old, corrupt system would die or be left out of his Kingdom, in the outer darkness with the hypocrites.
This covers the basics of the chapter. There’s much more detail that could be discussed but I’m more of a big picture person and wanted to hit the major points. Again, I won’t profess to be completely right about anything, but I’m striving to understand the historical concepts of what Jesus was speaking about. However, almost 2000 years later, we don’t know all the things that went on so we can only try to put together the pieces that we do know as best as possible.
There is one major question though–If these prophecies could apply to either that generation or to us today, why bother with the historical concepts too much? There’s a very important lesson to note from the entire book of Matthew and much of the rest of the Bible–the way people thought God was going to act was completely different than the way he actually did. The Pharisees, chief priests, disciples, and even the prophets all seemed to think the Messiah was going to destroy all the physical invaders (at the time Rome) and bring about a new golden age for Israel. However, just the opposite happened (in the physical). God used Rome to carry out his judgment on the old Temple system and those who refused to be the salt and light. He then established his new spiritual Kingdom with Jesus as King. Later, the chief priests and elders even paid off the guards who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection so they could keep the Temple system going (Matthew 28:11-13). However, that system had to be completely removed as the way to relate to God so that Jesus could be fully substantiated as the way into the Kingdom.
It seems we’ve fallen into the same trap today. We’re expecting God to destroy the enemies of our “great nation(s)” and bring us into a golden age. We’re still trying to pigeonhole God into our man-made systems. However, if we take the entirety of Matthew 24 and retrofit it to our modern age (if it indeed even applies to us), then the signs of the end that we so adamantly profess would mean that we aren’t really following Jesus and being the salt and light he intends us to be. Judgment would be coming on us, like it did on the Temple system, because of our stubbornness in persisting in ritual based salvation and refusal to embrace those we label as “outsiders.”

Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24 (Part 2)

As stated in the prior post, these are my opinions on events as the Bible becomes more clear to me overall. Many may disagree with these views and that’s understandable. My view of these verses are read from the standpoint of the questions asked by the disciples in verse 3 in reference to Jesus’ statement in verses 1-2.
In verses 4-6, Jesus warns of following false people. It seems most were expecting the Messiah to be a military type conqueror, overthrowing any invaders or enemies. At this time, Rome was the invader. Jesus seems to be warning his disciples not to follow such leaders that would rile them to rebellion as they were false. Many would try to usurp that position in Jesus’ name. The “end” reference in verse 6 is referring to the end of the (Temple) age. He also states there would be disasters, rumors, and wars (v6-7). He says that they shouldn’t be alarmed even when they are being delivered for execution. Jesus further mentions all these things are just birth pangs (v8) as his Kingdom was being born. He speaks about more signs which relate to the time period (40 years) he was referencing. (Yes, This could also relate to all of history since that point.) In verse 14, Jesus states that after all the signs have manifested and the Good News is preached to the rest of the world (he later sends them on The Great Commission), the end would come. I believe this, like much of the rest of Matthew, is referencing the Temple system that Jesus, as King, would be replacing.
In the next several verses, Jesus states things that would be primarily relevant to Israel. He talks about how the abomination would come upon the holy place (Jerusalem/the Temple). As seen in verse 28, this would seem to relate to Rome destroying the Temple in 70AD. In that time, vultures and eagles were often considered the same thing. Rome’s standards often portrayed eagles atop them and Caesar’s visage on their banners (which the Pharisees considered an abomination as it portrayed a false god). It would seem that Jesus is hinting that when his followers see Rome attacking Jerusalem, they should run to the mountains (v16) leaving everything behind (v17-18). Pregnant and nursing women would have a harder time fleeing (v19). As well, in winter it would be harder to flee, and Rome invading on the Sabbath would cause those fleeing to have to violate their laws about traveling too far on that holy day (v20). Verses 21-22 reiterate that the invasion will be short and the destruction conclusive. Once Rome does away with the temple and scatters the Jewish people, the sign of Jesus’ rule being fully instituted would be complete.
It seems Jesus is trying to tell those who follow him not to defend the Temple or Jerusalem as that system is slated for judgment from God. Like in the Old Testament judgments, the people are forewarned and given the signs of this destruction coming so they will have the opportunity to flee (v16&25) or change. Likewise, Jesus tells them not to follow false messiahs who would most likely try to lead counterinsurgencies against Rome (v23-26) as they will fail and be wiped out. As stated above, verses 27-28 talk about Rome (the vultures/eagles) destroying the Temple, an effect that would be known about around the world and would spell the end of that age.
Jesus goes on to explain several events in verse 29. These seem, in part, to be images to convey people of that age who were powerful, just as we consider Hollywood actors to be “stars.” The old system’s leaders, such as the chief priests, would no longer have any power. They would fall from the heights they had placed themselves over others.
Again in verse 30-31, it sounds like end time prophecy (and it could have the double meaning of just that). However, as Jesus states several times throughout Matthew, he was bringing about the spiritual Kingdom very soon. When his Kingdom was established, his angels (or messengers) would go out to the four corners and gather all who received the Good News into the Kingdom. In verses 32-33, Jesus goes on to state to his disciples that they will see the signs of these things coming themselves. Again, verse 34 establishes the time table, “this generation.” Jesus states again that these things will happen (v35) as he’s said, but the specific day and hour within this 40 year period are unknown (v36).
I want to reiterate that I’m viewing all of the verses in context of the entire theme of Matthew–a direct message to the Jewish people of the coming judgment and destruction of the Temple system. Likewise, Jesus’ Kingship would be firmly established (v37). I will try to finish the main themes of the rest of chapter 24 in the next post.

Jesus’ prophecies in Matthew 24 (Part 1)

Disclaimer–these are my opinions when trying to make some sense of what Jesus is saying. I’m only trying to explain in the context of the rest of the book, that is, Jesus speaking directly to Israel. I believe these scriptures do have relevance to us today but also think we have to first consider them in context of who Jesus was speaking directly to.
Jesus tells the disciples that the temple will be torn down (v1&2). In response, the disciples ask two questions (v3) which tie to the rest of the chapter. I believe these questions are important to keep in mind when reading these prophecies:
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?”–Matthew 24:3
First, I would like to present my view of the time table Jesus was speaking about. Verse 34 states that it would be within that generation. While I’ve heard generation refer to Israel as a whole, Jesus’ overall reference of the entire book refers to a much shorter time table more closely resembling generation as a period of around 40 years. Matthew 16:27-28 states this more implicitly. Jesus says that some of those standing there would in no way taste of death until they saw him coming in his Kingdom in the glory of the Father with his angels; that is, fully vindicated as King when the old system, the Temple, is destroyed. When taken as a far future event, these verses make a lot less sense as we know that everyone who was there has tasted of death. This scripture seems to refer directly to Matthew 24:3 (above). In this respect, it seems that the disciples were asking these two questions:
When will the Temple be destroyed (when will these things be)?
What sign will there be that you are vindicated as King and the end of the (Temple) age has come (What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age)?
What Jesus states in the rest of the chapter all ties back to these two questions. The Jewish religion was centuries old and Jesus mentions all throughout Matthew the end of that age and that his new Kingdom was rapidly approaching.
Once I was able to understand the time table Jesus was speaking of, the rest of the often confusing passages in Matthew started to clear up. I’ll start delving into the rest of Chapter 24 in the next post and how it fits into this same time frame, at least from the limited amount we know of historical events that weren’t specifically recorded in the Bible.

Redefined

As I was getting ready for bed last night, I was contemplating some of the things I’ve read and am starting to glean a slightly deeper understanding of from Matthew and other correlated scripture (Daniel, Isaiah, the other gospels, and the epistles). I was thinking about how everything is starting to make sense but also how overwhelmingly more there was to contemplate. As these thoughts were in my mind, I felt Jesus’ presence. Though understanding is starting to come somewhat easier now, I felt like I don’t have to know every single thing imminently. Jesus seemed to say, “It’s okay not to know every little detail because there’s too much to know anyway, but you’re learning and growing and that’s what’s important.” I also got the impression that I don’t have to try to explain every detail of the Kingdom as people are at different points in their walk and may not understand (or refuse to).
I’ve spent so long myself trying to understand the whys of religion and how to draw closer to God. When I stopped trying it my way or based off of a performance metric, I was able to just let Jesus lead me to what I needed to know and when. This has opened the door to consistent spiritual growth that a regimented formula never produced. I’m constantly awed at God’s amazing plan and how he has worked everything together. I’m reading the Bible as a beloved story of Jesus’ redefining of all our preconceived notions of righteousness, justice, and love.
As I think about the apostles, it seems many struggled at first until they came to a breakthrough where they learned to truly follow and reside in Jesus. Their circumstances no longer had any bearing on their spiritual state. I feel that I’m on the precipice of being able to more fully embrace this now that I’m losing my focus on man-made systems and worldly distractions. There are so many things Jesus has led me through that weren’t even part of religious preformatting though they helped in my own walk and in relating to others. With awe and trembling excitement I follow Jesus as he leads me through this amazing process.

A few things I’m beginning to understand from Matthew’s gospel

As I read Matthew, I realize that Jesus was specifically talking to Israel (i.e. Matthew 15:24) throughout most of the scripture with strict instructions that the gospel not yet be preached to the gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). Jesus did help some gentiles, but these were the ones who were specifically coming to him. He remarks in a few instances that these “outsiders” have more faith in God than the “insiders” did (Matthew 8:10). It seems Jesus did this for two main reasons: 1) To warn Israel of the coming judgment if they didn’t accept the Kingdom he was bringing about (Matthew 8:11-12) and 2) not to confuse the gentiles with old standards that were being fulfilled so the New Covenant of freedom could be established.
The Kingdom Jesus was preaching was imminent (Matthew 4:17); it wasn’t just some distance thought. It seems he was giving Israel a chance to repent and enter first, but if they didn’t, the gentiles would. God’s overall redemption plan was to be through Israel whether they could accept that or not. Jesus became Israel and fulfilled what they couldn’t. Jerusalem was the city on the hill that was to be the light for the rest of the world yet the Israelites kept this light hidden and to themselves, additionally losing their saltiness. Again, these verses have far reaching impacts to us today, but we can also see the significance that Jesus was speaking directly to Israel.
I only quoted some of the verses to state the overall theme of the book as I’ve read without going through too many isolated details. I think we often fail to realize the overall context of scriptures and manipulate individual passages to our own way of thinking. I am especially guilty of this. If we look at the overall story of the Bible, it points to Jesus. When we take individual passages and bind them to our own limited viewpoints, we replace Jesus with laws that are often out of context with the original purpose and audience of the passages. Likewise, the Old Testament scholars were exemplary (more so than we are today) at upholding a morally upright life. Jesus often broke their deeply held rules (especially about the Sabbath) and even stated that they had missed the point of the law (Matthew 12:7-8; 23:23).
Along these same lines, the religious leaders had misunderstood the prophecies concerning the Messiah. They were expecting a military leader that was going to overthrow all of the outsiders and bring Israel into a new golden age of superiority over all other nations. It seems even the prophet John the Baptist may have been under this same misunderstanding (Matthew 11:2-3). God’s plan was always to bring the outsiders into the Kingdom through Israel though. It seems we are expecting the same thing today. We maintain a morally upright life waiting for Jesus to come back and overthrow our enemies, however he has already brought the Kingdom and we are free to live in it now. Likewise, it seems that the religious of Jesus’ time were the ones who judgment came on because they weren’t reaching out to those they had labeled as unrighteous. Instead, they hunkered behind their righteousness waiting for God to destroy those they had labeled as enemy.
There are also several prophetic things which could relate to Israel’s judgment, end time judgment, or both. I don’t want to get into these things yet as they would need at least a post of their own if/when I am led to write some about them. However, from reading Matthew, there is one major question that continues to be prompt in my mind:
Is modern Christianity in danger of repeating history by making the same assumptions and mistakes that Israel did?